They say everything is fair in love and war. Now that Kabul has fallen into the Taliban’s hands, let me take the liberty to tweak that proverb. “Everything is fair in love and American wars.” For this, like so many others, is a war sponsored, fought and ultimately, messed up by the US. The great superpower has been humbled by an enemy who owes its birth to American interests, dollars, and of course, stupidity. The use of the last adjective is intentional, but I’ll get to that in a while. For the moment, let’s stick to the graveyard of empires and the lessons it offers to Washington and its allies including India.
I am not a big fan of Xi Jinping but the next time he says the America-led global order is in decline, we better nod in approval than shake our heads smugly. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world has only known one superpower. It decided the wars it wanted to start, the ones it wanted to drag on, and the ones that must go on eternally. Today, it is struggling to even exit one with honour.
Product of American stupidity
Taliban’s swift rise to power is a reality check for those who believed that Joe Biden would restore American leadership of the world. You could argue that he inherited a foreign policy wrecked left and right by an irrational president. But symbolism and statements aside, Biden hasn’t done much to repair ties and reassure allies that America is back. In fact, by agreeing to withdraw forces from Afghanistan, Biden proved that as far as America is concerned, there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. And now that American interests have been served, they don’t mind abandoning an ally.
It came with the objective of first, defeating the Soviets in the ’80s. Money and arms were funnelled to resistance groups collectively called the Mujahideen. If this was not enough, it brought in foreign fighters from Egypt, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia to join the Mujahideen’s ranks. The Soviets were ultimately defeated but, in the process, America created a monster that hit back on 11 September 2001.
Before 9/11, the Taliban were the good guys because they helped you defeat the Soviets. When it first rose to power in the ’90s and established a brutal and repressive regime, you didn’t care about the plight of ordinary Afghans. It was only when they brought down the twin towers that the militants turned into the bad guys. This is why I called the Taliban a product of American stupidity in the beginning. It was stupid in believing that it could just walk away after indoctrinating and showering arms and cash on diverse fundamentalist groups.
A warning for India
All American allies including India are now watching Afghanistan keenly. Given the perils of a two-front war, many analysts have argued for New Delhi to fully embrace Washington. But events in Afghanistan underline the importance of strategic autonomy. The US sees an emerging and authoritative China as the biggest threat to its global leadership, and India as its best bet to pin China down. Make no mistake, the moment this interest is served, America would abandon India with as much ease and speed as it abandoned Kabul. To ensure we do not reduce ourselves to pawns in this 21stcentury great power rivalry, strategic autonomy is a must.
Lastly, those in power in New Delhi must take note of the consequences of distinguishing between good terror and bad terror. Mobs and extremist groups once legitimised can turn into monsters who can no longer be controlled. They may serve your domestic political interests aka keep the communal pot simmering, but it would also leave your citizens vulnerable to radical ideologies. Remember the Taliban won’t stop at Afghanistan’s borders. Pakistan has its eyes on Kashmir and now that it has helped the Taliban capture Kabul, it expects the terror factory to export its finest men to heal that old wound: Kashmir. An India divided on religious lines, consuming hate and bigotry as daily news, would play into the hands of our enemies. That’s the last thing India wants.
Abhishek Kumar is a student at University of Calcutta. Views are personal.