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One of the obvious lessons of the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban is that building a nation is squarely the historic duty of its people.
The import of the troubling developments in that south Asian country is that no country, however powerful, can build another nation on behalf of the people. The United States, which toppled the Taliban regime 20 years ago, and its allies have blamed the government of President Ashraf Ghani for failing to muster the necessary capacity to govern and keep the country stable. Ghani fled the capital, Kabul, as the Taliban approached the city a few days ago. After two decades of waging a war to bring about a stable democratic nation in Afghanistan, American has pulled its troops out of beleaguered nation.
So much for externally imposed solutions to internal problems!
Although Afghanistan is 6, 596 kilometres away, this supreme lesson in nation building is relevant to Nigeria and some other African countries in many respects. So, as Reuben Abati eloquently made the point on this page yesterday, it is no Afghanistanism to reflect seriously on the possibility of any nation treading (perhaps unmindfully) the road to Kabul. Originally used in the American media, Afghanistanism was actually popularised by Sonala Olumehense’s column in the days of the military regimes of the 1980s as he drew attention to the journalistic practice of focussing on events in foreign land while avoiding controversial ones at home for comments.
What with the penchant for seeking external solutions to internal problems in Nigeria, there is indeed a lesson to learn from Afghanistan. Politicians and civil society activists have the predilection for putting the “international community on notice” on issues of democratic development and governance. Meanwhile this “international community” essentially means the United States and the United Kingdom in the dictionary of those making the calls. At least those calling other countries to intervene in Nigeria’s affairs do not have China, Japan or Russia in mind. In this illusion of galvanising external pressures, politicians, who are now in the All Progressives Congress (APC), used to send their protests against the government of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the American Embassy and the British High Commission. In an intriguing reversal of roles, the PDP and its supporters now frequently call on the same western countries to put pressures on the incumbent APC government on some national problems especially threats to the rule of law. Visa ban is one weapon often demanded to be used against political opponents Even with the teachable moment of the heroic struggle for the validation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by Bashorun Moshood Abiola, Nigerian politicians and democracy activists continue to look out in vain for exotic solutions to socio-political and economic problems. It’s axiomatic in imperialist logic that America or any other foreign power will intervene in another country based only on its “strategic interests.”
Besides, the fear is prevalent in many parts of the world bedevilled with terrorism that given its history Afghanistan could become another haven for terrorists under the Taliban as well as a source for arms flow.
Although as pointed out later in this piece, the Taliban said yesterday this might not be the case in this second coming to Kabul, the bitter consequences of what happened in Libya, Mali and other places should make countries like Nigeria pay attention to the events in Afghanistan. Apart from providing a breeding ground for terrorists and drug traffickers, Afghanistan could be a source of illegal arms for terrorists. After the fall of the Muammar Gaddafi, terror groups in Sahel region had access to the unprotected armoury. The West was too fixated on getting Gaddafi out to think of what to do with the mess that has followed the regime change including the arms flow in the hands of non-state actors. Nigeria tragically became a ready receptacle for some of these freely traded arms.
Furthermore more, from the Middle East and Asia ISIS and al- Qaeda have moved nearer Nigeria to link up with terrorists in the Sahel. The consequences of this network of terror are manifest in parts of Nigeria.
It will, of course, remain a matter of historical conjecture if the outcome of the American mission to Afghanistan could have been different if another approach had been adopted. To the hawks in the United States policy establishment in 2001 in the immediate post-September 11 mood, there was, of course, no alternative to the invasion and the smashing of the Taliban regime of extremists.
The United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies invaded Afghanistan and chased the Taliban out of power when the Taliban refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden and his men accused of being responsible for the September 11, 2001 attack on America. The mission has, at least, achieved the prevention of another terror attack on America for 20 years. But the operation has also turned out to be the commencement of what is now referred to as the America’s longest war. The Taliban held on until America got tired and decided to leave Afghanistan. It is clear that the United States is abandoning Afghans in frustration.
Now, some cynics may even say that it is not for nothing that Afghanistan has earned the sobriquet of the “graveyard of empires.” A combination of historical, cultural and geographical factors has made the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan difficult to conquer permanently for centuries. The landlocked country shares borders with Pakistan, Iran , China, Uzbekistan and some other countries that belonged to the defunct Soviet Union. The terrain has frustrated many invaders with the mountains. But the Afghan guerrilla fighters have mastered the caves and the landscape in a way no foreign army can ever match. The country is also a complex one with many ethnic groups, a result of many cultural influences arising from years of conquests. It is located at the crossroads of central and south Asia. Some of the Afghan ethnic groups belong to the same stock as ethnic groups which are dominant in the neighbouring countries to Afghanistan such as Pakistan and Uzbekistan .
However, the sobriquet of a “graveyard of empires” would seem to be hyperbolic when Afghanistan is situated in the proper historic context. Yes, some empires that conquered Afghanistan had to abandon the enterprise out of frustration. The central and south Asian empires include those of Indian Maurya, Mongol, Safavid and the Mughal. Hardly did any empire collapse solely because it conquered or invaded Afghanistan. At most, what you could say is that the interventions of those empires came at a huge and unsustainable costs. Hence the eventual frustration in most cases. For instance, after the 1839-1842 war, the British later learnt their lessons too it was better to do business with the factional leadership that was rooted in the people and not to merely rely on the one backed by foreign powers like the collapsed government of Ghani a few days ago. History appears to be repeating itself in Afghanistan. Indeed, it has been said the government of former President Donald Trump was already making a deal with the Taliban without involving Ghani’s government in preparation for the pulling out of the American troops.
Similarly, the defunct Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. At that point, America supported the Afghanistan fighters. The Soviet Union could not hold on to Afghanistan indefinitely before it faced its own collapse. So Russia may not make the mistake of invading Afghanistan under nay pretext again.
Four American presidents – George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden- have sustained the war which was popular in the immediate post-September 11 years. Now, the American public has become war-wearied after the American – led coalition lost over 3, 500 soldiers and the nation has sunk over two trillion dollars into the war. Another choice open to the United States is permanent occupation. But the cost of a permanent occupation of Afghanistan by America is just unthinkable. Don’t blame the Americans, you may say. But the withdrawal could have been more responsibly done to avoid the humanitarian consequences that have followed.
Afghans who worked with the coalition and may, therefore, be targets of attacks by the Taliban ought to have been better protected. Footages of Afghans desperately fleeing the country do not show sufficient scientific projections by the Americans about the turns of events.
It is remarkable that the tone of a press conference called by the Taliban yesterday appeared conciliatory. The optics sold to the world yesterday was that of a new Taliban as it renamed the country as the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan.
The world would, of course, be right to be sceptical.
The spokesman, of the militant group, Zabihullah Mujahid, said that while the “new “ Taliban would not be ideologically different from the “old” Taliban, the “tactics” and the “forces at play ” would be different because of the “experience.” In the new Taliban song, women were promised access to education and work and exercise of their rights “within the framework of Sharia.” Before the American invasion, Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban was notorious for the brutal subjugation of the female gender among other extremist interpretations and enforcement of the Islamic laws. A “free” and “independent” press was also promised.
Political opponents were promised an inclusive process and civic space. Members of the old regime were asked not to flee the country as everybody would be allowed to participate.
The announced plan of the Taliban is not to make “internal and external enemies.” The rest of the world bearing the brunt of terrorism would take note in particular the promise that Afghanistan would no more be a haven for terror and a source of illegal arms flow. The spokesman said that not a single weapon would be allowed to be taken out of the country. Not a few governments would also watch if the pledge to bring the production of opium to the zero level could ever be fulfilled.
Beyond the initial rhetoric of the combatants, the picture would be clearer when a government is put in place by the Taliban in a way to prove that they like to build “one nation” in which all would be involved as the spokesman said at the yesterday’s press conference. Public servants including the police have been asked to return to work. A blanket “amnesty” was declared for those who fought the Taliban in the Afghan military that was backed by the coalition.
All told, the failure of the American-led coalition to subdue the Taliban should compel a serious rethink of the so-called clash of civilisations dictum orchestrated by western theorists. Instead of positing the inevitability of a clash of civilisations, the history, identities and cultural specificities of others should be respected.
As Joseph Nye has put it, America would probably need more of soft powers than hard powers to bring its influence to bear more effectively. Soft powers in terms of political beliefs, diplomacy and culture could be the more veritably used tools in other lands. But the peculiarities , identities and complexities of each nation should be adequately understood. Just like hard power of fire power an economic blockade may prove futile, soft power arrogantly employed may also not solve the problem.
Afghanistan is another proof that America may not fully understand the world at it claims.
Every nation has its own evolutionary trajectory. It is the people of the nation under a purposeful leadership that will build the nation in their own way.