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SINGAPORE, Aug 30 (IPS) – A few years ago I had written in an article on the Afghan crisis that Mullah Omar’s face did not resemble that of the impossibly beautiful, albeit mythical, Helen of Troy. Yet it had also led to the launch of a thousand ships (airships to be more precise), just as Helen’s had done in Homer’s epic tale, the Iliad. Like Troy in that old story, today’s Afghanistan was teeming with invaders who could also be seen as the counterparts of those Greeks – the Americans and their NATO allies. This war lasted twice as long as the Trojan episode, twenty years instead of ten. Ultimately, it led to a reverse situation, the victory of the Trojans, in this case the Taliban. Although the Greeks destroyed Troy by the ruse of a gift from the Wooden Horse, a Trojan warrior, Aeneid, eventually sailed to the southern Mediterranean and laid the foundation for Rome and its empire. The Greek era eventually gave way to the Roman era, and the annals of geopolitics of the time took an entirely new turn. Will the impact of the Afghan war be the same? Will we see a power transformation in a new paradigm of what we currently have? Will US ascendancy give way to a risen China, now or in the future?
The world owes it to them. Yet the international community seems reluctant to end the pain of the Afghans. The media in many countries is full of stories that the victors are emerging, as if that would change the results of the war. There are predictions of horrific threats of retaliation from the Taliban against collaborators, none of which have yet come true. Indeed, the truth is that violence in the country has largely ceased for the first time in two decades. The towns and villages have become much safer for the men, women, boys and girls than many in that young country have ever known in their lives. It is true that thousands are scrambling to get out at Kabul airport. But the dreams, though not necessarily by the prospects, of a better life in America and the West are lured more than the genuine fear of losing it in the hands of the Taliban. Rather than slaughter the departing Afghans, the Taliban are trying to line them up in separate rows for departures to the US and UK, in an effort to restore some order to the chaos. Indeed, it may seem unbelievable given feelings of mutual hostility, the Taliban are collaborating with the former occupation forces at the airport.
This fact could be the beginning of a silver lining in an otherwise dark horizon. If there is a will, eventually there will be a way. Undoubtedly, the Taliban must change, as some of their leaders seem to think publicly. It seems that some of them are convinced that there must be a Taliban.02, different from the previous version. It cannot be impossible to reconcile interpretations of Islamic law with those in many other Muslim-majority countries. Treatment of women is something that the world will be watching closely. Some within the Taliban may not care, but many others will, and the latter should be encouraged by the global community. BRAC, a Bangladeshi non-governmental organization doing commendable work in girls’ education (a major success story in predominantly Muslim Bangladesh), should be able to resume its activities. Afghanistan has historically made a significant contribution to the flourishing of Islamic intellectual culture. That spirit is most certainly imbued with the Afghan ethos and can and must be regenerated.
Mr. Joe Biden is a decent, older, old-fashioned American politician who thought, with good reason, that America should end the occupation and end it. When he was put on the carpet, as he has been so often done by his critics for his decision in recent days, his legitimate question was, “If not now, when?” None of the critics seem to give him that answer. In all fairness, he cannot be held responsible for the failures of his generals. He retires because his generals lost the war and the winners now want him. It’s that simple. Historically, when foreign occupiers left, those who had served them during the occupation period felt insecure. In Western Europe, for example, after the German capitulation during World War II. That thirst for revenge doesn’t seem to be winning in the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan right now. Surprising in a society where that was to be expected, as Afghans have traditionally been inclined to conform to the three tribal values of honor, hospitality and revenge.
It would be a serious error of judgment to confuse the Taliban fighter with Florence Nightingale. It’s made of sturdier stuff. He didn’t get where he is now by coddled with his opponent. But at the same time there is a palpable desire in him for acceptability. This should be taken advantage of. If the US wants to be a positive force for the post-Afghan war world, it can help by trying to mainstream Taliban-led Afghanistan into the global system. It will not be easy, as many Afghans, including the Taliban, are dissatisfied with them and angry. But political realism is a great shaper of civic behavior, and there’s not much reason to believe the Taliban are any different. Those who exert some influence over them, for example Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran and Turkey, should aid the process. Stability in Afghanistan will help them all. Sanctions that some, including some members of the G7, Mr. Pressing Biden to impose on Afghans or freeze Afghan accounts will not advance this process. In fact, it will lead to more hostile and extremist reactions, which will cause many sanctions proponents to suffer. Worsening the Afghans’ misery will not do the world any good.
Afghanistan is a country that is impoverished. But it is not poor. His resources are abundant. It possesses enormous mineral wealth: lithium, cobalt, nickel, neodymium, rare earths and the like. These would be worth over a trillion dollars. Extracting some of these requires more investment and technological know-how. This provides opportunities for American and Chinese companies to work together. That is the turning point in historical evolution that will sound in everyone’s favour.
The US will have to watch out for friends who can do more damage than enemies. Lord Ricketts, a British politician, has said Mr Biden’s retreat was a “wake-up call” to allies hoping for a return of the US to internationalism. But a return to “internationalism” certainly does not mean a return to military occupation. The Suez was a good lesson for British Conservatives in that regard. The mistakes of the then British government of Sir Anthony Eden, which the US had then pointed out, had for some time led to an unfortunate split between London and Washington.
Currently, the US Vice President, Ms. Kamala Harris, is in Singapore to visit Southeast Asia. She may have already sensed the region’s sense that Asian countries are largely wary of taking sides in major power conflicts. Most are reluctant to “be some stalker horse to promote negative agendas”. If this message isn’t picked up adequately, Asians may see the American advance toward them, just as the Trojan priest Laocoon saw the wooden horse left at the gates of Troy in the story with which this essay began. He had famously warned: “I am afraid of the Greeks, even if they come with gifts”!
This story was originally published by Dhaka Courier.
© Inter Press Service (2021) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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