By Pirouz Azadi
Many consider the US withdrawal a failure. Nonetheless, the Americans reinstated the Taliban, which will wreak havoc across the region. Similarly, the US may leverage the Taliban as a counterweight against Russia, China and India, and try to exploit the natural resources of the region. What remains at stake for all concerned is how to move along a path of convergence for the West and East and propagate progressive ideals.
The US’ hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan (1) enabled the Taliban to take over that country. The lightning seizure of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its acquiring some of the most sophisticated American military and biometric surveillance equipment is most baffling.
Immediately after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, President Bush Jr. declared [an anti-Muslim crusade] to the world, “You are either with us or with the terrorists.” (Watch the PBS Frontline two-hour documentary on “aftermath of 9/11). In so doing, Bush literally drew in sand the deepening divide of distrust of the Christian West vs. Muslim East (8).
Just a short month later the Americans, along with up to forty-nine of their allies, invaded and ousted the tyrannical Taliban government that had reined over Afghanistan in the period 1996-2001, and propped up a puppet “Western attired” government. America’s initial strategic objective of rooting out terrorists and killing Osama Bin Laden later morphed into building pro-American governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. The fact that the majority of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudi Arabian and Pakistani nationals and not Afghanis or Iraqis needs to be pointed out. The so-called ‘intelligence’ about the existence of weapons of mass destructions and its possible use by Al-Qaeda also turned out to be a hoax. Following the longest and inconclusive war of attrition ever waged by the US, the Trump administration unilaterally signed a withdrawal treaty with the Taliban in Doha Qatar in Spring 2020. This was preceded by an earlier contract for tapping into Afghanistan’s vast mineral, gem and precious metal deposits, including up to five trillion tons lithium. The US administration in essence legitimised the Taliban’s return to power, which Biden enacted on 1 August 2021. What remains most bewildering is the disproportionate presence of Pakistani and other Arab fighters, some on the America’s most wanted terrorist list, among the new Taliban government.
The so-called unilateral and preemptive “Afghan War” alone (4) has already cost Americans over two trillion dollars and counting; the still active Iraq-Syria wars will undoubtedly cost a similar sum. The Afghan war also caused nearly 3000 American and allied deaths, not to mention the almost one hundred thousand Afghans killed and the six million Afghans in exile. To add insult to injury, and in an apparent goodwill gesture towards the Taliban, the US actually commanded the now ousted President Ashraf Ghani to release 5,000 Taliban fighters and other Jihadists from jail. However, the US never allowed the government they had installed to sit at the same table in Qatar’s Doha when they signed the treaty with the Taliban in 2020. Now, America has again enthroned the Taliban in Afghanistan for strategic reasons. While many pundits have concluded this to be yet another military and diplomatic defeat for the Americans and the West, nonetheless, what has truly unraveled may not necessarily be as it first appears. Irrespective of whether or not the Americans had strategised it, many skeptics note American’s long-term strategy of perpetrating a Sunni-Shiite divide. In fact, a no win 8-year war of attrition began in 1979 when Iraq’s Sunni minority invaded the Shiite majority Iran, causing a million dead, two million injured and half a trillion dollars worth of damage. It is as if the same Shiite-Sunni divide game (9) is in full swing in Afghanistan.
The deepening of the Shiite-Sunni divide actually goes back to American doctrine shaped in the 1970s when thinkers as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger and Bernard Lewis envisaged it. It led to building an Islamic belt at the southern frontiers of the Soviet Union and its satellite states in central Asia and the Balkans. Its purpose was to block the Soviets from moving into the oil rich Middle East, while trying to stir up Soviet Muslims against Moscow. Today’s western (American) strategic policy of continued alliance with fundamentalist Muslims continues to adhere to their three-prong approach: contain Russia, China and India (7), incapacitate Muslims and other ethnicities through sectarian divide, and dominate the region for control of natural resources and markets. US prolific interventionism since WWII (5) has propped up dictator puppets while depriving the people in the third world of their natural, human, civil and constitutional rights. (10)
The Taliban of today, a scattered cohort of 60,000 guerrilla fighters and their ideological clerics inspired by Saudi Arabian Wahhabi sheiks, portray a disingenuously softer and conciliatory side in the media now. All indications are that while the urban educated Afghans will resist many of the Taliban’s policies, their patriots in rural areas will endorse or the least remain silent in the face of the Taliban’s plans. Nonetheless, the Taliban’s ultimate motive remains reestablishing a repressively intrusive and reactionary system. Given the chance the Taliban would push for the conversion or annihilation of ‘infidels’ worldwide, especially the Shiites in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Above all, they intend to topple the Islamic Republic of Iran (6) and eradicate Shi’ism across the region (2). In Afghanistan the Taliban is already exposing its real face off camera with summary arrests and floggings, persecution and torture, and on the spot stoning and executions of women pilots and minsters as well as former high officials. Many scholars believe such atrocities are only the tip of the iceberg, however.
Ironically, by America legitimising the Taliban, Saudi fundamentalism is further emboldened. The fate of Shiites and Persian speaking Afghans, amongst others, is in serious jeopardy.
Despite the above, let us also acknowledge the great strengths of the US – her energy and resilience, vibrancy and enthusiasm, residence and optimism, immigration, diversity and multiculturalism, innovativeness and creativity, freedom of expression and faith, and above all her human and natural resources drawn from every corner of the globe. These American ideals and qualities help bring some credibility to the US.
However, and against such a backdrop, we must fully understand that the era of military supremacy and economic dominance has given way to a new way of thinking. With a future economy anchored on the integration of Biotech and InfoTech, universal human rights and maximising citizenry’s full potential, the conservation of Earth and her natural resources remains paramount if we genuinely aspire to survive to the 22nd century.
About the author. Born and raised in Iran through the late 1970s, Pirouz Azadi (means Hail to Liberty) has served as a professor in the US for four decades. An eclectically ecumenical spiritual humanist and naturalist, he traces his multi-lingual and multi-cultural pedigrees to his grandparents who lived by diverse faiths that included Zoroastrianism and Mithraism, Judaism and Christianity, Islam (Shiism and Sunnism), Baha’ism and agnosticism. Accordingly, he recognises the ethical and moral values anchored by faith, but not politicised and militaristic religiosity.
END NOTES for further reading.
- Afghanistan. Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, just to name a few of the world’s religions, originate from the surrounding region. The Taliban are primarily from rural Sunni (Hanbali) Pashtun tribes from southern Afghanistan where the province of Ghandehar is located. Other major tribes in the country of 35 million inhabitants are the Uzbeks, Tajiks and Turkmens as well as the Shiite Persians and the Hazare. The latter Shiite groups are in particular the primary targets for Taliban forced conversions through violence.
2. Odd Islamic bedfellows. Meanwhile, there has emerged a certain peculiar, politicised, and cooperative stance between the Shiite clergies in Iran and the Taliban guerillas. Some Taliban leaders took refuge in Iran. Nonetheless, there is no doubt whatsoever that the total subjugation of all Shiites by the Taliban remains its highest priority. The Taliban’s concurrent priority is, after eliminating the Shiites, to establish by all and any means necessary the one Kingdom of God. In doing so, they will inextricably persecute all other molhad kafar (infidels) especially the Christians and Jews whom they claim have ‘deviated’ from God’s orders.
3. History. Afghanistan- an integral province of Persia for millennia- has historically referred to herself as Arianna and Bactria (west). Throughout history, the Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Mongols, British, Chinese, central Asian Turks, Russians and most recently, the Americans, have overrun Afghanistan but never lasted long. That is why many historians have referred to Afghanistan as the “graveyard of the empires.” After defeating the British in the Third Anglo-Afghan War of the mid-19th century, the Durrani Pashtun clan came to power and officially declared the unifying Pashtun name Afghanistan. In modern history, this land-locked and mountainous country has acted as a buffer zone between China and Russia to the north, Iran to the west, and India and Pakistan to the east. During the cold war, the US strategised to create an Islamic belt to push back the Chino-Russian regimes from encroaching into the oil and gas-rich Middle East.
4. Plausible American motives. Although not formally declared, many scholars postulate that the continued engagement of the Americans and their western allies in this region is to counterbalance the Chinese and the Russians in south-west Asia as well as to meddle in Sunni-Shiite conflicts. Some even surmise that America’s strategic objective is to reinstate the Taliban by equipping them with the latest lethal weaponry and surveillance to obliterate the Islamic Republic of Iran.
5. The US engagement post WWII. Back in the 1960s, the US asked Saudi Arabia’s Sheiks to provide Islamic ideological and educational materials, including the mass printing and distribution of the Quran and other Hadith (narrations) books and the setting up of tens of thousands of madrasah to train zealot Sunni guerrillas (Shafei-Salafi-Wahhabi) and Muslim Jihadists. Opposed to such trained Jihadists are native Mujahedin warriors such as Ahmad Maghsoud, the son of the ‘Lion of the northeastern Panjshir Valley’ who stood up against the Soviets in the 80s. Inevitably, however, this last resistance group has no option but to go underground. The defeat of the Soviets by Islamic Jihadists, equipped to the teeth by the Americans, became the last nail in the Soviet Union’s coffin. After this, the Jihadists metastasised to include Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram and other groups.
6. Similarity in Iran and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The arrival in Tehran of a chartered Air France plane carrying Khomeini, preceded by 24-7 access to the media in Paris, and the arrival of Taliban Sunni Mollas from Doha Qatar in an American military jet and preceded by their “peace” negotiations with the Americans, is too similar to ignore. It is as if the West considers perpetrating rivalry and sustaining Shiite or Sunni radicalism as its pillar for strategic hegemony. The painful irony is that such an approach has been futile not only for the people of the region but also for western citizens, especially the Americans who pay dearly in taxes and lives lost.
7. China-Russia-India triad. Such a status quo has not even served the interests of capitalism in that the Chinese, Russians, and Indians have made inroads into south-west Asian markets. The exorbitant cost of perpetrating the Sunni-Shiite divide in the region will undermine the chance for secular societies to flourish.
8. West-East Paradox. Most contemporary historians in the West trace the West-East aka Occidental-Oriental dividing line to the post renaissance and colonial eras. On closer examination of historical records, especially those written in Persian, Arabic, Greek and Latin, some might say that that the Roman Empire’s collapse played an instigating role for the rise of Islam in the mid-7th century.
9. The 0.1% difference intensified. The seeds of divisiveness were soon sown. Soon the Sunnis branched into four subsects and the Shiites branched into a further several. All Islamic sects believe in the same God, prophet and holy book, the Quran. The Shiites and Sunnis have 99.9% of their beliefs in common. It is the 0.1% that has been used to create discord between the two groups.
10. The role of Rome in modern colonialism. The Vatican Popes in Rome assisted by the British took charge of deepening and widening the Shiite-Sunni divide. Soon after the Muslim Moors were defeated in Europe and expelled, the rising Ottoman Caliphates defeated the Byzantine Eastern Roman empire in the fifteenth century. The Ottomans then waged a massive war to reconquer the European continent. Assisted by the Brits, Vatican emissaries allegedly fabricated large amounts of rituals and books, mostly borrowed from Catholicism, for the Shiites and place them in power in Iran, then still primarily a Sunni country. The Persian Safavid dynasty, originally a Sunni dervish sect, overnight declared themselves the guardians of Shiism and fought the Ottomans with guns and cannons they received from the Vatican. This in turn weakened the Ottoman forces on their western front, preventing them from entering the gates of Vienna. By the same token, the British colonialists, as typified by Lawrence of Arabia, pushed the Sunnis further away from the Shiites.
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