By Nageshwar Patnaik ion Bhubaneswar, August 28, 2021: History repeats itself in Afghanistan more often than in any other country. With terrorists killing close to 100 people including 13 U.S. service members at the Kabul airport on Thursday disrupting the final push of the U.S.-led evacuation effort, war against terrorism once again takes the front seat. But the war on terror remains as the forever and long war. By now, it has cost an estimated half a million lives around the globe.

Thursday’s attack also marked the deadliest day for the U.S. military in Afghanistan since 2011 and came just five days before the US government’s deadline for the complete military withdrawal from the country. Claiming responsibility for the attacks, Islamic State Khorasan Province (IS-K), said that one of its suicide bombers targeted the American army.

IS-K – the most extreme and violent of all the jihadist militant groups in Afghanistan, is the regional affiliate of the Islamic State group that is active in Afghanistan and Pakistan. IS-K have major differences with the Taliban, accusing them of abandoning Jihad and the battlefield in favour of a negotiated peace settlement hammered out in “posh hotels” in Doha, Qatar.

Many countries including US and India now apprehend that the Taliban, who once sheltered Osaka bin Laden’s al Qaeda before it was ousted from power by the U.S.-led 2001 invasion, will allow Afghanistan to turn again a base for jihadis. The tragedy of Afghanistan is that the landlocked country will continue to be in turmoil for some time though nobody has conquered that country in the past.

The United States had long ago vowed to root out al Qaeda militants and prevent a repeat of the September 11 attacks on the US by invading Afghanistan in 2001. After the US had driven the Soviet Union out and armed the Mujahideen, the US did not pay any attention to Afghanistan till the bombings of 9/11. A war on terror was launched and the Taliban Government was removed, but the US got bogged down in an endless war for twenty years at great cost to itself and its allies.

But history has seen that one super power after another met their Waterloo there. The Soviet Union intervened when the regional peace was disturbed and its mighty forces had tasted defeat and now the US met with the same fate. But it must be noted that even after the Soviet forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan, the Najibullah Government remained in control with Soviet assistance. The Taliban takeover took place only after the Soviet Union collapsed.

The American withdrawal was reminiscent of Vietnam and Iraq where the US did not have any alibi to make their action appear honourable. The credibility of the US nosedived like never before with people now comparing Afghanistan’s fall to Taliban with stunning speed to the fall of Saigon to communist regime. America had to scramble to evacuate its citizens both in Saigon and Kabul. The fall of Saigon (now Ho Chin Minh City) effectively marked the end of the Vietnam War. After the introduction of Vietnamisation by the then President Richard Nixon, US forces in South Vietnam had been constantly reduced leaving the military of South Vietnam to defend their country. The same thing was repeated in Afghanistan.

More than 120,000 Afghans died in 20 years of war while there have been over 2,300 U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan. Two decades is a long time and the US realized that precious American lives should not be wasted on Afghanistan and successive Presidents planned various exit strategies after having maintained an Afghan Government. But corruption was rampant in the successive Afghan governments, which virtually remained non-functional.

The US long back decided to leave the country even if it meant loss of face for it and set several deadlines to withdraw, but negotiations for withdrawal dragged on. The long months of negotiations, involving the United Nations, big powers, regional countries and others, were not from a position of strength as the Taliban knew that victory was at hand for it and that it would be a matter of time before they would get the upper hand.

Finally, former president Donald Trump had announced US troops would leave by 2021 provided the Taliban met the terms of a peace accord signed last year. But going ahead with the pullout was Biden’s choice. President Joe Biden set the deadline of September 11 as the White House went ahead with the pullout regardless of intelligence warnings of what would follow, or the speed of the offensive was indeed unforeseen. This also exposed lack of insight in a country where America has had a ground presence for two decades.

The manner and speed in which Taliban captured Kabul clearly reflects US’s military and intelligence failure. The US and other countries by now have spent more than a trillion dollars on its campaign. US devoted more time and money to training and equipping the military. But Afghan forces failed miserably as they were largely dependent on US air support.

Afghans now have little option but to live under bloody and repressive Taliban rule and the US and its allies will have to live with the consequences. Tens of thousands of Afghans are fleeing Afghanistan. The country is at risk of becoming, once again, a base for jihadis.

For India, the situation is quite tense as a Taliban Government would be controlled by Pakistan, with direct or indirect support of China. That spells doom for our relationship with Afghanistan and the investments we have made in that country. Taliban elements have already unleashed anti-Indian activities and Pakistan will take full advantage of the situation to chase its interests in Jammu and Kashmir. The change of guard in Afghanistan is likely to multiply India’s challenges, already intricated by the recent Chinese intrusion into its territory.

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