During a recent official visit to Pakistan, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock lambasted the Taliban regime for “destroying Afghanistan” and accused them of heading in the wrong direction. She said, “Parents do not know how to feed their children; girls are deprived of their right to education; women have been shunned from society; dissenting voices are suppressed; and the economy is rendering to a halt.” In a joint press briefing with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, she stated, “As long as they go down this path, I see no room for normalisation and even recognition of Taliban as legitimate rulers.” Taliban have “brought incredible suffering and hunger to the people in Afghanistan.” She warned that the crisis would have consequences outside of Afghanistan’s borders and Pakistan might bear the brunt.
The German Foreign Minister’s assertion that the Taliban regime is responsible for ruining Afghanistan’s affairs because of their harsh and irrational measures should be taken seriously. She accused the Taliban regime of increasing the pain and agony of the Afghan people by denying education to girls and pursuing imprudent policies that are intensifying the economic and humanitarian crises in the country. Naturally, the county will not gain international recognition or legitimacy in these circumstances. However, this situation needs to be analysed critically. Since 9/11, Germany has played an important role in Afghanistan along with other countries. Therefore, it is unrealistic to blame the Taliban alone for the current crisis. It is worth examining who is responsible for unleashing a war, a civilian and armed conflict in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s history is full of unfortunate events, which testify that even before the advent of the Taliban and their first government from 1996 to 2001, the country was in a shambles. The process of Afghanistan’s destruction began with the outbreak of the left-oriented pro-Moscow Saur revolution in April 1978 and the subsequent Soviet military intervention in December 1979. During the Saur revolution, hundreds and thousands of people were killed, which led to Soviet intervention and infighting among the Mujahedeen group. In February 1989, the Soviet military withdrew. Millions of Afghans were displaced, and the country witnessed one of the worst phases of violence. The emergence of the Taliban in the fall of 1994 was aimed to bring peace and provide people with security that was shattered because of civilian conflict between and among Mujahideen groups and the warlords. The people welcomed the Taliban, which enabled them to capture the capital Kabul in September 1996.
However, the Taliban who came to power to establish peace and rid their country of the brutalities of the warlords themselves embarked on coercive measures against the people. They imposed their way of life according to their interpretation of the Shariah. During their first regime, the Taliban were busy strengthening their control over Afghanistan and failed to prevent Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahri from forming Al-Qaeda. This eventually turned the country into a hub of international terrorism, which led to the events of 9/11 and the dismantling of their regime.
Taliban resistance against foreign occupation and the imposition of the puppet regimes of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani led to another phase of civil war, which culminated in the return of the Taliban to power after the US military’s withdrawal last year. Thus, the Taliban alone cannot be blamed for the destruction of Afghanistan because the country bore the brunt of Soviet and US military interventions and occupation.
Who destroyed Afghanistan and why is the country still suffering from armed conflicts needs to be analysed from three angles?
First, in modern history, no other country has undergone three foreign interventions. First by the British then by the Soviet Union and finally the US. However, along with the foreign powers, it is also the Afghan elites and the people that should be held responsible for creating conditions that warranted foreign intervention and subsequent conflict. Currently, Afghanistan is faced with one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification including the United Nations World Food Programme and Food and Agricultural Organisation revealed that “high acute food insecurity persists across Afghanistan, as a combination of a collapsing economy and drought depriving 20 million Afghans of food.” Initially, the US froze $9.5 billion of Afghan money but in February they announced that $3.5 billion will be released to non-governmental organisations to help Afghanistan manage its food and humanitarian crisis. Despite this, most Afghans are still faced with hunger and a shortage of medicines, which is threatening their livelihoods. Many Afghans feel that they are faced with a constant cycle of oppression and deprivation.
Second, the Afghan elites and mafias have long contributed to the political instability and civilian conflict in the country. The foreign powers and neighbouring countries have in fact tried to resolve these problems. Yet some Afghan circles accuse Pakistan of meddling in the country’s internal affairs and further intensifying the humanitarian crisis. Contrarily, Pakistan disengaged itself from Afghanistan’s domestic issues and provided shelter to more than 3 million Afghan refugees. It has also provided economic and educational assistance. All this while Pakistan itself has suffered because of the Afghan war due to the proliferation of drugs and weapons as well as a surge in extremism and sectarian violence.
Finally, to save itself from further destruction Afghanistan must pursue a democratic process, and political pluralism, and promote tolerance, good governance and the rule of law. The Taliban should follow a pragmatic approach by providing people with the right to electoral participation; ensuring equal rights for women; and evolving their orthodox mindset and ideas that are regressive. The Afghan people have suffered for decades, it is about time that Afghanistan became a normal state focusing on social and human development.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2022.
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