What's happening in Afghanistan?

Notes for a talk in Malayalam on Aug 27

Points to remember

  • This is geopolitics and economics at work. Players have motives and strategies that may not make sense for us lay people

  • There are severe consequences for us in india and we need to be aware of them. We have to unite as never before, use technologies to protect ourselves

  • Do not dismiss the taliban as barbarians. They are shrewd tactically and strategically

Three themes to look at

  1. History

  2. Recent past

  3. Going forward

  1. History

    1. Part of Greater India, the ancient bharat civilizational heritage, for example bamiyan buddha, or gandhari’s curse on shakuni for having caused the war that led to the death of her 100 sons. Gandhara was a part of ancient india’s cultural sphere, and so was xinjiang and tibet

    2. Today the last hindu has been forced to leave afghanistan: extinction

    3. Fierce and unruly tribals make it supposedly ‘graveyard of empires’, but in fact ranjit singh’s sikh empire did manage to hold on to afghan territory for a while

    4. British ‘great game’ failed; their campaigns into afghan ended in disaster, sort of like napoleon’s march into russia, but they had some control over the place

    5. Many ethnics, pashtun, tajik, uzbek, shia hazara, etc.

    6. British Durand line 1893 divided pashtuns into pak and afghan, expired in 99 years; this is an existential threat to pak, because it pashtuns united a big chunk of pak would go; and they have alliances with baluchistan too

    7. Soviets then followed, they wanted an outlet to the indian ocean and some comfort about their stans not being infected with radicalism

    8. US took on great game after 1947, and pak convinced them to make them a treaty ally (CENTO), thanks to nehru’s obsession with soviets


  2. Recent past

    1. Soviets invaded in 1979 to prop up a communist government, stayed for 10 years and then were defeated. The govt they left in place, najibullah, survived for 3 years (unlike the US supported ghani govt that collapsed in days)

    2. The US via proxy pakistan created a number of groups of what they called mujahideen or holy warriors: reagan called them the equivalent of the founding fathers of the US who are held in great esteem

    3. Major beneficiaries were warlords like gulbuddin hekmatyar and the haqqani brothers. Pakistan was their paymaster. Most taliban at the time were really just pakistani army people and ISI mid-level people in mufti

    4. The madrassa students suddenly started flying planes and driving tanks: that is itself evidence of the pak army links of the taliban

    5. But basically it was a mechanism for hurting the soviet union, which in fact did collapse, though it may not be cause and effect

    6. There is an interesting question as to what might happen to the american empire and american prestige after the humiliating defeat here

    7. During the soviet time, there was sort of a national consensus, led by ahmed shah massoud, the commander of the northern alliance, a tajik leader from the panjshir valley, who was a military genius and who resisted the soviets. Now massoud’s son, and amrullah saleh, the VP, are resisting

    8. Under massoud, the northern alliance, which included uzbeks under general dostum as well, were able to capture territory quickly

    9. But massoud was assassinated by the taliban two days before 9/11; yet the northern alliance fought on

    10. The US Deep State, eg the CIA and pakistan have had an interesting relationship since the time of 9/11 and the US invasion under bush in 2001. They were looking to prevent osama bin laden and friends from taking over the country after the 9/11 outrage

    11. The first was the strange happenings in kunduz. The northern alliance in nov 2001 had cornered some 10,000 taliban in the fort at kunduz, and were on the point of moving in and massacring them

    12. The CIA however allowed the pakistanis to airlift 100s or 1000s of them to safety. Why? These were pak army men, and their capture would be a big blow to their joint operation

    13. The northern alliance were never again in that position of strength, although they formed the national government for years 

    14. The second strange happening was in the town of khost in 2011, when the CIA station chief (a mother of three) and 7 colleagues were blown up by a jordanian double agent, who promised some inside information on ayman zawahiri

    15. The third strange happening was the capture of osama bin laden from a safe house in abbottabad, the home of a pakistani military academy

    16. It was clear that the paks were running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. Yet the american Deep State kept supporting the paks

    17. Why did they do this? i don’t know. The target for both the US Deep State and china may be india, and keeping india from developing into a major power. That was the original intent of the brits in partition and esp handing over PoK gilgit baltistan to them, which was done by the british commanding officer entirely illegally: it was a court-martialable offense after the accession of J&K to india by the maharaja.

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  3. What does this mean for all of us now?

    1. Disaster for india’s geostrategic ambition. China has built a string of pearls around us: bangladesh, nepal, sri lanka, maldives, now afghan. 

    2. Pakistan has ‘strategic depth’. they have gained. They can now turn their taliban assets towards india, into kashmir and kerala. They are also receiving the $hundreds of billions worth of weapons that the americans left behind. It’s not clear they can use them, but they certainly have the small arms and even the advanced Black Hawk helicopters. And all these weapons will be turned against us

    3. The opium trade, drugs trade, is the biggest cash earner for afghan, and that will also end up in india. We have seen regular reports of boats caught at sea with crores worth of drugs, AK 47s assault rifles, and large amounts of cash

    4. There will be assaults on india along the lines of the godhra event/sabarmati train burning. The intent of that was to stop the indian military buildup against pakistan, operation parakram. Now the chinese want india to de-escalate in ladakh, and so these are diversionary tactics.

    5. The original intent, which is the wiping out of the hindus/buddhists, and the creation of a muslim state, will continue. This they have already achieved in pak, bangla, maldives, lakshadweep, even kashmir. They know how to do this. 

    6. They have several assets: an attractive ideology including war loot, capture of women, etc; and the rewards for hardship in this world including dying and killing, is 72 angels in the next world. Very appealing to hormone-crazed young men (see the plight of yazidis). and then demographic warfare, as they are doing in many places, including europe, and as the kerala church has recently recognized

    7. They also are skilled in many things. For instance, gold smuggling, fake currency etc, plus technical skills in computers, the use of social media for conversion, love jihad, the telephone exchanges they set up, are all intended to wage economic and physical war on us. They are not barbarians with guns, they are being directed by skilled and thoughtful warriors. The quranic concept of war by brig gen sk malik says, terror is not intended to force a decision; it is the decision we intend to impose on them

    8. The chinese and the pakistanis are the only ones who gained from the american debacle; but we will see if it is a pyrrhic victory for them as well. China is counting on the taliban not influencing the uighur population while they oppress them. Will that work forever? Who knows? 

    9. Pakistan is dependent on china. The collapse of the durand line may be a problem for them too, leading to the unraveling of pak into several small states such as sind, balawaristan, pakistani punjab, baluchistan etc. 

    10. But pak will try to dismember india, no question. They haven’t yet recovered from the loss of east pak. 

    11. The taliban themselves may find trouble in the form of Islamic State-Khorasan (they claimed responsibility for the kabul airport suicide blast) or al qaeda. There is no end-game. American idea of the ‘end of history’ is nonsense. The taliban may find in harder to govern than to conquer territory

    12. What is the hindu response? Unity. Our nasty little internal fights, over jati or over language, is a problem. Although jati probably helped hindus fight off the original wave of muslim attacks, while buddhism fell instantly: the distributed nature has been a help. Distributed systems are more robust

    13. We have to think as hindus first, and then as indians, and only then our jatis. I don’t think jati is all that bad, though jati discrimination is bad. As someone who left kerala at the age of 17, and later spent half his adult life in the US, i am appalled at the jati (and religious) discrimination in kerala. An umbrella organization and spirit of hinduism is necessary

    14. Technology can be a help for us: use of AI/ML to predict potential disasters, try to snoop on their conversations especially with indian partners, tap into the chatter online by them and about them; possibly use tactics that will set the various groups against each other

    15. Can we survive this disaster? The decline of the US is not necessarily bad for india. In fact if the US and china go to some kind of death struggle (the thucydides trap) it is probably good for us. But it’s important for us to contain china, so the quad is a good idea, and at least japan and we share the same views

So, to reiterate what i said to begin with:

Points to remember

  • This is geopolitics and economics at work. Players have motives and strategies that may not make sense for us lay people, for example the US Deep State works in mysterious ways

  • There are severe consequences for us in india and we need to be aware of them. We have to unite as never before, use technologies to protect ourselves

  • Do not dismiss the taliban as barbarians. Do not underestimate them. They are shrewd tactically and strategically. 

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