Afghanistan's acting Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi on Monday confirmed that the Taliban has freed an American engineer.
US President Jimmy Carter had been sending financial help to the Afghan mujahideen through his country’s Central Intelligence Agency since July 1979. He was shocked when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan as US Intelligence had briefed him in 1978 and even in early 1979 that Moscow would not intervene in force. His focus was more on Iran where American diplomats and citizens had been taken hostage.
After the Soviet invasion of December, the CIA launched a covert operation code-named ‘Operation Cyclone’ to send arms, through Pakistan, to the jihadi warriors of Afghanistan. The fallout of the CIA’s collaboration with Pakistan’s ISI in this operation was quite intriguing. Pakistan’s President Zia-Ul-Haq determined who would get the American assistance.
Among the seven mujahedeen groups which Zia’s government had chosen, four were terrorists. On the other hand, US weapons sent to Karachi were sold on the local market rather than delivered to the Afghans. Pakistan played a double game here. They armed the terrorists to use them for their own agenda of triggering jihadi activities against India and showed that they were helping the Americans.
Was CIA too dumb to detect what was happening beneath the surface? Did US intelligence deliberately allow Pakistan to strengthen its own terror networks for capturing power in Afghanistan? Let us find out. After World War II, the world was subjected to a fierce competition between American and Soviet imperialism.
Whatever might have been the theoretical justification offered for Soviet efforts to spread its area of control, the ground reality was that Czarist imperialism was replaced by Soviet expansionism in the name of Socialist internationalism. Although no direct battle between Russia and America was ever fought, both, in a fierce competition for supremacy, captured power in different regions either by force or by sending funds and arms.
America adopted a policy of containment of Communism while the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, brutally crushed the Hungarian revolt of 1956 by tanks and troops, and in the East European countries like Romania and Poland, Soviet regime was established by installing sponsored governments. In Asia, however, they spread their influence sometimes by controlling the decisionmaking processes and sometimes by direct invasion.
They tried both in Afghanistan. The US techniques were no different. To destroy the communist stronghold in Vietnam they fought a war devastating the lives of millions. Vietnam was ravaged in the most vicious onslaughts, but did not surrender. The US plan of occupying territory did not succeed. But in Pakistan, America did not fail.
Supply of arms and funds greatly bolstered Pakistan’s hopes of winning a territorial battle with India, especially over Kashmir. Lured by aid, it became America’s client state (i.e. a state politically, economically and militarily dependent on another state). Pakistan willingly accepted this position for its own Indiacentric objectives.
While the US was planning to help Afghan rebels eject Soviet occupying forces, ISI made it possible for the terrorist outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e Taiba, the Haqqani network and the Taliban to have access to the US arms. But, knowing full well that Pakistan was pursuing its anti-India objectives, America could not afford to lose its only satellite in the subcontinent.
Even after 9/11 they did not sever relations with Pakistan, where AlQaida and Taliban were nurtured for long. So, what happened was not against their plan. The fight against Soviets in Afghanistan was to be carried on even if it meant helping Pakistanbacked terrorists. This would go on as long as there was no over-ground breach in Pakistan’s loyalty to America.
The similarity of US operations in Afghanistan with those in Iraq cannot also be ignored in this case. The American offensive against alQaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan after 11 September 2001 was hailed by the world at large.
Witnessing Osama bin Laden’s diabolical act of terror, the long-standing US strategy of supplying arms and finance to such terrorist organisations in the name of fighting Communist rule in Afghanistan was ignored. Disillusionment took place when it was revealed that America wanted something more to be accomplished. They attacked Iraq falsely alleging that Iraq was behind Bin Laden’s operation.
Bruce Riedel, who was in September 2001 on the staff of the National Security Council, recorded in his diary that on September 14, when George Bush told the British Prime Minister Tony Blair over phone that he was planning to ‘hit’ Iraq soon, Blair was audibly appalled and pressed for evidence of Iraq’s complicity in the 9/11 attack.
There was none that Bush’s intelligence agencies knew. The allegation that Iraq was producing weapons of mass destruction was also proved to be utterly fabricated. Why then did they attack Iraq? The answer lies in the US action after Saddam Hussein’s government was dismantled. It was exactly the pattern followed in Afghanistan. A US-led coalition of American and British forces attacked Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
After the fall of the last Taliban stronghold in Kandahar, an Afghan government with US support was installed. There is no denying the fact that the Taliban is a regressive organisation run with savage intentions. But driving them out for installing a US-sponsored government was nothing but an imperialist design. Iraq had a similar fate. The only difference is that US-led forces remained in Afghanistan for twenty years.
In both cases, the declared American objectives were eradication of terror and establishment of democracy. But then why did America initiate peace talks with the Taliban in Doha in 2021? The argument was that the Taliban had changed and they were no longer in league with terrorist organisations. The Haqqani network taking part in the policy-making and the new Taliban government welcoming Al-Qaeda leader explodes the myth of a good Taliban.
Is it believable that American Intelligence organisations could not realise that the so called ‘new’ Taliban would not keep their promises of Doha? These questions should be addressed taking into account the latest stakeholders’ role in Afghan affairs. But that is another story.
(To Be Concluded)
(The writer is former Head of the Department of Political Science, Presidency College, Kolkata)