The “graveyard of empires” is a term historically attributed to the land of Afghanistan. No one really knows how the term came into existence and there are several countering arguments on it but given the history of the nation, particularly the involvement of the different superpowers in it, the sobriquet attributed to is worth considering. The last three superpowers in the modern era, namely the British Empire, the Soviet Union, and now the United States of America all have tried to indulge in Afghanistan only to meet with exhaustion, ruin, defeat, embarrassment, and loss of all gains that had been made in the past.
The British Empire fought three wars with Afghanistan, invading each time from British occupied India back then but ultimately had to realise that it could not control the territory despite the massive firepower it had with it. The Treaty of Rawalpindi signed in 1919 meant that the British recognised the independence of the Afghan nation and gave up its desire to control Afghanistan. Although this region featured in The Great Game that existed mainly between the British and the Soviet Union.
60 years later, the Soviet Union made a historic blunder in the Cold War era. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan lasted for 10 years. During this time, the West led by the United States covertly aided the Mujahideen fighters who were fighting the Soviets. Even pop culture was used for this purpose as the US put its soft power to use against the Soviets. One of the examples being the 1988 film Rambo III which was dedicated to the mujahideen “fighters” indulged in an armed struggle against the mighty Soviets.
These same “fighters” would later end up forming the dreaded Taliban which would subsequently capture power in Afghanistan and bite back the US, the very patron that had encouraged them in the beginning. Anyway, the Soviets pulled back in 1989 and the massively crippled economy meant that the Soviet Union collapsed completely in 1991. Although flawed economic and social policies from the false ideology of communism was a factor that led to the Soviet collapse, the invasion of Afghanistan undoubtedly was the single biggest factor that hastened its collapse.
Then, 9/11 happened and the United States declared war on terror. The US and its allies invaded Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden, the very mujahideen “hero” they had hailed during the Soviet-Afghan conflict. They turned their guns, drones, and planes on the Taliban, the same group of mujahideen “fighters” they had earlier supported. The Taliban was pushed away from power and a democratic Afghan Republic emerged. Trillions of dollars were spent by the West and its biggest war machine.
As years went by, the Afghan people, whose country had been historically ravaged since time immemorial felt that they could hope for a better world for themselves as the democratic government first under Hamid Karzai and later Ashraf Ghani made slow and steady progress towards normalcy. Little did they know that this hope would soon get buried. US President Donald Trump announced that he would be pulling his troops out of Afghanistan and his successor Joe Biden hastened the decision taken by his predecessor.
The US put no succession plan in place. There was nothing done to ensure that the gains that were made in the last 20 years could be carried on. A sudden pullout without any plan in place yet again showed that the US will abandon its allies without thinking twice. The hastily announced pullout meant that the Afghan government now was in serious trouble. The Taliban was licking its lips at the prospect of returning to power. Emboldened by its traditional ally Pakistan, the dreaded terrorist outfit started its journey back to power.
Forget about months, within a matter of weeks, the Taliban captured most of Afghanistan as the Afghan troops meekly surrendered to the terrorists and if reports are to be believed, the terrorist forces have now captured Kabul as well, and the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani has fled the country, which means that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is complete.
What is shocking is that how the Taliban has been able to capture the country in a relatively bloodless way and how the world has stood silent without uttering even a word as a great tragedy unfolded before our own eyes. Everyone tried to evacuate their own citizens while some tried to negotiate with the Taliban to ensure that no harm came to its citizens. The people of Afghanistan became nobody’s children and were left to fend for themselves.
The Taliban has already indicated that it will bring back the Shariat and the regressive laws of the medieval period. These are deeply disturbing signs and as citizens of the world, all of us need to be worried. The ones most at risk are the women and children of Afghanistan. They fear that the worst days that they believed to have long gone will return soon under the tyrannical Taliban regime.
As far as India is concerned, these developments are deeply distressing. India had invested massively in the relief and rehabilitation of the Afghan people. The democratic governments of Afghanistan under Karzai and Ghani were friendly towards us. Along with Afghanistan and Iran, the Chabahar Port was a strategic asset that ensured that the eternal enemy, Pakistan was completely bypassed and the Indo-Afghan relationship could be strengthened further.
With the return of the Taliban, all these seem to be lost. India’s investments are threatened for sure. More importantly, a pro-India regime would be replaced by a vicious anti-Indian regime that is in bed with Pakistan. We need not look further back than 1999 itself when the Indian Airlines Flight 814 was hijacked and diverted to Kandahar and the whole incident turned out to be hugely embarrassing and painful to India.
Not only this, as soon as the Soviet-Afghan conflict ended, the emboldened ISI diverted a huge contingent of mujahideens towards Kashmir and then began the doctrine to “bleed India with thousand cuts”. Pakistan has realised that it is impossible to defeat India militarily and the idea of jihad is a cheaper option to handicap its much more powerful neighbour.
Let’s not forget the plight of the minority Hindus and Sikhs in the Taliban-administered Afghanistan. They had to wear yellow badges similar to what the Jews had to wear in Nazi Germany. They were consistently discriminated against and persecuted by the administration. India will be the only hope if we all don’t want history to repeat itself.
Whether Afghanistan can be termed as the graveyard of empires is debatable, however, this time with the withdrawal of the US and its allied troops, the hope that we all had for a better world and the hopes that the Afghans had for a better life for themselves are all done and dusted. The hope is shattered and lies buried as the flag of the Taliban rises and engulfs the entire Afghanistan.