The Taliban took control of the entire territory of Afghanistan without actually fighting, the country's president fled. The Taliban announced the creation of their own government and Sharia courts. Fleeing the country via Kabul airport did not work out for everyone. Meanwhile, the Islamist movement announced an amnesty for officials and invited them to return to work. Arkady Dubnov believes it's pointless to blame the United States for the withdrawal of troops, and the Taliban, who for now have just been saying what people want to hear from them, can still fulfill many promises.
The impression of what is happening in Afghanistan is certainly apocalyptic. It's a drama for many people who do not know their future and did not imagine such a development of events. The fact that not everyone can leave Afghanistan is a terrible misfortune and is something to blame not only the Americans, but also Afghanistan’s neighbors for. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees may say kind words, but what can he do?
Joe Biden's main concern as President of the United States is to save the lives of Americans, just as Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev's ultimate concern was to save Soviet soldiers, an approach for which he has been decried for 30 years. My 35-year-old neighbor Valera Blinkov, an army Major, was killed in Afghanistan in 1984. We were the same age; he was the commander of a helicopter squadron. He shouldn't have been there, but he was. He died due to the stupidity of the military command because they hadn't put a parachute in his helicopter. Gorbachev put an end to it, no matter how tragic it may have seemed.
So, “Sleepy Joe” did what he was supposed to do as President. I don't care what the likes of Masha Zakharova in our diplomatic corps or expert community say about him today: they say, America should have kept bombing and fighting the war; instead, it let Afghanistan be torn apart by the Taliban. It is easy to discuss the rights and wrongs in someone else's war. Yes, America made the mistake of sending troops there 10 years ago. It was necessary to end the war after the elimination of al-Qaeda and bin Laden, but America is a super-proud nation and it thought it could modernize Afghanistan, lead it to a happy future according to its own recipes. The Americans thought that because the Marshall Plan had succeeded, something similar could also be created in Afghanistan with enough money and willpower. They did have money and willpower, what they lacked was a purpose, because it was Afghanistan, not Germany, they had to deal with. These countries have different values, and most Afghans did not understand what the Americans expected from them.
Why did the Taliban conquer the provinces so easily? Ordinary people never saw the justice that was promised to them by the Americans; everything was stolen from them by either the nouveau riche in Kabul or the local governors. The provincial Afghans do not understand the values all those fat barons imposed on them. President Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country, is considered one of the most corrupt leaders in the modern world. I think we will soon find out the exact numbers. He clung to power with all his might, and he bears a very serious share of responsibility for the way the transition of power is taking place. After all, the capture of the provinces and districts that have fallen at the feet of the Taliban was a prelude to entering Kabul. For the second time the Taliban is entering Kabul almost without a fight, going like a knife through butter. They also entered the city in April 1996, when the Mujahideen left it, saving the lives of people.
Ordinary people never saw the justice that was promised to them by the Americans, everything was stolen from them
The Taliban kept saying: “Here's justice, we guarantee it to you,” justice in the sense of security. Vital security for ordinary Afghans, like during the Taliban's first cadence, is more important than human rights. For them, chopping off a hand for stealing is more or less normal. For them, stoning for adultery is more or less acceptable. They do not understand our clashes over the rights of transgender people or the struggle to legalize gay marriage, although there are lots of gays, lots of male friendships of this type, but they do not talk about it. In general, all these imposed Western values are nothing to them. Moreover, it turned out that the Afghans didn't get any of the money.
Vital security is more important for ordinary Afghans than human rights
Hopes and strawberries
In 2009, I was invited by the Americans to visit Afghanistan, where they showed me how they were trying to grow strawberries. They wanted strawberries as a replacement for the opium poppy. They couldn't find a market for strawberries, but they hoped that a tourist boom in Afghanistan would lead to strawberries being served to Western tourists for breakfast with whipped cream. The former English and Dari speaking Afghans who taught those hapless people how to grow strawberries were making big money. It was ridiculous. I asked the Americans: «Guys, you do understand that this does not fit with reality?» - «No, why? It will work out» - «When will you be able to achieve success?» - «Well, I don't know. We are here until September» - «And then what?» - «And then our contract ends.» After September, everything that would happen in Afghanistan was of little concern to them. It disappointed me then.
Americans are very honest, naive, businesslike, and punctual. They are also very romantic people who knew why they went there. It's like a construction team: I know I will build a fence, get well paid for it, and then go for a drink and for a walk; it doesn't matter what will happen after that and how long the fence will stand. Unfortunately, that's the way the Americans tried to modernize Afghanistan.
The Americans believed that all the money they had poured into the army and the security forces could not disappear without a trace. But their mercenaries turned out to be strangers among people who did not want them. And when Biden promised they would stay for a long time, he sincerely believed it. It's a shame, of course, that the Americans had to beg the Taliban not to enter the city until they had evacuated all their own citizens.
When the Soviet Fortieth Army led by General Gromov negotiated with the legendary Massoud about the withdrawal of Soviet troops, the talks went on for months. Why did the withdrawal turn out to be so successful? Because it was either Gromov or the Soviet counterintelligence officers who conducted the negotiations. They spoke the same language with Massoud, they respected each other. The Americans did not respect the Afghans, just as the Afghans hated the Americans.
The Americans did not respect the Afghans, and the Afghans hated the Americans
The relations between Russians and Afghans were nothing like that, there was almost a sense of brotherhood. In fact, at the end of the 1990s the Afghans did not know the Soviet Union was no longer there, it was a big surprise for them. The Russians were friends from across the northern border. Yes, we had been at war with them, but they didn't think of us as dirt, while the Americans consider us dirt. The level of American superiority over the Afghans and other people living in this part of the world was intolerable for those people. Not all Americans are like that, but those Western modernizers were.
Risks for Russia
In Russia, the war in Chechnya and the coming to power of a certain well-known figure, as well as the lawlessness and freedoms that had become obvious to people in the North Caucasus, can be compared with the future ideological penetration of the idea of victory over a strong adversary achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In fact, the Afghan Taliban have now shown the global Islamic community an example of a euphoric charge that can lead to a passionate movement and lift the spirit of those offended by the injustice of the civilized world towards Muslims, those who are being humiliated and insulted today. We finished them off in Afghanistan, so why can't we put them in their place in other regions of the world, including Russia? This must be borne in mind, this kind of spreading of passionate ideas that are infectious to poorly educated people in the presence of very strong and charismatic leaders of communities, cells, or groups.
But I do not think that such a threat to the world peace, as they said in Soviet times, will ever arise that would require a return of Western troops. It will be a graveyard for the British, Americans, and Russians. Who wants to dig their own grave again with their own hands?
No one predicts the penetration of the Taliban into the Central Asian countries after their coming to power because the Taliban do not need this, they have different goals. Another matter is that as they will be fulfilling their promises to sever ties with ISIS and Al-Qaeda, they will openly or secretly push those people out of Afghanistan, including across the northern borders to Central Asia.
There is already evidence that the ISIS or Al-Qaeda radicals released from prisons have been incorporated into groups of refugees who have already tried to enter the territory of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. They are being separated; the Uzbek special forces proved to be quite effective. That is why, among other things, the Uzbeks are pursuing a very tough policy towards refugees. For example, a caravan of people close to Afghan Marshal Dostum was turned around yesterday on the Friendship Bridge across the Amu Darya River. Dostum himself flew across the border on a helicopter and is hiding somewhere in Uzbekistan, but his people were turned around. Not because Uzbekistan sees them as former jihadists, but because it refuses to accept refugees, except in some isolated cases.
Neighbors, China, and new corruption
One can be sure that as soon as some kind of power is established in Kabul, Pakistan will be the first to recognize this power. Indeed, in the 90s it seemed almost true that the Taliban were derivatives of the Pakistani security services. Today the Taliban has taken on a life of its own, but the golden key to pacifying or regulating the Taliban's behavior is, of course, in Islamabad, although the gilding of the 90s has long since disappeared from it.
The question is whether the Taliban will be recognized by Saudi Arabia, which once was one of the three countries that recognized the regime in the late 90s. The third country, by the way, was Turkmenistan, which has an amazing ability to deal only with security problems along its borders but has no interest in what lies beyond. But as regards China, unlike in the 1990s it has a significant interest in Afghanistan today. Recently, the Taliban paid a visit to Beijing to meet with the Chinese Foreign Minister. No one knows what the level of promises and agreements was, but it was significant, and the Chinese were very interested in publicizing the event so that everyone would understand that China's 'golden paw' extends over Afghanistan. China will spare no expense. In a sense, it will replace the United States in terms of the prospects for the new elite's corruption.
The Chinese will not spare expense for Afghanistan and, in a sense, will replace the United States
The Chinese corrupted the Tajik elite in this way a long time ago. They offered cash with no questions asked when the current founder of peace and quiet in Uzbekistan needed it. On the positive side, the Chinese, as well as Pakistan, will not like the lawlessness and chaos that may be unleashed under the Taliban regime. They need the security of the infrastructural arteries passing through Afghanistan, including from China to Iran. So, they will need security and a guaranteed peaceful economic environment inside Afghanistan, primarily for Chinese business. And the Taliban will try to go along, thereby helping to stabilize Afghanistan, which is good.
When it comes to promises of the Taliban about women's rights and state-building in the modern sense, they say what people want to hear from them. But this does not mean they are lying. This means they know what people want to hear from them, and they will actually do some of it. But it is obvious that the Taliban youth, who have smelled blood and who are intoxicated with the success of their victory, will, unfortunately, go on killing and punishing women. If we recall the first years of the bloody terror of the Bolsheviks, who suddenly came to power and had to quickly deal with the remnants of the bourgeois rabble, there is nothing surprising in the arrival of someone like them a hundred years later; uneducated peasant masses who yearn for the justice of taking away and dividing. The Taliban may have their own Lunacharsky – the first Bolshevik Commissar for Education – and attempt to censure, call down or educate their own bandits. But Lunacharskys are rare, and bandits are everywhere.
This text is also available in Russian