- The United States of America (US) announced the withdrawal of all its troops from Afghanistan by September 11th of this year. After two decades they are in a hurry to pack up and leave. Most have left with their equipment.
- Afghanistan Army is on the retreat and many soldiers have abandoned their posts. Out of the 400 odd districts, 100 are now controlled by the Taliban.
- Minister of External Affairs, S Jaishankar warned the international community that Afghanistan might go back to its past. India revised its earlier position after the U.S. troop withdrawal announcement. India has been in contact with the Taliban in the past but not officially.
- The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that in Afghanistan they are in direct talks with various stakeholders including the Taliban. That meant they were negotiating with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a member of the leadership council, that includes Pakistan-based Taliban accused of terrorism.
- Two Indian consulates in Jalalabad near the Pakistan border and in Herat near Iran remain closed since April 2020. Originally closed due to the pandemic, officials were not sent back.
- After the American occupation, India has been working with the United Nations (UN) to develop infrastructure and train security forces. We have engaged with elected representatives while keeping away from the Taliban. India has pledged and implemented reconstruction and development projects worth more than Rs 20,000 crore since 2001.
- India has not been comfortable communicating with the Taliban leadership since they are directly involved in terror attacks against Indian missions in Afghanistan assisting groups like the Lashkar-e Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e Mohammad (JeM). All three are dangerous for India.
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- The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is a mountainous landlocked country bordered by Pakistan to the east and south; Iran to the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to the north; and India and China to the northeast. India shares an 80 km border from Karambar Lake in the south to Hark Glacier in the north.
- The population is around 3.2 crores and Kabul is the capital and largest city. Ethnicity of Pashtuns (Pashto-speaking Iranian ethnic group) 50%, Tajiks (Persian-speaking Iranian ethnic group) 20%, Hazaras and Uzbeks at 10% each (Turkish and Mongol origin and closely related to the Uighurs)
- Humans lived in what is now Afghanistan at least 50,000 years ago and settlements appeared in the region around 9,000 years ago.
- Mauryan Indians brought Hinduism to Afghanistan and thrived in the region for centuries.
- Muslims brought Islam in the mid-7th century and Islamization was accomplished between the 9th and 12th centuries
- Taliban says it is committed to Afghan peace talks but insists ‘genuine Islamic system’ is the only way to ‘protect’ women’s rights. Provisions for women’s rights will be in line with cultural traditions and religious rules they said
- 38% of the local administration are women, 58 percent of government officials are young, and educated people under 40. The army is a volunteer one
- No education after the age of 8 (only the Quran till then), no dresses other than the burqa, no high-heels, no selfies or photography, no music, no ‘appearing’ on balconies, no driving, etc were the Taliban’s contributions to the human rights of Afghan women, last time around.
- The devastating ban on education meant that over one lakh school girls, 8000 college students, and an equal number of female teachers lost their education or their jobs.
- The 1996 decree banning women from employment meant 25% of women employees including the govt ones lost their jobs immediately. How widows coped is unknown.
- The modern phenomenon of jihadism that has caused insurgencies, guerrilla warfare, and international terrorism originated in the 20th century and draws on early-to-mid-20th century Islamist doctrines like Qutbism.
- Qutbism is an Islamist ideology developed by Egyptian Sayyid Qutb who was a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood and was executed by the Egyptian government in 1966.
- It pushed for extremist Sharia laws and gave jihadist explanations to create “offensive jihad”. Waging jihad through conquests, armed jihad to drive Islam, and simply put “Islamic-based terrorism” was preached and taught
- The idea was to commit oneself to Sharia laws as a complete way of life without which Islam cannot exist.
- Sharia law is an outdated Islamic legal system and punishments range from public whipping to stoning to death, amputation of hands, and beheading with a sword. The convicted cannot be pardoned by the victim or by the state and the punishments must be carried out in public. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Pakistan still follow these rules.
- Qutb also spoke of avoiding western and non-Islamic evil and corruption. This included socialism, nationalism, and consumerist capitalism.
- A two-pronged attack of preaching to convert and jihad to violently eliminate was supposed to be accepted
- The most controversial aspect was that Qutb declared Islam extinct so that those who call themselves Muslims (except for Qutb’s followers) are not Muslims. The intention was to push Muslims into religious fanatism.
- It meant that non-Qutbists who claimed to be Muslim were either straying from Islam or had officially abandoned Islam. Called apostasy it violated Sharia law and was a crime punishable by death according to Islamic law
- During the Afghan war, Qutbism had merged with other ideologies like Salafism (that death is a fitting penalty for people with different religious beliefs), culminating in the formation of Salafi jihadism. The Mujahideen, Taliban, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and ISIS are all products of this ideology.
- Salafi-jihadis engage in an armed struggle to force their ideology on their societies and others.
- A radical ideology that promotes violent goals and incites its followers to devise tactics to achieve them. Salafi-jihadists blindly justify the killing of civilians, including Muslims, under the logic that the ends justify the means.
- The leaders of Salafi-jihadist organizations preach about the advantages of martyrdom, but rarely conduct suicidal operations themselves, or send their loved ones on such missions.
- In 1979, the Iranian revolution challenged Saudi Arabia for control of the Muslim world.
- Calling for the overthrow of the House of Saud (the ruling regime) Salafis tested the Saudi regime by attacking the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Around 500 insurgents including women and children took over the mosque and held tens of thousands captive.
- The seizure of Islam’s holiest site, worshippers taken as hostages, the deaths of hundreds of militants, security personnel, and hostages caught in the crossfire in the ensuing battles for control of the site, shocked the Islamic world. The siege ended two weeks after the takeover began and the mosque was cleared.
- That same year, Muslim nations around the world reacted violently to what they called the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
- Mujahideen is the plural form of mujahid (one who wages jihad). An Arabic term for Islamic guerrillas who engage in jihad (armed struggle against non-believers of Islam) and claim it’s being done on behalf of the Islamic community
- The name Mujahideen became synonymous with a coalition of guerrilla groups in Afghanistan that opposed the Soviet forces and eventually toppled the Afghan communist government during the Afghan War (1978–92).
- A group of loosely aligned Afghan opposition groups initially rebelled against the government of the pro-Soviet Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) during the late 1970s. At the DRA’s request, the Soviet Union moved troops into the country to aid the government in 1979.
- Regional warlords (mujahideen) fought amongst themselves and against both Soviet and DRA troops during the Soviet-Afghan War (1979–1989). They started receiving sophisticated, outside support, and cooperation between different groups grew.
- Eventually, seven main mujahideen parties joined hands politically calling themselves, the Islamic Unity of Afghanistan Mujahideen. They were not working under a single commander and had ideological differences.
The US Funding the Mujahideen
- Osama bin Laden, originally from a wealthy Saudi Arab family was a major organizer and financier of an all-Arab Islamist group of foreign volunteers. His group moved money, arms, and Muslim fighters from around the Muslim world into Afghanistan and those foreign fighters came to be known as Afghan Arabs
- In 1984, during the Soviet-Afghanistan war, The Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK), also known as the Afghan Services Bureau, was founded by Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and a few others. They planned to raise funds and recruit foreign Mujahideen for the war against the Soviets defending Afghanistan and was Al-Qaeda’s predecessor.
- They visited mosques in the US for raising funds and opened MAK offices in 33 US cities that were open for business even after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade center by Al Qaeda.
- Back in the 80s, they began by initially arranging approximately $1 million in donations from both Arab and Western countries including the US, and trained a group of 100 mujahideen for the war to support their jihad
- They were in close contact with Pakistani ISI agents through whom the intelligence agency of Saudi Arabia funneled money to the Mujaheddin. They paid for air tickets for recruits who flew to Afghanistan for guerrilla training
- The Soviet forces suffered serious fatalities from Mujahideen guerillas and ultimately made the war a very costly affair for the Soviet Union back then like it is now for the US.
ISI and the American role in Afghanistan
- The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is Pakistan’s top intelligence agency. The ISI Director-General reports directly to both the Prime Minister and the Army Chief.
- The agency gained global notoriety in the 1980s when it supported the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet Union during the Soviet-Afghan War in Afghanistan. During the war, the ISI worked in close coordination with the United States Central Intelligence Agency and the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service commonly known as MI6.
- The ISI provided strategic support and intelligence to the Afghan Taliban against the rival factions during the Afghan Civil War in the 1990s.
- Operation Cyclone was the code name for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) program to arm and fund the Afghan mujahideen from 1979 to 1989 and was executed by the ISI. It was a program to train and fund the mujahideen with support from China, Saudi Arabia, and other Muslim nations.
- It ended up being the longest and most costly undercover CIA operation ever undertaken. Funding officially began with $695,000 in 1979 was increased dramatically to $20–$30 million per year from 1980, and by 1987 was pumping in $630 million per year. How much went to MAK is unknown.
Mujahideen during the Soviet era
- Muslims from other countries helped the various mujahideen groups in Afghanistan and were aided by the Pakistani, American, Chinese, and Saudi governments
- As the war ended, a difference in opinion emerged over the use of the resources. Some wanted to help install a pure Islamic government in Afghanistan while others wanted to fund a global jihad, including the overthrow of governments in Muslim countries considered un-Islamic.
- The mujahideen’s main source of funding was private donors and religious charities throughout the Muslim world, especially from Gulf countries. 75% of the money came from these sources and not from the above-mentioned governments.
- The US openly assisted the Mujahideen and many fundamentalist Afghan leaders from this war believed that the Americans used them as mere tools in their fight against the Soviets.
- The final and complete withdrawal of Soviet combatant forces from Afghanistan began on 15 May 1988 and ended on 15 February 1989
An attempt at Jihadi governance
- In February 1989 the seven Sunni mujahideen factions formed the Afghan Interim Government (AIG) in Peshawar as an attempt for a united front against the DRA.
- It failed since it could not solve the differences between different factions. This was because they kept out the Iran-backed Shia mujahideen factions and the supporters of an ex-King
- In 1992 the DRA’s last president was overthrown and most mujahideen factions agreed that a 51 strong team of leaders would take over power from the present rulers of Kabul.
- However, the mujahideen could not establish a functional united government, and many of the larger mujahideen groups turned on each other and fought over power in Kabul.
- The Taliban is a militant organization that operates out of Afghanistan that consisted of Mujahideen radicals from the Soviet era in all decision-making roles and recruits for their operations.
- After several years of devastating fighting, a Pakistan-backed Afghan Mujahideen commander from Kandahar named Mullah Mohammed Omar organized a new armed movement.
- This movement became known as the Taliban (“students” in Pashto). A Talib means a student of Islam, who studies in a Madrassa or with a religious teacher (Mullah).
- This was about how most senior Taliban had grown up in refugee camps in Pakistan during the 1980s. They were groomed in Saudi-backed traditional Islamic Wahhabi madrassas, religious schools known for teaching a fundamentalist version of Islam.
- Pakistan and especially the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) support the Taliban heavily.
Qutbism at work and the radicals
- Qutbism inspired Islamist extremists and terrorists like Saudi Arabian Osama bin Laden and Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri and many more. They started citing Qutb repeatedly and even considered themselves as his intellectual heirs.
- Qutb’s message was spread by his brother Muhammad Qutb. Imprisoned along with his elder brother, he was released and sought refuge in Saudi Arabia. He became a professor of Islamic studies, edited, published, and promoted his brother Sayyid’s work.
- The Egyptian Islamic Jihadi Ayman Al-Zawahiri was one of Muhammad Qutb’s students and later a mentor of Saudi-born fundamentalist Osama bin Laden, both founder members of al-Qaeda.
- Zawahiri was first introduced to Sayyad Qutb by his uncle, who had been close to Sayyad Qutb throughout his life
- Osama bin Laden regularly attended weekly public lectures by Muhammad Qutb, at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah. He read and was deeply inspired by Sayyid Qutb
- Late Yemeni Al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki has also spoken of Qutb’s great influence and of being so immersed with the author that he felt Qutb was speaking to him directly.
- Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of al-Qaeda since June 2011 admitted that the execution of Qutb lit “the jihadist fire” and his writings “dramatically altered the direction of the Islamist movement by forcefully driving the idea of the urgent need to attack the near enemy (rulers and secular governments in Muslim countries)”
- Qutb showed them the way forward and they referred to him as a martyr and looked up to him as a founding spiritual father
The Taliban regime
- The Taliban emerged in 1994, taking advantage of the Soviet withdrawal and the Afghan civil war with Mullah Omar at the helm of things. At its peak, the Taliban held around 90% of Afghanistan.
- By September 1996, a totalitarian Islamic state was established called The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Kabul fell and the Taliban began their governance of Afghanistan.
- Al-Qaeda was awarded sanctuary in Afghanistan and promised not to offend the United States. The Taliban was fundamentally regional while Al-Qaeda was planning a global jihad.
- Osama bin Laden broke the agreement in 1998 when he planned and executed the bombings of US embassies in Africa and many more attacks all around the world.
- On Sep 11th, 2001, Al Qaeda attacked the US with hijacked airplanes that killed 2,996 of which 2,751 victims were confirmed to have died in the initial attacks. Over 1400 rescue workers have since died, Over 6,000 were wounded.
- The U.S. President George W. Bush asked the Taliban leadership to hand over Laden, the prime suspect in the attacks. The Taliban refused and instead demanded evidence for his participation.
- During the late 1990s, only three countries in the world had recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. Of the 19 hijackers in the September 11 attacks, 15 were Saudi Arabian citizens and 2 were from the United Arab Emirates
- The US declared a “War on Terror” and international opposition against the regime drastically increased. Both the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan withdrew recognition and diplomats from Afghanistan.
- The U.S and its NATO allies launched the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and code-named it Operation Enduring Freedom, on October 7, 2001.
- By December 17th, 2001, The Islamic Emirate ceased to exist after being destroyed by U.S.troops who had landed two months earlier. The U.S. and its allies had driven the Taliban from power and began building military bases near major cities across Afghanistan.
- The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was later created by the United Nations Security Council and started training the Afghan National Security Forces to oversee military operations in the country to prevent any resurgence of the Taliban group. The Taliban went back to its guerilla warfare tactics and started attacking the Afghan forces, government buildings, and any organization that they believed were US allies.
- Though al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan are now thought to be “diminished”, the war with the Taliban radicals continues
- Pakistan operates an organized system of support for the Taliban and both have deep connections. They receive logistics finances and recruitment in Pakistan. The titles of the many decision-making groups of the Taliban are Quetta Shura, Miramshah Shura, and Peshawar Shura all named after the Pakistani cities where they are located. There is a deep relationship with the state. Even Bin Laden was caught from his Pakistani hideout
Negotiations before 9/11
- By the late 1990s, the US had UAE policymakers diplomatically approach the Taliban leadership asking them to tone down Al Qaeda behavior. The UAE’s moderation through diplomacy approach to dealing with the Taliban began in 2000 to persuade Taliban leader Mullah Omar to hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States.
- These negotiations proved partly successful, as Abu Dhabi’s mediation convinced Mullah Omar to arrange a meeting between the Taliban’s intelligence chief and the U.S. Consul General in Karachi.
- The Taliban reportedly offered to surrender bin Laden to the United States and wanted the US to agree that bin Laden would not be sentenced to death. This was against US laws and the U.S. officials doubted the seriousness of the Taliban’s diplomatic offer.
- UAE then tried to convince the Taliban to extradite bin Laden to any Emirati premises that imposed Islamic law but that did not occur.
- But the brief readiness to give up bin Laden convinced Emirati negotiators that diplomatic talks with the Taliban would be more useful than trying to wipe out the Sunni extremist organization using force.
- This made the UAE differentiate between the Taliban as a political entity and the Taliban’s terrorist allies like Al-Qaeda.
- In the days that followed the September 11 attacks, though the UAE withdrew its diplomatic recognition of Afghanistan’s Taliban government, Abu Dhabi had maintained close links with the Taliban in the previous years leading up to the 2001 US action in Afghanistan.
- By 2001, one lakh Afghan nationals lived and worked in the UAE and the country had become a leading destination for Afghans in the middle east.
- Losing such huge numbers of unskilled labor would have affected its infrastructure development plans. Fearing economic losses, Abu Dhabi continued to maintain diplomatic links with the Taliban and even allowed Afghan airlines to operate a direct flight in and out of Dubai.
- Widespread civilian casualties that the US and NATO forces unleashed in Afghanistan made numerous Afghan labor in the UAE restless. The Americans and the UAE agreed that talks would begin with the Taliban which would also prevent any Afghani unrest in the UAE.
- The city of Khost in eastern Afghanistan is a major recruitment point for UAE labor and is also the site of an Abu Dhabi-funded university compound. They kept communicating with the Taliban to ensure that economic interests are not risked.
- Many major Taliban private sponsors are UAE-based and funds have flown from Emiratis sympathetic to Sunni extremist ideologies. The UAE’s network of ports on the Persian Gulf has also moved to sell arms to Pakistan that will reach the Taliban hands.
- The Taliban in turn reinvests the profits from illicit trade including drug smuggling and arms sales back into the UAE economy by purchasing properties and businesses in the UAE
Regional talks 2007
- By late 2007, back from a US trip, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that the then U.S. President George W. Bush and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had both supported the idea of peace talks with Taliban leaders. He said that he was ready to meet the Taliban leaders including Mullah Omar.
- Citing the presence of nearly 50000 foreign troops under the US and NATO command posted in Afghanistan, the Taliban rejected the offer. They said that they would not waste their time talking peace to a US dummy
- That the US put out a wanted person list calling them terrorists and wanted talks with the same leaders seemed to defy logic. Karzai as if to prove that he was in power offered the Taliban government posts and asked their leaders to come to power using the election process that was held in 2009
- UAE competed aggressively with Qatar in 2011 for the right to host a Taliban office in Abu Dhabi but the Taliban ultimately decided to station its office in Doha in early 2012
- The UAE has previously engaged the Taliban to prevent terrorist attacks in Pashtun-majority regions of eastern Afghanistan. The UAE’s wanted the Taliban to abandon political violence, accept the Afghan constitution, and condemn al-Qaeda. They agreed to none.
- The UAE thought they offered the Taliban an escape from diplomatic isolation and promised financial assistance to aid Afghanistan’s economic reconstruction, on the condition that it renounces terrorism.
- Their attempts to woo the Taliban onto its soil showed that the Sunni extremist organization plays a huge role in UAE’s decision-making policies in Afghanistan.
- Doha offered the Taliban a diplomatic forum without any conditions and convinced its leadership