How can you have a war on terrorism when war itself is terrorism?” wrote historian, philosopher and World War II veteran Howard Zinn.
Zinn’s words ring true when one does a post-mortem of the failed US and Nato occupation of Afghanistan and the ensuing conflict of two decades that formally ended with the last of the US troops exiting the country.
Indeed, war and terror go hand in hand. One man’s war is another’s terror. The two are intertwined. In Afghanistan, it began as a quest for freedom from the Soviet invasion in 1979. Soon home-grown resistance fighters against the Soviet Union turned strong, resilient and lethal.
Soviet plans were successfully thwarted with help from the United States who had then backed the Mujahedeen (freedom fighters) amongst the Afghans and other fighters.
But the US lost control of the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, and also its former ideological enemy and competing superpower, the USSR, following the fall of communism. This created a vacuum in Afghanistan which led to the birth of the Taliban who eventually
Expo 2020: Oscar-winning musical composer A.R. Rahman on directing the all-female Firdaus Orchestra
When the US invaded Afghanistan in retaliation for the 9/11 terror attacks on the twin World Trade Center towers in New York, it didn’t expect to be stationed in the country for 20 years.
The military target was Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda founder who plotted 9/11. Bin Laden was neutralized in neighboring Pakistan in 2011, but the US stayed on in Afghanistan for another decade.
An exit after Bin Laden’s execution would have been seen as a major victory, but President Barack Obama didn’t get the drift on the ground.
The Taliban, meanwhile, were patient and made guerrilla warfare a way of life. They fought their old ally with a vigor and persistence that none had expected them to show.
Experts and the media have often called it a ‘forever war’ — a conflict without end, where there are no victors, only corpses, or a lost (and dead) cause. The Taliban played the waiting game with élan when out of power.
They honed their diplomatic skills, struck at US positions and bases at the appropriate times to wear down the superpower which had grown tired of the campaign and were now talking of ending the endless war.
That end finally. Now that the US has left, there will be much mud-slinging and gnashing of teeth in Washington D.C. The US president is in the line of fire for his thoughtless and clueless withdrawal. He made a robust defense of his actions in his latest speech, but it was too little too late.
The US plan in 2001 was to blend in and exact revenge for the 9/11 attacks in what was termed the war on terror. They got the job done in 10 years but overstayed their wary welcome. Changing the mindset of the Taliban and the Afghan population after subduing them was not part of the plan. They got involved in running the affairs of the country and foisting two governments who were corrupt and did not seek reconciliation with the Taliban and the myriad warlords. Failure was inevitable.
Afghanistan has recoiled on Biden and hit the administration. It has brought American troops and Afghan refugees who will have to start all over again.
The time to herald victory lapsed in 2001 when Bin Laden was killed by Special Forces. This is a time to mourn American losses.
The war on terror began as a war of ideologies in 2001 — their brand of violence versus our form of peace through democracy. This mutated into a clash of civilizations — the West has answers to the world’s problems; the rest must be tutored on rights and justice, Western-style.
The experiment failed because the US didn’t know when to end it. Taliban 2.0 is now set to take the reins of power after hammering out new deals with other groups in the country.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken put some spin into the evacuation and called it a ‘massive military, diplomatic and humanitarian undertaking’. In other words, this was an escape to victory.
“A new chapter has begun. The military mission is over. A new diplomatic mission has begun,” he said as the last US plane departed Kabul.
One hopes the guns fall silent in the country under the Taliban in their new avatar. As for the US, Howard Zinn’s rhetorical question could provide answers on the future of war and terror.
The White House would be advised to introspect during their long hours of crisis-control as the withdrawal symptoms from Afghanistan linger and hurt the administration. The incumbent, former and future US presidents would do well to pose the question to them: “How can you have a war on terrorism when war itself is terrorism?”