It took the Taliban less than two weeks to take full control of Afghanistan, including its Capital, Kabul. The Afghan national army that had been trained and equipped by the United States with a price tag of nearly $90 billion, collapsed completely without putting up much of any fight. President Ashraf Ghani, the isolated puppet of the United States, fled the country and took refuge, first in the neighboring Tajikistan, and then in the United Arab Emirate, reportedly taking with him lots of cash. After spending over $2 trillion in Afghanistan over twenty years, the United States could not evacuate its huge Embassy in Kabul fast enough. What happened?
Do not get me wrong. I am thrilled that the United States is finally leaving Afghanistan. In addition to the fact that we should not have invaded and occupied Afghanistan for 20 years in the first place, we should have gotten out of there a long time ago to correct our original grave mistake. But, instead, the United States and its allies kept lying to us for four decades ever since we decided in the 1970s to make Afghanistan the Soviet Union’s Vietnam.
To "justify" what the U.S. political establishment was doing there, successive administrations kept presenting a fake image of the Afghan society. When the US and Saudi Arabia, first with the Shah [pages 15 and 16] of Iran, and after he was overthrown in 1979, with Pakistan, created the Mujahedin to fight with the Soviet army, we were told that they wanted to liberate their country from the Soviet-backed communist "dictatorship," with President Ronald Reagan calling their leaders "the moral equivalent of our founding father."
Then, part of the same Mujahedin morphed into Taliban and part into al-Qaeda. When the Taliban, with considerable help from Iran, were toppled in 2001, we were told that the belief in liberal democracy in the new "democratic" Afghanistan has overnight blossomed and is universal; that everyone hates the Taliban; that all Afghan women want to be professionals. It is reasonable to assume that a small portion of the Afghan population in large urban areas do support liberal democracy, but this is a far cry from claiming that the majority of the Afghan people supported such views. In 2001 we were also told that the Taliban had been completely defeated and rejected by the Afghan people.
Both times the claims were pure fabrication. What the Mujahedin were fighting for was preventing the deep reforms – at times excessive and too fast – that the leftist government in Kabul was trying to implement, and to preserve their traditional society, culture, and way of life, one in which the ultraconservative Sunni Hanafi Islam, the ideological backbone of the Taliban, has deep roots.
And, in 2001, the Taliban were not defeated; they simply melted into the the land of valleys where defeat has no meaning to the believers.
As Shahab Farokhyar, the erudite Iranian journalist and Afghanistan expert, put it, the fake image ignored the fact that, before Taliban took power in 1996, during their reign from 1996-2001, and since then, the Afghan people have always identified themselves, first and foremost, by their conservative Islamic belief, and then by their tribal affiliation. The fake image never acknowledged that the majority Sunni population believes in the very conservative Hanafi branch of Islam that the Taliban themselves believe in.
Fazal Hadi Shinwari, "democratic" Afghanistan’s first Chief Justice after the Taliban were overthrown, belonged to the Ittehad-al-Islami Party [Islamic Alliance Party, now known as the Islamic Dawah Organization of Afghanistan], which was supported strongly by Saudi Arabia. Its leader, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf was an ally of Osama bin Laden during the war with the Soviet Union, and his group was accused of gross human rights violations, including the massacre of Shiite Hazaras in Kabul. Although during the Afghan Civil war of 1992-1996, Sayyaf was aligned with Ahmad Shah Massoud, commander of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, he was accused of being complicit in his assassination in 2001. The terrorist group Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines takes its name from him.
Thus, it is not surprising that over the past 20 years almost none of Afghanistan’s religious leaders has ever condemned suicidal attacks by the Taliban, nor declared that they were committing un-Islamic acts. They simply believe in what Taliban have been doing, even if they do not admit it publicly.
As Farokhyar pointed out, a good example of the fake image is the horrible fate of Farkhunda Malikzada, a 27 year old Afghan women. The story presented by the Western Media was that Farkhunda, as she is simply referred to, was accused by a mullah and an angry mob of burning the Quran, and was brutally murdered on 19 March 2015 in Kabul. But the true story was more complex.
Farokhyar and some in the West have pointed out that Farkhunda was in fact very religious and had begun arguing with the mullah who was selling taweez – an amulet or locket bearing Quranic verses that some Muslims carry with them, believing that God would protect them. Farkhunda, a conservative Sunni, had told the mullah that what he was selling was against Islam, exactly the Wahabis’ view in Saudi Arabia. So, the argument had not begun because Farkhunda was a liberal rejecting conservative Islam or the lying mullah, as the Western media had us believe, rather because she was arguing for a more puritanical version of Islam, but since the mullah was not going to give up his source of income, he falsely accused her of burning the Quran.
The reaction of the people was also telling. Hundreds of people swiftly believed the mullah’s false allegation and attacked Farkhunda. When the attacks had begun, the police were watching and did nothing, because presumably they also believed the mullah. President Ghani, and women groups condemned the lynching, but some senior officials of his Government quickly endorsed the crime, including the deputy minister of information and culture and Kabul police spokesman, as well as many prominent Friday prayer imams.
We should keep in mind that the mainstream Taliban are no different from the bulk of the Afghan society, as they believe in the same Hanafi Sunni Islam, which distinguishes them from the Wahabi al-Qaeda. Through Pakistan, Taliban may have taken the Saudis’ money, but they do not believe in Wahabism espoused by Saudi Arabia. This is the reality of the Afghan society, which has remained more or less for hundreds of years. If it were not for the clash of the Soviet-backed government and the Mujahedin backed by the United States, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, and then the rivalry between Iran, the US, and Saudi Arabia since 1992, the Afghan society may have remained the same up to now.
Just take a look at what happened when the other day the Taliban forces approached Kabul. Huge crowds greeted them, many of them with a sigh of relief. There is, of course, significant opposition to Taliban too, with the first demonstrations taking place on Wednesday August 18, but this is much different from the claim that a large majority of the Afghan people oppose them.
To those who greeted the Taliban’s arrival in Kabul, the "democratic" government, in power since 2001, had not been able to deliver the goods to them, nor was it able to at least protect them from violence. The entire state apparatus was deeply corrupt, which the United States tolerated because it needed its puppets in power. Up until 2010 the United States had lost $19 billion to fraud alone in Afghanistan, and this was while the warlords were becoming rich and powerful, but the ordinary people were, and still are, living in poverty.
I am a Shiite and practicing Muslim. I oppose not only war and violence – both military and economic, such as the sanctions imposed on Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea by the United States – but also any forms of extremism by all branches of Islam [and, of course, any other religion], from the Wahabis, to the Taliban, and the Shiites. I am deeply sad that a reactionary group such as Taliban now controls Afghanistan.
But my opposition does not make me blind to the realities of the Afghan society [and the Iranian society, for that matter]. There are also Shiite groups in Iran, my native land, that are just as reactionary as the Taliban. Here, in the United States, we also have reactionary religious groups with considerable influence in the Republican Party. In all cases, they are part of the fabric of the society.
Thus, I reject the bogus notion that liberal democracy is a universal cure for all the ills that humanity faces, particularly in such nations as Afghanistan. Every people and every nation must find their own way toward self-rule and enlightenment, without any outside interference.
Will Taliban’s victory bring peace to that part of the world? No. Many, including this author, believe that the US left Afghanistan so that the Taliban can take over and begin creating problems for Iran with backing of Saudi Arabia. Despite sending a delegation to Tehran a few weeks ago, the Taliban with their Hanafi Sunni belief have always opposed the Shiites.
In 1998, after the Taliban killed 8 Iranian diplomats and one journalist in Afghanistan, the two countries almost went to war. There is a significant population of Hani Sunni in Iran’s Baluchistan province near the border with Afghanistan, and the extremists among them, who are just as militant as the Taliban, have been attacking government forces for at least 15 years. Since the nineteenth century Iran and Afghanistan have had a major dispute over the distribution of water from Helmand [Hirmand in Persian] River that originates in Afghanistan and flows into Iran, which has intensified in recent years due to severe draught in both Iran and Afghanistan. Thus, there is potential for an intensifying conflict. Add to this volatile situation the fact that both Saudi Arabia and the United States wish to create problems for Iran, and we can get an explosive situation that can easily lead to war.
God helps us all.
Muhammad Sahimi, a Professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, analyzes Iran political developments, its nuclear program, and its relations with the rest of the Middle East.