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Mainstream, VOL LV No 42 New Delhi October 7, 2017

A Must Read for those Meticulously following Afghan Events

Monday 9 October 2017


by Dipak Malik

Farewell To Kabul: From Afghanistan to a more dangerous world by Christina Lamb; William Collins, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, London; 2015; pages 640; price: $ 22.47.

The story of Afghanistan does not blur out after the 9/11 ‘moment’ of cataclysm, it has increasingly incremented into a beleaguered frontline state and society against global and indigenously breeding terrorism faced with almost mystical intransigence on the part of the US Administration to identify the obvious backseat drivers like the ISI, the terror producing Directorate of the Pakistan Army, and the Salafi regime of Saudi Aradia with its generous coffers of dinar flowing liberally to grease the global terror-machine. This will keep the Afghanistan regime on tenterhooks turning it into a jinxed land for an unforeseen future. President Ashraf Ghani, basically an old academic hand who has spent almost all of his professional life in the United States, is still trying to convince the US that it should not walk away from its supposed obligation towards the cold, inhospitable terrain and people of Afghanistan. He would like to remind the American taxpayer that given what Osama alone could do, what if a third, a half—God forbid—or all of Afghanistan is a centre of global terrorism incorporated; thus he says to the Time interview carried on June 12, 2017 that not only America but surely the whole world would slip into a danger zone.

Christian Lamb’s book, Farewell to Kabul, draws a graphic picture of the American as well as Western alliance’s military presence of NATO partners pointing out the sheer blinkered view of Washington, London and an over-active and anxious Pakistan to install its proxy regime of the Taliban over Afghanistan. Being a war correspondent, Christina Lamb’s book contains the ground-level reporting about the myriad world of lies, deception, double-talk, corruption at the very door-step of the former Mujahidin fighters who grew into formidable warlords while waging their mercenary war empowered by the strategic planners in Pentagon along with the security advisor to President Carter, Zbiginiew Brzezinsky, who aimed at splitting the Muslim majority inhabited Soviet Central Asia and destroying the fragile secular regime in Afghanistan via jehad redesigned by the Pentagon and CIA outfits as the lethal instru-ment of dismantling a very shaky and yet in flux regime professing to bring both socialism and modernisation, a task almost impossible in a well-embedded medieval society. Most of these Mujahidins of the past have now either become ISI- backed chieftains, a few of them opting out to defect to the Taliban camp or the bulk of them as uncomfortable operators of the current regime which is compelled to depend on these warlords in the absence of a state machinery. The current dispensation of President Ghani, not very unlike his predecessor, Karzai, has a limited constituency in the 19th century Arg Palace, the presidential seat, and a few streets encircling it. The claim that Afghanistan has moved into the orbit of modernisation with 80 TV stations and 180 radio stations is not of much help as outside Kabul the rest of Afgha-nistan remains in the harsh medieval world.

The British, of course, had the bitterest memory of their venture during the fateful first Anglo-Afghan war (1839-1842). The memory of that, it seems, has not completely faded away as is the custom in the tribal societies among the ill-informed, yet extremely militant, villagers of this rough, barren and ruined world. It lurks again and again as the diary of Christina Lamb goes. As a matter of fact Afghanistan had two short brushes with modernisation, once during the short rule of King Amanullah Khan, who tried to abolish slavery, give a proper govern-ment and a place for women out of purdah, but unfortunately he had to pay the price for all that and was duly dethroned by 1929; the second opportunity came when as a result of a coup by some military brass trained in Moscow an alliance of the two Left-wing parties, Khalq and Parcham, came to power in 1978. They in essence tried to build a modern state and started by land reform, equality to women and women’s education, but they too had to face the same fate as Amanullah Khan with one exception that this time the demise of the regime of Saur (April) Revolution came as a result of inter-vention due to America’s drive against communism, particularly revenge-taking after its humiliating defeat at Vietnam, through Pakistan under General Zia Ul Huq on the long march towards building a Muslim fundamentalist regime, Army and society. The land reform drove the Afghan feudal lords scuppering for help to Pakistan, which was excessively funded by the US Administration to devise the temper of a jehad, a jehad well-chiselled and moduled by the half-witted Pentagon-CIA outfit in the US; of course it was bound to boomerang with 9/11. The secular state- formation effort, though done in a rather shoddy manner, on account of the embedded back-wardness of the society, failed—and it brought the mullahs, landlords and warlords in the lap of the Islamabad-Washington axis.

Ms Lamb had started covering this troubled land right from the early days of the Mujahidin jehad.

She knew a large number of them right from the field. She was taken by Karzai himself on the pillion seat of his motor cycle to an area where Karzai had his tribe and men resisting the Soviet forces. The Americans succeeded in pushing a communist takeover and the Soviet Army; there was an extremely dampening effect leading ultimately to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Pakistan got its bonanza, and in course of time, it became a classic dependencia of the USA, it could rear up an elite class and upper middle class but remained a failed state, democracy and economy without being able to do land reform and requisite industrialisation, but it has managed to remain a client state as well as manipulate a superpower like the US. Today it is shifting to another emerging power, China, to its benefit.

But the combined war of the Mujahidin, covered by the Pakistan Army and financed by the US treasury and the emboldening of the feudal lords, many of whom turned into warlords and religious zealots who came to this camp as they were totally opposed to any reform for a humane Afghan society and ultimately stalled the process of building a just, human and non-feudal polity in Afghanistan, an opportunity in hand after about half-a-century since King Amanullah’s effort to build a modern Afghan society and an Afghan state which could usher in these historic changes.

Ms Lamb’s book, Farewell to Kabul, is a day-to-day diary of a war correspondent whose decades of reporting Afghanistan had brought down all the scales from the eyes of Western observers which they normally wear. Her reportage gives a detailed and true account of duplicity, greed, corruption and violence in vogue on an unprecedented plane. Ms Lamb refers to a talk with the General Ali Aurakazai, a former commander of the Peshawar Corps working as the Governor of the North West Frontier Province; he reminded her of the British experience of the first Anglo-Afghan war when the British became complacent after having put their puppet as the King of Afghanistan and built the cantonment and brought their wives and sweethearts from Delhi. Their man, Alexander Burnes, cabled Delhi that all is well, but in the meantime the Afghans were preparing to attack which left the bloodiest trail in British imperial history. He said that no amount of US troops will be able to bring peace in Afghanistan. He of course evaded the fact that the ISI and Pakistani Army were backing the Taliban in full force. Simultaneously General Musharraf went on receiving $ 100 million a month from the Washington Administration; incidentally Musharraf was the President of Pakistan at that time and he had convinced the White House that Pakistan was fighting a full- scale war against the Taliban.

Ms Lamb’s book brings out these facts and day-to-day fighting on the hills and frontline provinces in bold relief, noting the Western gullibility and agony of the British and American commanders in the field. The book is immensely readable and a must for all who keep a wary eye on the affairs of Afghanistan.

A former Professor of Banaras Hindu University, the reviewer is the Director Emeritus, Gandhian Institute of Studies, Varanasi.

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