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Afghanistan debacle marks shift in global power balance

27th Aug 2021
Afghanistan debacle marks shift in global power balance

(Photo courtesy of Senator Mushahid Hussain)

“Notwithstanding the shabby treatment meted out by its erstwhile Western allies, Pakistan remains a key player in Afghanistan given the stakes, as it has a 2600 kilometre long border with Afghanistan, continues to host about 2 million Afghan refugees, facilitated talks between the US and the Afghan Taliban plus the earlier infra-Afghan dialogue”



Senator Mushahid Hussain Senate of Pakistan,Islamabad & Chair, Senate Defence Committee


As the world comes to terms with the momentous developments in Afghanistan unravelling America’s 20-year Afghanistan Project in a matter of days, it is instructive to recall the historical context which provides the setting for the current scenario.

August 15, 2021, will probably go down in history as the day that marked the formal demise of the ‘American Century’ and the beginning of ‘the Asian Century’, with an inexorable shift in the global balance of power away from the West to the East.

On that day, the US-propped Kabul regime collapsed, with its head fleeing apparently with lots of cash, and the ignominious, panicky exit of the American military coincided with the, surprisingly, swift but subdued return of the Afghan Taliban to power after 20 years.

Messy exits are now a hallmark of the United States in the Third World countries the Americans once dominated, but ‘incompetence’ was never an adjective that described the American way of doing things, until Kabul a fortnight ago.

The dizzying speed of these developments reinforces what Lenin once said, ‘There are decades when nothing happens; and then there are weeks when decades happen’!

There is now a glimmer of hope that the 42-year-old Afghan conflict can perhaps come to an end after three Afghan Wars (1979-1989 Afghan Jihad funded by the US against the Soviet Union’s occupation), then the Afghan Civil War (1989-2001), and finally the ‘War on Terror’ undertaken by the US after 9/11.

While the blame game has already begun both within the US and globally as well, some recounting of key facts will put events in perspective.

In a rare moment of candour, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, did some honest introspection during Congressional hearings on April 23, 2009, on American Afghan policy. She bluntly stated that “we can point fingers at the Pakistanis, but the problems we face now (in Afghanistan) to some extent we have to take responsibility for having contributed to it.

Let’s remember here, the people we are fighting today we funded 20 years ago, and we did it because we were locked in a struggle with the Soviet Union. Let’s be careful with what we sow… because we will harvest. This [war] led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and so, then, we left Pakistan, [telling them] we don’t want to have anything to do with you, in fact, we’re sanctioning you (Pakistan)”.

President Carter’s National Security Adviser, Dr Zbigniew Brzezinski, claimed in his memoir, Power and Principle, that Carter had signed a directive on July 3, 1979, to start funding the dissident Afghan Mujahideen with an initial funding of $695,000 which would be distributed by the CIA via Pakistan. This was six months before the Soviet military invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.

Eventually, Afghanistan became the centre of the biggest CIA covert operation after World War II, which was code-named ‘Operation Cyclone’.

When the Geneva Accords were signed a decade later, providing the framework for the defeated Red Army’s exit from Afghanistan, almost $5 billion had been funnelled for this guerrilla war, with Saudi Arabia providing matching funds to the American money ($2.1 billion each), plus another $1 billion from other countries over a 10-year period. 100,000 Afghan Mujahideen had been trained and armed, plus about 10,000 Arab and other Muslim volunteers.

The Afghan Taliban, who now are in power, are the ideological offspring of the Afghan Mujahideen, some actually having fought in the war against the Red Army.

During an interview with the French newspaper, Le Nouvelle Observateur, published in its issue of 15-21 January 1998, Dr Brzezinski was asked whether he had regrets in funding a struggle that spawned religious extremism, destabilising parts of both the Muslim and Western Worlds.

He answered without batting an eyelid,‘What is more important in world history, the Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet Empire? Some agitated Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and end of the Cold War’?

It was largely an American-created genie that the US tried, albeit abortively, to put back into the bottle when Washington under President Bush launched the ‘War on Terror’ after 9/11.

Pakistan was coerced into joining the war, although India was the first in the region to offer unstinted cooperation to the American war effort. And Saudi Arabia too was cajoled into the post 9/11 war effort because it feared American reprisals as 15 of the 19 hijackers that attacked the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington were from Saudi Arabia (of the remaining 4, 2 were from Egypt, 1 each from Lebanon and the UAE).

America’s Afghanistan Project came unstuck for three reasons, starting in 2003. First, that year, an over-confident US went to war with Iraq. Instead of stabilising and strengthening Afghanistan the US ‘took its eye off the ball’ to the situation in Afghanistan, in fact, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld proclaimed ‘Mission Accomplished’ in Kabul on May 1, 2003.

The US shifted attention to Iraq, fighting a war of choice because of George W Bush’s ideological foreign policy fixation, when he labelled Iraq, Iran and North Korea as part of the ‘Axis of Evil’, although none of these countries had anything to do with 9/11 and Iran had actively cooperated with the US in the removal of the Taliban regime.

The prominent New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman, famously told the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, on April 3, 2003 (two weeks after the Iraq invasion), that: “I could give you the names of 25 people (all of whom are within a 5 block radius of the White House) who, if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and a half ago, the Iraq War would not have happened.” So much for the world’s most vibrant democracy, whose decision to go to war can be manipulated by a small, influential neoconservative cabal.

The second reason was an inability to learn lessons from history due to imperial hubris and US duplicity with key allies like Pakistan. Just before the Anglo-American invasion of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, a top-secret British delegation was in Moscow seeking ‘expert advice’ from the Russian experience in Afghanistan. Their advice was instructive but never followed: “You will make the same bad choice we did, you will go in, you will lose, many of you will die, and then you’ll be forced to retreat, which will be good for us”.

Instead of repaying a moral debt to Pakistan for its role as a ‘frontline state’, helping the West win the Cold War against the Soviet Union, plus also playing the model host by welcoming the largest number of refugees for the longest duration in history, over 3 million Afghan refugees, the US treated Pakistan like a pariah, once the Red Army left Afghanistan in defeat, in which Pakistan played a pivotal role. And the US did the same after 9/11 with Pakistan, blaming Pakistan for its failures and incompetence.

Regarding duplicity with allies like Pakistan, for example, in his book, Lawless World, Philippe Sands reveals the contents of a telephone conversation between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair on January 30, 2003, just a few weeks before launching the war on Iraq on March 20.

In that conversation, recorded and transcribed by Blair’s staff, Bush tells Blair that he “wanted to go beyond Iraq in dealing with WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) proliferation, mentioning, in particular, Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan”, at a time when Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were supposedly US allies.

And by 2005, the US, in another example of perfidy with Pakistan, violating its own laws as well as IAEA rules, signed a major civil nuclear deal with India, with a view to rope in India against China, backed later by massive armaments and sophisticated technology to India, to the detriment of Pakistan.

The third reason for failure, apart from the confusion of why the US was in Afghanistan and lack of clarity of objectives, was the US perpetuating its military presence by propping up a small self-serving corrupt Kabul elite that was dependent on dole-outs from Washington.

To expect any self-respecting soldier to lay down his life for such a corrupt clique was delusional. The Washington Post did an excellent expose of the deception and lies that lay at the heart of America’s ill-fated Afghanistan Project, by publishing the ‘Afghanistan Papers’ on December 9, 2019, as there was a yawning chasm between what was publicly stated and what was privately believed.

Another instructive report by US Special Inspector General on Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), just issued in August 2021, “What we need to learn”, points out corruption and wastage of funds in Afghanistan on an industrial scale.

On the eve of the 20th Anniversary of 9/11, the Afghanistan debacle has evoked memories of Cambodia and Vietnam 1975 or Iran 1979, where the departing American Ambassador, Stars and Stripes wrapped and folded in his arms, announced somewhat bitterly: ‘till yesterday, we were ruling this country’! Afghanistan is much more than an intelligence failure or an error of policy judgment. It has turned out as the nemesis of the US policy of ‘regime change’ in the Third World, which the US attempted 72 times during the Cold War, 1945-1989.

75 years ago, when the US emerged as the victor of World War II in 1945, it was heralded as the harbinger of the ‘American Century’. This view was reinforced when the Afghan War against the Soviet Union sparked the collapse of the USSR and the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, symbolised by the demolition of the Berlin Wall. The ‘sole superpower’s President, George H.W. Bush, triumphantly proclaimed in 1991 that ‘what we say goes’!

That was 30 years ago. Today, the image, clout and confidence of the ‘sole superpower’ lie buried in the debris of the destruction of the war in Afghanistan, which has lived up to its reputation and name as ‘the graveyard of empires’, devouring the American superpower as it did with Britain and the Soviet Union, the superpowers of the 19th and 20th centuries!

Notwithstanding the shabby treatment meted out by its erstwhile Western allies, Pakistan remains a key player in Afghanistan given the stakes, as it has a 2600 kilometre long border with Afghanistan, continues to host about 2 million Afghan refugees, facilitated talks between the US and the Afghan Taliban plus the earlier infra-Afghan dialogue.

Even today, Pakistan is among the four countries whose embassies are functioning normally in Kabul (others being Iran, China and Russia), its Visa Office is open till 11 pm offering free visas to all and sundry — Afghans or other foreigners fleeing Afghanistan — and IRS national airline, PIA, has ferried passengers out of Kabul in emergency flights that include Afghans, Americans, Dutch, Belgians and Britons. Is such a humanitarian endeavour by a Muslim state even acknowledged in the Western media or appreciated by governments in the West?


2 Responses to “Afghanistan debacle marks shift in global power balance”

Fatema DossaAugust 28, 2021

Fascinating read and in depth analysis of the present situation in Afghanistan esp for those of us who were too young to know the history of the region. Much of this is missing in the mainstream media which as usual gives a biased and superficial reading of the situation, always painting the western players as honest brokers. Thankyou for your efforts.


Farooq Abdulgafar BawaniSeptember 27, 2021

Well Researched Article

Kind Attention Respected Mr. Ahmad J. Versi Saheb
Respected Sir,
I invite your kind attention to an article published under the heading “Afghanistan debacle marks shift in global power balance” by Senator Mr. Mushahid Hussain, Senate of Pakistan, Islamabad & Chair, Senate Defence Committee vide issue of Muslim News dated 27 August 2021.

The learned writer has quoted extensively from various sources. It is a well researched article. He has given full justice to the subject.

Congrats to the honorable Mr. M. Hussain Sir for enriching our knowledge.
Thanking you,
With regards.
Farooq Abdulgafar Bawani
Rajkot – Gujarat – India
Mob. +91 987918817


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