The horrific terrorist attacks outside Kabul airport will boost chaos sky high. It will take focus away from the only frame in which the epochal events of the past few days should be seen. Did the US withdrawal, however messy, bring an end to the “forever wars”? Is that outcome to be welcomed? Or is this the time to analyze the “incompetence” of the Taliban? A people who defeated a superpower in battle should be given a little more than a fortnight to find their feet.
Or, is there an urge in wounded hearts for some rearguard action in order to pick up shreds of prestige blown to smithereens? A military response to the residual imperialist yearning, pulsating beneath the ashes, may well provide Afghans with an opportunity to measure up to Vietnam’s record. Vietnam defeated three permanent members of the Security Council in the battlefield: France at Dien Bien Phu, the US at Saigon, and China in Lang Son. Mujahideen Taliban have two scalps in their bag already – Soviet Union and the US. Another trophy for the Afghans, anybody?
Just the other day Sir John Chilcot in his historic report grilled the illustrious British prime minister for dissembling facts leading Britain into a bogus Iraq war. “I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you will ever imagine,” he wept.
Donald Trump asked Jimmy Carter, “What should we do, China is going ahead of us?” Carter’s reply was pithy: “China has not been at war since 1978; we have never stopped being at war.” Does this withdrawal spell an end to imperial overreach?
Is there something akin to racism in the way TV images of Taliban in Kabul send shivers down our spine? How did we ever persuade ourselves that they are a ghastly lot? Who knows, they may well be but who has drilled this image so indelibly into our consciousness? Not our media, surely. Our self-sufficient media take “foreign” news from Western agencies to a point of saturation. This shapes our mind and, to some extent, South Block’s too. Of course, our ambassador file reams of copy, but spring a surprise on them at work: they are all watching the same channels.
When Nick Robertson of the CNN froths in the mouth about the “thugs” which means Taliban in his book, the froth is sprayed all over our channels. Christiane Amanpour grills former Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel on his support for Biden’s decision. “Are we giving up on terrorism? Is our project of democracy, human rights being abandoned?” in acute anxiety she rolls her eyeballs virtually out of their sockets.
Not just unfiltered information but even these attitudes are passed onto our TV viewers. A truly independent current affairs show is NDTV Hindi’s Prime Time, anchored by Ravish Kumar. But no sooner does this telecast end, than Ravish’s ‘self-sufficiency’ is replaced by an Indian anchor in a minidress hosting a thoroughbred BBC episode. In other words, NDTV has made available its platform to the BBC. The network where the elegant anchor gets her salary cheque from has a view of Taliban as “thugs.” She must therefore be expected to project a frightful Taliban even when her show is on an Indian channel.
Painting Muslims in lurid colors has been a practice at least since the 70s when Muslim states surrounding Israel vigorously supported the Palestinian cause. Palestinian Professor at Columbia University, Edward Said’s Covering Islam has a jacket which is a collector’s item. It is a metaphor for the way Muslims are portrayed in the media. An Afghan militant, headgear et all, is crouching and taking aim with his Klashnikov. In the very frame is a western cameraman, resting a knee on the ground, clicking the gun-toting Afghan. This is how the image of a “militant Islamist” is manufactured.
It was prescient of Edward Said to have spotted the beginnings of manufactured Islamic militancy. This industry was to grow after the Soviet collapse and burgeon after 9/11. In terrorism the Military Industrial Complex found a durable replacement for the Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union.
Oh, the excuses that are being made for the debacle: we made the mistake of training the Afghan army in “our image,” like the US military. Really! Where the hell have all the soldiers gone, however wrongly trained, armed to the teeth? What were all those “Green on Blue” attacks when trainees turned upon their trainers, killing many. Did such attacks just end by divine intervention or embarrassing episodes just go away because the obedient media switches off its cameras?
Thumb through the files of the Guardian and locate the headline “US marines charged over urinating on bodies of dead Taliban.” Trump appointed Gina Haspel as the CIA chief specifically for her record in torture and rendition. He said on TV “torture works; torture works.” Afghans, the supine ones making money hand over fist with US contractors and even more with Ghani’s corrupt minions, would they fall in love with the Americans who built torture chambers, multiple Abu Ghraibs, crashing down doors and stripping families, humiliating them.
Even as I write Ben Roberts-Smith, of Australia’s Special Air Services regiment, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for duty in Afghanistan, was, until the other day, fighting with his back to the wall in an Australian court facing charges of atrocities on Afghan civilians. An internal investigation last year found Special Forces men “unlawfully killed” 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners. At least in Australia some limited processes were set into motion, but as for the US, let me quote George Bush the senior. “United States can do what the hell it wants.” If Biden’s withdrawal puts an end to actions which do not become America, history will judge him fairly. Dealing with Taliban is a separate matter.
The writer is a journalist based in India.