As the Taliban continues their onslaught, provincial capitals continue to fall in Afghanistan. Women are forced into marriages, ones resisting are raped, men are shot and killed and children kidnapped as recruits or as potential suicide bombers.
Aldous Huxley’s words will resonate with Afghans experiencing this nightmare: “Maybe this world is another planet’s hell.”
Even as Afghans live this trauma, they have not been silenced. Afghans in Afghanistan and around the globe have taken to social media to voice their frustrations with the West’s, in particular America’s dusting off of their hands in the matter. For a president who is often at a loss of words, Biden has been surprisingly blunt, clear and cold on Afghanistan: “I bear no responsibility,” and “I do not regret my decision.”
However, Afghans making the #sanctionPakistan hashtag trend were not just frustrated with the West’s dismissive attitude toward their homeland — evident through the abrupt troop withdrawal — but also at Pakistan’s infallibility in the eyes of Washington D.C. As the hashtag reads, Afghans were advocating for hard hitting economic sanctions on Pakistan for its proxy war in Afghanistan.
As with any war, the ones facing down the barrel are the ones with the utmost urgency who speak with candor to protect not just themselves, but loved ones who could be in harm’s way. Over the past 20 years, Western forces led by the U.S. gave a generation of Afghans a powerful feeling, once used as a tagline to propel President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaGlobal Health, Empowerment, and Rights Act will permanently end to harmful global gag rule Incoming Georgetown Law administrator apologizes after backlash over Supreme Court tweets Ex-Education Secretary Duncan considers Chicago mayor bid MORE into office — “hope.” Much like the Americans who bought into Obama’s words, a generation of Afghans bought into the age old liberal internationalist promise of democracy, women’s rights and human rights. Little did the Afghan people know, these were empty promises and in every liberal internationalist’s promise there was a cold realist waiting to tell them “I bear no responsibility” as then-Vice President Biden did in his 2020 interview with Face the Nation.
The Afghan people and diaspora counted on the success of Western forces and were living with the hope that one day America would take action on its non-Nato ally Pakistan for its duplicity and proxy war. Twenty years later, the Biden administration introduced a regional trade and economic initiative led by the Quad, linking Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the U.S. America’s actions have been disconnected from reality on the ground. America’s policy toward Pakistan can be summed up using the old saying that doing the same thing and expecting different results equals insanity.
A week after the initiative was proposed, the Afghanistan ambassador to Pakistan’s daughter was kidnapped, tortured and later released in Islamabad. This led to the Afghan government recalling their diplomats from Pakistan. While the events may not be connected, it is a clear sign that the region has bigger fish to fry at this critical juncture than working toward solidifying an economic initiative.
America counted on Pakistan for logistical support and never took the war into Pakistan, even as the Taliban found refuge in the hospitals and madrassas in Pakistan. At this stage, while the possibility of a different outcome for the war can only be speculated, it is worth noting that America’s hunt for Bin Laden did not end in Saudi Arabia (his home country), Afghanistan (where he was suspected to be hiding), or Iran but in a safe compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a stone’s throw away from a Pakistani military academy. The skeptics of the war in Afghanistan should ponder why the U.S. never sought to eliminate the safe havens provided to the retreating Taliban in Pakistan.
With the withdrawal of troops coming to an end and the Taliban capturing one city after another, liberals of the world should at least now heed to the voice of Afghans and not cater blindly to Western scholars. After all, Afghans know their history best, they live the consequences of Western intervention and share a border with Pakistan.
Over the years, there has been marked improvement in the lives of Afghans. From 2000 to 2018, life expectancy has gone up from 56 to 65 years of age, gross primary school enrollment has risen from 21 percent to 104 percent, the female adult literacy rate rose from less than 17 percent to 30 percent, access to electricity spiked from less than 22 percent to 99 percent and internet use lifted from 0 percent to over 11 percent. A Taliban victory could very well be a reverse of these gains. Pakistan would achieve its goal of strategic depth and Afghanistan’s destiny would be etched in blood. Well intentioned liberals, feminists and concerned conservatives of the world should speak with the Afghan diaspora protesting in London, Washington D.C. and elsewhere to get a true sense of the ground reality.
Nevertheless, we don’t have to discount all non-Afghan experts. There are experts like former Canadian Minister Chris Alexander, who continues to be a voice of sanity. And there are scholars like Christine Fair and former Pakistan Ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani who have been sounding the alarm for years. However, the Pakistani government continues to try and silence them. Most recently, the consul general of Pakistan wrote to the Conservative Party of Canada and the Canadian leader of opposition to take action against Alexander for his tweets on Pakistan’s support of the Taliban.
The mystery remains as to whether it was just lobbying dollars well spent that has aided Pakistan to enjoy this special place in Washington or if there is a form of leverage that the Pakistani intelligence apparatus gained over their American counterparts during their Cold War era partnership.
Based on the current administration’s tone and action, only one thing is certain — Biden’s views on Pakistan have not changed since his time as the vice president. According to the book “Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” during a 2008 exchange with former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, Biden said: “Mr. President, “Pakistan is fifty times more important than Afghanistan for the United States.”
Akhil Ramesh is a non-resident Vasey fellow at the Pacific Forum. He has worked with risk consulting firms, think tanks and in the blockchain industry in the United States, India and in the Philippines. His analysis has been published in The South China Morning Post, The Diplomat, Asia Times and the Jerusalem Post. Follow him on Twitter: @akhil_oldsoul