Taliban is a 'monster hatched by the US'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If the United States follows through with the rhetoric and commits ground troops to Afghanistan, one day soon, American troops will come face to face with the Taliban ­ the monster they helped to create.

This may, as we are told, be a war between civilisation and fanaticism. But in a quiet corner of the brains of those busy committing the United States to another world war, one hopes there will be a recognition of the fact that the Taliban is, in an important sense, the creation of America's foreign policy.

Without America's hubristic determination to rule the world without having to pay the price that all prior empires paid in human life, this enemy would not have sprung up to challenge it now.

The story goes back 22 years, to 1979. America had decided, post-Vietnam war, that American deaths were an unacceptable price to pay for victory (let alone defeat) in far away countries of which they knew little. But in 1979, this was still a bipolar world. The Soviet Union was already ailing, in far worse shape than anyone imagined, but around the world,the proxy struggles between the superpowers went on; in the Middle East, in Angola, Ethiopia, South Yemen.

In Afghanistan, a Communist government was in power, propped up by the Soviets. But Moscow's trusted puppet, Muhammad Daoud, cousin of the ousted King Zahir Shah and sometimes called the "Red Prince", had gone, murdered with most of his family in a military coup. Moscow was much less sure about Daoud's replacement, President Nur Muhammad Taraki. Because Afghanistan was at best a very rum sort of Communist state. In Kabul, the apparatchiks wore suits and their wives wore skirts and heels and even went to work. But the secular, atheistical fabric of the state was flimsy and fragile. A little way out in the rugged countryside, it remained rigidly tribal; women wore the burqa, Islamic piety was universal, and the Soviet Union was Satan.

Nudged and funded by the CIA, Iran and Pakistan, the tribal leaders began to cause their overlords some trouble.

Moscow under Leonid Brezhnev, fat and autocratic and often drunk, decided enough was enough and sent in the army. The Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was under way.

It was a rash adventure from the start, and the anti-Soviet hawk in President Jimmy Carter's cabinet, his National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, persuaded Mr Carter that it offered the perfect opportunity to give the Soviets far more trouble than they had bargained for. Building on a modest programme of assistance that had started six months before the Soviet invasion, Mr Brzezinski got the President to sign a secret directive to send covert aid to the Mujahedeen, the tribal Islamic warriors who were then in the earliest stages of giving the Soviets hell.

The Afghan civil war was under way, and America was in it from the start ­ or even before the start, if Mr Brzezinski is to be believed. "We didn't push the Russians to intervene," he told an interviewer in 1998, "but we consciously increased the probability that they would do so. This secret operation was an excellent idea. Its effect was to draw the Russians into the Afghan trap. You want me to regret that?" The long-term effect of the American intervention from the cold-warrior Mr Brzezinski's perspective was 10 years later to bring the Soviet Union to its knees. But there were other effects, too.

To keep the war going, the CIA, in cahoots with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan's military intelligence agency ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate), funnelled millions and millions of dollars to the Mujahedeen. It was the remotest and the safest form of warfare: the US (and Saudi Arabia) provided funds, and America also a very limited amount of training. They also provided the Stinger missiles that ultimately changed the face of the war.

Pakistan's ISI did everything else: training, equipping, motivating, advising. And they did the job with panache: Pakistan's military ruler at the time, General Zia ul Haq, who himself held strong fundamentalist leanings, threw himself into the task with a passion. But during that process of supply and training, as veteran journalist John Cooley puts it, the US indirectly "hatched a monster of Islamist extremism, the Taliban movement".

By 1989, the Mujahedeen had put the Soviets to flight. But then they themselves, representing the whole ethnic spectrum of the country, from Pashtuns in the south and east to Tajiks and Uzbeks in the north and mongoloid Hazaras in the middle, just carried on fighting for supremacy.

The long civil war had also produced millions of refugees, more than three million of whom ended up in Pakistan. And it was in their squalid camps that Pakistan alighted accidentally on the civil war's appalling resolution.

A militia sprung up from the thousands of Islamic seminaries or madrassas that opened in Pakistan during the civil war to give a rigid Islamic education to the young refugees; a militia composed of youths who had been born or at least raised in exile, who knew nothing and cared less about the rich heritage of traditional, tribal Afghanistan, or about the patterns of give and take that held together this mosaic-like country.

They were deracinated, ruthless, they had nothing at all to lose. All they had, all they held to tightly, was a fiery belief in the most reductive, regressive form of Islam ever practised anywhere. And America, now bent, perhaps, on destroying them, was in there at the creation.

The Nation

Geography: Afghanistan is ringed by mountains. It has long been fought over for its strategic position between the Middle East, central Asia and the Indian subcontinent along the "Silk Road" into China

Economy: The economy has been disrupted by more than 20 years of war. Its main exports are opium, fruits and nuts, handwoven carpets, wool, cotton, hides and pelts, and gems

Debt: More than $5.5bn

Population: 26 million.

Life expectancy: 46 years for men, 45 years for women

Aid: The US provided about $70m in assistance in 1997 and continued to contribute through the UN programmes of food aid, immunisation, land mine removal, and a wide range of aid to refugees