On July 28, 1914, a Bosnian youth assassinated Austro-Hungarian Empire’s heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, leading to the chain reaction we know as World War-1 (WW-1). By the time it ended on November 10, 1918, it had claimed 20 million lives, maimed as many, crippled the British, Ottoman, and Russian empires toppled ‘eternal’ monarchy in China, sparked anti-colonial movements across the world, including India…Several new nations mushroomed on the unburied corpses along redrawn bloodied borders.
The WW-1 burnt the stubble left by the imperial crops and prepared the soil for the Second. It was followed by a pandemic, influenza, which claimed some 50 million lives, including 18 million in India alone—irreversibly weakening the British Indian Army and making it impossible for London to retain the Jewel in the Crown which became too heavy for its Head of State to wear. With a lame Britain bandaged, Germany discovered Adolf Hitler to run amuck…
A century on, we are in the midst of another pandemic (Covid-19), and drumbeats of another potentially great war with its theatre shifting from Europe to Central Asia. The two World Wars predominantly affected the Christians and ended their hegemony; the gathering war in Central Asia could mainly be focused on the Muslims.
This has rattled Russia and China the most. Russia has the largest Muslim population in Europe (one-fifth of the total 140 million, or 25 million). The Muslim population in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is estimated up to 80 million. Most of these Muslims habit areas next to the Muslim dominated Central Asian Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, the last three bordering Afghanistan, which, together have some 100 million Muslims. Add to this Pakistan’s 220 million, and Iran’s 84 million. These nearly 520 million Muslims could be the Taliban’s potential ‘catchment area’. Reports said the Taliban have trained some 40,000 Uyghur Muslims in Badakshan province of Afghanistan as Mujahideens to be sent to liberate China-controlled East Turkestan (Xinjiang).
These Muslim nations are, therefore, frightened of possible Islamist pollination due to the second flowering of the Taliban in an unstable Afghanistan. The Soviet invasion of Kabul in 1979 had, in a blowback, dismantled the USSR itself by 1991; now Moscow is afraid of a repeat of 1991 in 2021 with the Taliban more-than-ever resourceful and ready to go for the Russian jugular. This has forced Moscow to reassure its former satellite Muslim Soviet Republics with protection, continue to conduct the military exercises with Tajikistan, and even claimed the former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled with a wealth of $50 million, which remains unconfirmed.
More than Russia, however, China is mortally scared of the Taliban’s next moves—in Pakistan. Any possible creation of a “Greater Pakhtunistan” would quickly bomb out the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and with it, the $280 billion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)’s 1,500 projects across Asia, Africa, and Europe. The cascading effect, like a collapsing house of cards, could encourage Xinjiang and Tibet to break away, disintegrate the Communist Party and China it leads, and topple the Xi Jinping regime itself…
Simply put, the Taliban 2.0 recapture of Afghanistan is not a one-off phenomenon confined to a landlocked, medieval country riven with tribal identities. It is a veritable flood that not just threatens to spill over across the Central Asian borders, it may also disintegrate the existing Russia and China.
Predictably, vested interests are trying to overplay or underplay the entirely new date, August 15, 2021, marking their geopolitical calendar. Or September 1, 2021, when the Taliban crowns itself in Kabul, as a reversal of September 11, 2001.
Working to a hard-bound script?
Remember: Coincidences? After fleeing Kabul, Ashraf Ghani surfaced in the US-friendly UAE. The Taliban permitted his aircraft to ‘flee’ from the Kabul airport they controlled! And Ghani, whom the US made the President in 2014, was “unaware” of the American troops secretly moving out of Kabul at night! His Vice-President Amrullah Saleh, who now claims to be the “caretaker” President, did not even know about his chief’s sudden flight—because Saleh is a Tajik, not Pashtun!!
In another America-friendly Doha, Qatar, Afghan-American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad had stitched up the deal with the Taliban Co-Founder Mullah Abdul Ghani “Baradar” (Brother) in February 2020; Baradar, the Taliban’s political chief, remained a guest in Doha for some three years, from where he flew back into Kabul only last week.
Khalilzad is an ethnic Pashtun from the Noorzai tribe, as is the Taliban chief Hibatullah Akhundzada; Baradar is a Durrani Pashtun from Sadozai tribe, and the ex-President is a Pashtun from the Ahmedzai tribe. Tribal affiliations of Afghans are far stronger driving forces than Islam. The three Pashtuns know this tribal code and worked in unison. That was why the Taliban extended amnesty to the ex-President.
Remember also: In July, the U.S. shut its military bases in Qatar that had warehouses full of weaponry and transferred the remaining supplies to Jordan, enabling Washington to deal better with Iran. It reflected the military’s “changing priorities in the region”.
There are also extra players in the unfolding opera. After initial claims, Turkey backed out of its desire to control Kabul airport–the Taliban suspected it of being too close to Iran. And British PM Boris Johnson, after initial anti-Taliban bravado, came around within a week. Apparently onboarded late, he meekly declared that London would do business with the Taliban “if necessary.” Notably, the British Parliament had already condemned China for the “genocide” of Uyghur Muslims.
About two dozen US diplomats in Kabul, unaware of what their own Deep State was doing, warned in a confidential internal cable sent on July 13 to Secretary of State Antony Blinken of the potential fall of Kabul to the Taliban if the US troops withdrew from Afghanistan, The Wall Street Journal said. But the US went ahead: clearly, Washington had not kept its own diplomats in the loop.
The Deep State may have kept the entire geopolitical operation so secret that even the White House, Defense Department, and State Department were furious as they were, apparently, kept out of the loop. Two US Congress members—Representatives Seth Moulton (Democrat) and Peter Meijer (Republican)– flew in on August 24 on a charter aircraft unannounced into Kabul airport in the middle of the ongoing chaotic evacuation, stunning the State Department and US military personnel. They were on the ground at the airport for several hours, media reported, without probing why they came and whom they met.
Joining the dots, away from the usually ill-informed media frenzy and comments/analyses by Jurassic era experts and diplomats, we can sketch the emerging larger picture.
Not that some of the game players were unaware of these developments. To start with, the ISIS-Khorasan, an Islamabad-backed outfit, condemned the Taliban as an American stooge, and suicide-bombed Kabul airport this week, killing over 200, to send message that the Taliban did not have support of all Afghans.
That was why neither Khalilzad nor Akhundzada, Commander of the Faithful (Amir-ul-Momineen) of the Taliban, have been seen in public. Apparently, Khalilzad returned to the US after seeding the geopolitical field. Akhundzada is said to be in Pakistan’s custody, the way Baradar was until 2018 when the US got him released for talks leading to the deal. Islamabad may pit Akhundzada as a bargaining chip, should Baradar, the next potential President, go ‘astray’. In that event, Pakistan may support Akhundzada as the Emir of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan! And try to throw a spanner in the Taliban works for the creation of the “Greater Pashtunistan”.
If Islamabad has such fantastical dreams, it does not know the Pashtuns!
The Taliban may have anticipated it. Soon after they recaptured Kabul on August 15, they released their own bargaining chips, around 2,500 members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from Afghan jails, forcing Islamabad to rush Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar to beseech the Taliban to make sure they did not attack Pakistan, in general, and the CPEC, in particular.
So, as the Taliban prepare to take on Xinjiang, they will use the TTP to keep Pakistan in check.
They were preparing for a long haul. First, the Ghani government was reported to have sacked at least six anti-Taliban army commanders some weeks ago; secondly, the government itself had systematically disarmed its own soldiers at many places which eased the militia’s victories, without delay and much bloodshed; thirdly, the American-led western armed forces left behind arms and ammunitions worth around $250 million which fell into the Taliban hands. The US had ‘invested’ nearly $ 1 trillion in Afghanistan in 20 years. This included $85 billion on the defense of which $ 25 billion were on arms and ammunition.
No investor can be so foolish as to let go of such a humongous investment down the drain, without returns. There must be a method in this madness.
And Washington has also kept the Taliban in check, just in case…!
So, Afghanistan may have nearly 200 fighter aircraft but most of them are grounded for being junk or want of spare parts not provided for years; also, their fighter pilots have mostly fled or grounded. Moreover, the US has frozen nearly $9.5 billion worth of Afghan Central Bank’s assets and the World Bank and the IMF halted aid.
These taps will be reopened when the Taliban work according to the plan!
And their time starts on September 1, 2021!