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Home > News > Columnists > Ramananda Sengupta

Return of the Taliban?

April 04, 2003

Taliban claim capture of three police posts, three Afghan border guards killed in ambush.'

So says a report in The Balochistan Post dated April 2.

'US supply attacked as battle with Taliban continues,' it says day later.

'Fighting escalates against foreign troops in Afghanistan,' says The News.

So okay, unlike me, you don't much store by The Balochistan Post.

Will the Christian Science Monitor do? Or the Boston Globe?

How about the BBC's Rahimullah Yusufzai?

As the US concentrates on its longer-than-expected war against Iraq, the situation in recently 'liberated' Afghanistan seems to be unravelling fast.

In fact, some reports indicate that Taliban chief Mullah Omar, who had gone underground post 9/11, has suddenly resurfaced. So have some other senior leaders of the outfit said to be on top of the US hit list.

'Whenever the non-Muslims attack a Muslim land it is the duty of everyone to rise against the aggressor,' say posters reportedly authored by Omar and openly displayed in towns and villages in eastern Afghanistan and in the tribal regions of Pakistan.

'We were blamed for Osama bin Laden because they said he was a terrorist and he was taking shelter with us. But what is the fault of Iraq? Iraq has no Osama bin Laden in its country,' the black and white posters say.

Inspired by this call for Jihad, 'simple, illiterate' villagers who had earlier welcomed the US intervention since it rid them of the Taliban are now fighting against the US forces.

And if the Taliban is getting frisky, can Al Qaeda be far behind?

A recent statement attributed to Al Qaeda accuses US President George W Bush of waging war on Iraq 'to substitute for his failure in Afghanistan.'

'This is proof of the American administration's extreme keenness to wash its hands of Afghanistan, leaving international peacekeepers to face the swords of the Taliban and Al Qaeda alone,' it says.

Washington, of course, insists that things are under control. These attacks on US forces are the last ditch attempts by the Taliban to avoid being totally crushed.

'The United States is a long-term partner in Afghanistan's reconstruction, and we will stay the course there, irrespective of our responsibilities elsewhere,' claims US State Department deputy spokesman Philip T Reeker.

'Staying the course' involves 'creating Provincial Reconstruction Teams (which) will generally consist of US army civil affairs units and special operations teams, State Department officers and United States Agency for International Development officials.'

No marks for guessing how popular these teams will be in the badlands ruled by various warlords, who prefer US aid in the form of guns and ammunition, and not people who threaten their culture and their very raison de etre.

Reconstruction?

Sure. As long as the people don't get too many ideas about democracy.

Help the Americans find Al Qaeda supporters?

Sure, as long as they are not personal friends of the warlords. And of course, as long the Americans are willing to pay for it. In cash.

Support the government of Hamid Karzai?

No way. Isn't he backed by the infidel Americans who have declared war against Islam?

'Many Afghans have said they fear that the war in Iraq will destroy the fragile, relative stability they have enjoyed since the US-led coalition ousted the Taliban, the radical Islamic militia that ruled most of Afghanistan for five years,' says a Washington Post report.

Of course, the American drive against Al Qaeda -- and the Taliban -- in which at least 175 members of the special operations groups have been lost, killed or wounded so far -- has had some results.

For one, it has driven many of the radical Islamic leaders into neighbouring Pakistan, particularly the North West Frontier Province and tribal areas, which are now ruled by religious parties that came to power in the October Pakistan elections.

In fact, the poor Afghan artists and musicians who fled to Pakistan due to the Taliban crusade against the arts now find that they face the same problem in their adopted homes. And they are unsure whether Afghanistan is safe enough to return.

Meanwhile, American troops in Afghanistan openly express frustration over the fact that they cannot enter Pakistan in hot pursuit of Taliban and Al Qaeda suspects, who have no difficulty crossing over and disappearing into the welcoming arms of the local populace.

Yes, the occasional Al Qaeda or Taliban bigwig is sacrificed by Pakistan at the American altar of convenience.

While the bait of the granddaddy of all catches, Osama bin Laden, is tantalisingly dangled as a future prize.

From 'I'm not sure if Osama was behind 9/11' to 'he's dead' to 'he's alive, but no way he can be on Pakistani soil' to 'he may actually be in Pakistan' and perhaps we'll get him soon, President Pervez Musharraf keeps changing his version as often as he changes his underwear.

But that still hasn't changed US perceptions about Pakistan being among the frontline nations in the war against terror.

But we digress. Back in Kabul, the fear that the Americans are fast losing interest in Afghanistan has forced planners to go back to the drawing boards.

The UN, perhaps in an attempt to revive its credibility after it was sidelined by the US over the Iraq war, has extended its assistance programme in Afghanistan by a year. But in the same breath, it also expressed doubts over the community's ability to adhere to Afghanistan's reconstruction timetable.

But the recent attacks on Westerners has ensured that aid workers too remain iffy about getting around the country. Which is precisely what the mullahs want.

As for the battle with US forces and Taliban in Spinboldak, The New York Times headline says it all:

'US Gunships Hit Taliban Camp; Most Fighters Escape.'

Now why does that sound frighteningly familiar?

Ramananda Sengupta


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Number of User Comments: 7




Sub: intentions of US

It seems that the US is more interested in the oil fields of Iraq than aiding the fledgling government in Afghanistan. The US was interested ...


Posted by Soumya Guha





Sub: Return of Taliban

After Iraq is subdued, Mr.Bush's immediate concern should be to tackle Pakistan and its terrorists breeding grounds. He knows very well that unless the numourous ...


Posted by D K Kiran





Sub: Taliban

Dear sir, The Americans have been building arms for last 12 years and their economy is war economy.American economy had been deteriorating for last several ...


Posted by charles





Sub: bad taste

The author's reference to the Pak PM's undergarments is very distasteful and shameless.would anybody tolerate the same comments against India's leaders. Such people(author) should know ...


Posted by fayyaz





Sub: ramsengupta ji

Thanks for a Khichdi article. Now what do u want from this "Pathetic Nation". Pakistan still sheltering Taliban bigwigs, take out a procession? Musharraf's changing ...


Posted by neeraj goel




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