Why It’s Difficult for America, Great Powers to Subdue, Govern Afghanistan

Members of Taliban in Afghanistan’s president office

Kalash is cash

Without kalash

You are trash

Ode to Kalashnikov attributed to Middle East terrorists


By Ademola Adegbamigbe

What happened recently about the Talibans’ take over of Kabul, capital of Afghanistan and withdrawal of the US military is summarized in Rambo III, a 1988 American action film, directed by Peter MacDonald and co-written by Sylvester Stallone. Rambo (Stallone) intends to rescue Col. Sam Trautman, his captured former commander and his old chum from the Soviets. Rambo flies to Penshawar, Pakistan and approaches an arms dealer, Mousa Ghani (Sasson Gabai, an award-winning Israeli actor) to bring him to Khost, the town closest to the Soviet base where Trautman is held.

The two are on horsebacks, atop a promontory, with a clear view of basalt, igneous and other jagged rock formations and steep inclines ahead. Ghani who knows the history and terrain of the place warns Rhambo who is embarking on a solo mission: “This is Afghanistan. Alexander the Great tried to conquer this country. Then Ghengis Khan, then the British and then the Russians. But Afghans fight hard, they have never been defeated. That is why ancient enemies make prayers about these people. Do you want to hear? Very good. It says: May God deliver us from the venom of the cobra, the teeth of the tiger and the vengeance of the Afghans.”

He asked Rhambo: “Do you know what that means?”

Rhambo with his bulging muscles and a stentorian voice answered: “That you guys are not taking a shit.”

True! Afghans, now symbolized by the Talibans do not take nonsense. They fight hard. That is why their country is called the “Graveyard of Empires”. It is not because their rag-tag soldiers who, on most occasions, wear pairs of snickers or canvass, robes and turbans, are great fighters or they are better equipped.

It may not be particularly correct that Alexander the Great and Ghenghis Khan did not conquer Afghanistan, because fact check shows otherwise. However, they had initial difficulty.

Alexander the Great

The case of Khan is shown in an article in weaponsandwarfare,com: “After overcoming some difficulties at first, Genghis Khan mercilessly defeated and conquered the well-protected cities of neighbouring empires. By 1209, the dreaded Genghis Khan was acknowledged by the Tangut emperor as the reigning Lord of this region. Genghis Khan continued to annihilate the various dynasties until these empires were under his domain. Less than 10 years later, by 1218, the Mongol Empire was extensive and spread from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf.”

Genghis Khan. History.com

Britain, in the Anglo-Afghan wars of 1839 to 1919 wanted to seize the geo-strategic location of Afghanistan as what Financial Times called “a vital buffer between its Indian colony and Russia.” In other words, Britain attacked that country first in 1839, because it thought Russians would use Afghanistan to attack South Asia. It put its own puppet on the throne. As Financial Times put it, “Rebellions forced a British retreat in 1842. They marched a force of nearly 20,000 out of Kabul only to be picked off by tribal forces along the way. A sole British survivor made it back. Britain continued trying to incorporate Afghanistan into its empire, fighting two more wars in 1878 and 1919 before ending its ambitions.” Afghanistan ended up being Britain’s cemetery!

The Soviets

The Soviet Union was locked in a cold war with the United States and each tried to win supporters in the comity of nations. Thus, as FT wrote: “Afghanistan became a battleground in the cold war after a communist coup in 1978. The new regime’s brutality provoked fierce local resistance, with more uprisings prompting an invasion by Soviet Union troops the following year.” With the support from the West, the mujahedeen (that later transmogrified to Talibans) fought the Soviets and Afghan communists in a jihad, laced with guerrilla tactics. The Russians, in frustration, left in 1988.

The US

Then the US or Uncle Sam showed up, throwing its weight behind the ragtag mujahedeen soldiers. Reason: The United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) were irked by the extremist tendencies of the Taliban. Under them, women had limited rights. They provided shelter for the international terrorist, Osama bin Laden, son of a Saudi billionaire and al-Qaeda.

The last straw was the 9/11 attack on the twin towers (World Trade Centre) in the US. After the evil did, Osama and the Talibans melted into the mountains, away from the prying eyes of the US and NATO. FT wrote further: “But the Taliban’s insurgency only gained momentum in the years that followed, prompting President Barack Obama to increase the US military presence to more than 100,000 troops. Withdrawal plans were delayed, the Taliban gathering strength all the while. This boiled over into fierce violence under President Donald Trump, who agreed to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan in a February 2020 peace deal. President Joe Biden, mindful of domestic exhaustion at the so-called forever war, pressed ahead, announcing that the US would leave by the end of this month. The US had not even finished withdrawing before the Taliban over-ran all remaining resistance last week.”

us soldiers leaving Afghanistan. VOA

Why the Afghans Appear Invincible

The Rocky Environment

According to Akhilesh Pillalamarri, in his article, published in The Diplomat, “Why Is Afghanistan the ‘Graveyard of Empires’?”: “Afghanistan is particularly hard to conquer primarily due to the intersection of three factors. First, because Afghanistan is located on the mainland route between Iran, Central Asia, and India, it has been invaded many times and settled by a plethora of tribes, many mutually hostile to each other and outsiders. Second, because of the frequency of invasion and the prevalence of tribalism in the area, its lawlessness leads to a situation where almost every village or house was built like a fortress or qalat. Third, the physical terrain of Afghanistan makes conquest and rule extremely difficult, exacerbating its tribal tendencies. Afghanistan is dominated by some of the highest and more jagged mountains in the world. These include the Hindu Kush, which dominates the country and run through the center and south of the country, as well as the Pamir mountains in the east. The Pamir Knot — where the Hindu Kush, Pamir, Tian Shan, Kunlun, and Himalayas all meet is situated in Badakhshan in northeast Afghanistan.”

That is why a Nigerian commentator, Kayode Ogungbemi told TheNEWS that the Talibans or Afghans knows the secret codes of the mountains which they pass from one generation to the other.

Religion/Ideology and Indoctrination

The case of Osama bin Laden can be used to illustrate how indoctrination works on school pupils at an impressionable age. According to a 12 December 2005 report by Steve Cole in The New Yorker, Osama bin Ladin attended Al Thagher Model School in Jedda, Saudi Arabia where he was indoctrinated by a Syrian sports teacher (a member of the Brotherhood that adored Egypt’s Gamel Abdel Nasir) to become a cold-blooded killer!

Osama bin Laden

After school, the teacher would narrate to Osama and other pupils, stories of bravery by other young boys. There was, as narrated by one of Osama’s old schoolmates, a story “about a boy who found God—exactly like us, our age. He wanted to please God and he found that his father was standing in his way. The father was pulling the rug out from under him when he went to pray.” The Syrian “told the story slowly, but he was referring to ‘this brave boy’ or ‘this righteous boy’ as he moved toward the story’s climax. He explained that the father had a gun. He went through twenty minutes of the boy’s preparation, step by step—the bullets, loading the gun, making a plan. Finally, the boy shot the father.” As he recounted this climax, the Syrian declared, “Lord be praised—Islam was released in that home.”

In one of his novels, Leon Uris narrates how murdered Jews or Zionists became figures in an Arithmetic class! The teacher would ask: “If there are 10 Zionists, and you murder three, how many Zionists do you have left? The pupils will chorus seven…”

Jiti Ogunye, a Nigerian lawyer, human rights activist and public affairs analyst, summarized the circumstances about the US withdrawal this way: “The Afghani government and its armed forces that the US propped up and sustained over the years are Talibans at heart, hence the ease of the walkover (takeover). Taliban is Afghanistan; Afghanistan is Taliban. Battle lost from the outset. Russia left in disgrace. The US couldn’t have left triumphant. Ces finis!

Jiti Ogunye

Chris Adetayo, another analyst submitted: “It is not the size of the dog in the fight. It is the size of the fight in the dog”. Mark Twain. When it came to it, 350,000 Afghan Army Troops, well trained and backed by modern weaponry, were overwhelmed by less than 50,000 Taliban troops whose key arsenal were small arms. In fact, the Afghan Army didn’t bother to fight. They were bigger in size but smaller in the fight.

A semblance of that has been playing out in Nigeria’s NE for the past decade. We don’t know exact figures but we know that the Nigeria Army troops outnumber the Boko Haramists. Yet outright victory has eluded us, for the enemy remains determined to fight.

So while it’s good to have the larger numbers and weapons to go with them, we must not forget to continue to work on the “fight” in our troops. Our motivation to win must never be less than the enemy and anything that will stand in the way – politics, equipment, welfare, training etc – must be quickly and efficiently handled.  For now, let us be immensely thankful for our armed forces and the men and women who daily sacrifice in the battlefields for our sakes. May God bless and protect them always.”

Afghans’ Peculiar Village Democracy

Owei Lakemfa, a labour activist and international affairs analyst brought a fresh perspective into the debate. He wrote that in the last weeks of this war, “the Afghans displayed smartness: why destroy their country like was done to Syria in the name of a manufactured civil war? Why devastate their country like Yemen or destroy its basic infrastructure like what happened in Libya? So in region after region, city after city, the inhabitants led by the elders met, discussed the situation, and rather than allow fighting, told the Western-backed Afghan government to withdraw its troops and officials, instructed the local pro-government militia to switch sides, and invited the Taliban forces to enter their cities. This is why in five days ending last Saturday, the Taliban took over seven cities, including Khandar, its birth place and second largest city. On Sunday, President Ashraf Ghani left the country, indicating surrender, and the Taliban strolled into Kabul.”

Owei Lakemfa

It is not just that the West failed to learn basic lessons in the Afghan case, but that in two decades when they were overlords, Lakemfa argued that the US did not understand the basic culture of the Afghan people, “including the role of the elders council and mass meetings. Their understanding and brand of democracy precludes local culture and traditions. These are lessons it appears the powerful countries have not learnt.”

Way Forward for the International Community

Temitope Ajayi, a public affairs analyst argued that the Western media are now promoting needless hysteria around this Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Eventually, according to him, some of the narratives being weaved will end up as unnecessary scaremongering. “I hold the view that the Taliban will behave differently this time around because the world has changed from 20 years ago and even Afghanistan, the country they want to rule has changed in demographics and aspirations.”

Temitope Ajayi

A sizeable part of the population, according to him, are those born in last 20 years and those who were below age 10 some 20years ago who never experienced the horror of life under previous Taliban rule. It will be difficult for the Taliban to impose medieval Islamic rules on such people without creating needless social tension. It is also a fact that the Taliban do not want to go back global isolation.

“At this point, the world should give them a chance to remake themselves with their new commitment to civility, inclusion and new era of nation building. The best the West should do is to find accommodation with them and help them rebuild a broken and fragmented society. They have already made public commitment and their press conference today held out a promise that should not wished away just because the West is needlessly paranoid.”

What Afghan leaders should do

Ajayi, wrote an essay, Afghanistan: Can the Talibans Turn Things Around? He argued that the Talibans will soon realise that living under the rocks in mountainous tribal areas gun blazing is not same as governing a country. “I see them asking for help and eventually aligning with the West because the country will implode with contending militia forces fighting proxy wars in the days ahead without adequate guarantees to all political and social actors across all divides.

He wrote further: “It is very good the Talibans are already toning down their hardline postures promising to protect women, girls and minorities. Speaking on Sunday night, spokesperson for the Taliban Political Office in Doha, Mohammad Naeem said they don’t want to be isolated again and wants to maintain relations with the international community. I do not see them running the kind of stone age and medieval theocratic rule they established between 1996-2001.

Their leaders have tasted good life in Qatar and UAE. They want to be able to go to London, Washington and other Western capitals to attend global events and also do business with the rest of the world. They have certainly seen the palaces of Qatari and other Arab leaders and can see that these other Arab leaders who profess same faith as them are living life different from their lives inside the caves.”

However, can the Talibans be trusted, given their pronouncements in the past few days?