The Graveyard of Empires

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By: Kamal Baruah

It’s a sobriquet associated with one landlocked country at the crossroads of Central and South Asia, where foreign powers often fail in their invasions. Numerous military campaigns, including those by Alexander the Great, Mauryas, Arabs, Mongols, British, Soviets until very recently the United States with NATO-allied countries have drastically suffered. And therefore, is called unconquerable and nicknamed the Graveyard of Empires. Afghanistan has managed to repel all invaders time after time.

Human habitation in the Afghan land dates back to the Stone Age era. In the Mahabharata, Afghanistan is known as Gandhara which eventually became Qandahar and currently Kandahar. In the modern ages, the historic Silk Road connected it to the cultures of the Middle East and Asia. But it is widely believed that the modern state of Afghanistan began with the Hotak and Durrani dynasties in the 18th century. Later in the 19th century, it was a hotspot of political and diplomatic confrontation between the British and Russian Empire. It was only after the third Anglo-Afghan war in 1919, that it became free of foreign dominance under the Kingdom of Afghanistan. Much recently though, Afghanistan became a socialist state in about 1978. Then the insurgent groups of Taliban captured most of the country in 1996 while conflicting over Soviet-Afghan War. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan had ruled as a totalitarian regime until the US invasion in 2001 in the aftermath of September 11. The capital of Qatar ‘Doha’ was engaged as the Headquarters of the Taliban then, while Russia had actively engaged in the peace process.

Until much recently, the US-led NATO forces finally realized the long-drawn war that resulted in the expenditure of $900 billion in the past 21 years. It felt, under a new administration, that the time for the safe return of the American soldiers back home had finally arrived. After the withdrawal of most US and allied troops from Afghanistan, Kabul fell like a house of cards in front of the Taliban forces on August 15 while President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

What went wrong in Afghanistan? After America’s longest war draws to an end, this remains an unanswered question. What were the aims of the war, its direction, and its success? America might have won the war the World War II that varnished with the patina of history but war with Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan was a bad choice and indeed not necessary. Tens of thousands of Afghans died in fighting over supporting democracy and stability in Afghanistan. Incidentally, the US global share of arms exports has increased by 37 percent during the last five years.

As for India, it had strictly refused to put boots on the ground of Afghanistan but invested heavily in training security forces and supplied with the necessary equipment. India’s strategy in Afghanistan is for building peace and stability by pledging $2 billion in aid, while engaging active works in the construction, infrastructure, human capital building and mining sectors however Pakistan played a destabilizing role in helping safe haven for terror groups with strategic depth against India.

Years of violence, instability, and widespread corruption have crippled Afghanistan’s economy in terms of worse per-capita GDP. Its rugs are one of main exports and pomegranates are famous for in Asia. Afghan saffron (medicinal herbs) has been recognized as the world’s best, yet the country of dried fruits and nuts has been the least developed in the modern era. The global opium and heroin business provided the sole income for poor farmers but also a boon for the Taliban while engaging in cultivation and production of the illegal drug trade. After the Taliban takeover, they are likely to face the challenge of the dethroned government without the international aid the former enjoyed and the country won’t be able to access IMF resources due to uncertainty over the recognition of a government and will face further currency depreciation leading to hyperinflation that could not be ruled out. The entire world is keenly watching the development.

While the Taliban is in power, China is eyeing to clinch lucrative projects to exploit mineral-rich Afghanistan. Ghazni province of Afghanistan has a rare earth metal essential for electric vehicle battery production that may hold the world’s largest lithium reserves. As Saudi Arabia is the oil capital of the world, Afghanistan will be the lithium capital of the world in the future whereas Australia is leading in the production of lithium at this time. With the Taliban managing to seize billions in US weaponry, it’s unconvinced for those untrained Taliban to deliver a decisive role for peace and stability in the war-torn country. However, the world should stand by the Afghan people and step up support for refugees and humanitarian aid.

Afghanistan needs skilled Afghans to rebuild their own nation but engineers, doctors are fleeing the country as the US military is evacuating them. Thousands of crowds continue to throng around Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul seeking a flight out of the country as people are targeted by the Taliban for reprisals. Afghans are now desperate to flee their country while UNHCR warns of the imminent humanitarian crisis soon in Afghanistan. The British, Soviets, and Americans have all invaded Afghanistan, ruled over the rugged mountains but they had to retreat for oversimplifying its history and the external political considerations.

Nevertheless, the Taliban diktat will fall soon in their second coming. A dashing hope of a moderate region for Afghan people is a far cry from the reality they wished after Sharia Law returned recently. Finally, invaders’ optimism has invariably evaporated in the face of mounting violence as a new war of a thousand cuts that brought them to their knees.

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