US lost Afghanistan war but conquered extremism
As America and the world commemorate 20 years after the horrific terrorist attack of the twin towers on September 11, 2001, many will have the view that America and its allies will have joined a long list of the world’s greatest powers whose missions in Afghanistan ended in failure.
Since the days of Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, many have sought to conquer Afghanistan but the country has long been known as the “graveyard of empires”, evoking its reputation for thwarting the expansionist ambitions of occupiers from imperial Britain to Soviet Russia and now America and its NATO allies.
But looking at the perceived failures of the US and NATO, they might have conquered where many failed.
The Taliban, emerged in the early 1990s in northern Pakistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.
In September 1995 they captured the province of Herat, and exactly one year later they captured the Afghan capital, Kabul, overthrowing the regime of President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
By 1998, the Taliban were in control of almost 90 per cent of Afghanistan. The Taliban also introduced or supported punishments in line with their strict interpretation of Sharia law such as public executions of convicted murderers and adulterers and amputation for those found guilty of theft.
Men were required to grow beards and women had to wear the all-covering burka.
The attention of the world was drawn to the Taliban in Afghanistan in the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York.
The Taliban were accused of providing a sanctuary for the prime suspects – Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda movement.
On October 7, 2001, a US-led military coalition launched attacks in Afghanistan and by the first week of December the Taliban regime had collapsed.
Despite ever higher numbers of foreign troops, the Taliban gradually regained and then extended their influence in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, rendering vast tracts of the country insecure, and violence in the country returned to levels not seen since 2001.
There were numerous Taliban attacks. The most high-profile attack took place in October 2012, when a Pakistan schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot on her way home.
The new US president, Joe Biden, announced in April that all American forces would leave the country by 11 September - two decades to the day since the felling of the World Trade Center.
Having outlasted a superpower through two decades of war, the Taliban began seizing vast swathes of territory, before once again toppling a government in Kabul in the wake of a foreign power withdrawing.
But after 20 years of occupation the Arab uprising of 2011 and the influence of western friendly Muslim nations, it seems the Taliban have denounced their strict interpretation of the Sharia law.
In their first press conference, they promised women’s rights, media freedom, peaceful relations with other countries and that no group will be allowed to use Afghan territory to attack any nation.
The Taliban have sought to portray themselves as more moderate than when they imposed a strict form of Islamic rule in the late 1990s.
Whatever their true intentions, the Taliban have an interest in projecting moderation to prevent the international community from isolating their government, as it did in the 1990s.
China has said it was ready for “friendly relations” with the Taliban, while Russia and Iran are making diplomatic overtures.
Many might say that the US lost the war in the sense that the costs have been extraordinary: two-and-a-half-thousand Americans dead, 20,000 injured, a trillion dollars or more expended and their international commitment in doubt but in a world with new forms of extremist ideologies and new forms of terror, America and NATO might have conquered the extremism side of the Taliban and converted them in a more moderate regime which is more important than winning the hardware war.
What remains to be seen is if the Taliban can be trusted to keep their promise of reasonable rule. — The writer is a media analyst