Moazzam Begg, who lived in Afghanistan before the U.S-led invasion of 2001, says the West’s defeat at the hands of the Taliban is a historic victory and humiliation.
Exactly 20 years ago I was in Afghanistan with my family. During that time I visited cities like Herat, Ghazni, Sarobi, Jalalabad, Khost, Kandahar and others. But my home was in the capital, Kabul.
When the U.S.-led invasion began I had to cross the mountains into Pakistan. I stayed there until I was kidnapped by the CIA and taken by the U.S. military to their prisons Kandahar and then Bagram – where I was held for a year – before being sent to Guantanamo alongside several Taliban leaders. Some of those former prisoners are poised to be the new leaders of Afghanistan.
I have been witnessing over the past few days how the cities I once visited or stayed in have all come back under Taliban control. They’re now surrounding the outskirts of Kabul.
Then, this morning I woke up to read a message: “Bagram prison has been taken by Taliban.”
It was momentous enough that the U.S. abandoned their once bustling airbase and prison last month without telling their Afghan counterparts but, this time it’s even more potent. This place, where I endured and witnessed so many abuses, including two murders of unarmed Afghan prisoners by U.S. soldiers, has never left me.
But, perhaps something can be done this time. Once the dust settles I intend to ask Taliban officials to seek the extradition of the killers to be brought to justice for what they did. Bagram is the scene of a crime and I am an eye-witness.
Defeating the superpowers
Meanwhile, I’m reminded of Taliban members I’ve met who, throughout their lives, fought both the Soviet Union and the U.S. coalition (meaning NATO which includes the USA, UK, Turkey, Germany etc).
That means Afghan mujahideen/Taliban have fought the most sophisticated, powerful, well-equipped and trained armies in the world and defeated them. That doesn’t mean they haven’t suffered more losses than the occupiers, the opposite is true. But, they have outlasted the political and military will of the invaders and stayed the course regardless of what anyone said or did. Belief in that cause, commitment to that belief and steadfastness has brought the Taliban to the doorstep of victory, while their opponents face the biggest humiliation the world has seen in recent history.
They also spent trillions on equipping and training those Afghans who collaborated with the occupiers. American and British taxpayers paid for all of this while their own economies faltered and ordinary people on the streets were forced to beg and eat from food banks.
Despite 20 years of the most investment, training and weaponry the USA could offer, it was inevitable that the Afghan National Army would fail and they should have prepared themselves for what the powers that enabled them did so ungracefully – defeat. Let’s hope they do it better than their enablers and don’t continue a pointless fight.
The Taliban have offered an amnesty to all who collaborated with the occupiers. I’d say that’s very magnanimous as it’s not something America or Britain would ever do. If the Taliban’s guiding principles are from Islam they will not follow the course of vengeance.
Again, for context. Taliban weapons are normally Russian but, over the past 20 years, they increasingly became American. Unlike the Afghan Army, no nation officially or unofficially supported or supplied the Taliban. The Taliban have even got some fully equipped U.S. attack helicopters, humvees and tanks. That only means one thing. Next time you want to know who armed the Taliban look up the word “ghanima.” It comes from the Arabic word for sheep.
In fact, they seem to have captured more territory in far less time than when they first came to power. And, last time, there weren’t thousands of allied troops on the ground so the humiliation is far greater.
Why are the Taliban popular?
Cities and provinces in Afghanistan are falling to the Taliban without a shot being fired, in stark contrast to the U.S.-led invasion which began with tomahawk cruise missiles and 15 tonne bombs which caused 1,000s of deaths and injuries just in the first few days. Perhaps U.S. and warmongering allies can learn something for a change? I doubt it.
They won’t tell you that one reason people haven’t opposed the Taliban is because they’re not seen as corrupt like U.S.-backed government officials. They won’t tell you either that country-wide Taliban Islamic courts are far more popular and trusted than corrupt, bureaucratic, and inconsistent government courts.
They also won’t tell you that the Taliban always controlled much of the countryside – even at the height of the occupation when Western politicians were lying about how they’d defeated the Taliban.
I suggest now we stop listening to the harbingers of doom and stop giving too much of a platform to those who’ve become vocal now but remained silent and complicit during the longest war in the bloody history of the USA. Let us all hope and pray that peace, prosperity, hope, mercy, wisdom and reconciliation increases in Afghanistan, that people learn from past errors and that the notion of justice rather than vengeance spreads throughout the land.
For those who back the soldiers of America, Britain, Australia and yes, Turkey, who died fighting in Afghanistan, stay firm in the knowledge that they died in vain and for nothing. History books will record they were the bad guys. Let it be a stark lesson about the choices they had. They could have refused to occupy others’ lands, but they chose otherwise.
In the meantime, as Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters litter the Kabul skies to desperately ferry what’s left of the occupation out of harm’s way (reminding us a little of Vietnam) we should afford all those who fought them the right to celebrate.