The slow progress of
military action against
is causing embarrassment in
. Poor strategic insight into the Afghan imbroglio accounts for this. Over four weeks into the punitive air strikes, the official boast that the Taliban have been ‘eviscerated’ has been buried; now military circles speak of a war lasting well into next summer. Since the capture or expulsion of Osama bin Laden is remote, the Taliban have become the target.
One must conclude that the
actually supported the Taliban after they appeared on the Afghan scene in the early nineties. This occurred during their struggle for ascendancy over rival Mujahideen factions and after their assumption to power in
. Early State Department announcements held out a clear hope of recognizing the Taliban regime. Even after the retraction of such announcements,
was soft on the Taliban. Robin Raphael, Assistant Secretary of State, stated in September 1996: “The Taliban control more than two-thirds of the country, they are Afghan, they are indigenous, they have demonstrated staying power….It is not in the interests of Afghanistan or any of us here that the Taliban be isolated.”
perception had much to do with the politics of gaining the petroleum resources of the
and its pursuit of the interests of the American corporation, Unocal. The proposal related to the laying of a pipeline connecting the
oil fields to Pakistani ports.
’s consent for the project was crucial and hence the American willingness to placate the Taliban. Additionally,
was also persuaded by
that the Taliban is the best solution that could have occurred in
. This phase of hobnobbing with the Taliban went on as they relentlessly imposed their fundamentalist version of Islam with atavistic zeal.
But these perceptions changed after the terrorist attacks on US embassies in
in August 1998, when the
administration responded with missile strikes against bin Laden’s Al Qaeda camps in
. In the months following, the articulation of rabid anti-westernism by bin Laden assumed great vehemence. Al Qaeda issued a manifesto under the aegis of the International Islamic Front for a jihad against Jews and the Crusaders. The fatwa read: “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies – civilian and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do.” In November 1998, bin Laden issued a statement that: “It would be a sin for Muslims not to try to possess weapons that would prevent infidels from harming on Muslims. Hostility to
is a religious duty and we hope to be rewarded for it by God.” Thus, bin Laden emerged as the Number One personal target of the Americans.
The curious fact was that, although the Taliban as a fundamentalist force represented a threat, this was perceived as being limited to
. The Taliban’s version of extreme Islamic faith was seen by the US in the beginning as an unfortunate phenomenon, but ‘happily’ limited to a region, which, in any case, was destined by history to perpetual civil war and instability.
The Taliban and its cruelties were ignored till the bin Laden explosion struck. What it signified was the open and manifest joinder of the Islamic ideology of the Taliban on the one hand and the wider movement of exporting the avenging spirit of bin Laden’s version of Islam on the other. An Islamic International, as it were, sprang into being. Bin Laden not merely sought haven in Afghanistan; he turned it into a design to devise the weapons for his jihad, dexterously crafting a centripetal movement of forces emanating from Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan and other nations.
Now the aim of destroying the Taliban has been replaced by the enterprise of deconstructing the Taliban and restructuring an altogether new Afghan regime. Would any injection of the Taliban elements in the proposed regime be feasible? For that matter, is putting together a coalition of Afghan warlords with the Northern Alliance a viable prospect? President Musharraf himself, with all the challenges he faces from the Taliban base in
, is now reconciled to an all out confrontation with them in
. But, is their ‘root and branch’ removal feasible? All in all, a very uncertain future awaits all concerned in the crisis.