International Affairs

Afghanistan: The Misfortune of Misplaced Altruism

The concept of Islamic fundamentalism has been the major contributor towards our understanding of the phenomenon of terrorism. If not Islamic then some sort of ideological fundamentalism has been guiding our outlook towards those who perpetrate terror. The term “jihad” is used unequivocally in relation with any act of global terrorism.

Religion is an excuse more than a reason. It is used to justify the commission of terror, and is not the driving force behind it. The root motivators however are usually politics, humiliation, revenge, retaliation and altruism. The ideological fanaticism does not exist in the lower ranks but breeds among the top bosses.

One such tale of misplaced motivation and unfortunate attempts at modernization is the woeful tale of Afghanistan that bore no fruits of direct or indirect colonization by the West, but was effectively used as a pawn in the bitterness that existed between two egoist nations seeking world domination.

The fall of Afghanistan was a consequence of the ideological battle between Russia and the USA in their quest to colonize Afghanistan. It wasn’t as much Afghanistan’s Islamic jihad as it was CIA’s anti-Soviet jihad.

Afghanistan is a land heavily dissected by its ethnic diversity. There exists the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and the Turks. The country since the 17th century has been subdued to serve as a buffer for the rising power of the West Afghanistan. For many years the monarchy under King Zahir Shah had been unable to integrate the existing tribal sects with the central government. The Soviet government provided years of military training to and funded weapons for the incumbent ruler’s cousin, Mohammed Daoud to overthrow the Afghan monarch.

This was the era of the cold war that gripped two of the largest powers in the world. America naturally kept a keen eye on the communist rendezvous with Afghanistan. The forging of any loyalty towards the Soviet regime in Afghanistan was viewed as a threat by the USA. The Soviets in response to the U.S. alliance with Pakistan and the surrounding Persian Gulf states, tried to spread their roots into the Middle East, and used Afghanistan for its strategic location at the juncture of Asia and the Middle East.

Liberated from the oppression of monarchy, Afghanistan was torn between its alliance with USA and its loyalty towards Russia. Being a socialist more than a communist Mohammed Daoud tried to opt for a middle path by maintaining his distance from the political quagmire that existed between the two enemy nations. Wary of the increasing Soviet power, when he tried to lead Afghanistan into a pro-US camp, the Russian regime, threatened by the prospects of an anti-Soviet nation on its borders replaced Daoud with Nur Taraki, a pro-Communist leader.

This was the inaugural ceremony for three decades of destruction and downfall of Afghanistan. Terror exploded through the streets of Kabul as more than 12,000 people were tagged as anti-communist and killed within just a few months.[1]

Anti-Soviet jihads mushroomed in the countryside and among the tribes of Afghanistan, but they were not united in their cause. The plague of insurgency that gripped Afghanistan limb by limb made Russia extremely concerned about their sustenance in the Islamist nation. Citing the Soviet-Afghan Friendship Treaty of December 1978, and with the aim of solidifying an ally in Asia, the Red Army took control of Afghanistan in December 1979, and started taking over the major cities and the highways linking them.

The communist revolution had not percolated into rural Afghanistan yet, where jihad still thrived and succeeded at keeping the Soviet influence at bay. Swarms of Russian helicopters circled the Afghan skies, bombing villages and roads; callously erasing life from the map. Amidst the bombs and mines an exodus began, as thousands exiled themselves to Pakistan and Iran. Soon after their entry into Afghanistan, the Soviets imposed military and social reforms that began to make enemies within different sectors of the indigenous population.

Outraged by the attempts of communist modernization the rural tribes dominated by Pashtun ideologies were the most susceptible to the US’s attempts to recruit and train guerilla fighters, who could put up a resistance against the Soviet army. The cradle of birth of what later came to be known as the Taliban was in the districts of Pakistan with the aid of Pakistani intelligence ISI. While Pakistan foolishly basked in the glory of the sudden attention from the West, USA was only motivated by its fear of the Soviet’s southward movement toward the oil rich gulf of Persia.

Owing to the US sponsored jihad that seemed insurmountable to the Soviet army, Afghanistan turned into a Russian Vietnam. Keen to shrug off all responsibilities for the state that Afghanistan had reached the Russian army withdrew in 1989. Tailing the Russian retreat a tripartite grappling for power began. The local Mujahideens or warlords started reclaiming the towns and cities, levied taxes at checkpoints, took over the farmers’ lands, and mandated the production of opium in large scales[2]. Meanwhile, the NATO swooped in to resurrect and rebuild on the debris of a failed regime. And suddenly, out of thin air the Taliban soldiers started appearing in the southern provinces, and imposed the Islamic law in Afghanistan . The Taliban claimed to be “uncorrupted men” who had understood the true meaning of Islam. Theirs was an aggressive puritanism which imposed the harshest restrictions on the Afghan freedom.

Armed with only the knowledge of the Quran the Taliban stood against all that signified western modernization. They stood against the communists, the western lifestyle, the ways of the UN officials. They stood against football, kite flying, western music, hairstyles, and modern education. Women faced the most unrealistic restrictions as their education became illegal overnight. They would be beaten on the roads if found unescorted, or without their chadors, put to death for daring to be outspoken or even employed.[3] Those who suffered the least under the Taliban state were the rural population, as due to the city centric modernization of the communists these people were always left to follow the orthodox lifestyles.

The flowering orchards, fountains, shops selling colorful Afghani, Persian and Chinese merchandise, and the palatial houses, lay barren, coloured only by the grey garbs of the bearded Taliban.

The US conveniently lost all interest in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the Soviet army in 1989. The government of George W. Bush shrugged of all responsibilities to rebuild the nation, saying that it would be unfit and unfeasible for the US to do so. The inevitable repercussion of sponsoring the Taliban was experienced by the US on 9 September, 2001. The US, wounded and shocked, forgot all about its role in the creation of the Taliban and initiated an onslaught on Afghanistan.

As the Taliban regime crumbled the Mujahideen who had gone into hiding rushed back to the cities to regain control of the declining governance. There were rampant violation of human rights through murder, rape, torture, kidnapping, and human trafficking.[4] The US in order to counter their Frankenstein monster, the Taliban, backed the Mujahideen leaders with all their resources. A decade has passed and the people of Afghanistan are still reeling under the effects of ideological and political experiments conducted by the US and Russia.

For over two decades now the men and women of Afghanistan have been robbed of the power to think for themselves and decide what is best for their governance. All attempts at electing their democratic leader have been fraught with corruption and frauds. Afghanistan stands as a dimming example of a people who tried to be modern under the looming shadows of two countries displaying symptoms of God complexes. They have missed out on all the perks of colonization, such good education system, architecture, and a sound legal system, but have inherited all the despondence and misfortune of a nation that has been at the receiving end of misplaced altruism.

About the Author

IMG-20140726-WA0002Sneha Ghosh

Sneha is an aspiring lawyer studying at Symbiosis Law School, Pune. She is a cinephile who also loves to read, even if it’s a manual of a device.




[1] Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan and Beyond, Pankaj Mishra



[4] Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan and Beyond, Pankaj Mishra


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