Twenty years of occupation. Two trillion dollar investment. And finally, a humiliating withdrawal. This is the tragic story of America’s effort at nation building in Afghanistan, a country that is divided by tribal affiliations and united solely by a common religion – Islam. The Americans handed over the country back to the Taliban from whom they had captured it two decades ago. Little did they know that twenty years is fleeting time for planting and nurturing democracy in a tribal country where fanatical Islam is deep-rooted.
The Americans failed to learn a lesson from their cold war rival, Soviet Union, which too had to pull back after a decade of occupation. The concerted effort of the Soviet Union to create a communist state in Afghanistan was thwarted by the Americans and their allies using the fanatical Taliban, whom they armed to the teeth. About that ill thought-out support to Islamic fanatics Hillary Clinton said some years ago, “To be fair, we had helped to create the problem we are now fighting, because, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, we had this brilliant idea that we would now come to Pakistan and create a force of Mujahideen, equip them with stinger missiles and everything else to go after the Soviets inside Afghanistan, and we were successful. Soviets left Afghanistan, and we said, ‘Great! Goodbye!’ leaving these trained people who were fanatical in Afghanistan and Pakistan… leaving them well armed… creating a mess, frankly, at that time we did not recognize. We were so happy to see the Soviet Union fall… Now you look back; the people we are fighting today, we were supporting in the fight against the Soviets.”
Whether in Turkey or in Iraq or in Lebanon or in Russia, liberal democracy was short-lived. It has had a longer existence in India, thanks to the liberal and tolerant ethos that had got ingrained in our culture. But that very ethos is under a vicious attack by religion coated fanatical identity politics, posing a vital threat to our democracy in its 75th year. And democracy is now on a shaky wicket even in America, the nation that has been the torchbearer for it to the world.
By becoming the graveyard for cold war rivals, communism and democracy, Afghanistan has brought home to all the realisation that nation building can never be done from outside, even by the most powerful of nations. Though contrarian, both democracy and communism were progressive political ideologies. They can thrive only amongst a people who are enamoured of progressive views. That is the reason for democracy standing strong in Western countries where Jesus’ renaissance idea of shared humanity and critical thinking have got deeply embedded.
You can capture a country with military might, but you can create a nation only by bringing people together on the platform of a common longing for some progressive ideal. But that longing will come only after a persistent effort put in by generations of progressive minds. The revolutionary ideas of Jesus had at least a few takers initially because the Prophets had for long prepared the way for them through their teachings, often paying a heavy prize for it.
All this has to be looked at through the prism of Darwin’s theory of evolution. All through the history of evolution there have been milestones where paradigm shifts occurred, like energy becoming matter by gaining mass, mass coalescing into stars, galaxies and planets, emergence of life, and the emergence of intelligent man. Each one was a revolution on its own right. But they occurred as the result of evolutionary forces working incessantly and imperceptibly for what would have seemed to be an endless duration of time. Evolution is now doing its work in people’s minds through ideas that represent a paradigm shift. Liberal democracy is one such.
The biggest hurdle to evolutionary progress is the comfort people take in being in what they are or feeling nostalgic about bygone modes of existence. They argue, “It is tribesmen that still live in the jungles and deserts and caves who still have their way of life.” In other words, it would have been better if monkeys hadn’t evolved into humans. When that sort of a mind-set takes hold of the majority, progress becomes an extremely difficult struggle. And yet, progress is necessary for survival. What doesn’t grow (progress) eventually dies. The struggle for progress – the will to power – shouldn’t get halted. It will not get halted as long as humans exist.
The ultimate aim of the Taliban, who have now been offered Afghanistan on a platter, and all the other radical Muslim outfits is to bring every nation under the Islamic Sharia law. The only antidote for it is the charm freedom can have for people, which is evident from the tens of thousands who daily rush to Kabul airport in a desperate bid for it, braving death. In that sense, the soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the American occupation that followed have not been a total failure. They have given a taste to the Afghans of something better than what radical Islam can offer. While a few fly to freedom, the others will be condemned to the comfort of the cave. If and when in them the charm of freedom overwhelms the comfort of tribal and religious affiliations, they will break out of the cave. Or else, they will become fossils of a passing phase of evolution.