17 August 2021

A triumph for religion

The dramatic Taliban take-over of Afghanistan constitutes a triumph for religion.  Soon the Afghan people will be forced to live by religious taboos and standards, whether they as individuals like it or not.  It's already happening.  In the areas they control, the Taliban are already imposing restrictions on women reminiscent of the Saudi regime; according to some reports they have been requesting lists of girls as young as 12 for forced marriage.  When the Taliban first took over the country in 1996, they hurled it back to the dark ages, and there's every indication that this second take-over will be just as bad.

Contrary to what some vile and disgusting commentators are claiming, this is not what the Afghan people want.  85% of Afghans have no sympathy with the Taliban (source, see page 68), but ordinary civilians -- especially women, who have the most to lose -- have little ability to fight back.  If the US government and military were to disintegrate and leave a power vacuum in our own country, it's not hard to imagine what element would be likely to take over -- the gun-fetish subculture, even though the majority would not want that.  (Actually the two situations aren't quite comparable, since US gun fetishists have guns but not organization; the Taliban have both.)

Why did the Afghan government forces collapse so quickly?  Bribery and corruption played a role.  The Taliban have received considerable support from neighboring Pakistan, whose own government and military are infested with Islamists.  The US had disbanded the ethnic militias, which had had some success against the Taliban before 2001, in favor of a "national" army -- ignoring the reality of how identity and loyalty actually work in such societies.  The Kurdish ethnic militias in Syria and Iraq fought tenaciously for years against Dâ'ish (ISIL) because they were defending their own ethnic people and territory, not the Syrian and Iraqi states, which meant nothing to them.  The Taliban themselves are a quasi-ethnic militia, being drawn almost entirely from the Pashtun ethnic group in the east and south.

Whatever the reason, a new dark age of religious absolutism is now descending across the country.  Women are already retreating from public life and hiding evidence of being educated; their future is de facto slavery.  Girls' education will end; boys' education will degenerate into religious indoctrination.  Gay people, far from liberated even under US rule, will face sadistic execution whenever discovered.  The largely-Shi'ite Hazara ethnic group can expect a resumption of the persecution and massacres they suffered during the previous period of Taliban control.  Whatever freedom and democracy managed to exist under US rule will disappear.  Afghans who worked with the US and trusted us to help them when the time came will likely be slaughtered.

The failure to help that latter group is the most shameful part of our national failure.  We should have completed their evacuation from Afghanistan before beginning the troop withdrawal.  As it is, their status is bogged down in ridiculous bureaucracy and there's talk about getting people out over a period of weeks, when the situation on the ground is such that we clearly don't have anything like that much time left to do anything.

The Afghan people's terror at the prospect of fundamentalist rule is evident from their desperation to get out, even trying to cling to the outside of planes taking off.  Malala Yousafzai has called for other countries to open their doors and to help refugees however they can.

(Meanwhile, half the US internet is focused on bickering about which American politicians are or are not to blame for the disaster, and on how it will impact American domestic politics, because the US is a nation of goddamn narcissists and EVERY GODDAMN FUCKING THING IN THE WORLD needs to be about us.  FUCK THAT.)

It's hard to see any rays of hope in the situation.  Some who live near the borders of Iran or Pakistan may be able to escape to those countries (which are, however, not likely to welcome refugees in substantial numbers).  Local ethnic minorities, especially the Turkish-speaking ones in the north, may eventually be able to re-constitute their ethnic militias and carve out areas of, not really freedom or democracy, but at least less-brutal repression.  If so, the situation will closely resemble what it was before the US invasion in 2001.

There is an old saying in the region that "the poor man has no friends except his own people and his rifle".  How sadly true that is turning out to be, in Afghanistan.


Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

It' a pity. It's also a shitshow and there's nothing that can make it better. The 'mission' Bush started was probably accomplished during the first years of the war. The intervention did not prepare the country to combat its worst enemy: religion. It's a terrible situation.
Also, this:
"Meanwhile, half the US internet is focused on bickering about which American politicians are or are not to blame for the disaster, and on how it will impact American domestic politics, because the US is a nation of goddamn narcissists and EVERY GODDAMN FUCKING THING IN THE WORLD needs to be about us. FUCK THAT."


17 August, 2021 04:10  
Blogger One Fly said...

It was never going to end up being anything else when the end came.

Anyone with an ounce of brains when we started this shit way back when knew this was going to end up all kinds of fucked up.

17 August, 2021 05:49  
Blogger SickoRicko said...

It really is terrible what's happening there. You are very correct that people should have been taken out *before* the withdrawal. However, how many people would that have amounted to? I can't even imagine. If I could snap my fingers and improve the world, I would eliminate religion altogether first, then conservative politicians second.

17 August, 2021 08:54  
Blogger Leanna said...

You said this with such clarity.
"Meanwhile, half the US internet is focused on bickering about which American politicians are or are not to blame for the disaster, and on how it will impact American domestic politics, because the US is a nation of goddamn narcissists and EVERY GODDAMN FUCKING THING IN THE WORLD needs to be about us. FUCK THAT."
This is exactly what is going on and there is nothing we can do about it because we, the American people, haven't the clout or the money to make Congress get off their old white men asses to DO ANYTHING ON TIME except to pass legislation to lower taxation of the rich and increase Congressional) paychecks.
Can I get a FUCKING AMEN!!!

17 August, 2021 09:44  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sixpence: It probably is too late now. Very ironic that the last time Afghanistan was anything like a decent place to live was probably back in the seventies when it was a monarchy.

Fly: It could still have been handled better. Maybe we should have tried arming and training the women to form an army.

Ricko: The number of people who directly worked for the US, and for whom we therefore have a real responsibility, isn't unmanageably large. The total number who want to escape for whatever reason is undoubtedly in the millions. Countries like Jordan and Turkey accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria when Europe and the US would not. Maybe Afghanistan's neighbors will rise to the occasion, but I'm not counting on it.

Leanna: Thanks. I was actually talking about the misplaced focus of blogs and news sites, not the government -- but even if the US public had either one's full attention, I'm not sure they would choose to force them to focus on what's going on in Afghanistan itself instead of on the domestic political crap.

17 August, 2021 10:03  
Blogger Mike said...

"ignoring the reality of how identity and loyalty actually work in such societies."
I think you hit on the underlying reality of the situation.

17 August, 2021 11:44  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the short term there will be punishments and reprisals for going against the Taliban. Then things might return to roughly what it was before the US intervention.

Longer term the Taliban is going to face what looks to me to be a major problem. Twenty years of active conflict and leadership casualties has eliminated all of the managers. Winning a war and running a country are very different jobs. Most of the old hands, those used to relative peace, are gone. I'm not sure that peace will not be far more disruptive to the Taliban than the US invasion and occupation.

In the short term Afghanistan is going to suffer and bleed. The Mid-term will be religious/ fundamentalist control. But the longer term may be brighter. Much of the population has seen or heard about secularism and the broad outlines of human rights. Even Afghanistan has moved forward since 2001.

I wouldn't too quickly write off the chances of a popular resistance and progress on human rights. I doubt it will be a Jeffersonian democracy in the next twenty years but creeping liberalism and secularism is certainly possible. Rigid fundamentalism seems inherently unstable simply because the surrounding nations have experienced uneven but steady reforms. The difference is small but clearly present compared with twenty years ago.

17 August, 2021 19:50  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mike: The US always seems to be committed to treating formal states with borders on the map as the primary entities to deal with in any given situation, even in parts of the world where that simply isn't how things work.

Iraq is a state, but not a nation.

Kurdistan is a nation, even though it isn't a state.

Afghanistan isn't a nation and it's not much of a state either.

17 August, 2021 22:57  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Anon: Those are very good points -- thanks for the comment. I suppose another difference between 2001 and 2021 is communications technology. I don't know what the level of internet penetration in Afghanistan is -- probably very low -- but regimes more efficient and tech-savvy than the Taliban have struggled with keeping their subjects from accessing outside ideas. It may be, as you say, that in a couple of decades things will be much better than now looks possible.

17 August, 2021 23:01  
Blogger Jack said...

We don't seem to be very good at nation-building, but we are incredibly skilled at destruction and leaving power vacuums behind. In this case, I'm not sure we had any good choices. We could have built permanent bases like we seem inclined to do everywhere else, but that would have been hard to support. Maybe we will still do so, as it is hard to imagine we won't end up going back.

18 August, 2021 03:52  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

It's sad as hell what's happening over there.

18 August, 2021 12:09  
Blogger Tommykey said...

I echo the cautious optimism of Anonymous above. 1. A number of people remaining in Afghanistan will remember what life is like without religious fundamentalism, and 2. the way politics works in Afghanistan, fortunes can shift suddenly and perhaps in the next few years, it is the Taliban who could stand to lose power. Granted, it's not likely, but it is not impossible either.

Ultimately, though, the problem is that Afghanistan really should not exist as a country. It owes its existence in the 19th century due to its remoteness and mountainous terrain, and its real purpose was simply to serve as a buffer between the empires of Tsarist Russia and the British in India. In actuality, the Pashtun dominated regions in the south should be part of Pakistan and the northern and western parts given to Iran, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It's pretty much designed to prevent any outside power from being able to control the entire country.

19 August, 2021 11:31  
Anonymous NickM said...

Infidel, my suspicion is that internet penetration in urban areas is rather high - mainly via phones. But out in the boonies almost none existant. Afghanistan is very much two nations. I further suspect the Taliban probably don't have the savvy to firewall the place that effectively filtering out evil ideas like female education or cultural tolerance but I dunno because I've read a couple of reports that Afghans in Kabul who aren't currently trying to through their children over the airport barbed wire are frantically trying to erase all trace of themselves online. This suggests to me that some of the Taliban who have been living in exile these past twenty years have developed sufficient IT competence to at least hunt down the vile digital traitors. Oh aand of course in the rush to get out the US (dunno about other Nato forces) have left behind a lot of laptops etc. Of course the taliban could just dynamite the phone masts. Well, if your prepared to do it to the C6th Bamiyan Buddhas...

19 August, 2021 17:01  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jack: Most of our permanent overseas bases are to defend the host countries against external threats, not internal ones. It's hard to imagine the US public supporting a commitment to a permanent US presence in Afghanistan.

Mary K: It's horribly depressing and infuriating.

Tommykey: Yes, that's a big part of the problem. Like a lot of states in the Middle East and Africa, Afghanistan's borders were drawn based on the needs of colonial powers rather than the will and identity of the people in the area. Unfortunately one could say the same of Pakistan, though the historical situation is more complex. There's nothing much holding it together except Islam, and it's pretty dysfunctional as a state. India shouldn't have been partitioned.

NickM: Also good points. It depends how far the Taliban are willing to go back into the dark ages, technologically as well as socially. Even then, there would probably be work-arounds for people who know how to use them.

20 August, 2021 00:53  

Post a Comment

<< Home