‘Quest for a Stable Afghanistan: A View from Ground Zero’ review: Death of a dream foretol...

‘Quest for a Stable Afghanistan: A View from Ground Zero’ review: Death of a dream foretold

An author and consultant rues the missed opportunities that allowed the Taliban to return to Afghanistan again

In the 1990s, when the Taliban emerged out of the Mujahideen, that had fought and defeated the Soviet army with the help of Pakistan and the U.S., Afghanistan was truly a forgotten land. Little was written about the Taliban’s rise, or about the Northern Alliance’s resistance to their brutal and arcane regime, as focus had moved to other conflicts, like the Gulf war, genocide in Rwanda, and the Balkanisation of the Balkans (Yugoslavia). The 9/11 attacks changed all of that, and with it came a series of accounts in the past two decades, on the U.S. defeat of the Taliban in revenge for the losses it suffered, botched attempts by U.S. and NATO forces at controlling the violence, and the British and American initiative for talks with Taliban leaders, aimed at ending their military engagement with the country. Some books went further, pinning the West’s refusal to hold Pakistan to account for its role in harbouring and funding the Taliban for the mounting losses, as in Carlotta Gall’s The Wrong Enemy, and Steve Coll’s Directorate S.

Timely sequel

In his sequel to Quest for a New Afghanistan (2012), author and an international consultant in Afghanistan Sujeet Sarkar has a new book that goes further in unravelling the reasons for the abject failure of the West in Afghanistan. While Quest for a Stable Afghanistan is essentially a collation of news reports and interviews with leaders of the time by various journalists, Sarkar brings to it his clinical analysis, and grounded understanding of why Afghanistan has passed back into the hands of the Taliban exactly 20 years after they were ousted. Divided into six chapters, the book pulls few punches on where to lay the blame for the disastrous denouement: U.S. follies (“A colossal mistake to assume the Taliban would ever disarm”) , the U.K.’s misreading of Helmand (“They returned with their egos battered and credibility diminished”), an on-again off-again peace process, corruption and failed governance by Afghanistan’s leadership, vested interests in the poppy business that destroyed Afghanistan’s future, and the Indo-Pak proxy battle (“Afghanistan is the new epicentre of India-Pakistan rivalry after Kashmir”).

India’s role

The author is relentless in recounting missed opportunities, like the failure to hit the Taliban’s “command and control” structure in Pakistan: a former Afghan intelligence chief was brushed aside by the Trump administration when he made a startling prescription to solve violence in Afghanistan: Eliminate 15-30 of Taliban’s tier one leadership in Quetta (Pakistan) and place another 15-30 Pakistani generals under sanctions. Sarkar is no less critical of India playing a “mute spectator” on U.S.-Taliban talks despite being one of Afghanistan’s most valuable strategic partners, although he is clearly appreciative of India’s development assistance to Afghanistan. The book is remarkably up to date, and even carries an introductory note on the Taliban takeover of Kabul on August 15 this year, an end to the western war that the author more or less foretells in the book. While this may well mean the death of democracy and representation that Afghans once dreamed of, the story of Afghanistan is by no means over, and will require more such chronicling, as the consequences of forgetting the country again will be felt around the world.

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