American rosy shades vs Afghanistan's green

US soldiers stand guard as Afghan people wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city's airport trying to flee the group's feared hardline brand of Islamist rule. Photo: Wakil Kohsar / AFP

Those who follow Afghanistan when its fortunes change of late would have come across, among other unreliable personalities that worked with the US to bring democracy to a people only fitfully interested in it and have now fled the country including the president, Ashraf Ghani, the rather missing-in-action General Abdul Rashid Dostum.

The general is one of the many tribal warlords whose influence the US mistakenly thought tipped the scales against the Taliban.

On Monday, as the Taliban forces motorcycled and humveed in triumph all over Afghanistan, they ransacked the palace of General Dostum, and had their photographs taken as they sipped tea from the general's golden tea set. Now we know, where part of the trillion dollars the US and the West (the UK alone spent over $36 billion) spent in the last 20 years in Kabul went: to puppets who had no real power in Extremistan.

The Americans never could get why there would be a place on earth that could resist Beyonce and BitCoin, and billionaires who aimed their personal rockets to Mars. How can you resist cheeseburgers? Why on earth would anyone deny themselves the pleasure?

Korea, Vietnam, Latin America, the Middle East, and Afghanistan. Starting with the post World War '50's, decade after decade the Americans have proven that they are simply unable to read any situation outside their own high-consumerist culture which they, from their perspective, identify with democracy, choice, and personal freedom.

Maybe it is. But, equally, there are cultures that identify themselves with primitive fundamentals of religion. Samuel Huntington, in his book Clash of Civilizations, argued in the late 90's that future wars would be fought not between countries, but cultures and religions. In the US-Afghanistan war, countries are the cultures looking for dominance. And in this latest – and archetypally, the oldest – confrontations, the Islamists have won. Allah has triumphed, and women and children and men will return to god's will, which essentially consists of pulling the plug on the world of Apple and Google, and women working without hope in the kitchen. If this is what a people want, why fight a war that kills and maims millions?

A member of Taliban stands guard as people walk at the entrance gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. Reuters

The trouble of course is that we don't know if that is what they want. Except the West doesn't get it. Because very often we mistake a group, not the individual, for a nation.

In video clips released on Monday, hundreds of Afghans could be seen running with a taxiing US rescue plane at Kabul and climbing over the wings. Reportedly some fell off the flying plane later, and died.

The mob of men, fleeing their beloved country, all look young. The men are, of course, all men. No woman. No kid. And all of them Afghans. We will not ask, are these men deserting their wives and kids and parents and homes — their country and culture for America? If so, has the Taliban won or lost? The point is that the articulacy of a group cannot be taken for a nation's voice. It must be found in the individual. This majoritarianism of sorts is a real problem that Democracy — as we know it — must grapple with.

But that is not the real debate. The real debate is that at the end of 20 years of all sorts of cash and carrots and training a whole army, the US interests could not be looked after.

This is because of the rosy culture-shades that the Americans wear at all times. They just cannot step outside their sense of exceptionality ('God bless America.' Why? Why not another country, say, Afghanistan?) and the bedrock belief of that modern civilization that 'the pursuit of happiness', constitutionally guaranteed to American citizens, surely ought to be the universal goal; and that because they invented this phrase, they are superior to all other cultures and peoples.

The tragicomic consequence of the perception that the American Self is the measure keeps the US administration and its academics from seeing other 'ideals' at work.

It also keeps them from learning from the huge errors of judgments they have made down the ages costing trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives. The US media supports Biden's pull-out. They are unable to grasp what they are approving in effect is the idea that brown lives do not matter. It is a terrifying perception problem. And, we now know only too well, perceptions create realities. Hitler perceived Jews a threat. Six million Jews, therefore, died.

'We're not going back': Britain says Taliban control Afghanistan
British Forces from 16 Air Assault Brigade arrive in Kabul, Afghanistan, to provide support to British nationals leaving the country. Reuters

The post-American Afghanistan is an awfully potent threat. To the Taliban, they have rescued their country from certain evil. That knowledge (perception?) keeps them away from wanting to know or deal with the outside world. It is the same shades problem, except their colour is green. Most Taliban leaders who would form a new government do not know how to switch on a computer and connect to the Net.

They are away from the modern developments in technology and ethical values by about 300 years. At the same time they have access to missiles, guns, rockets, motorized vehicles and opium cultivation (over two million hectares, according to one estimate), and trade.

To China, for example, that means exports. To us in India, it may just mean Kashmir on the boil. To the world at large, the nearly moribund Middle East extremism will get a shot in the arm.

We will be soon seeing a lot of executions and violence on videos posted by the well-meaning, god-fearing leaders from that beleaguered country. And another generation will grow up believing that the weapon of the normal is the machine gun. That if you erred, your hand must be chopped, or your head must fly. All of it will be in the name of god. How lucky we are that it is not in the name of Jesus. Or Ram.Yet.

(CP Surendran is an author and senior journalist. Views are personal.)

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