International jet-setter Ashraf Ghani’s contempt for Afghan tribal chiefs led to unravelling of his regime

Ashraf Ghani had also reportedly removed the army top brass routinely, creating a power void and uncertainty in the army. The army units in the provinces saw merit in submission than in fighting

Former Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani (File photo)
Former Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani (File photo)
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Anjan Roy

The war of succession in seventeenth century India and twenty-first century Afghanistan show up the same factors for decisive wins —there is nothing deterministic about history; personalities matter, not just historical trends.

Now that the dust is settling down in Afghanistan, the jigsaw puzzle that the collapse of the country to an advancing rag tag force of Taliban is falling into place.

As some ground level feedback mentioned, the Taliban have often said that the Americans have watches, while we have time. That explains a lot of the riddle that the country has been in the recent months and weeks.

Twenty years back, the Americans had rushed into Afghanistan as raging elephants pursuing the perpetrators of 9/11 attacks on a soil which had never witnessed such a ghastly deed on the mainland since Pearl Harbour. The enormity of that incident was worse since Pearl Harbour was war time reprisal by a powerful state, while 9/11 was perpetrated by a loose band of terrorists.

It was to nab those elusive and informal terrorist brigands that the Americans had moved into Afghanistan, only to discover later that their long-time close ally in Asia, Pakistan, was squarely behind the terrorist combine. It was even later that they discovered the covert shelter that Pakistan was providing to Osama Bin Laden.

Twenty years later, once again it is Pakistan which had been the ‘known unknown’ factor. It is their unseen hands that guided the Taliban’s movements and formation. They supported their camouflage planning and they directed the waiting game.

Informed observers have said that the Taliban take over and the fall of the Ashraf Ghani government was only a matter of time. It was in the works.

The central figure in the drama was the very personality and background of President Ashraf Ghani. He was an elected president and the election process could hardly be discredited. It was a validly held election, as best as possible in the then Afghanistan.

He had defeated the high profile Hamid Karzai, who had been an international darling with his fashion statement wearing the long flowing Afghan robe for his global perambulations. He was politically savvy and swift and could cultivate the Afghan tribal leaders well.

Karzai was educated in India where he had come as a young man. He was fluent in Hindi and familiar with Delhi. When he was elected president of Afghanistan, his first visit abroad was to India. He had received unstinted support from India at the time he formed the earlier Northern Alliance government.

In the closing days of the Ghani, as it was becoming abundantly clear what the outcome was going to be, Hamid Karzai had brushed up his old contacts.

When Ashraf Ghani was ignominiously fleeing Afghanistan, Karzai had energised his well-entrenched communications and established links with the Taliban and the worst sections of the terrorist outfits in that coalition of forces. He was seen sitting with the head of the brutal terrorist outfit in Kabul.

In sharp contrast, Ashraf Ghani truly belonged to the international jet-set group. He was trained in the World Bank and was a top notch technocrat of the institution. He had a slightly contemptuous stance for Afghanistan tribal chiefs, which proved suicidal, particularly where the affairs of state in Afghanistan are largely influenced by the cabal of tribal leaders.

That abundantly explains why despite being in power for such a long time and having a so-called regular army, the Taliban could gain control of the country so easily. The Taliban had negotiated with the powerful tribal chiefs who virtually rule the provinces and their tribal areas.

They allowed the best strategy for winning a war. That is, not to fight it at all. Create a situation in which the enemy feels hopeless and gives up before a fight ensues.

With the deals with the tribal chiefs in place, there was hardly any support base for the army units and they preferred to surrender than fight two foes at the same time, the Taliban and the local tribal chiefs and their armed gangs. Had Ashraf Ghani been more tuned in to tribal politics, rather than being an international technocrat, the regular state army could have done better.

As if to make things worse, Ashraf Ghani had reportedly removed the army top brass routinely, creating a power void and uncertainty in the army. The army units in the provinces saw merit in submission than in fighting.

Incidentally, tales of the Afghan president leaving the country with coffers full of US dollars couldn’t be true. Ashraf Ghani is known for his honesty when his whole country is corrupt to the core. There are western agencies who have vouched that Ghani’s conduct has been above board.

The course of the Afghan affairs shows that personalities play a critical part in shaping history and the inevitable trends of history are created and vindicated by the buffeting personalities involved.

It was true in the sixteenth century India, when the sons of Emperor Shah Jehan were fighting a succession battle on the plains of north India. Dara Sukoh, the favoured eldest son of the Emperor, having a large force with several Rajput chieftains supporting him and the backing of the Imperial exchequer could not overpower Aurangzeb, battle-hardened and grimly determined, won two decisive battles in quick succession to ascend the Imperial throne.

It proved to be true in the craggy mountains and valleys of Afghanistan in the twenty-first century when all the high defence technologies of the modern world, unlimited finance, global diplomatic and image building techniques were pitted against a band of desperate and determined fighters.

(IPA Service)

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