But the fanatically-pursued
destruction of pre-Islamic heritage is just one symptom of the Talibans barbarism.
As Pramit Pal Chaudhuri pointed out in yesterdays HT, things have got so bad in
Afghanistan that statue-worshippers (all non-Muslims except Jews and
Christians) have to paint their roofs yellow and wear bits of yellow cloth at all times to
remind them of their inferior status. The way in which Hindus and Sikhs are treated in
Afghanistan is uncomfortably reminiscent of the manner in which the Nazis treated Jews.
Not that Muslims have it much easier. If you are caught thieving they
cut your arm off. If the militia dont like you, they can summarily execute you on
the spot no questions asked. No woman is allowed to wear white because this is the
colour of the Talibans flag. Lakhs of Afghans have no water but the regime does not
care about the terrible drought; it is too busy dynamiting statues. Anyone caught
committing a homosexual act is crushed under a large stone as punishment. (Presumably,
this is not rigidly enforced. Otherwise, given the proclivities of Afghan men
Mujahideen included they would have run out of boulders, rocks and even small
stones, by now.)
The sad state of todays Afghanistan shows us what happens when
politicians either misuse religion or pretend that terrorists are freedom fighters.
Take Indira Gandhi, for instance. She armed and trained the LTTE on the
grounds that it was a legitimate political organisation. Not only is the subcontinent
still paying the price of that blunder, but the LTTE eventually killed her own son. And
she propped up Jairnail Singh Bhindranwale as a religious counter to the Akalis. The
consequences wrecked Punjab for over a decade and she paid for the mistake with her life.
But why blame Mrs Gandhi alone? The main reason why South Asia is in
such a mess today is because America made exactly the same mistakes as her. If the LTTE
were the illegitimate offspring of her Sri Lanka policy, then the Taliban are the logical
consequence of Ronald Reagans Afghanistan policy. And if Bhindranwale was her
Frankenstein, then Osama bin Laden is the monster created by American policy-makers.
Much of what is wrong with our region today - especially the
barbaric rise of the Taliban is the consequence of superpower rivalry in the
Eighties. Over the winter of 1979-80, the Russian army entered Afghanistan. It was a
foolish decision and the US was quick to see that the situation had the potential to grow
into the Soviet Unions version of the Vietnam war.
President Reagan and his CIA Director William Casey decided to tie the
Russians down in Afghanistan by financing, arming and organising so-called resistance
organisations using Zia-ul-Haqs Pakistan as a staging point. The General was
delighted. Not only would his regime have access to American arms and funds, he would also
win the undivided attention of the White House.
Over the next decade, the US poured billions into Afghanistan through
the Pakistan funnel. According to Bob Woodwards Veil, Pakistan boasted the
worlds biggest CIA station and its army (along with US advisers) was
used to train the resistance. Because there were no ideological issues involved, the
resistance was organised on religious lines: the soldiers of Islam (the Mujahideen)
fighting their jehad against the Godless Russian communists.
In the short-term, the strategy worked. The Afghan war sapped the
Soviet Union of money and morale. Eventually, the Russians withdrew in disgrace -
and the cost of war played a major role in the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But in the long-term, this strategy devastated the region and
eventually rebounded on America. Every single party involved in the battle and even
those on the fringes like India paid a heavy price. The people of Afghanistan, of
course, suffered the most. Ever since the Russians left, they have gone from one unstable
regime to the other, ending up eventually with the barbaric Taliban, drawn from the ranks
of the Mujahideen trained in Pakistan under the auspices of the US.
Pakistan paid nearly as significant a price. The easy availability of
arms and trained assassins destroyed law and order in large parts of the country. A
parallel economy based on the opium poppy cultivated by the Afghans (the country has 72
per cent of the worlds crop) and refined into heroin by the Pakistanis, took over
from the legal one. The Islamic forces unleashed by Zia and Reagan to fight the Russians
unbalanced the secular order in Pakistan. And eventually, that unhappy country came to the
present pass where regimes collapse overnight and it goes from tyrant to crook to
dictator. A bankrupt Pakistan now has only two exports: heroin and terrorism.
India has also lost out. Once the Americans moved on in 1988-89,
Pakistan had to find something to do with the terrorists trained for the Afghan operation.
Its solution was to send them to Kashmir it is no coincidence that the Kashmir
militancy began just as the war against the Russians was ending in Afghanistan. Nor it is
accidental that the so-called Kashmiri militants (so-called because many of them are not
Kashmiris at all) frame their opposition to India in the language used in the Afghanistan
conflict: religious war, jehad, Mujahideen etc.
The US has also lost out. The people of Afghanistan recognise that
their country was no more than a theatre for the American war against Russia and hate the
US for it. This hatred is epitomised by the very Mujahideen the Americans created out of
nothing. Comprised in the main of illiterate, unwashed peasants and tribes, people who
were told to follow religious leaders for the jehad against the Russians, the likes of the
Taliban now swallow everything that any mad mullah may decree.
Sometimes the mullahs tell them to destroy Buddha statues and persecute
Hindus. But more often than not, they tell them to attack that den of sin and un-Islamic
practices: the United States. Osama bin Laden, for instance, was a rich Saudi youth who
got sucked into the Afghan conflict by the American-inspired rhetoric of a jehad. Once he
had seen off the Russians, he ran out of things to do. He now spends his time sending
terrorists to Kashmir and blowing up American embassies.
The Americans now tell us that these people are dangerous. They frown
at the term Mujahideen, once glorified by innumerable Hollywood blockbusters, and say that
jehad is a global menace. They declare that the very acts they once trained the Mujahideen
to perform in Afghanistan blowing up government buildings, taking out inconvenient
politicians etc. are an affront to civilisation.
They appear to see no irony in this.
But the biggest loser has been the image of Islam. The Taliban are
Gods gift to the VHP. They conform to every RSS caricature of Muslims: they are
fanatical, murderous, insensitive and uncivilised. It is much easier to convince people
that a mandir was destroyed by invaders who then built the Babri Masjid now, than it was
before the Taliban blasted the Buddha statues. Internationally too, more and more people
in the West are now unable to say the word Islamic without adding
fundamentalist to it. The entirely unfair image of Muslims as violent fanatics
has taken firm hold.
That makes it all the more important for us to realise that it is
individuals and groups that are evil; not entire races, countries or religion. However
much support he may have commanded at his peak, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale did not
represent the Sikh psyche; he represented himself. Similarly, just because the LTTE are
terrorist murderers, it does not follow that all Sri Lankans or all Tamils are
blood-thirsty. And of course, just because Dara Singh burnt Graham Staines and his two
children alive, it does not follow that Hindus are murderous pyromaniacs.
The roots of all these actions lay not in race or in religion; they lay
in politics. So it is with the Taliban. The same Afghans who now destroy idols were happy
to preserve them 20 years ago. The Pakistani generals who send terrorists to Kashmir are
sons and grandsons of people our parents and grandparents were friends with in the
If there is a lesson in the barbarism of the Taliban, it is this:
whenever politicians base their appeal on ethnicity or religion rather than ideas,
everybody suffers. Today it is the Buddha statues; yesterday it was the Babri masjid. Who
knows what it will be tomorrow?