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A Saigon moment for the US

By Matein Khalid

Mark Twain was so right when he observed that “history does not repeat but it surely rhymes”. In 1992, Soviet vassal President Najibullah was publicly hanged by the Taliban when it seized Kabul in 1996. Shah Shuja, the grandson of the Afghan state’s founder was put on the throne by the East India Company and its Bengal Army but was murdered in 1842 by his Gilzai tribal enemies. President Hamid Karzai, a direct descendent of Shah Shuja, was reviled by his Taliban enemies, the same Gilzai tribesmen who are now the foot soldiers of the Taliban.

Ashraf Ghani is lucky to flee Afghanistan alive, unlike ex-Afghan presidents Sardar Daud in 1978, Noor Mohammed Tariki and Hafizullah Ameen, murdered by Soviet Spetsnaz commandos in 1979. Jim Morrison said it best in his autobiography “nobody gets out of here alive”.

I passionately hope Afghanistan evolves into a liberal, democratic society even though the idea of another Taliban regime is repulsive. Scotland was Europe’s Afghanistan in the 1600’s, run by murderous clan warlords in the Highlands and fundamentalist Calvinist beardo weirdos in the lowland cities. Yet by the late 1780’s, Edinburgh was the epicentre of the Scottish Enlightenment, the home of David Hume, Robert Burns and Adam Smith. How could this miracle of social evolution happen? Scottish elites embraced the cult of reason and surfed the wealth of nations.

I doubt if Mullah Baradar will shave, don an Armani suit and address Davos but it is a nice dream. For now, the scenes from Kabul airport are heart-breaking as the desperate Afghan elite votes with its feet.

The Afghan debacle is a Saigon moment for the US but will have no real impact on its strategic military posture worldwide, though it is more dangerous to be America’s friend than America’s enemy under Biden.

The fall of Kabul will have a seismic impact on South Asian geopolitics. Pakistani funda johnnies and military spooks may well uncork their grape juice champagne for now but a Taliban ruled Afghanistan may well stir secessionist sentiments among its 25 million Pashtun citizens, who can never forget the CIA drones and F16 airstrikes sanctioned by the Rawalpindi GHQ in North Waziristan and the Swat Valley.

FATF blacklist, IMF loan squeeze and economic sanctions would be catastrophic for a near bankrupt Pakistani economy. India will also face an uptick in violence in Kashmir as cemeteries in Srinagar are full of Chechen, Uzbek, Yemeni and other foreign terrorists who infiltrated the Indian state after training in Afghanistan. The Taliban has excellent relations with Lashkar-e-Taiba, whose gunmen massacred 168 innocent human beings in South Bombay.

The ghosts of those civilians who the Taliban massacred, assassinated, flogged/stoned to death and amputated in their reign of terror must haunt the conscience of the civilised world. The Taliban once ushered the Stone Age to Kabul – literally, let us hope history does not rhyme, let alone repeat.

Matein Khalid is Chief Investment Officer, Asas Capital

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