This article was originally published on One World Press in response to this piece by one of our editors. But in the interests of promoting honest debate and diverse views on current affairs, we thought it would be a great addition to OffG. Feel free to compare and contrast the pieces in the comments below, or add your own interpretation.
OffGuardian’s Kit Knightly published a thought-provoking piece titled “6 Questions We NEED To Ask About Afghanistan”. He raises some very relevant questions that should be of interest to all observers.
In the order that they were presented, these are:
- Did the Taliban really just win?
- Is the chaos real?
- What about the heroin?
- Will there be any political fallout?
- Is there another “refugee crisis” on the way?
- Will we see a major terrorist attack?
As someone who’s covered Afghanistan very closely since the Taliban was first hosted in Moscow back in February 2019, I’d like to share my answers to these questions. Before doing so, however, readers should review the following analyses where I elaborate on my views.
As I wrote in “Why America Couldn’t Win Its War In Afghanistan”, the US’ grand strategic goal of exporting regime changes throughout the broader region through a combination of Color Revolutions and terrorism (Hybrid War) failed due to the targeted states’ resilience, which actually worked to bring them closer together and thus made it impossible for the US’ true goal there to ever succeed.
The US might have intended to sow the seeds of chaos throughout the course of its hasty withdrawal by deliberately leaving a security vacuum for ISIS-K to exploit in the event that its Afghan allies couldn’t hold the Taliban at bay.
The Taliban of today is remarkably different from the one that everyone remembers since it promised to cut ties with international terrorists, is much more inclusive of minority groups, promised to respect minorities’ and women’s rights, and aspires to pragmatically cooperate with the region for mutually beneficial economic ends.
The Afghan Civil will not turn into a regional proxy war. The Taliban’s capture of many Afghan border crossings at the time preempted the scenario of some regional countries arming anti-Taliban proxies, the possibility of which was further reduced by the group’s pragmatic political ties with Russia in recent years, which used to be one of the former “Northern Alliance’s” top sponsors.
Upon realizing that it’ll never succeed with its initial grand strategic goal in Afghanistan, the US finally commenced its withdrawal from the country but intends to subsequently expand its influence throughout the region via economic means through PAKAFUZ and the “New Quad” (both of which are explained in the article).
The US, China, India, Pakistan, and Russia will reshape South Asia. All of these countries except for India have common interests in promoting Central Asian-South Asian connectivity in the aftermath of America’s Afghan withdrawal, but New Delhi might act as a spoiler if it continues to formulate its relevant policies under the influence of geopolitics instead of geo-economics.
The US might attempt to exploit the Afghan refugee crisis provoked by its hasty withdrawal from the country in order to pressure Pakistan and Turkey as punishment for their increasingly independent foreign policies in recent years, including Islamabad’s refusal to allow Washington to set up military bases in the country.
The Taliban’s lightning-fast offensive across Afghanistan took Western governments by surprise (despite the CIA reportedly predicting that the country’s rapid collapse was one of several scenarios), which is why they still had so many of their citizens there and were therefore in such a panic to get them out as soon as possible.
The US withdrawal was a spectacular failure. The US could have “saved face” to an extent had it established military tripwires for deterring Taliban attacks until after its withdrawal was completed in parallel with forcing former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to compromise on a political solution aimed at smoothly facilitating the creation of a transitional government.
Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s former leader was too egotistical to step down per the Taliban’s demand for him to do so as their only condition for participating in an interim government, which also showed that he was willing to defy his American patrons until the very end in this respect and there wasn’t anything they could do to change his mind.
Russia’s Pragmatic Stance Towards The Taliban Debunks Western Fearmongering. In complete contradiction to the Western Mainstream Media narrative, Russian officials claimed that the situation in Afghanistan was almost entirely under control after the Taliban’s takeover, an interpretation of events that they subsequently built upon here, here, here, here, and here.
The confusion in many observers’ minds due to everything that’s recently happened provoked wild speculation among some such as popular conservative commentator Candace Owens who theorized that Biden merely did all of this at China’s behest, which I very strongly disagreed with and explained why.
Many were also confused by the chaos at the Kabul Airport, which I explained was due to a combination of American incompetence as earlier elaborated in my prior pieces above and the US’ subsequent efforts to weaponize the embarrassing optics in order to discredit the Taliban and thus distract from its own failures.
Some influential leftist activists in the Alt-Media Community came up with the theory that the Taliban are secretly American proxies since they have difficulty accepting that the US really lost its War on Afghanistan and struggle to understand its geo-economic backup plans that I earlier elaborated upon above.
Contrary to popular opinion nowadays, the US’ abandonment of its Afghan allies was actually predated by its partial abandonment of Poland and Ukraine with respect to their Nord Stream II interests, which shows that what recently happened in South Asia isn’t a fluke but part of a new strategic pattern.
Having summarized my views from over the past four months, it’s now time to answer Knightly’s thought-provoking questions and address some of the pertinent points that he raised in each one:
Q1. “Did the Taliban really just win?”
The US still has contractors in the country like Knightly pointed out, but they’re unable to influence the course of events. It’s true that the Taliban were largely unopposed, but this is because many members of the Afghan National Army (ANA) didn’t want to die for former President Ghani’s ego, knew that they couldn’t rely on US air support to back them up if they entered into battle, some of them secretly sympathized with the Taliban (which gradually transformed from a a terrorist group into a national liberation movement), and the Taliban offered many of them to surrender since it was easier than fighting them.
The US military equipment that fell into the Taliban’s hands was supposed to aid the ANA and their militia allies. America didn’t anticipate its proxies surrendering to the Taliban en masse. If anything, it might have had the backup plan of hoping that this equipment fell into ISIS-K’s hands with time instead of the Taliban’s, but the latter defied most expectations by taking over the country before that could happen.
It’s true that there was a deal, of sorts, with the Taliban, but not to hand control of the country and all that equipment over to it. There was supposed to be a transitional government, but former President Ghani refused to resign to facilitate it.
The US wasn’t going to pull the ANA’s American-supplied equipment upon realizing that its long-negotiated diplomatic plan (which was the result of the Extended Troika’s talks that also consisted of China, Pakistan, and Russia) failed. That would have triggered a so-called “crisis of confidence”, though in hindsight the consequent collapse of the ANA that would have followed happened anyhow.
The US also wasn’t going to publicly pressure former President Ghani since that also might have provoked the aforementioned crisis that accelerated the country’s feared collapse. In other words, the US was genuinely caught in a dilemma of its own making.
Q2. Is the chaos real?
A. Yes and no.
The chaos at the Kabul Airport is real and the direct result of the US’ plans completely collapsing as was explained, but Russia already debunked the Western Mainstream Media’s misleading reports about nationwide chaos in the areas under the Taliban’s control. It was impossible for those same media forces to cover up the US’ disastrous withdrawal so they simply embraced it by reporting on how similar the optics are to Saigon.
Some might speculate, and not without reason, that part of the purpose is to discredit Biden ahead of what some have feared might be Harris’ planned power grab against him at the behest of her “deep state” allies.
The questionable footage from the Kabul Airport showing mostly male crowds (some of whom were behaving nonchalantly) instead of women and children is due to those being the ones who mostly collaborated with the occupying forces and went there in the hope of fleeing their homeland in order to escape the Taliban’s possible revenge (which they in any case promised not to do as part of their general amnesty). Afghans, and especially males, also don’t usually panic much either since it’s seen as a sign of weakness in their culture.
As for the amusing footage of Taliban fighters playing in amusement parks and even trolling Biden by eating ice cream (widely known to be one of his favorite foods), that’s just part of their new public relations strategy to show the world that they’ve changed.
They don’t want the international community to consider them a threat anymore since they hope to be cautiously welcomed by it in the coming future and recognized as Afghanistan’s legitimate government. Some Western Mainstream Media outlets might have ulterior perception management motives related to propagating those images, but the Taliban certainly didn’t stage them for that purpose.
Q3. What about the heroin?
A. The Taliban banned it and Mexico might replace Afghanistan as the world’s supplier.
Knightly is right to wonder what will happen to the CIA’s illegal drug proceeds since Afghanistan currently supplies 90% of the world’s heroin, but his article came out the same day as the Taliban’s press conference where the group’s representative announced that drugs will now be banned and therefore wasn’t able to be incorporated into his piece.
The Taliban also requested that “The international community should help us so that we can have alternative crops. We can provide alternative crops. Then, of course, very soon, we can bring [the drug scourge] to an end.”
Unbeknownst to many, Russia had the world’s largest number of heroin addicts (over two million) since the start of the last decade but might have been surpassed by the US only recently after America’s latest drug crisis.
Moscow might therefore contribute to the Taliban’s plans to provide alternative crops for cultivation in order to replace opium. Others like China might also chip in as well, not necessarily because their societies are severely affected by that drug, but even if only because their efforts help them portray themselves as responsible members of the international community. It’s therefore possible that opium might be eradicated there.
Regarding the CIA’s need to replace its lost drug proceeds in that scenario, it might very well just open up shop closer to its own borders. Although opium cultivation in northern Mexico recently dropped according to a UN report, potential production remains stable and yields per acre have improved.
Moreover, the Mexican President might be considering that plant’s legalization, which could easily be exploited by CIA-connected drug cartels there even if his intentions are pure.
This scenario is realistic since the US already has a sizeable heroin market so using Mexico as the CIA’s new base of operations can reduce costs, increase usage, and boost profits.
Q4. Will there be any political fallout?
Knightly astutely points out that the Western Mainstream Media’s surprising criticism of Biden might be meant to precondition the public into accepting Harris’ possible power play against him sometime in the future. This is possible and should be taken seriously.
Regarding their reporting about Russia and China, this is likely being hyped in order to beat up Biden in the press like Knightly notes and also fearmonger about the US’ two top Great Power competitors. It should be pointed out, however, that his claims about those two recognizing the Taliban are incorrect. Russia and China both denied it, but they do have pragmatic ties with the group.
Knightly is correct in observing that “They’ve (Russia, China, and the US in this context) shown us that, when they really need to, they work together to the same end” since this is convincingly proven by their governments’ support of the conventional COVID-19 narrative, but it’s questionable with respect to his innuendo that this might be the case with their geo-economic competition over Afghanistan’s estimated $3 trillion worth of rare earth minerals. He’s right that corporations sometimes exert disproportionate influence over nation-states, but these same corporations still intensely compete with one another for resources.
All three of their pertinent corporations aspire for a piece of Afghanistan’s $3 trillion rare earth mineral pie, but it’s more realistic to expect Russia’s and China’s to cooperate to this end than all three of theirs’ including the US’. It’s much more likely that the US’ corporations will continue intensifying their competition against China’s, including in Afghanistan.
In any case, Knightly is right in remarking that “the profits from the war, the lithium and the heroin will all end up going to the same few pockets”, but those same pockets will likely compete for their share and not all cooperate (except perhaps in the case of Russian and Chinese mining companies).
Q5. Is there another “refugee crisis” on the way?
A. Yes and no.
It’ll be very difficult for any real refugee crisis to occur since all of Afghanistan’s neighbors are closely guarding their borders with that country and are afraid that terrorists might infiltrate into their territory under such a guise.
Nevertheless, it’s clear that many Afghans want to flee their homeland out of fear of what the Taliban’s return to power might mean for their previously Western-supported lifestyles and even their own lives if they earlier collaborated with the occupiers. Most of these people will probably remain in refugee camps along the borders and won’t make succeed in making it to Western countries.
Some will, though, but these will mostly be those Afghans who collaborated with the occupying forces. There’s genuine anger among some of the Western masses at their government’s failure to rescue their local allies due to how afraid everyone is of their fate under the Taliban in spite of the group’s promise not to exact retribution against them.
That said, Knightly is correct in pointing out how this could be exploited by corporations. He also makes some excellent points with respect to how their relocation to Western countries can contradict several of those governments’ prevailing narratives in certain cases, including the mainstream one about COVID-19.
Knightly’s warning about how Western countries could extricate some of their local assets under the cover of being refugees should be taken seriously, as should his associated one about how some of those fleeing individuals might be radicalized (whether before arriving in their new countries or afterwards).
It’s also possible that Western intelligence agencies might either purposely ignore signs of their radicalization or perhaps even directly get involved in that happening in order to facilitate forthcoming attacks (whether passively or actively) to serve as the pretext for promulgating the potentially preplanned policies that might follow.
Q6. Will we see a major terrorist attack?
A. Perhaps, but it probably won’t have anything to do with Afghanistan.
Knightly did a journalistic service by compiling all the warnings from the Western Mainstream Media about how another terrorist attack might be expected in the aftermath of the latest Afghan developments.
This certainly makes it seem like the so-called “powers that be” are preconditioning the public to expect something of the sort sometime in the coming future, whether it be “naturally occurring” or the product of their intelligence agencies as was touched upon in the last sentence to the prior question.
In any case, it’s important to be aware of how actively this narrative is being propagated and to question why that is.
Some of the purposes behind this information campaign other than the possible one that was mentioned above might be connected to deleigtimizing the Taliban as revenge for it humiliating the West with its lightning-fast takeover of Afghanistan.
The US and its allies always seek to exploit the public’s fear of whatever it might be, whether it’s the threat of Taliban-inspired terrorism or COVID-19. In this case, fearmongering about forthcoming terrorist attacks could be intended to cast doubt on the Taliban’s promise to cut ties with international terrorist groups in order to perpetuate its international isolation as long as possible.
Another reason might be to establish the pretext for missile strikes against alleged terrorist camps in Afghanistan following a future terrorist attack if the US claims that it was somehow or another connected to that country even if it doesn’t present any evidence of this (or its evidence is unconvincing).
That scenario could allow the US to save some face before the global public by showing that it’s still supposedly resolute about fighting terrorism in or associated with Afghanistan even after its withdrawal. It could also be exploited as a pretext for sanctioning its mining competitors there on the basis that their operations “fund terrorism”.
After having done my best to answer Knightly’s six thought-provoking questions about Afghanistan, I’d also like to address the bullet point summary of the official narrative about the withdrawal that he included at the end of his article. Here’s what he wrote, followed by my response to each point:
- Trump signed a deal with the Taliban, over a year ago, to withdraw from the country and hand over 5000 prisoners.
That’s correct, I have nothing to add.
- Despite having over a year to plan, the US “withdrawal” was chaotic and messy.
Yes, but that’s because the US didn’t establish military tripwires to deter Taliban attacks until after it withdrew and wasn’t successful in pressuring former Afghan President Ghani into compromising towards a transitional government, which would have required his resignation.
- The US accidentally left behind weapons, helicopters, ammunition and armoured vehicles, which the Taliban took.
It wasn’t an accident, that equipment was supposed to be used by the ANA or possibly captured by ISIS-K as part of the US’ “scorched earth” Hybrid War retreat strategy that failed to materialize. Instead, demoralized and sympathetic members of the ANA handed them all over to the Taliban, which the US didn’t anticipate.
- The US accidentally left behind 5000 prisoners, whom the Taliban freed.
Those prisoners were not accidentally left behind but were supposed to have released per the US’ prior deal with the group. Furthermore, if the US forces took those prisoners with them during their retreat, they’d either likely end up in Guantanamo Bay or in one of the CIA’s secret rendition facilities across the world.
- Without US support, the Afghan army, which outnumbers and outguns the Taliban, folded without firing a shot and the Taliban took control of the entire country in less than week.
That’s mostly correct, but this didn’t happen as part of a secret deal between the US, former Afghan President Ghani, and the Taliban, but due to how demoralized many members of the ANA were and how much some of them sympathized with the Taliban. I already explained my interpretation of events earlier in this article.
- Despite shutting down the heroin trade prior to the US invasion, the Taliban now intend to keep it going, and even increase production.
Knightly must have missed the Taliban’s press conference that day or published his piece before it happened since he’d otherwise have known that the group’s representative reimposed its ban on the drug trade. They don’t intend to keep it going and requested international support for farming alternative crops.
Drawing to a close, I’d now like to respond to Knightly’s final points:
“Do you believe the story? Is it at all believable?”
Yes, I do. The Western Mainstream Media didn’t go into details elaborating on each of its narratives since they never really do that anyhow. Their audience doesn’t usually ask for that and plus many of them might have difficulty understanding some of the finer points that I explained.
“It seems fairly obvious, to me anyway, that US gave weapons and vehicles to the Taliban in exchange for a promise to keep the heroin production going (and maybe access to mineral mines, no word on that yet).”
I see how he reached that conclusion but disagree with it for the reasons that I explained. The US wanted a transitional government partially comprised of the Taliban but hadn’t intended for the group to seize power so swiftly and take all control of military equipment. The Taliban also isn’t in cahoots with the CIA’s heroin trade.
“Meanwhile, the ‘fall out’ of the totally manufactured ‘chaos’ is being used to fan the flames of fear-porn. Promoting division over asylum seekers and spreading panic about terrorism.”
I agree that the optics are being exploited but regard some of the chaos as naturally occurring as I explained. The perception of chaos all across Afghanistan is certainly manufactured, but the chaos at the Kabul Airport genuinely exists and at least 7 people have already been killed there in unclear circumstances because of it.
“In short, the Afghanistan story, as related by the mainstream press, is a twisted illogical ball of confusion, intended to provide fuel for future narratives of control.…which is pretty much true of everything in the news, these days.”
I don’t think it’s a twisted logical ball of confusion, just that it’s not being fully explained to the public as is usual, though the story is still definitely being exploited for a plethora of ulterior reasons.
Nevertheless, I respect Knightly’s right to see things differently and sincerely enjoyed reading his article and responding to it.
Andrew Korybko is an American journalist and political analyst. You can read more of his work at One World Press, or follow him on Twitter.
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