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Afghanistan: Return of Taliban to power and lessons for Nigeria

By Eno-Abasi Sunday, Seye Olumide and Gbenga Salau
22 August 2021   |   4:14 am
Since Monday, August 16, a day after the Taliban reclaimed power in Afghanistan having swept to Kabul, the country’s capital, from the countryside almost unchallenged, photographs and videos emanating from the troubled enclave...

The United States Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster carting away 640 Afghans from the Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul… on Monday

Since Monday, August 16, a day after the Taliban reclaimed power in Afghanistan having swept to Kabul, the country’s capital, from the countryside almost unchallenged, photographs and videos emanating from the troubled enclave have continued to melt hearts across the globe.

And for days after the takeover on the heels of the United States military withdrawal, the Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, has remained the theatre of the absurd, where sad spectacles preface what living in Afghanistan can be.

One of such images was that of desperate citizens latching onto the jumbo-sized United States military transport aircraft to escape from the land of their birth, despite knowing that they would never make it to their destination in one piece.

As the large air bird taxied down the tarmac, some of the stowaways held onto its undercarriage, and as the aircraft rose, nine of them fell to their death, with at least one landing on a Kabul rooftop, and two others smashing their skulls in sundry locations.

The USAF Boeing C-17 Globemaster, with a call sign Reach 871, carted away 640 Afghans, which was more than five times its suggested payload, after hundreds of desperate locals poured into the plane in a bid to escape from uncertainty.

Of the total of nine deaths that were recorded within the airport and its precincts on the first full day of the Taliban regime, two were teenage watermelon sellers belonging to the same parents.

Tweeting via his Twitter handle, @rustamwahah, Rustam Wahab wrote: “Genuinely in tears right now. Two young boys who fell whilst clinging onto U.S. planes were my aunt’s neighbours. Both boys aged 16 and 17. Bodies have just been brought home to their parents.”

Wahab continued: “Both boys would sell watermelons in Kabul markets and feed off the bins to survive and provide for their mother. The two boys were their mother’s only children. She has no other family, and has no idea how she will survive under Taliban regime.”

In another heartbreaking scene, teenage school girls in Kabul were seen being bade farewell by their female teacher, who asked them, last Monday, to return home as the reign of Taliban made no room for such luxury (education of girl-child).

In yet another pathetic sight, a picture by Wakil Koshar/AFP via Getty Images, showed an American soldier pointing a gun at an Afghan man, who was allegedly trying to harass thoroughly frightened women at the airport in Kabul.

While a picture showing Afghans squeezed into the jumbo military plane, went viral on social media hours after the fall of Kabul to the extremists, it emerged the following day that an Afghanistan national youth team footballer, Zaki Anwari, also made the list of victims, as the 19-year-old fell from the aircraft.

Upon taking over the presidential palace, in Kabul after the fall of Ashraf Ghani-led government, the Taliban made several pronouncements, where they insisted to have repented of their past vicious modus operandi.

Apart from the verbal assurances that they have offered, the group last Tuesday, gave an interview to a female Afghan anchor, in a bid to reveal its more moderate face to the global community. But that attempt to cut the image of a humane and kinder group contrasted sharply with images of their members beating up Afghans with gun butts and clubs to keep them away from gaining access to the airport.

Apart from the last-ditch effort to flee the country, which last Monday’s mad rush by thousands of Afghans was, terrified Afghans are also reportedly scrambling to delete their online digital history amid fears that the Taliban will hunt down those seen to be “enemies” or non-conformists.

Since the takeover, the immediate and remote impact of the power grab has continued to reverberate across the world, with millions pouring out their hearts over the fate of moderates, especially women.

Indeed, in the last 20 years that American military occupied Afghanistan, the Taliban operated largely in the fringes with their activities seriously downplayed to the point that younger members of the millennial generation only read about their heinous conducts in history books.

The Taliban first ventured into governance in the 1990s in the wake of the turmoil that dovetailed Soviet forces withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, and the era witnessed hardline interpretation of Islamic laws, which they imposed. Not only were girls and women denied education and employment, full-face covering was mandatory in public, just as latter could not leave home unaccompanied by male companions.

Among some of the extreme positions that the Taliban took, during their last rule, were public executions, including stoning to death for accusations of adultery. These were carried out in stadiums and city squares. Public floggings for lesser offences were commonplace.

But Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban chieftain said on Tuesday that the group was “committed to letting women work in accordance with the principles of Islam.”

When asked the difference between today’s Taliban and that, which was overthrown 20 years ago, he said: “If the question is based on ideology and beliefs, there is no difference… but if we calculate it based on experience, maturity, and insight, no doubt there are many differences… the steps today will be positively different from the past steps,” he added.

The abundance of assurances notwithstanding, residents are reportedly cautious with their public life with women largely absent from the streets of Kabul, and men jettisoning western garb for traditional Afghan clothes.

Growing Calls To Stop Humanitarian Crisis
NOBEL Peace prizewinner, Malala Yousafzai, in breaking her silence over the Taliban takeover said: “This is actually an urgent humanitarian crisis right now that we need to provide our help and support.”

Writing via her verified Twitter handle -@Malala Yousafzai, she said she was deeply concerned about the situation in Afghanistan, urging world leaders to help Afghanistan’s civilians, especially women and girls.

Yousafzai, 23, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient in history, who survived being shot in the head by a Pakistani Taliban gunman in 2012, after being targeted for her campaign against the group’s efforts to deny women education, said world leaders, including American President, Joe Biden have a lot to do, and must take bold steps to protect the Afghan people.

Former American President George W. Bush, who began a global onslaught on terror beginning from Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks, urged the U.S. government to fast-track help for the burgeoning Afghan refugees.

“The United States government has the legal authority to cut the red tape for refugees during urgent humanitarian crises. And we have the responsibility and the resources to secure safe passage for them now, without bureaucratic delay,” Bush and former first lady, Laura Bush said in a statement, on Monday.

Integration Of ‘Repentant’ Insurgents As Booby Trap
IN the last couple of years, the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government has not only had unending meetings with service chiefs, where strategies are mapped out, it has also severally claimed that it has tactically defeated Boko Haram, a claim, which runs counter to the interminable insurgency that is on ground. Worse still, the Nigeria Army, which many say ought to be very ruthless with the insurgents, is even begging Boko Haram terrorists to surrender and embrace peace.

Not only have groups and individuals rejected such calls, some of them, including the Arewa Consultative Forum are kicking against the surrender of repentant insurgents, insisting that they must be brought to justice.

Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State, equally expressed grave worries recently when he stated that his state was in a very difficult situation over the so-called surrender by repentant insurgents.

“We have to critically look between two extreme conditions and decide our future. We have to choose between an endless war or to cautiously accept the surrendered terrorists which is really painful and difficult for anyone that has lost loved ones, difficult for all of us and even for the military whose colleagues have died and for volunteers,” he said

Zulum’s worries and that of others notwithstanding, the Federal Government is still optimistic that the country can never capitulate due to insurgency.

The Minister of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed while meeting with international media organisations and think tanks in the United States on the achievements of President Buhari’s administration and efforts made to tackle insurgency, banditry and all forms of criminality said insinuation in certain quarter that the security situation in Nigeria could degenerate to that of Afghanistan was not correct.

In emphasising that the country cannot go the way of Afghanistan where a terrorist group is now in power, Mohammed said: “Nigeria is not and will not be a failed state. Yes, we have challenges in some corners of the country, but that has not made Nigeria a failed state. A failed state is one where basic facilities are not available and everything has broken down but, Nigeria is not in that stage… If what happened in Afghanistan is something to go by, then the Federal Government should be given kudos for the way it has handled insurgency in the last couple of years.

“The lessons from Afghanistan today is that for over 20 years of American intervention and over a trillion dollar spent and thousands of American lives lost, it took the Taliban just few weeks to recapture Afghanistan.

“This should be a lesson for everybody that when you are fighting an insurgency or movement driven by ideology, it is always difficult to overcome and you must be resourceful, deploying both kinetic and non-kinetic approach. When people were saying we should invite mercenaries, the president was focused and maintained that our military have what it takes.

“The president should be given kudos for believing in our military and deploying both kinetic and non-kinetic approaches,’’ he said.

He said while a lot of efforts is going into the kinetic approach, the military is also engaged in non-kinetic approach, building hospitals, reviving schools, teaching in some of the schools, and delivering medical care to people in affected areas.

Both the former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Prof. Bola Akinterinwa, and a former Assistant Director of the Department of State Services (DSS), Dennis Amachree, agree that taking the so-called repentant insurgents into confidence could amount to poor thinking and a dangerous thing to do.

Commenting on claims that repentant Boko Haram members could become dangerous to the system, especially given their affinity with erstwhile colleagues that are still in the wild, Amachree, a Senior Regional Security Director at GE Global Sub-Sahara Africa said: “It is common in any war to have prisoners of war (POW) who have been forced to surrender. However, if not well processed and simply forgiven and allowed back into the country, we may be inadvertently moving into a new phase of the insurgency, where Boko Haram fighters will easily penetrate the country and cause a devastating blow on the country. I will advise that such surrendering soldiers be isolated in a POW camp and diligently processed by the DSS. The security agencies have a lot of intelligence to gather from these people.”

Amachree, who is also of the view that the “real reason that the United States went into Afghanistan despite the propaganda regarding dismantling of the Taliban, and taking out non-existing weapons of mass destruction has come to nought. The reason for American presence in Afghanistan is more of oil economics than building liberal democracy.

He, however, agreed with those saying that the “USA did not properly read the politics of Afghanistan. They should have learnt from the nasty experience of other countries that have gone into Afghanistan and left disgracefully. The case of Russia is a good example of that. The billions of dollars used to train and equip the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) is to say the least, wasted.”

The former DSS boss, who is also a Principal Partner at Zoomlens Security Solutions, said the country must avail itself of key lessons from the Afghanistan episode in order to effectively prosecute its decade-long insurgency war.

“In Nigeria’s fight against insurgency, the main advisory will be to use the carrot and stick approach. Non-kinetic approaches will bring in better results. It is an ideological war and the Nigerian military has concentrated on boots on the ground than fighting for the hearts and minds of the insurgents,” he said.

Heartwarmingly, he said the entire world is not at risk as a result of Taliban taking over the reins in Afghanistan. His words: “The world is not at risk because the Talibans are back in the saddle in Afghanistan. They are an extremist religious group, but observations show that they are ready to give a lot of concessions, especially to women and the media.”

Akinterinwa is particularly bothered and does not agree with the idea of granting amnesty to the repentant Boko Haram members as doing so “can poison the whole system and cost the country very dearly. The first fundamental question to ask is the objective determination of what constitutes repentance. When is repentance genuine? Is the current alleged repentance of the insurgents not a re-strategy in the actualisation of the objectives of the Boko Haram? I strongly believe it is simply a re-strategy.

“Additionally, there is nothing to suggest that the granting of amnesty is not another way of fostering the alleged Fulanisation agenda of Buhari-led government. Former President Goodluck Jonathan made it clear that there were Boko Haram agents in his government. This has never been addressed, at least, in the eyes of the general public. There has been the case of a repentant Boko Haram, who was deployed to the police force after his alleged rehabilitation, but who later returned into his old terrorist acts. The video of the terrorist went viral. How do we explain this type of development?

“Explained differently again, what the Boko Haram is pursuing as objective includes the dismantlement of Nigeria. Establishment of Islamic caliphates in the country, beginning from the North, is a truism. If a government sees wisdom in granting amnesty to alleged repentant bandits, and the same government is brutalising proponents of self-determination in the South, the amnesty granted to the Boko Haram cannot, but be questionable; it is nepotistic in character; prejudicial to national unity, and a catalytic dynamic of disintegration. This is why the amnesty is nothing more than an expression of a very dangerous poison that has the great potential to destabilise the country,” the former NIIA boss stated.

About 640 Afghans seated in the American military aircraft before takeoff. PHOTO: U.S. Air Force. (Photo by Capt. Chris Herbert / US Airforce / AFP)

He continued: “In other words, there is the need for greater caution. The Boko Haram has recklessly maimed, brutalised innocent people, and killed people with much joy and with impunity. Instead of treading the path of justice for the victims, the government is frolicking on the tarmac of amnesty. This is why the government of Buhari is a major problem of Nigeria, especially if it, most unfortunately, sees the massive return of repentant terrorists as a sign of military victory. The claim of military victory is quite doubtful. The repentance may be to infiltrate the whole country for special intelligence gathering, or in preparation for the widely reported jihad. No one is talking about what Colonel Muammar Gaddafi once said that there would never be peace in Nigeria until the whole country is divided into Muslim North and Christian South. What informed this prediction and why? Does this not explain the security imbroglio in both the North East and North West? Why differentiate between armed banditry in the North West and terrorist insurrection in the North East? If truth be told, there is nothing more poisonous than condoning political governance that is largely driven by subjectivity and dishonesty of purpose. It is possible that Government has more pertinent reasons for granting amnesty. However, when such reasons are only known to the same government and the government alone. The government cannot, but be only talking to itself, while the general public retains its legitimate right to make its own deductions. This is not good enough.

Like Amachree, Akinterinwa believes that Taliban taking over the reins in Afghanistan does not pose so much risk to the world for many reasons. First, what the Taliban represents in terms of ideology is generally well known. One Yoruba proverb say, ‘If God unveils your enemy to you, the enemy can no longer be harmful to, or kill you.’ In other words, when the entire world knows what the problem is all about, it cannot but be easier to contain the problem. In this regard, the entire world is most likely to come together and invade Afghanistan under the Taliban, in the event Afghanistan decides to take the entire world for a ride.

Second, the Afghan government has made it clear, though declaratively, that it will not allow the Afghan territory to be used for terrorism; that women rights will be reckoned with, etc. The implication of this is the admission that the country cannot be an island unto itself with its intention to re-introduce Sharia law. The entire world has the capacity to make existential survival very difficult. Economic sanctions, boycott of Afghan exports, straining of diplomatic ties, etc., can really cut short the feathers of arrogance that the Afghan government may want to grow.

Third, and more significantly, countries like Russia and China, which are closer allies of Afghanistan, are not likely to condone any attempt of excesses in the global balance of power. Afghanistan cannot become a new instrument of another Cold War,” Akinterinwa explained.

But for the National Chairman Social Democratic Party (SDP), Dr. Olu Agunloye, “there are cogent reasons to worry about concomitant escalations arising from the apparent success of insurgency as being seen in Afghanistan. This may be due to the copycat syndrome or actually encouraged by the seeming overcome of reason by brutal force in Afghanistan.

He was, however, quick to add that the world may be jolted a little by the displacement of Afghans, possible unleashing of brutality on women, and children and gross abuse of power in Afghanistan which may follow. Beside this, the rest of the world will move on.

As many are not convinced that the Buhari-led government is fighting religious extremism/insurgency the right way, especially with amnesty for insurgents championed by the government, Agunloye said, “Dialogue, understanding and amnesty and the firm resolve to resist aggression are tools usually deployed to overcome insurgency, and the accompanying onslaughts on economy and social security. To this end, our government is right to hold up the olive branch of amnesty, but Government has to demonstrate in strong terms that it is not breeding complicity to create the critical mass for insurgents to achieve their primary mission of creating an Islamic State of Nigeria.

He equally agreed with Information Minister, Mohammed Nigeria can’t go the way of Afghanistan.

Said he: “The situations are different. In Nigeria, there are four major forces seeking change or disintegration. First is the Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group attempting to overthrow legitimate Nigerian government to create an Islamic state.

Next is the group of herdsmen or bandits with no clear-cut ideology, but gearing up for political conquests and dominance over other ethnic groups. The third group comprises the separationist agitators wanting out of the federation and lastly, a mixed bag of criminals engaging in kidnappings, arson, robberies and other nefarious activities mostly taking advantage of the poor state of security for economic or political gains. However, the influence of the Taliban ascension to power in Afghanistan could spur these diverse groups to further actions, but these won’t have same Afghanistan results in Nigeria.

“This is the time for the presidency to deploy maximum genuine resolve to contain all manners of aggressions and terrorism and open its arms for dialogue and its mind to correct imbalances in the structure and polity, and imbibe principles of social justice for peace, productivity and prosperity in the country.