Today, Taliban is a dreaded word. Did you know “Taliban” is the plural form of the Arabic word “talib”, which simply translated, means “student”?
The story of Taliban began in 1980s. The USSR had invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and ruled it through a proxy government led by Mr. Najibullah. Late in the 80s, Pakistan feared that the Soviets in Afghanistan were planning to invade Baluchistan, Pakistan. So, Pakistan trained mujahideens to lead an insurgency against the Soviet Union inside Afghanistan. They were backed financially by the USA and Saudi Arabia. The USA supported this mutiny to gain control over the oil reserves in Afghanistan while Saudi Arabia helped due to its unflinching support of Sunni Islam, which the insurgents were supposedly propagating. As a result of that very powerful and violent rebellion, the Najibullah government toppled and this led, to an extent, to the disintegration of USSR in 1991-92.
After the Najibullah govt, several political parties in Afghanistan came together and reached a power-sharing agreement called the Peshawar Accord. All the major political parties signed this agreement except Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami. Hekmatyar started attacking govt forces and the city of Kabul using rocket launchers and shells. He was backed by Pakistan operationally, financially and militarily. Pakistan needed political instability in Afghanistan to establish its regional motives. This time, Iran and Saudi Arabia also supported their own factions in Afghanistan in order to control the country and succeed in their political agendas. Taliban was one such small faction led by Mullah Omar, starting with less than 50 armed insurgents. Overtime, Taliban grew and captured the city of Kandahar in 1994. They also seized control over 12 out of 34 provinces not under central govt’s control. After a long and withdrawn battle, the govt forces managed to defeat most of the foreign-backed militia (including Hekmatyar’s). Afghanistan turned peaceful and the process of rehabilitation and restructuring started in the country. Then Defence Minister of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Massoud tried to bring stability in the nation and invited Taliban to join hands with his govt in the consolidation process. Needless to say, Taliban refused.
In 1995, Taliban, in a bid to establish their rule over Afghanistan, started assaulting the capital and targeting civilians. However, they suffered a thrashing from the govt forces and incurred very heavy losses. Most observers presumed Taliban were done and dusted. But as destiny would have it, Pakistan again came forward to their aid. Pakistan had chosen the Taliban to guard its convoy, trying to open a trade route from Pakistan to Central Asia. Protecting its trade, apart from the so many other obvious objectives was the temptation Pakistan couldn’t resist. It provided Taliban with stronger military support while the rich lords of Saudi Arabia showered the cash to finance Taliban’s attempts to overthrow the Afghanistan govt. Inevitably, Taliban raided again and succeeded this time. They captured Kabul and established their rule all over the country in September 1996.
India has always portrayed itself as a victim of terrorism. You might be surprised to know that India was a silent spectator to all the Taliban brutality until Taliban started bombarding India. India had mused that Taliban would distract Pakistan from Kashmir, helping India’s causes indirectly.
It would be childish on my part to mention that millions lost their lives, women were raped, govt and private properties were destroyed and extreme abuse of civilians was everywhere to see. The story of Afghanistan is a long, horrific tale of death, inhumanity and opportunism. It has many villains and no heroes.
So, you must be wondering “what’s next?”. How can we defeat Taliban? Actually, how can we defeat terrorism? I must point out to the huge blunder “the international community” is planning to make by taking Taliban’s help in stopping ISIS. It seems like we have not learned a thing from our past. Let us be clear about one thing. Taliban or terrorism cannot be completely eliminated. It’s just not possible. They can be made feeble, powerless and in the long run, irrelevant. Some stories do not have happy endings. Or should I rather say, some stories do not have endings.
So, how can Taliban be made weak? While researching on this topic a long time ago, I came across a fantastic and out-of-the-box solution. One reason for the Taliban’s resilience in Afghanistan is the big money they make from the opium trade. Let us understand what the laws of demand and supply imply in the opium market. To produce opium, Afghan farmers lance poppy plants and use highly labour-intensive technology to draw out opium from them. It is in turn used to make heroin which is sold at sky-high prices on western streets. Opium production is globally banned (except in India under strict govt regulation). Most opium production all over the world is illicit and Afghanistan accounts for over 90% of it. Turkey and Australia also grow poppy using highly-capital intensive technology to make morphine for medical uses. It goes without saying that their poppy is a lot cheaper compared to Afghanistan’s. The solution to our problem lies in increasing the supply of this opium so greatly that opium price crashes, making its cultivation in Afghanistan unprofitable. How do we do this? The international community could ask India, Australia, Turkey etc to grow poppy on a very large scale and dump the production in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. Afghan opium prices will crash, forcing farmers to turn to other crops. This will totally derail the finances of Taliban, making their operations impossible to continue. Apart from this solution, exists another one.
I cannot help but repeat the clichéd “all countries must come together and launch a strong and strategic military offensive with minimal use of violence”. The pessimist-me says that if it were to happen, it would have happened by now. All the countries are too self-centred and screwed up to think beyond their own ambitions. But then the optimist-me retorts by saying “the night is darkest just before the dawn” and may be, it’s not so dark yet. We have a long way to go. Shall we??