The losers are in the majority. Let’s start by focusing on the Afghans themselves.
Despite the futile promises made by the Taliban saying that they will respect women’s rights “within the framework of Sharia law,” women will return to the repressive past they earlier endured.
Women have gained much during the last 20 years: freedom of movement, education and many other rights. Under the Taliban, education for women and girls may be prohibited again, and women may not be allowed to leave their homes without a male guardian escorting them or without wearing a burka. Already advertisements picturing women are being whitewashed on billboards in Afghanistan.
Setting aside women and girls, the rest of Afghan society will suffer, too. Cinemas, music and entertainment will all be banned, those convicted of adultery will be executed, and those guilty of theft will have their hands amputated. The harrowing video of those who resorted to clinging to a plane trying to take off from Kabul Airport last week, knowing all too well the consequences of their actions, says it all.
Another visible loser, despite US President Joe Biden’s rebuttal of the world’s outcry, is the US. The photograph of the 640 panic-stricken Afghans sitting on the floor of a US aircraft last week with no luggage or belongings was a tell-tale image of the desperation of the Afghans and a source of shame to the US. It is more damaging than any other moment in US history.
The US was in Afghanistan in the first place to rid the world of extremists, yet today the Taliban are victorious. In its withdrawal process, the US lost much of its credibility and suffered severe humiliation. Undoubtedly, the world at large believes that the US should have foreseen the collapse of Afghanistan and avoided the tragedy.
If Afghanistan becomes a haven for terrorists, the whole world will fall prey. Imagine Afghanistan as a breeding ground for those who hate the West and Arab countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, for those who seek revenge and retaliation for Western meddling and intrusion, and for those who will be free to harm others as they impose a wrong understanding of Islam on all. Attacks may soon follow in various parts of the world as extremists gain in confidence and support.
There are also many winners, however. At the top of the pole are the Taliban themselves, who have managed, apparently without losing a single soul, to regain what they lost 20 years ago – power. US forces removed the Taliban from power in 2001. Twenty years later, the US has allowed them to move back at a far faster pace than they could have imagined.
Cheering the Taliban on in this are those who think alike – regimes that distrust the US or are Islamist at the core, whether Qatar, Iran or Pakistan. There are also groups with a similar mindset – the Islamic State (IS) group, Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, among others. To them, this is a field day and an opportunity like no other.
Qatar has long sheltered and backed religious extremists, including Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Today, it will do the same for the Taliban. Qatar’s Aljazeera TV network will also remain sympathetic to the Taliban, displaying them favourably to viewers.
After the Taliban moved into Kabul, Hamas congratulated the Taliban for “defeating the US.” The leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, said that the “departure of US forces from Afghanistan is the prelude to the demise of all occupation forces.”
Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Wagdi Ghoneim, based in Turkey, tweeted that “we ask Allah to complete the victory of the Taliban over America and the infidel West; they are mujahedeen and we are mujahedeen and we are the nation of jihad.”
Any country defiant to the ways of the US, such as Iran, is also celebrating today. Anyone affected by the atrocities caused by the US is gloating, whether those who suffered at the hands of US soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq or those who fled war zones after September 11.
According to the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University in the US, “at least 801,000 people have been killed by direct war violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Pakistan.” It also concludes quite justly that the US could have pursued several non-military alternatives to hold accountable those responsible for perpetrating the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.
Last but not least, Russia and China are quietly watching and enjoying the fiasco that the US had placed itself in. The chances are that the Taliban will look for support elsewhere, and soon Chinese and Russian products, commodities and weapons, once the stack left behind is used up, will pour into Afghanistan.
Both countries have hosted Taliban delegations at one point or another, and they may soon recognise them as the new government of Afghanistan, maybe even backing them in the UN, which would provide the Taliban with recognition across the world.
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is a sobering reality that will resonate far and wide.
*The writer is the author of Cairo Rewind on the First Two Years of Egypt’s Revolution, 2011-2013.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 August, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly