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The long sunset in the Hindu Kush

Some things live forever in memory. The infinitely moving dispatch by Time magazine’s John Wendle reporting from Kunduz near the Afghan-Tajik border on the post-2014 scenario in the Hindu Kush after the drawdown of the western troops, as seen by the Afghantsy (Soviet war veterans who stayed back as Mujahideen prisoners or as defectors), is going to be one such piece. 

Another poignant moment is coming up for the Afghantsy as the curtain comes down on the western occupation and another foreign army is leaving the Hindu Kush. They stayed back of their own accord when the Red Army withdrew across the Amu Darya in 1989 but this time around, uncertainties are galore — “People will be gobbled up everywhere. People will start killing each other. Then what will be here? Life will be here, but it will be bad.”
Way back in the sixties, the graduate course syllabus for English Literature in Kerala University included a one-act play titled ‘The Long Sunset’ by a minor playwright by name R. C. Sheriff. The powerful passions let loose in the short work of some 50 or 60 pages remain etched in memory. The setting is similar to Wendle’s dispatch — much more dramatic, though. 

The setting is southern England circa early 5th century. No sooner than word spread that the Roman Legion had given up on Britain — with the fall of Rome to the Huns, Vandals, Goths, Moors and so on — Welsh tribes and Scots and Saxons came pouring down on England. A retreating Roman officer comes to persuade his old friends (a farming family) in Canterbury to persuade them to leave Britain, as it was getting too dangerous for Romans to live in Britain. 

He updates them on the bad news that Rome had been ransacked, Emperor had fled and Britain was no longer a part of the Roman Empire. He offered to his old friends that there was space for them in the last ship that was leaving later that night. Of course, they declined because Britain was all they knew, all they had, and Italy meant nothing anymore. By then they had even converted to Christianity. 

But woven into the back-and-forth conversation between the protagonists as dusk was falling, there was the gloomy  ‘post-2014 scenario’ in Britain at that point in time — strikingly similar to the Afghantsy narrative. Ambitious local commanders took matters into their hands once the Roman army had left. Every night, the sky was alight with burning villages and towns. Private armies were formed for self-defence against the marauding bands of Saxons who came sailing in.

The chilling words of the Afghantsy: “Karzai and everyone, they all say, “We will defend your country. No one will attack here. Everyone will stand with us. The foreigners will help us’, but on what does this depend? They say it depends on God… Everything depends on God. What he created, will be. But that’s all just talk. The tongue talks, but we”ll see what really happens.”  Wendle’s dispatch is here

Posted in Military, Politics.

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  1. Ibne Ashfaque says

    Post 2014 Afghanistan most likely should experience a chaotic period during which the existing power structure will ultimately be taken over by another. It can be speedy process less than a year or may be spread over many years. How many? depends on a number of factors: such as the role the neighbouring countries play and the degree of consensus among them. NATO and the Americans are unlikely to be completely cut off from Afghanistan during this transition period.

    More than likely it is going to be extremely brutal if history is any guide. However, very difficult to put a time line on the transition process. Also it is very difficult to say in what shape will Afghanistan survive? and its new rulers what will they stand for?

    The legacy that Americans and NATO are leaving behind in Afghanistan with which Afghanistan’s neighbours have to contend with is extremely bitter and acrinmonious. In my opinion it leaves Afghanistan’s neighbours with two broad options: First; they could support the formation of a functional government in Afghanistan that negotiates between Afghan groups as well as between competing interests of neighbouring countries. Second; they may start fighting their proxy wars in Afghanistan. The second option looks more probable, and if events move in that direction then Afghanistan will become a boiling cauldron, which will gradually amplify and slowly but eventually may engulf Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan (not necessarily in that order). A world drowning in debt, and where NATO, US and the RED army have met their waterloo, may not be able to do much in Afghanistan then. I hope that the neighbours of Afghanistan can negotiate to support a functional government for Afghanistan. Although sadly I am not very hopeful of it to happen.

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