With the Finance Ministry coming down heavily on the Fifteenth Financial Commission on the latter’s suggestion for creating a ‘Defense Modernization Fund’, the question pesters the general public at large as to whether a separate defense cess is really required. Seemingly, the capital needs of the Indian military do not seem to be a problematic scheme. It rather appears to envisage a separately structured funding program in furtherance of enabling the Indian military to work in a more well-ordered manner.
WHY THE FUSS?
The root of every operative that there is, is guided by the procedure laid under the Indian Constitution. Hence, a casual read of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution elucidates the responsibilities between the Union and the States. Subjects such as defense, and foreign affairs are on the Union list while responsibilities like public order, healthcare, etc. fall under the purview of the State List. The third list, i.e., the Concurrent List is a unique, centralizing feature adopted from the British Raj, that embodies the fundamentals of federalism. The list has both State and Union play a role with powers tilting towards the latter. It was due to this provision only that the government brought in the farm laws. However, while a large section of funds and resources rests with the Union in New Delhi, expenditure of those funds is at the behest of different States, the taxes of which is collected by New Delhi. Hence, the Financial Commission of today now distributes the revenue collected by the Centre to various States and therefore, supervises the financial commitments of the States and the Union.
Now, the problem with the creation of a special fund – in this case for ‘defense’- creates a special third category along with Union and State. Theoretically, the Finance Commission therefore will inadvertently split monies between Union, State, and the Defense Fund. It is interesting to note that the defense is a subject already under the Union List and therefore, the creation of a third category would only cause stress for States to give up funds for defense. Now much like the game of dominoes, if one separate fund is created, many other demands for the creation of special pockets for every governance function would surface, which would unnecessarily create disruption of the flow of funds to the subjects in either of the lists and therefore would go far beyond the provisions prescribed under the Seventh Schedule in the Constitution. Hence the downpour of the Financial Ministry on the 15th Financial Commission for the reasons that setting up a separate fund for a function that is already covered under the Union’s List is against good parliamentary practice is perfectly valid.
While the Finance Ministry may have rebuffed the request to create a different fund for Defense, it is however significant to understand how such a report was allowed to be tabled before the ministry in the first place. NK Singh, the chairman of the 15th Finance Commission, when posed with similar questions, contended that as per the legal opinion he received, the defense was a “shared responsibility of the Union and the states”. Defense is explicitly mentioned as the subject under Union List and the closest thing that resembles an iota of Defense is ‘Public Order’ which falls under the State List. In no way whatsoever, can anyone with the caliber and prudence as that of NK Singh can conclude that Defense is a shared subject. Furthermore, he also remarked that Finance Commission transcends the classification in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, which is simply an inexplicable argument. Finance Commission is in no way empowered to transcend any part of the Indian Constitution, especially something as critical as the Seventh Schedule.
Another interesting aspect here is the branding of the ‘defense’ fund as cess. Tax and Cess are two different contributions to State welfare. While Tax is already existing in the form of GST and Income Tax, a cess is imposed as an additional tax besides the existing tax (Tax on Tax). Now while the former is kept in the Consolidated Fund of India CFI for the government to use it for any purposes it deems fit, the latter, though also kept in the CFI, can be used by the government after due appropriation from Parliament for ‘specified purpose’. Now, what rebranding of ‘general tax’ as ‘cess’ does is that it brings any revenue generated through cess under the ambit of ‘specified purpose’ resulting in states sharing any of that revenue. Statistically, cesses and surcharges that were around 10% in 2010-11 are almost doubled in the year 2021 figuring around 19.9%. This increase in cesses and surcharges is shrinking the divisive pool between State and Union, leaving States bleeding out to dry. Therefore, to have a defense cess under the ‘specified purpose’ funds would only hurt the States of the Country as the gap between State and Union’s resources would further increase.
THE NEED OR THE WANT OF NEED?
The Union in 2019, empowered the Finance Commission with additional Terms of Reference to enable it to make a suggestion on how to create the fund. Defense Ministry further stressed on the need to increase focus on national security and warranted states to share the financial burden of maintaining and upgrading the security apparatus, including buying weapons from global suppliers, etc. Defense Ministry urged that subjects like Terrorism, insurgency, and securing national borders should be recognized as a shared responsibility for the Union and States, rather than leaving it just for the Union to take care of. The demand though extremely urgent goes beyond the nexus of the Constitution. Furthermore, the 10th Finance Commission also laid down the principle that cess and surcharge should be temporary and rare.
Union has always been seen complaining about limited resources and funds and yet does not shy away from spending money on subjects concerning the State List. Cribbing about not having enough money to fund its core function of defense and catering to the electoral compulsions by spending money on state subjects – Union has only made things difficult for itself and confusing for the public at large. A demand from the Home Ministry for a seed corpus of Rs. 50,000 crores to be carved out of dues from States for Central Armed Forces deployment is simply a result of the Union being derelict in its responsibilities. The constitutional remit of defense is often sidelined during elections and therefore, it is natural for the union to have a dry state of funds to cater to its core duty. It is therefore the job of the Finance Commission to stop the political drivers in their path and prevent populist rhetoric from influencing devolution. Instead, the Commission seems to be a puppet of the Union, to say the least.
India US Military Exercise Amidst China’s Taiwan Conflict
Indian and American military forces will conduct the periodic ‘Yudh Abhyas’ or ‘War Practice’ from October 14 to 31, 2022 at Auli in Uttarakhand, which is 95 km away from the Line of Actual Control. The India US military exercise is undertaken to enhance the interoperability between the two armies, and the joint exercise will carry out maneuvers to exploit the full scope of high-altitude warfare.
The occurrence of 18th edition is happening at a very crucial moment as both countries have strife relations with China. The Indian side will showcase its high-altitude warfare strategies and US forces will complement them by exposing various technologies that can be used in challenging scenarios.
This edition will witness the participation of the Indian Air Force in the effective utilization of aerial and ground assets. Also, the India America Military Exercise develops the social relationship with country.
More About India America Yudh Abhyas in Uttarakhand
Yudh Abhyas is the largest running joint India US military exercise and defence cooperation between the countries. The program was started in 2004 under the US Army Pacific Partnership Program.
It is hosted alternately between both countries. The 17th edition was held in Alaska in October 2021. The exercise aims at enhancing understanding, cooperation, and interoperability between the two armies.
Also, the moto of India America military exercise is successfully achieved in Auli Uttarakhand. Also, the impact of this social training is shown on different countries, and various controversies has been made.
Why India-China Standoff? Facts & Statements
In the last two years, there has been a constant rise in tensions between India and China, as the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) made an effort to unilaterally change the status of LAC. Also, the good relationship of India with powerful countries, terrify the China government, and such social activities such as joint India US military exercise, helps to more strong relations.
The Indian army struck back and thwarted the Chinese attempts. The External Affairs Minister while describing New Delhi’s efforts had said, “We’ve been resolute when challenged in border areas. 2 years ago, in the middle of COVID, we had China move forces in violation of an agreement. But we stood our ground and have been working it out without making concessions. The world recognizes that a country is capable of defending its interests”.
As per the latest news reported on 13 September 2022, the armies of both countries have confirmed their return from PP-15 (Patrolling Point) in the Gogra-Hot Springs area of eastern Ladakh, and Indian officials are hopeful for further negotiations on more crucial face-offs of Depsang Plains and Demchok.
Following the controversial Taiwan visit of the Speaker of the United States’ House of Representatives Ms. Nancy Pelosi, and the support extended by China to Russia in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, the US-China relationship has also deteriorated further. The two economic superpowers are generally also involved in a cold war in the
China’s Reaction on India US Military Exercise
Chinese officials strongly opposed the military exercise, referring to it as a violation of past agreements between New Delhi and Beijing, and following conversation has been made:
“We firmly oppose any third party to meddle in the China-India border issue in any form”, Senior Colonel Tan Kefei, spokesperson for the Chinese defence ministry said. “In light of the relevant agreements signed by China and India in 1993 and 1996, neither side is allowed to conduct military exercise against the other in areas near the LAC”, Tan said.
He further added, “It is hoped that the Indian side will strictly abide by the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries and the relevant agreements, uphold its commitment to resolving border issues through bilateral channels, and maintain peace and tranquillity in the border area with practical actions”.
New Delhi’s Reply to China’s Allegations
In response to China’s allegations, “I do not understand the reference to third party interference. The India US military exercise is something completely different and I do not know what color has been given that it is targeted there or it is violating any existing agreement”, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said.
“The two sides should stick to the agreements (signed) in the past and obviously that did not happen”, Bagchi said, referring to China violating the agreements which led to the face-off in eastern Ladakh.
After the coming together of like-minded countries for informal dialogue, namely Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), China’s apprehension has increased and it has levelled the grouping as an ‘Indo-Pacific NATO’.
“The Indo-Pacific strategy cooked up by the United States, in the name of ‘freedom and openness,’ is keen on forming cliques”, Foreign minister of China, Wang Yi had said. He further criticized the grouping as ‘it claims that it intends to change China’s surrounding environment, but its purpose is to contain China and make Asia-Pacific countries serve as pawns of US hegemony’.
All the members of Quad had cleared their agenda and said they are committed to cooperation with partners in the region who share the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. India being an essential part of the grouping has always put its best efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region.
India’s Prospective with All Countries
India has always called for peace and co-operation in the region, that’s why the concept for India US military exercise has been conducted. Being a member of SCO, the two Asian giants have resolved their misunderstandings.
New Delhi has always asked countries to respect each other’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and international agreements. In the coming years, one can hope for a free and open Indo-Pacific region which will be beneficial for all the countries situated in this region.
Is China’s Global Security Initiative a future security hazard?
In April this year, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) laid out a new vision to re-establish the primacy of the Middle Kingdom (or zhong guo, 中国) by adapting the ancient concept of Tianxia (天下) which literally means “all under heaven”. In typical Beijing-style misdirection, this plan was disguised under the moniker ‘Global Security Initiative’. When he announced the Initiative, at the Boao Forum on April 21, Xi Jinping asserted that this effort was based on dialogue, partnerships and win-win situations – or is this initiative just another case of standard CCP hypocrisy lexicon?
But before we discuss the Chinese proposal for GSI, lets glimpse into the other major decisions of Chairman Xi and the underlying factors which have necessitated Beijing’s new gambit:
1. Xi’s win-win developmental myth aka Belt and Road Initiative – As the CCP prepares to mark its 101st anniversary, global opinion and trust in China is reaching record low levels. With each passing week countries which bought into the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), all face crippling loan repayments. Notably, China’s banks are never willing to re-negotiate payments, and almost always have a ‘debt-for-ownership’ deal on hand – take for example the situation of Sri Lanka and Pakistan! So, even the CCP’s friends are getting wary of making any new deals… which is casting a deep shadow over Xi’s legacy.
2. Zero-Covid Mismanagement – The loss of faith in Beijing has been exacerbated by Xi’s refusal to recalibrate response to COVID in multiple Chinese cities. Extended lockdowns and mass quarantines have impacted global supply chains, with less developed countries facing the brunt of the economic hardship. Moreover, the complete failure of the much-touted Chinese model in containing COVID for over two months, even as the rest of the world regains a modicum of normalcy, has raised several questions about governance with CCP characteristics. Such doubts among political circles, where the CCP sought to expand influence, is deeply troubling for Xi and his party men.
3. China’s assistance to Russia’s Ukraine war – China has not been able to establish itself as a neutral player in the ongoing Russo-Ukraine conflict. Perceived by the West as supporting Russia, Beijing has faced strong headwinds across capitals in Europe. Moreover, coordinated Russia-China provocative military manoeuvres during the Quad Summit in Japan have reinforced the Western belief that Beijing and Moscow are cooperating militarily in the ongoing conflict. As a result, widespread resistance is being faced by Chinese commercial and political entities across Europe and America.
4. Rise of QUAD and Failure of Chinese Diplomacy – The deepening of the relationships among the Quad nations, as well as the declaration of multiple Quad projects and initiatives has impacted the CCP’s self-belief. Beijing was so confident of its ‘sea foam’ narrative of the Quad, that it seemingly ignored the positive effect its own provocations were having in binding together like-minded countries of the region. The Quad, today, is an accepted, welcomed and respected arrangement, which has both the capacity and capability to ensure the requisite degree of security across the Indo-Pacific, needed for inclusive growth and shared prosperity. The rise of a credible alternative, in an area which Beijing had assumed was its own backyard, has significantly undermined the CCP’s claims to absolute pre-eminence in the region.
Xi Jinping’s Global Security Initiative – overlook
Aimed at building an Asian Security Framework (with Chinese characteristics), the GSI is being touted as an alternative to confrontational alliances which seek zero-sum outcomes. The “six commitments” promised under this initiative as issued by Chinese Ambassador to Somalia, Ambassador Fei Shengchao, are staying committed to –
- the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security
- respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries
- abiding by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter
- taking seriously the legitimate security concerns of all countries
- peacefully resolving differences and disputes between countries through dialogue and consultation
- maintaining security in both traditional and non-traditional domains
Packaged as a utopian, inclusive construct which promises to better serve Asian interests (than Quad/ AUKUS) the GSI makes a wonderful read… as a work of fiction. Some issues included in the GSI which jump out at the reader, particularly considering China’s recent track record in these areas, are – trust deficit due to irresponsible actions of nations, cold-war mentality, (dis)respect for territorial & maritime integrity, rising extremism and lastly zero-respect for international law!
To put this hypocrisy in perspective, consider the following –
- China’s all-weather friendship with Pakistan, including political support for proscribed terrorists, is the best example of a confrontational alliance anywhere in the world! Even today, extensive Chinese support to Pakistan’s deep state is resulting in extremist attacks across India, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
- China’s undeclared launch of a missile by a submarine (which almost hit a passenger plane), dangerous manoeuvres and tactics by Chinese jets over international airspace which could have collided with an Australian warplane, and clear records of essential commodity hoarding (wheat, oils, etc) by Chinese businessmen (while countries across the world grapple with supply shortages) – these are some of the recent examples of how China is among the biggest contributors to the global trust deficit.
- China’s blatant violation of international laws, manipulating markets and supply chains, disrupting legal economic activities outside its jurisdiction, etc – Beijing has forced a gathering of like-minded countries, which share concerns and agree on the manner these illegal actions must be countered. Moreover, the calls of war from Chinese ‘hawks’ have become far more explicit, frequent and extreme, espcially since Xi Jinping has taken over the command of CCP.
- China’s claims of respecting territorial integrity are possibly the most ludicrous of them all. From South China Sea to Tibet, and Taiwan, Beijing’s insatiable greed for territorial acquisition and disregard for opposing perspectives is well established. It is, therefore, laughable to see this point being championed by Xi, in his idea of GSI.
- China was the first country to engage with the Taliban post the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and it continues to shelter Pakistan’s booming terror industry. Significant proof has also come to light about Chinese support to extremists in Myanmar, Maldives and Northeast India. It would consequently be appropriate to say that China’s concern of rising extremism is another hypocritical feint by the CCP.
Will the world accept China’s Global Security Model?
Despite the obvious hypocrisy in the GSI proposal, Beijing does have a fair chance of success in areas where the US’ influence is resented. Some countries in South America, in particular, will welcome it as a medium to hedge their bets, thereby extracting more from the West. Closer to China, however, nations would do well to be more circumspect.
Alternatively, the GSI could be a way to distract the Chinese people from the widespread failures of the CCP in recent years, as well as China’s declining influence in multiple regions. A big, grandstanding announcement, notwithstanding limited capabilities to ensure success, would provide enough short-term political gains for Xi and his men to retain a favourable narrative during the CCP’s 101st birthday party. This may well be the true motive behind the GSI.
Any security framework with CCP characteristics would ultimately have a hierarchical architecture, with Xi enthroned at its summit. The GSI’s concept of an Asian Security Framework would yield an Asian order where Beijing commands the loyalty of all regional countries, and peace prevails at the pleasure of the CCP’s top leadership. With Chairman Xi all but certain to stake a claim to the ‘CCP Chairman for Life’ position during the upcoming Congress, he would ultimately become the ‘de facto’ emperor of the new Tianxia… the true goal of the CCP, particularly since Xi’s ascension in 2013-14.
Ladakh Gets New and Gleaming Gadgets: Military Development in the Pangong
The Indian Army deployed a new assault vessel in Pangong Lake along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China as the country of India celebrated its 76th Independence Day. Operations along the LAC will improve with the Landing Craft Assault (LCA). To help the nation’s defence, even more, Rajnath Singh, the defence minister, delivered a variety of indigenous weapons and ammunition on Tuesday. This shipment of armaments includes the “Nipun” anti-personnel landmine, as well as infantry combat vehicles, landing attack craft, and many more weapon systems. The force will receive about 7 lakh of these mines, which were produced by the Indian private sector.
The Landing Craft Attack for operations in Pangong Lake, infantry combat vehicles, and numerous other systems was among the locally produced weaponry that was provided to the Army in part. Online images also showed Army servicemen demonstrating to the Union Minister the capabilities of a Landing Craft Assault positioned at Pangong Tso near the Line of Actual Control. The boats are capable of transporting 35 combat personnel at once and can quickly go to any lakeside location. Economic Explosives Ltd. (EEL), a private company with its headquarters in Nagpur, as well as other Indian defence manufacturing firms, developed the new weaponry.
An indigenously made drone system was given to the Indian Army so that its soldiers could keep a watch on enemy forces in the LAC’s forward areas. Singh also gave the troops stationed in these locations the infantry combat vehicles made in India. The launch, speed, and capacity restrictions have been overcome by the Landing Craft Assault, which is far more adaptable. In Eastern Ladakh, the LCA has improved its capacity to operate across water impediments. According to Goa’s Aquarius Ship Yard Limited, LCA was created locally.
The action follows the Make in India campaign, which was started by the Center to increase domestic manufacturing of goods.
Earlier, on August 15, during the nation’s Independence Day festivities, the indigenously developed artillery gun known as the ATAGS (Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System) prototype was fired from the Red Fort for the first time in India’s history.
Along with the “25 Pounder British guns” that are currently discharged ceremonially, the entire indigenous gun created and produced by the DRDO will do so. This has been made possible by a group at the DRDO’s Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE), Pune, led by scientists and artillery officers. “The major feature is that Bharat Forge is the first to claim that it is Made in India. The 21-gun salute on July 4th is being performed with a native artillery gun. DRDO constructed the ATAGS, which is currently located at the Red Fort. This will greatly aid the Indian Army ” he added.
In order to replace outdated guns currently in use by the Indian Army with a cutting-edge 155mm artillery cannon, DRDO launched the ATAGS project in 2013. For the production of this specialised gun, ARDE collaborated with two private companies, Bharat Forge Limited and Tata Advanced Systems Limited. China’s concerns are expected to grow in the coming weeks and months. The 15th iteration of the joint military exercise Yudh Abhyas between India and the U.S. will take place at Auli in Uttarakhand, less than 100 kilometres from the LAC. This is located in the LAC’s quiet centre region.
Significantly, the high-altitude mountain warfare-themed military drill will take place from October 14 to October 31. In addition, India will be commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Sino-Indian border war at the same time as the joint exercise. The Aksai Chin War in Ladakh, which saw the Chinese control a sizable portion of the region, lasted from October 20 to November 21, 1962.
We can anticipate more vehement Chinese rhetoric and actions along the LAC.
101 Years of CCP – Is the Chinese Dream Fading Away?
“The Chinese charm you when they want to charm you and squeeze you when they want to squeeze you; and they do it quite systematically.”
– ‘The Revenge of Geography’, Robert D Kaplan
It has been a century of glory, a century of turmoil, a century of single-party leadership, a century of suppression of dissent and human rights, and a century of disdainful pursuit of Mao’s Chinese dream. On one hand there has been the pressure to create a magnanimous image in front of the suppressed Chinese populace, and on the other lies the consequences of lofty ambitions of expansionism, colonisation of nearby islands, economic take-over of poorer nations in Asia and Africa, and military arm-twisting in the region. There are thousands of stagnated overseas projects, incomplete military R&D accompanied by struggling military equipment sold to other countries, and the notoriety brought in by spreadingCOVID-19 and bringing the world to a standstill for almost two years. Is Xi Jinping caught between the devil and the deep sea?
Having enjoyed an absolute monopoly of power, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has authoritatively ruled China for a hundred years now. Motivated by the Bolsheviks, and sold to the innocent people as a party for peasants, workers and students in 1921, the past 100 years of CCP have been stained with brutal massacre of student protestors at Tiananmen Square in 1989, unceasing Human Rights violation and harsh repression of Uyghurs and other Muslims in the Xinjiang region, and the sudden disappearances of media activists who have voiced their opinions against the party or its members. It has been reported that the detainees in the re-education camps of Xinjiang province are forced to pledge loyalty to the CCP, forego religious (Islamic) practices and patronise Mandarin.
The CCP in pursuit of Xi’s Chinese dream of becoming a global leader in 2049 has initiated manyambitious but crafty projects like the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) and has pumped many irrecoverable loans into smaller Asian and African countries. In addition, millions of dollars’ worth money has been invested in building military infrastructure and progress territorial/ seaward expansion to assert China’s illegal claims on bothland and sea. However, of late, the world has woken up to the Chinese deceit.
The genesis and spread of COVID-19 from China has fuelled anger, suspicion and reluctance for the world to engage with China. The post-COVID world order, with horrific examples of economic and financial meltdown of client states like Pakistan and Sri Lanka, has further marred China’s reputation. China is being called out more and more for its illegal military aggression in the South China Sea, debt-trap diplomacy, IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated) Fishing, unauthorised spying usingcivilian research vessels, and ultimately the COVID-19 pandemic. Even its traditional clients in Asia and Africa are getting wary. The world at large neither finds China as an honest investor to expand trade and commerce nor do the bigger multi-national brands prefer to invest in China for their manufacturing/ production hubs and businesses.
The years ahead look even more bleak. The humungous amount of money lent by China in most developing countries either as part of BRI or Debt-trap diplomacy are unlikely to credit their balance sheets in the years to come. While this certainly affects the Chinese banks, but it also hampers contribution of that money into their own GDP/ national economic efforts including businesses and domestic investments. As Xi Jinping is headed for an unprecedented third term in power, the country is likely to dive into rougher waters. China’s failed ‘Zero-COVID’ policy and re-emergence of widespread infection has brought the nation and the Chinese economy to a standstill. Failure of Beijing Olympics has reinforced the already shaking global confidence in a tightly choreographed China.
The so-called unity within the CCP is dwindling and is likely to intensify in the days to come. Crackdown on opposition and disappearance of lawyers and human rights activists is causing massive chaos in the Chinese hinterland. Thanks to brutal control over media, China has managed to mute news reports about hundreds of protests in provinces like Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang etc which may trigger the beginning of a major revolution against the present order. Only time can predict tomorrow’s China, but today’s China is a grim story of political turmoil, military mis-adventures, slow economic growth, shaky reputation and an authoritative government.
Why did USSR and US Fail in Afghanistan?
USSR and US in Afghanistan
The story of the two superpower invasions of Afghanistan (by the US and USSR) is entirely about the parallels that ultimately obscure the obvious distinctions.
Even though Moscow was aware that requests for more weapons were frequently rapacious and based on greatly exaggerated numbers of Afghan personnel, the Soviet Union increased its economic and military assistance to the Mohammad Najibullah administration as it prepared to depart Afghanistan in 1988. Mikhail Gorbachev and his Politburo sought to make amends to Najibullah and his people for abandoning them to face the wrath of the American-trained, -armed, and -funded opposition because they felt sorry over the retreat.
Gorbachev was also aware of a certain matter of dignity. His foreign policy adviser Anatoly Chernyaev recalled in 2009 that “he said multiple times that we cannot just pull up our pants and make a dash for it, like Americans in Vietnam.”
After the decision was reached, it took the Soviets more than three years to go. The transfer of garrisons and military hardware involved complex procedures, with the new local owners receiving spruced-up barracks and recently tested weapons in addition to signed receipts. In his 2019 book, “The Limited Contingent,” General Boris Gromov, who oversaw the retreat, recalls how the Jalalabad garrison left their barracks:
The beds were tucked in neatly. There were slippers under the lockers, and even the bedside floor mats were in their proper places. The barracks were outfitted with all the tools required. The water supply functioned flawlessly.
The United States withdrew in 2021 with the goal of completing the withdrawal within a few months after President Joe Biden made the decision to do so. It destroyed certain equipment because it seemed more worried than the Soviets about its weapons ending up in the hands of Afghanistan’s potential new rulers. Even the things that American troops did leave behind, including keyless automobiles and trucks, were sometimes inoperable. Neither does the United States seem to believe in lengthy farewells, at least based on their surprise overnight departure from the Bagram Air Base. The Americans turned off the electricity, which cut off the water supply, and then they vanished.
And yet, whatever how different something may appear, it actually remains the same. Hours after the Russians left Jalalabad, the clean Soviet garrison town was pillaged, and Gromov reported that “all the more or less valuable property — televisions, audio equipment, air conditioners, furniture, even army mattresses — was sold through the city’s market booths.” The same incident occurred in Bagram shortly after the Americans left; thieves broke in and took whatever they could find of value.
In support of a Communist-led coup in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union invaded the country as part of a Cold War expansionist policy. After 9/11, the U.S. attempted to destroy al-Qaeda, which is maybe a more honourable justification. In less than ten years, the Soviet Union lost about 15,000 personnel, while Americans (the Pentagon and private military organisations combined) lost less than half that number over two times as long. The US, which spent an astounding $2.26 trillion on the war, can live with that; at least they managed to break al-back Qaeda and kill Osama bin Laden, even if not in Afghanistan itself. The USSR achieved nothing by entering its Afghan war; pouring resources into the conflict’s bottomless pit only hastened the end of the Communist superpower.
But once more, it’s challenging to concentrate on these distinctions when the parallels are even more striking. According to Gromov, “207 out of 290 districts” were under the control of the “opposition” in early 1989, a collective term for numerous Islamist organisations and self-serving warlords. Afghanistan has 421 districts, though the exact number is always changing. The Taliban are reportedly in charge of around a third of those districts and district centres. So both superpowers purposefully abandoned weak governments and a sense of impending doom in the areas these governments still ruled. When the Taliban arose as a just movement promising to put an end to warlord rivalry and took over Kabul in 1996, they hung Najibullah, who had by that time long since lost power; Afghan officials who worked with the U.S. may certainly suffer the same fate if they do not depart.
And in all instances, Pakistan was crucial in foiling the superpowers’ attempts to restrain Islamist militancy. As long as Pakistan offers the Taliban protection, safety, training, equipment, and funding, the battle against the Taliban will be impossible to win. Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation with the fifth-largest population in the world, is impossible for us to defeat.
The accords on Afghan national reconciliation, which formed the basis for the Soviet withdrawal, were violated in 1989 by Pakistan. The Afghan rebels had outposts in Pakistan and recruited Afghans in nearby refugee camps, including fighters who would later join the Taliban. Like the U.S. today, the Soviet Union was unprepared to confront Pakistan militarily, so the U.S. and its Western allies helped enable the flow of weapons and money into the conflict zones from the neighbouring nation.
In other words, no matter your morals, no matter how much time you spend or how many soldiers you lose, no matter whether you’re on the winning or losing side in geopolitical battles, what you’ll leave behind in Afghanistan will be scenes of looting, a weak regime that depends too much on your support and is unlikely to last for very long, tough local fighters who feel justified for years of adversity and gloating Pakistani generals across the border. Another constant was the country’s thriving opium trade, which neither the Soviets nor the Americans were able to stifle.
As much as the Soviets of the 1980s and the Americans of the first two decades of this century differ from one another, both stepped into Afghanistan with too little planning and too much arrogance and confidence — and knew from the start that they couldn’t stay. This persisting situation has less to do with the stubborn magic of the place than it does with the straightforward fact that. Both parties were confident in their greater military prowess and moral superiority. Both discovered evidence that some people accepted what they brought—each their distinct brand of secular progressivism—and believed this indicated that those ideals might spread. However, neither could last forever because colonisation is no longer acceptable, and neither Gorbachev nor Joe Biden was willing to discuss the idea. Given the high human and financial costs, neither of them has found Afghanistan to be worthwhile.
But just like the several Afghan insurgent groups that came before them, the Taliban saw their entire purpose and significance in remaining there forever. Local fighters still believe they are defending their nation and way of life in 2021 as they did in 1989. The Taliban can be very persuasive in this regard. You can outlive superpowers if you’re not going anywhere, regardless of what occurs, the cost, or the length of time you must pay. As Afghanistan’s example demonstrates, attachment to a location and a way of life is a potent constant that generates additional constants.
Why Afghan Colonisation was Destined to Fail
It has been said that nation-building is a fool’s errand and, in the case of a nation already known as the “graveyard of empires,” overly ambitious if not downright naive, as evidenced by the creation of a façade of a state in Afghanistan that melted away the moment international support was withdrawn.
There are intrinsic challenges to rebuilding Afghanistan, the most significant of which is geographic. Afghanistan is a landlocked country that shares borders with Pakistan, the Taliban’s biggest supporter, and Iran, whose authorities prioritise the chance to humiliate the US over any desire for regional security. International efforts to convince the region that stability is preferable to chaos failed because Afghanistan is essentially a secondary concern to other foreign policy priorities, especially the Iranian conflict with the US, the Pakistani conflict with India, and its ongoing apprehension over a pro-Indian government in Kabul. An uphill battle was unavoidable when two of your closest neighbours were determined to undermine nation-building.
A significant contributing aspect is economics because, other than a natural richness that has mostly gone unexplored due to security concerns, Afghanistan has no comparative advantage in any legal trade. The main sources of income are illegal mining, forestry, and narcotics like opium and more recently methamphetamine. Building a legitimate state in a society where most economic activity is illegal is more difficult since so many economically significant players oppose the expansion of the state’s authority into areas where they are operating. Additionally, the absence of obvious viable alternatives continues to be a challenge because many people within the state apparatus were also profiting from criminal activity.
Afghanistan is not a unified, monolingual nation-state, but rather contains a number of ethnic groupings, each of which crosses boundaries, adding to the complexity of Afghan society. The entry of extremely well-armed international forces trying to settle disputes by claiming long-standing foes were actually allies simply prolonged warfare. Managing these complicated dynamics and internal feuds amongst clans are challenging.
Several military leaders made the observation that democratic systems resulted in the government changing every four to five years, despite the fact that nation-building takes several decades. In recent years, a standoff had developed because the Taliban was aware of its inability to retain urban Afghanistan, where a small number of western troops and more contractors were deployed. This arrangement might have continued indefinitely, but the US presence was no longer popular, especially in the US. The Taliban believed they could just wait it out after it was announced that US troops would be leaving.
The fact that the invasion involved overthrowing a group of violent, tyrannical thugs rather than a popular administration may have been the US-led coalition’s best benefit. The issue was that, following the liberation, Iraq was subjected to lessons learnt about how easily less powerful adversaries may be overthrown. The nation-building project wasn’t started for a few years, giving the Taliban time to reorganise in safe havens in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and Afghans didn’t see much direct advantage until then.
Tolerance of corruption, which served as the Taliban’s rallying cry and highlighted the most difficult issue of nation-building in the conditions Afghanistan found itself in, served as the foundation for all of this. Not just the Taliban, but the majority of Afghans, questioned early assertions that the multinational presence would last forever. Families were strongly motivated to take steps to secure their future because there was always a chance that the state would fail. As a result, fewer resources were available to create new states, which decreased their likelihood because the more resources there were, the easier it would be to commit corruption. Smaller sums may have been distributed to more local administrative entities, improving service delivery and the legitimacy of the administration.
Even if the devolution of financial control, though not political power, a more assertive stance against Pakistan, and some early examples of the advantages of a post-Taliban government could have changed things, fundamental problems would still have existed. An alternate strategy would have simply allowed the current transfer of power to take place over the course of months or years as opposed to only a few hours.
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