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Taliban: You kind of have to admire anyone who goes into battle in an open-toed shoe. Frankie Boyle, New World Order s5e2, BBC 2021
At the heart of the story are groups: the American Neo-Conservatives and the radical Islamists. In this week’s episode the two groups come together to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan; and both believed that they defeated the evil empire and so have the power to transform the world, But both failed in their revolutions. Adam Curtis, The Power of Nightmares II: The Phantom Victory, BBC 2004
The strange world of fantasy, deception, violence and fear in which we now live. ibid.
But the Americans were setting out to defeat a mythological enemy. ibid.
American money and weapons now began to pour across the Pakistan border into Afghanistan. CIA agents trained the Mijahideen in the techniques of assassination and terror including car-bombing. ibid.
Zawahiri and his small group settled in Peshawar … a military rejection of all American influence over the jihad, because America was the source of this corruption. ibid.
Then in 1987 the New Soviet leader Michael Gorbachev decided he was going to withdraw Russian troops from Afghanistan. Gorbachev was convinced that the whole Soviet system was facing collapse. He was determined to try and save it through political reform and this meant reversing the policies of his predecessors including the occupation of Afghanistan. ibid.
But then the Neo-Conservatives began to reconstruct the Islamists. They created a phantom enemy. And as this nightmare fantasy began to spread, politicians realised the new power it gave them in a deeply disillusioned age. Adam Curtis, The Power of Nightmares III: The Shadows in the Cave
Bin Laden had no formal organisation until the Americans invented one for him. ibid.
Bin Laden had given this network a name: Al Qaeda … The focus of a loose association of dissident Muslim militants who were attracted by the new strategy. But there was no organisation … He was not their commander. ibid.
He realised this was the term the Americans gave him. ibid.
Now the Neo-Conservatives were all powerful … At its heart were Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, along with the vice-president Dick Cheney and Richard Perle was a senior adviser to the Pentagon. ibid.
The Neo-Conservatives distorted and exaggerated the Soviet threat. They created the image of a hidden international web of evil run from Moscow that planned to dominate the world. When in reality the Soviet Union was on its last legs, collapsing from within. ibid.
All they [Northern Alliance] found were a few small caves which were either empty or had been used to store ammunition. There was no underground bunker system, no secret tunnels, the fortress didn’t exist. ibid.
Many of the arrests that were dramatically announced as being part of a hidden Al Qaeda network were in reality as absurd as the cases in America. ibid.
A simplistic fantasy of an organised web of uniquely powerful terrorists that might strike anywhere at any moment. But no-one questioned this fantasy. ibid.
Increasingly we live in a world where nothing makes any sense. Events come and go like waves of a fever leaving us confused and uncertain. Those in power tell stories to help us make sense of the complexity of reality. For those stories are increasingly unconvincing and hollow. Adam Curtis, Bitter Lake, BBC 2015
In 1946 American engineers along with their wives and families began to arrive at a dusty airstrip in Helmand in southern Afghanistan. They worked for the biggest construction company in the world … to build a giant planned new world, a complex of dams, canals, roads and even a new model city. The king’s aim was to harness the power of the giant Helmand river. ibid.
By the mid-1950s the American engineers had built the giant dams that were going to create what they called a new wonderland for vegetation and power in Helmand. ibid.
One of the plants that would thrive in this new [salty] soil were poppies. Some of those leading the project said they should stop. ibid.
Students from Europe and America fled from the chaos. They came to Afghanistan as a land of dreams, a different innocent world free of the corruption of politics and money in the West. ibid.
But Afghan students still believed in the idea of revolution. ibid.
The land reforms sowed the seeds of a bitter conflict in Helmand. ibid.
In Kabul the revolutionaries started to hate each other too. ibid.
Soviet leaders in Moscow became terrified that Afghanistan was falling apart and they decided to intervene. ibid.
America was already helping the rebels who were fighting the Russians, but Reagan increased the aid massively and made it a symbol of his new vision. ibid.
Reagan’s partner in the battle to bring freedom to Afghanistan was Saudi Arabia. The Saudi intelligence agencies worked with the CIA to ship arms and money to the Afghan rebels. ibid.
The Russians took over Afghanistan and installed another student revolutionary as president. ibid.
When the Russians left Afghanistan the different Mujahideen groups turned on each other and began a vicious struggle for power. Kabul was completely destroyed. ibid.
To fund themselves, the warlords turned to the opium trade and they began to export more and more opium to the West. ibid.
Taliban – they started as a group of students … They became the core of a revolution that spread rapidly through Afghanistan. ibid.
The society the Taliban built was based on an imagined idea of the past, a recreation of how they thought Islamic society had been run in the 7th century. All modernisation was swept away. ibid.
Tens of thousands of Americans and Europeans would pass through the country over the next ten years: soldiers, diplomats, experts, political advisers and journalists. All of them trying to build this new society. But few of them stopped to think whether what had happened to the Russians twenty years before might also happen to them. And in a strange way Afghanistan revealed to us the emptiness and hypocrisy of many of our beliefs. ibid.
Thousands of experts and advisers flooded into Afghanistan. Their aim was to transform the country into a modern democracy. ibid.
The Americans discovered that it was very difficult to know exactly who was good and who was bad. ibid.
Throughout much of Afghanistan the warlords had returned to power. But this time it was worse. The massive influx of American money allowed them to extend their networks of bribery and corruption to every corner of Afghan society. ibid.
Rather than enforcing the law, the [Afghan] police had become transformed into violent militias who worked for the war lords. They organised a massive expansion of the drug trade and they also terrorised the local people. ibid.
By 2006 the British and the Americans realised their project to bring democracy to Afghanistan was failing. And large parts of the country were descending into anarchy. ibid.
Faced by the chaos, the British still clung to a simple narrative of good and evil. They, the western forces, were good. And all the different groups that were attacking them were Taliban and were bad … The British were being used … The bodies, Afghan and British, piled up. ibid.