Nepali reaction to the collapse of the Afghan state to the Taliban has been quite revealing. Sections of the royalist right jumped immediately to contrast President Ashraf Ghani’s hurried flight into exile with former king Gyanendra’s decision to stay put in Nepal.
It didn’t take long for others, while praising the former monarch’s attachment to his motherland, to point out that the Nepali Congress and Unified Marxist-Leninists who spearheaded the April 2006 popular uprising were no terrorists akin to the Taliban.
The fact that the mainstream parties played second fiddle to the Maoists – still designated a terrorist group when the 12-point agreement was struck – was an inconvenient fact that could be airbrushed out because of prevailing political equations. Nor was it palatable to point out that the uprising was against ‘absolute’ monarchy, not the institution itself. Ditto the foreign factor in our regime change.
Still, the debate has been no less contentious on the ‘domestic’ factors gripping our two countries. Afghanistan could have continued as a functioning state even after the overthrow of King Zahir Shah in 1973 but for the Cold War-era superpowers’ meddling. By the time the Soviets had struck a semblance of stability between the Khalq and Parcham factions in the Afghan Communist Party, Washington had already assembled a forceful albeit fractious alliance of opposition groups ostensibly united by religion but in fact glued together by dollars and advanced weaponry. The collective ‘Mujahideen’ then had a positive connotation because they were arrayed against the godless Soviets. The pejorative ‘Jihadi’ gained currency once those fighters turned their guns in the other direction.
The mujahideen chased the Soviet invaders out but couldn’t begin to rule, paving the way for the Taliban, which, lest we forget, Washington had initially wooed to facilitate the putative flow of Central Asian oil.
Supporters of our April 2006 regime change, anxious to project the initiative as a purely internal undertaking, caution against drawing false parallels with Afghanistan. But, then, just because the Soviet/Russians and Americans haven’t bombed us back to the stone age doesn’t mean that our state institutions are any better than the Afghans’. If the Indians and Americans want their own security forces to protect their interests – be it airline security or the MCC infrastructure – they just aren’t equating us publicly with the likes of Somalia for fear of conceding the post-2006 adventure a failure.
In the end, Zahir Shah returned to Kabul as a citizen but, more importantly, as a prop for the Hamid Karzai government. If the former king instilled any stability in the initial phases of the post-Taliban government, it ceased with his death as ‘Father of the Nation’ in 2007.
King Gyanendra, who many believe lost his throne for tying China’s entry into SAARC as an observer as the price for Afghanistan’s India-backed membership of the regional organization, probably detected the irony here. If Pakistan has prevented India from reviving SAARC, how would a Taliban-led Afghanistan affect the moribund regional outfit¿ And China¿ With Afghanistan on its side, it hardly needed SAARC to arrive firmly in South Asia.