Bangladesh, Cultural, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Literary, Religious

Life and Works of Humayun Azad

Humayun Azad – a poet, novelist, short story writer, columnist, critic, linguist and above all a humanist and a social reformer – was born on 28 April 1947 (14 Baishakh 1354 BS) at maternal grandad’s house in the village of Kamargaon, Bikrompur in the district of Munshigonj, However, Humayun Azad used to think that the place where he was brought up in the village of Rarhikhal in Bikrompur was his birth place. His father, Abdur Rashed, was a teacher at the early part of his life and then a postmaster and finally he became a businessman. His mother Zobeda Khatoon was a house wife. Humayun Azad was the first of the siblings, there were three brothers and two sisters. The village had luminary like Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, the world-renowned scientist.

Humayun Azad loved and adored the natural beauty and surroundings of his village. He started his primary education in the village. He passed his SSC from Jagadish Chandra Bose Institute in 1962 and then HSC in science from Dhaka College in 1964. He got acquainted with the Bengali teacher and most prominent writer, Mr. Shawkat Osman at the college. That might have influenced him to love Bengali as the chosen subject. He got BA(Hons) and MA in Bengali from Dhaka University in 1967 and 1968 respectively and got first classes in both. He obtained PhD in linguistics submitting his thesis titled ‘Pronominalisation in Bangla’ at the University of Edinburgh. Humayun Azad’s name at birth was Humayun Kabir, but he changed that name to Humayun Azad by affidavit on 28 September 1988 applying to the magistrate of Narayangonj District.  

His first published book was the collection of poems from 1960s to 1972 and called Alaukik Ishtimar (An Unreal Steamer), which was published in 1973. He published interesting and provocative novels called shobkichu nashtader adhikare jabe (Everything will go to the despicables) in 1985, Chhappanno hazar borgomile (Fifty six thousand square miles)(which is the area of Bangladesh) in 1994, Shobkichu bhenge pore (Everything breaks down) in 1995 and many more. His most prominent and comprehensive feminist book was Naree (Women). In this book, he was even fearless to criticise Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel laureate in literature in 1913; although he praised Raja Rammohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. The theme of the book was critical of the patriarchal and male-chauvinism of the Indian subcontinental society towards women. Both Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists were very critical of the book. Under constant agitation and threats of violence by the extremist mullahs, Bangladesh government banned the book in 1995. The ban was, however, forced to be lifted in 2000 following a legal challenge in the High Court of the country, which Humayun Azad won. He produced more than sixty titles,

He viscerally hated a State based on religious doctrine. Humayun Azad was branded an atheist by the Islamists right from the early years of his literary contributions in the 1970s, mainly due to his free unbiased thinking and forthright vision. When Ziaur Rahman, Ershad and Khaleda Zia were in power from mid 1970s till about 2008, they had all been fanning and supporting Islamic fundamentalism for political expediency and financial opportunism. Humayun Azad was the voice of humanism, secularism and free-thinking. He rebelled against religious bigotry and wrote a number of articles pointing out sheer lunacy and inhumanity of religiosity.

His satirical novel called Pak Sar Jamin Sad Bad (Pakistan’s national anthem) when published in 2003 and the Daily Ittefaq produced excerpts in the same year, he started receiving life threats from the Islamist fundamentalists. The book was regarded as an insult to the Pakistani mentality Bangladeshis for ridiculing political ideologies of Pakistan. On 27 February 2004, as Humayun Azad was going home after attending the book fair near the Dhaka University campus, two assailants hacked him several times with machetes on the jaw, lower part of the neck and hands. He was taken to the nearby Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Subsequently the then prime minister of Bangladesh Khaleda Zia ordered him to be transferred to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) for better treatment. He recovered from the attack, but remained grievously injured.

A week prior to Humayun Azad’s assault, Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, a member of parliament of Bangladesh, said in parliament that the book ‘Pak Sar Jamin Sad Bad’  must be banned and the blasphemy law must be instituted in Bangladesh. (It may be noted that Delwar Hossain Sayeedi was a blatant Pakistani agent and caused death of many Bangladeshis during the 1971 war, but still managed to become an MP in Bangladesh. He was convicted of war crimes by the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh and was sentenced to death in 2013)   A week later Humayun Azad was very badly assaulted. In 2006, one of the leaders of the Islamic fundamentalist organisation admitted to the RAB that Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) operatives carried out the attack on Humayun Azad (as well as carrying out other murders, bomb blasts etc).

Several months after that attack, he applied to the German government for a grant to carry out research on nineteenth century German romantic poet Heinrich Heine. The German government offered him the grant and he went to Munich on 8 August 2004. The other purpose was to get the medical treatment. However, on 12 August 2004, he was found dead in his apartment, just a few days after his arrival there. His dead body was brought back to Bangladesh and he was buried in Rarhikhal in Bikrompur on 27 August 2004.

It is a very sad story that the person who loved his country supremely, the person who fought for humanity and human justice had to suffer the inhumanity and religious barbarity and lay down his illustrious life in a foreign land. We salute you, Sir.

  • Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist
Human Rights, International, Political, Religious

Desperate times for Pakistan

Pakistan never had easy time politically or economically since its inception. The reason is quite simple – if something is made out of flawed or defective material or designed out of misconceived ideas, it is bound to reflect on its imperfection and show up in its poor performance or existence. Pakistan is no exception to that.  

The country, Pakistan was envisaged on the basis of a flimsy ideology which had no philosophical underpinning or deep deliberation. The Two Nation Theory (TNT) was produced by Allama Iqbal in his dissertation in 1930 as an academic discourse. It was not meant to be a political philosophy chalking out the birth of a nation in the turbulent post-colonial times of British Raj. There was no serious discussion on whether there was any mileage in taking TNT seriously or was it just an arm chair discussion document? Mohammad Ali Jinnah, took up this half-baked TNT as a potent political tool to suit his purpose for a separate nation and thereby stave-off Indian National Congress’ (INC) political supremacy. He did not give any serious thought on the implications of TNT, nor did he initiate any proper discussion on it before taking it up as a serious political tool. When he was asked whether he had thought through this political ideology, he replied in 1946, just one year before the creation of a State, that “let us get it before we think about it!” It was like building a factory before thinking what to do with the factory! To a large extent, this TNT may even be synonymous with Tri-Nitro Toluene – a chemical substance used to blast off a building or a barrier.   

The perceived ideology of the TNT was that as Hindus and Muslims are two separate peoples, with separate religions, culture, philosophy, education and upbringing, they cannot live together. That Hindus and Muslims had been living together for centuries had been cast aside for the political shenanigan of the day. Two nations, one for Muslims called Pakistan and the other for all other religions in India, had been curbed out in the Indian subcontinent in 1947 and to do this, communal riots and violent antagonism had been whipped up by the blatantly aggressive communal politicians. That there were more Muslims in India than in the whole of Pakistan – East Pakistan and West Pakistan put together – was considered irrelevant and superfluous.

Within a few years of creation of Pakistan, it was found that religion far from being the unifying force was, in fact, a poisonous pallet blowing apart even Muslims of various sects and ethnicity. Pakistan adopted a foreign policy that was primarily based on anti-Indian, anti-Hindu philosophy in order to keep incongruous Muslim communities together. Inherently it was assumed that this attitude would bind the loosely bound religious people of both the provinces together and thereby make Pakistan viable. The religious opportunists had the field day in that situation in Pakistan. They made Pakistan an Islamic State and then made non-Sunni Muslims second-class citizens. Even Ahmadiyya sect, to which Prof. Abdus Salam who won Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979 belonged, had been declared non-Muslim and thereby made Abdus Salam a non-Muslim.

The running of the State which Field Marshal Ayub Khan had forcibly taken away from the civilian rule in 1958 had never really reverted back to civilians. The aggressive exploitative stance that Pakistan government took under the tutelage of the Pakistan Army had caused Pakistan to break up in 1972. East Pakistan which became Bangladesh is now in much better shape, both politically and economically. Unlike Pakistan, Bangladesh is not a theocratic State and therefore free to run the country for the well-being of the people, not for the brain washed dogma that everything is done by Allah and we are just His lowly creatures!

Pakistan had never been a democratic State. Nearly half of the time since 1947 Pakistan was ruled by Army and the remaining other half by civilian governments under sharp eyes of the Army. As Shashi Tharoor of India said, “The State of India has an Army, the Army of Pakistan has a State.” No civilian government in Pakistan under a prime minister had managed to complete full five-year term of office. Either the incumbent prime minister had been killed or removed by the Army or in the present case, the sitting prime minister Imran Khan, had been removed under no confidence motion. The Pakistan Army is truly called “The Establishment”. The Establishment is in charge of the country whether in power or out of it.

Pakistan is in a very sorry state. Foreign interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs is a recurrent phenomenon. Of course, Pakistan had demonstrated that it had no moral compulsion either against interfering in foreign countries. The most recent incident was the Pakistan Army’s surreptitious involvement in Afghanistan, which made American military power pull away in disgrace like a third-grade power. America is now taking the revenge in removing Imran Khan from power. A number of times Pakistan resorted to despicable activities – sending saboteurs to India in Taz hotel killing more than 20 people; sending arms and ammunition to religious fanatics in Bangladesh and elsewhere.   

Ayub Khan wrote a book, back in 1960, called ‘Friends Not Masters’ pointedly telling America that Pakistan seeks friends, not masters. But, given half the opportunity, Pakistan would not shy away behaving like masters to other smaller States. East Pakistan had enough of Pakistan’s barbaric mindset and when Pakistan had been beaten and made to surrender in 1972, Pakistan showed no remorse at all. Now Bangladesh as an independent sovereign State would have no reason whatsoever to shed any tears at Pakistan’s desperate situation. As the saying goes, “If you dance with devils, you should be prepared to have devils bite your neck.”

After nearly 75 years of outright hostility and deadly animosity towards India, Pakistan’s deposed prime minister all of a sudden found that India is a decent democratic country and Pakistan should have good relations. But is it not somewhat incongruous to see that the mouth which is used to spew out vile words all the time now preaches amicable words?

  • Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist
Cultural, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Literary, Political, Religious

Religion and Human Epistemology

With the evolution of human species over the past tens of thousands of years from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens to Modern Humans, human intelligence and skill continued to develop sequentially through the Stone Age to the Bronze Age to the Iron Age and then on to Industrial Revolution.

At the earliest of times, human beings were subservient to some presumed superior intelligence or powers and that subservience was based on pure belief. That belief gradually transformed itself to faith. The faith is a collective, communal mental undertaking. Faith, once established, is difficult to root out as it comes as a joint undertaking, although each one individually holds the strands of that faith. The ownership of the faith is then taken up individually as well as collectively and it becomes part of their collective identity. A ‘faith’ can then easily transmute to a ‘religion’. When the group size becomes large enough or a significant number of groups coalesce together to form a community, the ‘faith’ becomes truly a ‘religion’. 

The German historian of religion, Rudolf Otto, in his book, The Idea of the Holy, stated that the feeling of ‘numinous’ was the basis of religion of devotion. This ‘numinous’ feeling placed human beings to subservient position and at the same time uplifted the mystical powers of the unknown to higher levels. This feeling predated the period of human knowledge and understanding and hence, any attempt to explain things such as the beginning of life on Earth and everything on Earth had been passed on to the superior, unknown powers.

Religions of bewildering varieties started to evolve in various parts of the world. Shinto in Japan, Daoism in China, Buddhism in India, Hinduism in India, Zoroastrianism in Persia, Paganism in Europe and other places, Abrahamic religions (all three mono-theistic religions) in the Middle East, the Sky-God in Africa and many more evolved at various times on Earth. It is estimated that altogether more than 10,000 religions evolved on Earth, but most of them went extinct or merged with the more dominant religion.  

The main point here is that there is virtually no substantiation that any of these religions originated from the presumed creator. However, Paganism, Buddhism, Hinduism and few more religions do not rely on single creator or divine authority as the source of the religion. Buddhism believes in eternal cycle of life and death until terminated by nirvana.

On the other hand, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and a bewildering variety of sects within these religions believe in Yahweh, God or Allah as the creator who is assumed to be all-powerful, eternal, omnipresent, omniscient and incomprehensible. God is ineffable, beyond any query, and any aspersion or derision of this powerful creator is blasphemous. All knowledge derives from Him and all praise to Him. However, Judaism and Christianity have gradually moved away from blind adherence to such theological doctrines. But Islam or more particularly the Sunnis have maintained total reliance of such narrative. Allah created human beings, there is a day of judgement, heaven and hell awaits life after death etc. Human beings are composed of body and soul – body perishes on death but soul returns to God!

As mentioned above, Judaism, the originator of monotheism through Abraham, had moved away from strict submission to scripture dealing with life after death. Rabbi Manis Friedman, dean of the Bais Chana Institute of Jewish Studies, said in a speech in 2012 that the question of life after death is non-sensical. But he believed that soul is a living thing which goes back to where it came from, probably to heaven; but body perishes and goes back to soil. He also held the view that heaven and hell don’t exist, but if someone wants to believe in these things, he has the right to do so.

The Christianity, particularly Catholicism, and Islam, both Shia and Sunni, believe strongly in life after death; because without it the whole edifice of the religion incorporating the final day of judgement; existence of heaven and hell etc would collapse. The question may be raised that how the body of the dead person would be revived, at what age and in what condition etc would that revival be and it remained unanswered in these religions. 

These two religions along with Judaism proclaim that the creator created the vast universe, made every animate and inanimate thing follow certain orders etc. The traditional creator had been assigned in these religions essential attributes – He must be present right from or even before the beginning and will last until or beyond the end of creation. He is all-powerful, omniscient, omnipresent and He is not accountable to anybody; He can see past, present and future. Any derogatory or disrespectful remark or any question about God’s authority is blasphemous.

The Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza’s (1632 – 1677), view of God was totally dismissive of all these gobbledegook. He showed through the power of logic that God and Nature are one and the same thing. He started from the fundamental logic that there must be a single self-subsistent entity that must be the creator and the creation. This unity of cause (source) and the consequence (creation) must be there to remove the inexplicable question that if creator created everything, then who created the creator? The creator and creation must be merged into one.

Thus, in one big swoop Baruch Spinoza dismissed the fundamental basis of monotheistic religions that there is a transcendent creator who created everything. He argued that the creator and the creation is one in Nature and it is infinite in its expanse and immanence. He held the view that human being is a composite entity of body and mind; body being the material object in space. The movement of the body is due to physical laws of motion whereas thought is a mental state.

Some years previously, French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650) advocated mind-body dualism. Descartes’ (pronounced as Dekorta) philosophical view was that mind and body have separate existence within the body. This led to the belief that whereas body was material in character and would eventually decay away on Earth, the soul is subliminal and lives on eternally! It chimed or had been made to chime with the religious views. This philosophical basis remained extant until Spinoza vigorously opposed such un-scientific epistemology.

The most prominent German philosopher of the 20th century, Martin Heidegger, produced his most important contributions to phenomenology and existentialism in his book called ‘Being and Time’. In that book, he argued that ‘Das Sein’ meaning ‘Being’ is the reality of our existence here. After being ‘thrown’ into the world, we strive to move from inauthenticity to authenticity. We strive to gain freedom from social milieu, freedom from archaic prejudices and practical necessities that are not our own making and move away from ‘they-self’ into ‘our-self’. Getting the freedom of ‘our-self’ releases us to attain our ‘Being’ here. But all Beings are inter-connected and there is the ‘unity of Being’. Our authenticity arises from ‘unity of Being’ with all things, making the ‘common Being’ with the universe. So, Heidegger was saying effectively that the ontology (the sense of being that exists as self-contained individual) encompasses the ‘unity of Being’.

One may find a strong resemblance, almost an echo, of Tagore’s philosophical discourse, which he argued when he met Einstein in July, 1930 in Berlin that as individual atoms or molecules join up to form a smooth congruous substance, so does the humanity of individuals form the universal humanity and human universe. Truth of the universe is the human truth; without humans, beauty and truth are irrelevant.

Where does the religion fit in the epistemology of existentialism and human truth? Religion, any religion for that matter, is fundamentally dogmatic, sectarian and divisive. The edifice of religion is based on unproven axiomatic assumptions and social provincialism. It is no wonder that when Albert Einstein was asked whether he believed in God, he answered that he believed in Spinoza’s God “who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and doings of mankind”.

Thus, he upheld the belief of God as the Nature itself that provides universal humanity.

– Dr Anisur Rahman is an author and columnist.

Cultural, International, Life as it is, Literary, Religious

Tagore’s and Einstein’s views on Science and Spirituality

On July 14, 1930, Albert Einstein,the most prominent physicist of the 20th century and a Nobel Laureate, welcomed at his home at the outskirts of Berlin, Germany the most prominent Indian philosopher, musician, poet and a Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. The two proceeded to have one of the most stimulating, intellectually challenging conversations in the history of science and philosophy exploring the age-old divergence between scientific views and religious perception. This conversation took place at the juncture when a new Renaissance was sweeping across India and a brutal reality was knocking on the door in Europe. The two intellectual giants from two continents representing two different human achievements slogged it out.

A part of the conversation which is modified here a bit was as follow:

EINSTEIN: Do you believe in the Divine as isolated from the world?

TAGORE: Not isolated. The infinite personality of Man comprehends the Universe. There cannot be anything that cannot be subsumed by the human personality, and this proves that the Truth of the universe is Human Truth.

Let me take a scientific fact to explain this — Matter is composed of protons and electrons, with gaps between them; but matter may feel continuous and solid. Similarly, humanity is composed of individuals, yet they have their interconnection of human relationship, which gives living unity to human world. The entire universe is linked up with us in a similar manner, it is a human universe. I have pursued this thought through art, literature and the religious consciousness of man.

EINSTEIN: There are two different perceptions about the nature of the universe: (1) The world as a unity dependent on humanity; (2) The world as a reality independent of the human factor.

TAGORE: When our universe is in harmony with Man, the eternal, we know it as Truth, we feel it as beauty.

EINSTEIN: This is the purely human perception of the universe.

TAGORE: There can be no other perception. This world is a human world — the scientific view of it is also that of the scientific man. There is some standard of reason and enjoyment which gives it Truth, the standard of the Eternal Man whose experiences are through our experiences.

EINSTEIN: This is a realization of the human entity.

TAGORE: Yes, one of eternal entity. We have to realize it through our emotions and activities. We realized the Supreme Man who has no individual limitations through our limitations. Science is concerned with that which is not confined to individuals; it is the impersonal human world of Truths. Religion realizes these Truths and links them up with our deeper needs; our individual consciousness of Truth gains universal significance. Religion applies values to Truth, and we know this Truth as good through our own harmony with it.

EINSTEIN: Truth, then, or Beauty is not independent of Man?

TAGORE: No.

EINSTEIN: If there would be no human beings any more, the Apollo of Belvedere would no longer be beautiful.

TAGORE: No.

EINSTEIN: I agree with regard to this perception of Beauty, but not with regard to Truth.

TAGORE: Why not? Truth is realized through Man.

EINSTEIN: I cannot prove that my perception is right, but that is my religion.

TAGORE: Beauty is in the ideal of perfect harmony which is in the Universal Being; Truth the perfect comprehension of the Universal Mind. We individuals approach it through our own mistakes and blunders, through our accumulated experiences, through our illumined consciousness — how else could we know Truth?

EINSTEIN: I cannot prove scientifically that Truth must be conceived as a Truth that is valid independent of humanity; but I believe it firmly. I believe, for instance, that the Pythagorean theorem in geometry states something that is approximately true, independent of the existence of man. Anyway, if there is a reality independent of man, there is also a Truth relative to this reality; and in the same way the negation of the first engenders a negation of the existence of the latter.

TAGORE: Truth, which is one with the Universal Being, must essentially be human, otherwise whatever we individuals realize as true can never be called truth – at least the Truth which is described as scientific and which only can be reached through the process of logic, in other words, by an organ of thoughts which is human. According to Indian Philosophy there is Brahman, the absolute Truth, which cannot be conceived by the isolation of the individual mind or described by words but can only be realized by completely merging the individual in its infinity (সীমার মাঝে অসীম তুমি). But such a Truth cannot belong to science only. The nature of Truth which we are discussing is an appearance – that is to say, what appears to be true to the human mind and therefore is human, and may be called maya or illusion.

EINSTEIN: So according to your perception, which may be the Indian perception, it is not the illusion of the individual, but of humanity as a whole.

TAGORE: The species also belongs to a unity, to humanity. Therefore, the entire human mind realizes Truth; the Indian or the European mind meet in a common realization.

EINSTEIN: The word species is used in German for all human beings, as a matter of fact, even the apes and the frogs would belong to it.

TAGORE: In science we go through the discipline of eliminating the personal limitations of our individual minds and thus reach that comprehension of Truth which is in the mind of the Universal Man.

EINSTEIN: The problem begins whether Truth is independent of our consciousness.

TAGORE: What we call truth lies in the rational harmony between the subjective and objective aspects of reality, both of which belong to the super-personal man.

EINSTEIN: Even in our everyday life we feel compelled to ascribe a reality independent of man to the objects we use. We do this to connect the experiences of our senses in a reasonable way. For instance, if nobody is in this house, yet that table remains where it is.

TAGORE: Yes, it remains outside the individual mind, but not the Universal Mind. The table which I perceive is perceptible by the same kind of consciousness which I possess.

EINSTEIN: If nobody would be in the house the table would exist all the same — but this is already illegitimate from your point of view — because we cannot explain what it means that our natural point of view in regard to the existence of truth apart from humanity cannot be explained or proved, but it is a belief which nobody can lack — no primitive beings even. We attribute to Truth a super-human objectivity; it is indispensable for us, this reality which is independent of our existence and our experience and our mind — though we cannot say what it means.

TAGORE: Science has proved that the table as a solid object is an appearance and therefore that which the human mind perceives as a table would not exist if that mind were naught. At the same time, it must be admitted that the fact, that the ultimate physical reality is nothing but a multitude of separate revolving centres of electric force, also belongs to the human mind.

In the apprehension of Truth there is an eternal conflict between the universal human mind and the same mind confined in the individual. The perpetual process of reconciliation is being carried on in our science, philosophy, in our ethics. In any case, if there be any Truth absolutely unrelated to humanity then for us it is absolutely non-existing.

It is not difficult to imagine a mind to which the sequence of things happens not in space but only in time like the sequence of notes in music. For such a mind such conception of reality is akin to the musical reality in which Pythagorean geometry can have no meaning. There is the reality of paper, infinitely different from the reality of literature. For the kind of mind possessed by the moth which eats that paper, literature is absolutely non-existent, yet for Man’s mind literature has a greater value of Truth than the paper itself. In a similar manner if there be some Truth which has no sensuous or rational relation to the human mind, it will ever remain as nothing so long as we remain human beings.

EINSTEIN: Then I am more religious than you are!

TAGORE: My religion is in the reconciliation of the Super-personal Man, the universal human spirit, in my own individual being.

Although it may outwardly seem that these two great intellectual giants of the 20th century held divergent and sometimes conflicting views on science and spirituality, truth and beauty, but following deeper inspection, one would find that their views were remarkably similar and almost convergent.

For example, when Einstein was asked some years later whether he believed in God, Einstein replied that he believed in Spinoza’s God. His full answer was, “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world; not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and doings of mankind.”

Compare that with Tagore’s view on spiritual being. He said that as atoms join up to form a continuous solid substance, so do individual humans join up to form the universal humanity in human universe. Truth of the universe is the human truth. Without humans, beauty and truth are irrelevant.

Thus, Einstein’s God (God of Spinoza) and Tagore’ God (God of human universe in harmony) are remarkably similar.

(This article is an adaptation of the write-up by Maria Popova on ‘When Einstein met Tagore’, dated 27 April 2012 )

Dr A Rahman is an author and a blogger.

Cultural, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Political, Religious

America’s one-dimensional policy and its consequences

The United States of America (USA – in short, America) still is world’s number one superpower, but nobody can say how long it is going to last. By all accounts, the end is not too far off. As the adage goes, what goes up must come down. Going up is tortuous, but coming down is simply rolling back or tumbling down.

America had risen to the stature of super-power only after World War I, when Allied and Axial powers of Europe and Asia had embarked on annihilating each other, destroying each other’s towns, cities, industries, infra-structure etc., whereas America escaped with little or no damage to its homeland as the country was physically isolated by two huge oceans, one on each side. Winning the war with such minimal damage and benefitting subsequently from the industrial revival was the root of America’s economic success!

Then came the World War II within a short space of time (within just twenty years). Admittedly, America did not jump onto the European war bandwagon straightaway, not because America had visceral dislike of war, but because America needed time to assess which side had the upper hand to join in and in the mean time doing a roaring business trading in arms and ammunition with both the warring parties! Nearly half way down the war, America joined in. With minimal suffering and damage to man and material, she romped home to victory. To save lives of few hundred American soldiers in Japan, she dropped two atom bombs in two cities in Japan killing nearly 200,000 innocent Japanese outright and that made Japan’s surrender inevitable!

After the war, America became the undisputed leader and superpower of the world, not because of her war skills or war sacrifices, but because of her ruthless aggressive stance and no moral inhibition. War is perceived in America as a way to establishing supremacy and enhancing superiority.  

America acquired the mindset that it is the master of the whole world and its dictum must be followed. When Saddam Hussein tried to defy American hegemony, he became a target for regime change. America invaded Iraq on the concocted narrative that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Of course, America supplied chemical weapons and other items which can be called WMD previously during the Iran-Iraq war, but Saddam Hussein destroyed them all. Despite his repeated denial and despite international weapon inspectors’ failure to find any evidence of WMD whatsoever, Iraq was still invaded and no WMD of any description had ever been found in that country. But that is beside the point. If America said something, that must be true!

During that invasion of Iraq, a number of Hezbollah soldiers from Lebanon were spotted in Iraq and an American General declared that no foreign soldiers would be tolerated in the country. America does not consider her troops in Iraq as foreign! Moreover, to give a religious flavour to the invasion of Iraq, George W Bush revealed that he was, in fact, asked by God to invade Iraq and he just carried out His orders!

America was not mature enough in the world stage to assume the position of a superpower; it was thrust upon her unequivocally after the WWII. Consequently, American foreign policy became lop-sided and unidirectional. Nearly 40 years ago (in 1979), when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to keep America off its backyard, American’s immediate reaction was to take revenge and drive Soviet Union out. It was a blatant display of America’s superpower arrogance and desire to avenge its cold war rival, the Soviet Union. How best it could be done was not a consideration for the mighty superpower.

Force must be met with force was possibly America’s guiding principle and its unidirectional policy. She started giving large quantities arms and ammunition to the Islamic fundamentalists, called Mujahideen, disregarding the fact that these fundamentalists also vowed to take revenge against the west.  Pakistan, a fundamentalist Muslim country, was trusted with the Jihadi operation and plane load of money from America, Saudi Arabia and Qatar started pouring into that country. American arms industry was also having a bumper period selling arms to the government, who then shipped them to Pakistan for distribution to Afghan Mujahideen. Within nine years Soviet Union had been bled dry and militarily brutalised. The Soviet helicopters could simply be plucked out of the sky by the Mujahideen with American shoulder launching stringer missiles. America boasted when Soviet Union had to withdraw in disgrace saying, “The Soviet Union had been taught a very good lesson”. Pakistan also bragged, “We defeated Soviet Union and that may have caused the break-up of Soviet Union”.

The same Jihadi group (Mujahideen) with Pakistan’s tutelage became Taliban in less than five years and started attacking American and western interests worldwide. That Mujahideen could become Frankenstein and turn the guns on Americans did not come to American heads; driving Soviet Union out was the one-dimensional approach of America. A superpower with such short-sighted blinkered military strategy is unthinkable. Al-Qaeda, ISIS and other Jihadists around the world had flocked in Afghanistan under the Taliban rule. Within five years of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, twin-towers in New York had been blown-up, when the scheme was hatched by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Islamist terrorists must have felt grateful to America for creating a safe haven for them in Afghanistan.

In fact, Mujahideen, Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS, FSA (Free Syrian Army) and many more Jihadi groups owe their existence to American patronage. Money and material were supplied by America through various sources to these groups to fight Russia and other countries who are not in America’s good book. That America was creating Jihadi monsters that may one day devour the creator did not come to its consciousness.

Following the attack on twin-towers in New York by al-Qaeda operatives on the 11th of September, 2001, America embarked on a revenge attack on Afghanistan. America issued a demand to Taliban government within a few weeks of 9/11 attack that Osama bin Laden be handed over to America henceforth. Taliban asked for evidence of Osama bin Laden’s involvement in twin tower attack before he could be extradited. America, with her arrogance and rage, would not provide any evidence and issued an ultimatum. When Taliban rejected the ultimatum, America with Britain and other western democracies invaded Afghanistan in December 2001 and systematically started destroying Afghan government infrastructure and Taliban offices. Within few weeks Taliban had been dislodged from power and America took over the country. But there was no trace of Osama bin Laden, as if he had just vanished into thin air!

A decade later, America’s foremost terrorist, Osama bin Laden had been found, not in Afghanistan but in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Pakistan, who was America’s close ally and confidante and who benefitted from shedload of money from America all these years, had a duplicitous role. Osama bin Laden was killed and dumped at sea, but Pakistan’s role in giving sanctuary to him and then denying his presence in the country remains an enigma. 

For 20 years, America and its allies had been fighting a losing battle against the Taliban. The Taliban with a large number of war veterans from Mujahideen during the Soviet era had been lodging a war of attrition against the west. America, in those 20 years, had been pouring in arms, ammunition, tanks, planes etc as well as training Afghans to fight a modern warfare. But the newly trained Afghan soldiers could not or would not fight against the Taliban and just melted away when faced with Taliban. Now Taliban are in control of Afghanistan with all military arsenal that America had amassed and with all freshly trained soldiers. It may also be pointed out that corruption in the Afghan government as well as among American contractors and arms suppliers was simply unprecedented.     

Now over 32 years after the Soviet Union’s withdrawal, it is American turn to withdraw. During the past 20 years, America gave the most up-to-date arms and ammunition to Afghan forces, which have now become Taliban’s property. If al-Qaeda, ISIS or any other terrorist group does coagulate in Afghanistan, America would have no guts to go back. Taliban have now become too strong to kowtow after owning all the advanced weapons, tanks, planes of various types etc that America left behind. On top of that, America will have difficulty forming a coalition of partners after the present debacle of unilateral decision to pull out, whereas a collective decision was taken to form a coalition in 2001. America may well also remember the great adage ‘Once beaten, twice shy’. Russia may even have the last laugh and say, “American has learnt a very bitter lesson.”

America can now look forward to its time of ‘progressive nationalism’, as Joe Biden professes and huddle back home as Taliban have completely clipped off its wings and even chopped off its fuselage. Within two years of Soviet Union’s withdrawal, that country disintegrated losing a large number of constituent republics. What fate awaits America’s withdrawal is only future to tell. But undoubtedly reputational damage to America due to its financial weakness, reliability and trustworthiness is simply beyond reckoning. It would be a miracle if America can recover from this debacle with its reputation intact. After all, one must remember that when something starts to slide down, it slides down and down, it never slides up.

Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist