FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

The most essential photo about Afghanistan should be the one showing a baby being handed across a razor wire barrier to American troops keeping the perimeter. It captures the desperation of a people wanting to escape Taliban rule.

It is not only the US that lost Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan have lost their country. The world is about to lose what could have been a functional partner in the community of nations.

The American experiment in nation building in Afghanistan might have failed, succumbing to the twin cancers of corruption and superstition. But for two decades, Afghan society enjoyed a renaissance. Women acquired rights. Girls acquired an education. Artists were free to create. Every Afghan was free to live and work according to their competence and proficiencies.

The secular society that began to flourish has now been shredded. The ragtag mujahedin that swept across the country with lightning speed are the sons of a generation of fighters that drove the Soviet Union out. They are the grandsons of those who fought the British Empire. But like their forebears, they are heirs to a primitive view of the world hostile to every ethic of modernity. They defy history.

The huddled masses crowding the airport at Kabul and those trying to cross borders on foot represent the best Afghan society has to offer – and they are all aching to leave. They are the literate Afghans, people in the professions and the arts, men and women who wanted a society where one could be his best.

A diaspora of Afghans is now underway. Greece built a long wall along its border with Turkey, fearing being overwhelmed by migrating masses from Central Asia. The European Union declared they would not deal with the Taliban. China, fearing the effects of Taliban triumph on their own Muslim minority, tries to keep the new rulers of Kabul at arm’s length. Russia, once burned and twice shy, avoids getting involved in shaping Afghanistan’s future.

Beyond taking in a few thousand migrants, no country wants to help the reconstituted Afghan emirate. The consensus seems to be: dealing with the Taliban is not worth the effort.

Everyone is wondering where the large hoard of weapons captured by the Taliban will go. These weapons will likely be exported to terrorists in the Sahel, reinforce unsavory groups like the Hamas and the ISIS or even be delivered to lingering terrorist groups such as those who invaded Marawi City.

Meanwhile, despite their initial public relations effort at projecting a more benign face, the Taliban will likely continue in its murderous ways. I watched with horror a video clip showing Taliban fighters line up captured Afghan Army officers, shoot each one behind the head and spray automatic weapons fire on the pile of corpses. Nothing more emphatically illustrates the immediate future of this forsaken country.

Afghanistan was a failed state when the Americans were there. Now, under brutal Taliban rule, it will fail even more, succumbing to famine, while the rest of humanity will try its best to look the other way.


Like most Filipinos, I watched the Pacquiao-Ugas boxing match with great interest and some amount of patriotic zeal.

From the opening rounds, it was clear that Yordenis Ugas was the smarter fighter. He was prepared to go the distance, let age take its toll on his aging foe and win on points.

Ugas, after all, was an Olympics medalist. He knew how to win on points. Pacquiao, on the other hand, was never an Olympian. The prizefighter never boxed for free.

Pacquiao’s strategy was to go in early and come on strong. His coach boastfully predicted a knockout by the sixth round of the 12-rounder. That was a strategy dictated by the realization that at his age the Filipino would likely lose his sting as the fight wore on.

That was a flawed strategy. Pacquiao neither had the legs nor the punch to end the match early. The overconfident, hubris-driven Filipino did not have a plan about what to do if the fight went beyond the sixth round. His leg muscles gave up early and he could not weave in and out to defeat an opponent with longer reach.

The biggest flaw of Pacquiao’s strategy was that it was predictable – because this was the only strategy possible. His own handlers celebrated the strategy way before the fight.

Ugas prepared for the opening onslaught, practiced his defense. He knew that if he managed to survive beyond the sixth round, he would simply outpoint the Filipino. He showed the discipline of an Olympian.

Boxing at the highest level is not simply a game of brawn. It is in large part a mind game. Ugas was simply the more intelligent of the two fighters.

Pacquiao’s strategy last Sunday is pretty much how he managed the other aspects of his life. He went by feel and not by plan. His most spectacular losses underscore this.

In the wake of this great upset, the most politically correct thing to say is that Pacquiao was a great fighter. That is true. That man has secured his place in the pantheon of boxing heroes.

But the final measure of a champion is knowledge about when not to fight, when to rest on past laurels. Pacquiao should have quit this brutal game at his peak rather than exit in defeat.

Age does take its toll. Champions in his weight category retire much younger. Pacquiao must know when to quit and conserve all the glory he rightfully earned.

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