FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Two-thirds of Afghanistan’s population is aged 25 and under. This large demographic segment has no memory of the last time the Taliban was in power in their beautiful but sad country. They grew up in the relative freedom of US occupation.

The other day, a British paper released a video clip most of us would rather not watch. The clip showed an Afghan woman who casually stepped out of her home to do some shopping. In the street, Taliban fighters accosted her for not having a male escort outside home. Almost immediately, she was made to kneel and murdered by automatic weapons fire.

A Taliban spokesman shortly after the capture of Kabul tried to assuage the world by saying the new rulers will respect the rights of women – within the framework of Sharia law, of course. What that meant was never clear. Few believed the Taliban promise. One of them was the poor woman executed in that video clip mentioned above.

What we saw in this video is misogyny at its crudest, patriarchy at its worst and Islamic fundamentalism at its more condemnable form. Now we understand why Afghans, especially those with a more modern sensibility, are literally dying to leave the country – such as that teenager who clung to the landing gear of a large military transport plane as it took off. He fell to his death a few hundred feet above.

All the world’s powers and all the international organizations can only watch in horror as the Taliban begins exercising its gory power over an unwilling society. This is, after all, a movement driven by a primitive ideology trying to drag the rest of society back to the Stone Age.

All the secular powers of the world enjoy no leverage over a mindless movement such as the Taliban. But the Taliban, too, holds no leverage against the secular powers of the modern world – the capacity to inflict terror in the hope of wining acquiescence, if not submission.

The rest of modern civilization has done what it can in the hope of mitigating the Taliban’s worst impulses.  The World Bank has held assets owned by the Afghan central bank. No single country has extended diplomatic recognition to the new regime in Kabul. The EU declared it would not deal with the Taliban. No one wants to touch the new rulers with a long pole.

But this situation incapacitates the humanitarian organizations as well. The WHO estimates Afghanistan has only a few days’ supply of medical supplies left. The UNICEF has no infrastructure on the ground to look after the Afghan children. The Medicins sans Frontiers (MSF) cannot send teams of volunteer doctors to support a virtually non-existent health care system. Food supplies for the internally displaced cannot be delivered.

This situation will be harmful to the Afghan people most of all. Cut off from the rest of humanity, they could not access humanitarian help.

To top it all, most of the world’s countries are busy fighting the pandemic. They have every excuse to ignore the plight of the ordinary Afghans trying to survive a fanatical regime.

Most of the countries around Afghanistan have closed off their frontiers as well, mainly to discourage a flood of migrants they could not possibly sustain. Shia-ruled Persia to the west is hostile to the Sunni-led Taliban. Pakistan on the east is fearful of an upsurge of terrorist groups. The Uzbeks, Tajiks and Turkmen on the north rely on the mountainous borders to keep the trouble away.

Almost certainly, we will hear of massacres the next few days, including attacks on minority religious and ethnic groups. We likewise expect hostilities to break out between the Taliban and their erstwhile allies in Al Qaeda and ISIS. There are simply too many fissures in Afghan society to allow a peaceable transition to an abhorrent fanatical regime.

Almost certainly, too, there will be famine in Afghanistan. With the fighting going on, the fields will be left untended. The supply chains will crumble.

This will invite second-generation problems. The new rulers and the warlords could return to cultivating opium, the only cash crop the country has, for direly needed foreign exchange. The Taliban could also begin selling some of the large stockpile of weapons they now own, bringing an international arms black market to life.

There is enough weaponry and firepower accumulated in Afghanistan to enliven terrorist movements elsewhere. The instability these weapons could create in other countries keeps security experts awake. China, for one, should be keeping an eye out for any influence Kabul might have on its Uighur minority in Xinjiang.

The US, although it maintains hundreds of thousands of troops in its bases and fleets around the world, could not imagine spending a few million dollars more to keep three thousand men in Afghanistan to at least prevent that whole place from breaking down. Now millions of Afghans will suffer untold misery because of the Taliban’s triumph.

The superpower’s accounting of the costs of keeping a force in Afghanistan conveniently excluded the human and security costs of withdrawing that miniscule force. This can only be shortsighted and self-centered.

The revival of US unilateralism and isolationism will imply huge costs for the rest of humanity. Unfortunately for the Afghans and the other countries threatened with terrorism, no other power is willing to step into the abandoned US role.

Enough talk of a values-based global order. We are rushing headlong, not into a multi-polar world, but into a basically ungoverned international (dis)order.

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