About: the world this week, 15 August to 21 August 2021, India’s Independence Day, the Taliban steam-rolling through Afghanistan, and a beautiful world heritage temple in South India.
At the top of this week, on 15th August, India celebrated its 75th Independence Day. It may be an off-beat thought, but I think it’s time India stops celebrating Independence Day: only keeps reminding us of Colonial Rule and the antics of the British in India, when they plundered its riches and cooked their own one-sided, make-believe stories. It’s meaningless beyond a point. Forget the unsavoury past, learn and carry forward the lessons it taught, turn the pages; open a new book.
For example, the story of the brave exploits of Kongu Chieftain, Dheeran Chinnamalai, who fought the British between the late 1700’s & early 1800’s, and was considered undefeatable in battle, was hidden by the British least he becomes a stirring example and inspires others. In the end Dheeran Chinnamalai was not defeated by the British, but by his own cook who gave him away, leading to his capture and hanging at Sankagiri Fort, near Salem, Tamilnadu. Indians were always their own best enemies.
Commemorate 15th August 1947 as a Remembrance Day to pay quiet homage to those who suffered, fought for freedom from foreign rule, sacrificed their lives; and those irreparably scalded by partition and the bloody exodus that followed.
Instead, divert energies to celebrating Republic Day with great gusto, with re-dedication to nation building, and improving the quality of life. Reimagine the ancient, rich culture of India, its plurality, traditions, and yesteryear greatness. And think about the reasons of how India allowed foreign invaders to invade the country and plunder at will, despite fantastic natural boundaries. If only India’s Kings, of the pre-invasion era, had stayed united! Resolve never to repeat the past mistakes of history.
Prime Minister Modi heard, and has declared 14th August as Partition Horrors Remembrance Day to take cognisance the scarifies of people due to the violence that followed partition of India into the two countries of India and Pakistan (which further broke in two-with Bangladesh becoming an independent country). A tragic period in history when millions were displaced, and the killing, looting, and rape still vivid in many memories.
Afghanistan: enter the Taliban
The Taliban just strolled over, almost cat-walked, and took control of Afghanistan in one of the coolest ever take-overs of a country. The Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, fled; the Afghan Army-trained for nearly two decades by the United States-crumbled on the mere sound of the Taliban approaching; and there was a rush to exit the country through the Airport, fearing the worst of times. On the contrary, the Taliban marched steadily, paused, and just walked-in brandishing their guns, and flaunting their beards. Almost everyone had a deadly gun in their hand; some, menacing rocket launchers too.
The media decried the decision of the United States (US) to leave Afghanistan. Some even said hastily – after 20 years? I think it was the right thing to do, and I support the decision to pull-out US Troops from over two decades of fighting someone else’s war and training the Army and Police to defend the country. See the results! No country likes foreign occupation and control. The best time to leave was 19 years ago (after knocking out Bin Laden); the next best time is today.
Only the people of Afghanistan can decide what they want. If they want the Taliban, so be it; and by the looks of it, the Taliban could not have make such a naked comeback without the tacit, fully-clothed support of Afghans. If eventually they discover the Taliban to be unfit to govern – with their beards, guns, whips, and antediluvian beliefs and laws -they need to get together and find a way to throw them out.
Well, who are the Taliban, anyway?
The Taliban was founded in Kandahar, Southern Afghanistan, in 1994, by Mullah Mohammad Omar, of the Pashtun Tribe. He was once a Mujahideen (Islamic guerrillas who engage in jihad) Commander that helped push the occupying Soviets out of the country in 1989. Mohammad Omar formed the Taliban with about fifty followers, who rose up to challenge the instability, corruption, and crime that consumed Afghanistan during the post-Soviet-era civil war – they lived by a code.
The Pashtun constitute the largest ethnic group of Afghanistan and bore the exclusive name of ‘Afghan’, which came to represent Afghanistan.
The Taliban, or ‘students’ (in the Pashto language) are also linked to Northern Pakistan. The predominantly Pashtun movement-that the Taliban is- first appeared in Pakistan’s religious seminaries-mostly funded by Saudi Arabia-which preached a hardline form of Sunni Islam.
The core Taliban fighters are Afghan refugees mainly drawn from the ‘madrasas’ of Pakistan. These refugees had moved across the Border into Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. And Pakistan established religious schools and seminaries in these refugee camps to gain influence by indoctrinating the refugees. Over many years, these seminaries were converted into Arms and Bombs making factories, and terrorist training centres by the Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Typically a Mosque had a labyrinth of factories in its underground floors. These madrasas provided numerous cadres of Al Qaeda and fighters for the Afghan Taliban using enormous funds from the Middle East and Pakistan.
The promise made by the Taliban was to restore peace; provide a corruption-free government, and security; and strictly enforce their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law, once in power. Perhaps this become a ‘catch word’ and many Afghans fell for these early charms, after years of struggle against an outside force. The Taliban quickly subdued local warlords who controlled Southern Afghanistan and gradually swarmed all over the country. They climbed into the seat of power in 1996 by capturing Kabul and forming a Government with Mohammed Omar as the Emir and Head of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – as they called it.
Following the 9/11, 2001, terror attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City, the US began hunting down the terrorists responsible and nailed Osma Bin Laden as the brain behind the unbelievable attack on America. They tracked Bin Laden to Afghanistan where he was in hiding, harboured by Mohammad Omar’s Taliban.
When the Taliban refused US demands to hand over Bin Laden, American forces invaded Afghanistan, in 2001, and quickly toppled Mullah Omar’s government. Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders escaped the country and found sanctuary in neighbouring Pakistan from where they mounted an insurgent campaign to regain power in Afghanistan.
Mohammed Omar died in 2013 of tuberculosis, while in hiding, and his death was kept secret by the Taliban, for almost two years. Following his death, Mullah Mansoor, the deputy of Mohammad Omar, became the leader. And following his death, in a US drone strike in 2016, his deputy Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada took over and is now the reigning supreme leader of the Taliban.
A new interim Afghan Government was formed after the defeat of the Taliban, in 2001, headed by a local chieftain, Hamid Karzai, until the county could put in place a democratic process to elect a President and a Parliament, to form a government. He went on to becoming an elected President for two terms and was then succeeded by President Ashraf Ghani who was into his second term when the Taliban breezed-in.
Meanwhile, the Taliban were re-building and became a consistent thorn in the flesh – with relentless killings and assassinations – throughout the terms off Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani until the present ‘coming of second age’ and return to power. The Taliban had also opened a political office in Doha, United Arab Emirates, to enable talks and facilitate their return from the fringes to the mainstream.
In February 2020, the US and the Taliban signed a historic deal that laid out a 14 month timetable for America to withdraw all of its forces from Afghanistan. In the interim, talks between the Taliban and the Afghan Government meant to end the war gained little traction. By leaving Afghanistan, the US has kept its commitment, and not much is known about the ‘terms of endearment’ except that the Taliban will not attack US troops; that they will not harbour terrorist groups…and the kind.
What does the Taliban want? Their aim is simple, they want what they lost in 2001 to America. They want their Islamic Emirate to be back in power and their vision of Islamic law enforced. They don’t want a parliament. They don’t want electoral politics. They will have an Emir and a council of mullahs (a learned muslim of Islamic theology, practices, and law), and that’s the vision they see for themselves, guided by Islam.
The Taliban says, they will rule Afghanistan according to a strict interpretation of Islam’s legal system called Sharia law. What is Sharia?
Sharia literally means, ‘the clear, well-trodden path to water’. Sharia law is derived from both the Koran, Islam’s central holy text, and fatwas – the rulings of Islamic scholars. It acts as a code for living that all Muslims should adhere to, including prayers, fasting and donations to the poor. It aims to help Muslims understand how they should lead every aspect of their lives according to God’s wishes.
In simpler implementation terms, it means that if you get caught stealing, your hand could be cut off – as punishment, and if you commit adultery you may be stoned to death. If a woman wears nail polish, the tip of her finger may be cut-off. Women need to be fully covered when they venture out of their homes – allowed only with a male companion. Girls aged 10 years and over cannot go to schools and are practically slaves to men. And men have to grow and keep beards. Newspapers and Television are taboo…the list goes on. Archaic, medieval? This is just the beginning and has a lot to do with interpretation of Islamic Laws. And the Taliban have their own peculiar way of doing it.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head -and survived-by the Taliban, when she was 15 years old, for campaigning for girls’ education in Pakistan is a monumental symbol of the Taliban Effect. And, remember, this happened in Pakistan.
There is wild speculation on what would happen. Are the Taliban freedom fighters? Are they militants? Are they terrorists? They are definitely militant: we have read stores of their inhuman brutality, in the name of religion. Will Afghanistan become a hotbed for hot-heads and terrorists who want to impose a new world order- their order? The Taliban, for example, wants to see the whole world follow Islamic law. We have to wait, watch, and be prepared at the same time.
Like getting used to living with the coronavirus; with North Korea, with Burma; maybe we, rather the Afghans, should get used to living with the Taliban?
The story is not over. There is still one region, which has not given up as yet, which has not fallen into the hands of the Taliban: the Panjshir Valley of northern Afghanistan, near the Hindu Kush mountain range, 150 kilometres north of Kabul.
Panjshir means ‘five lions’ in Persian and local folklore says it refers to the five Pandava Brothers of the Mahabharatha Epic who are believed to have based themselves in the Valley and defended it. There is another legend which tells about five brothers who managed to contain the floodwaters in the valley by building a dam, for Mohamud of Ghazni. Is it the same five brothers? Let our imaginations run wild.
Local commander Ahmad Shah Massoud famously and successfully defended the Panjshir Valley from being taken during the Soviet-Afghan War from 1980 to 1985 and also defended it from being overrun by the Taliban during 1996 to 2001. The Panjshir Valley is considered a natural fortress and one of Afghanistan’s safest regions: it has never been conquered by any foreign force or the Taliban.
In this imbroglio, Amrullah Saleh, Afghanistan’s Vice President, has declared himself the care-taker President of Afghanistan. He hails from the Tajik-dominated Panjshir Valley, and is a member of the Northern Alliance which is opposed to the Taliban. He is currently lodged in the Panjshir Valley and along with Ahamad Massoud, the son of slain Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, and Bismallah Khan Mohammadi, Afghanistan’s Defence Minister in the Ghani cabinet, is mobilising forces to counter the takeover of Afghanistan and offering the only known resistance to the Taliban.
You guessed it, India has leaned towards the Northern Alliance in the past being supportive of its fight against the Taliban. Watch this space.
The Ramappa Temple, also known as the Kakatiya Rudreshwara Temple, located in Palampet Village, about 200km from Hyderabad, in the Mulugu District of India’s Telangana State recently made it to United Nations, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) list of World Heritage Sites.
The 800 years old Temple is dedicated to Lord Siva and is known for its intricate sandstone and basalt sculptures of high artistic quality that have stood the test of time: they illustrate dance customs, postures, and Kakatiyan culture. The Temple has decorated beams and pillars of carved granite and dolerite with a distinctive pyramidal horizontally stepped tower made of lightweight porous bricks – called floating bricks – which reduce the weight of the roof structures making it bearable for the unique sand stone and sand box foundation on which it stands to this day.
The Temple sits on a six foot high star-shaped platform provided with a 10 feet wide corridor with walls, pillars, and ceilings adorned with elaborate carvings. There is a hall in front of the sanctum sanctorum with four polished black pillars, which are placed with mathematical precision.
The Temple was built in the year 1213 CE, by Recharla Rudradeva, a Military Commander of the Kakatiya Kings Dynasty. And named after the chief sculptor Ramappa, who completed the job is 14 years. There is also an inscription, which mentions the name of the Builder and the year. The Temple has survived wars, plunders, natural disasters including an earthquake. That sure is foundation worth standing on.
The hidden stories of India are marvellous, fascinating, and truly incredible. And there is still so much to discover.
More stories will be sculptured in the weeks ahead. Float with the World Inthavaaram: you are on a strong foundation.