Sobering Questions About the Afghan Debacle
An interview with religious freedom advocate Johannes de Jong
For years now, Stream readers have been informed by Johannes de Jong, who specializes in promoting religious freedom in the Islamic world. John Zmirak reached out to him for his insights on the current crisis in Afghanistan.
John Zmirak: Was the victory of the Taliban inevitable once the US announced it was pulling out of a 20-year failed effort to create a modernized, tolerant regime in Afghanistan?
Johannes de Jong: Let me emphasize that I am not in any way an expert on Afghanistan. All I know, I have from people who are from the region. What I understand from them is that this was indeed inevitable. The main reason seems to be that Pakistan supported the Taliban for the past 20 years, which meant that everything that the US achieved, Pakistan tried to undo.
Different Shades of Islamists
How is the Taliban similar to and different from ISIS? Aren’t the organizations bitter rivals? What is the position of al Qaeda now in the country — since it was their presence that first provoked the US invasion and occupation?
Well they are both Islamist extremists and all that comes with that. However the ISIS ideology demands total destruction of all that is not similar to ISIS. The Taliban just want to impose their ideology on all and everyone. Moreover, ISIS is (like al Qaeda) an international terror organization and the Taliban a local phenomenon in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think a real expert on Afghanistan will have a better answer on al Qaeda there and their relation with the Taliban.
What will be the fate of Christians in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime?
Based on what we know now, it will be terrible. The Taliban want to kill them, so much is clear at the moment. That’s all I hear from involved organizations.
Was There Another Way Out?
How could the Biden administration have managed a real pull out without this catastrophe? Are Donald Trump’s criticisms justified?
It would have been very difficult in any scenario because of the last-minute decisions on the Afghanistan dossier by President Trump. That limited the options for President Biden. However, several people who have more insight on the issue pointed out that it would have been better to delay it a few months so that the weather would have made it much more difficult for the Taliban to advance. Moreover, I understand that keeping one more airport at a different place open as well would have spared everyone from a lot of misery.
Can We Vet the Afghans?
Americans are being told that thousands of Afghans must be evacuated and brought to the US. Is there any fool-proof way to vet such people, make sure they aren’t Taliban agents?
All I can say is what I have seen myself in the airlift operation that I am assisting from the European end. There is good and clear scrutiny of every family by those involved. In fact there is so much scrutiny that people who should be allowed in the airport are stopped by US soldiers. So, there is no way to make 100% sure that no single Taliban can enter. It is certain that if someone uses that as an argument, it means that Christians and a lot of women leaders are condemned to death.
So the people that are being airlifted are the ones who our soldiers relied on, who received and spread the gospel and who changed the life of women in Afghanistan. To deliver them to the Taliban would make the US an accomplice to their crimes and a terrible witness to Christians anywhere in the world. The Christians there ask us to take a very small risk so that they will not have to lose everything. Who wants to be an accomplice in the repeated rape of 12-year-old girls or the torture and killing of a Christian convert?
A China-Pakistan-Taliban Axis
You’ve commented publicly on the Taliban’s close links to Pakistan. Can you expand on that?
Yes indeed. Well, it is actually something that has been widely known for years on end. The US has known it since Bush and up until today. There is a lot written about that is easily to find as well. That all is exactly the same as I hear from personal contacts in the region. The essence is simple really; Pakistan supported the Taliban in many different ways all these years. Without the support from Pakistan it is hard to imagine that the Taliban would have been so strong today.
Will the US now face a Taliban/Pakistan/China axis in the region? Should India be worried?
That could be the outcome. However there is one thing on which the US and India could cooperate immediately. That is to ensure that there is all kinds of support for the resistance against the Taliban in the Panshir Valley in Afghanistan. No boots on the ground but cooperation with India on delivering support there. They are apparently committed to defend the progress for women and minorities that has also been made and they are determined to resist against the Taliban. That is relevant because the Taliban are inheriting a country that has already run out of money. That means that they soon will struggle to pay all the bills of all the civil servants and public services and militants and all. More Afghans may see reason to resist and to join the existing resistance in Panshir Valley. The Taliban’s allies, the Chinese, will have to pay a very hefty amount of money that they probably do not have. If they want to exploit Afghanistan, they need to stabilize it as well. That means they will have to pay all the bills. I am not sure if they want to do that.
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What should individual Christians be doing now personally? What should they tell their lawmakers to do?
They should tell their lawmakers to allow Afghans in who have been airlifted from Kabul. Moreover they should tell them that the US needs to end all cooperation with Pakistan. Hopefully the EU will follow the US in that regard. Both the US and EU need to end the cooperation with Pakistan and Turkey and stop these attempts to normalize the relation with the Iranian regime. All that these regimes do is support terrorism and extremism to the detriment of the free world and to the detriment of many many millions in the region who are powerless and who so badly want to be free.
Johannes de Jong is director of the Christian Political Foundation for Europe. He has been working with the Syriac Christians of Iraq and Syria, the Yazidis, Turkmen people of Iraq and Syrian Kurds.
John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He is co-author with Jason Jones of “God, Guns, & the Government.”