Revisiting horrors of 1990s: From Najibullah hanging to Taliban 2.0, a surreal déjà vu

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Updated: August 24, 2021 12:38 PM

As part of the media, we must ensure that the spotlight doesn’t go away from Afghanistan. We must keep questioning those in power about their policy paralysis. Every single human life suffering in Kabul needs our attention

Afghanistan, Taliban, Kabul, Afghanistan Latest, Kabul Latest, Joe Biden, Pakistan, IC814, Kandahar, Bamiyan Buddha 911 attacks, Mumbai terror attacksBorrowing some analogy from the coronavirus pandemic, Taliban 2.0 is the advanced variant of the original 1990s avatar. It can spark a new wave of terror pandemics. (Reuters photo)

‘Taliban fighters enter Kabul’ – As I typed these words on August 15 for a news alert, I had the most surreal déjà vu. As a journalist, I knew that Kabul had fallen, again! But it was far more disturbing. It was a feeling of unease, something so troubling that I decided to take a 5-minute break. Staring at my screen looking at swift updates, it felt so, so weird. Why was all this making me so worried? Suddenly I saw a tweet talking about whether the then Afghan President Ashraf Ghani would face a fate like Mohammad Najibullah and I knew my answer.

That name ‘Najibullah’ instantly transported me back to 1996. It was the first time ever in my life that I heard about a very public and brutal human execution. The ousted Afghan president was killed and hanged in Kabul. As a child, hearing the words like ‘hanging’ and Taliban, I was terrified. Can a human do something so horrifying to another? Is this possible? Why? Why would anybody do this to anyone? What’s Taliban?

I have a very hazy recollection of what I saw in the newspapers or news bulletins at that time but the terror, the horror is still very vivid. I just knew this was wrong. That what had happened, the grotesque display of brute power by the Taliban was plain inhuman. Three years later, in 1999, the IC-814 hijacking reintroduced Taliban to everyone in India. The year we fought the Kargil war, the year Sachin Tendulkar’s 140 not out against Kenya during the ICC World Cup made all of us cry. In December 1999, all of us were praying. Praying for those hostages in Kandahar.

Everybody knows what happened next. And then the Bamiyan blasts of 2001. Months before 9/11, the Taliban decided to destroy the majestic Buddhas of Bamiyan Valley as the world watched in horror. And the September of 2001 changed the world as we knew it. Growing up in that era, the Taliban, Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, Pakistan, ISI became my new topics of interest. By the time 2008 Mumbai terror attacks took place, we were forced to circle back to the events of 1999 Kandahar.

Cut to 2021. The crisis that spiralled on August 15 has been like a crazy and emotional action recap for me. The only difference – now I am covering all this as a journalist. At the newsdesk, I am collecting tonnes of information, verifying all updates and writing headlines for the places I have grown up reading about.

So why am I bothered about Afghanistan? My question to you would be – why not? History has shown us that every time we choose to ignore a crisis, a bigger, brutal catastrophe would take place. It would take a lifetime to heal those scars. So geopolitical pundits can talk about the ‘graveyard of empires’ as much as possible, military experts can talk about how defence contractors and big companies benefitted from this war-torn nation, I would focus on human suffering.

As part of the media, we must ensure that the spotlight doesn’t go away from Afghanistan. We must keep questioning those in power about their policy paralysis. Every single human life suffering in Kabul needs our attention. Let’s ask about basics – what’s happening about food supply? Are children getting milk? What about medicines? What about sanitary napkins?

We just can’t remain silent spectators anymore. As chroniclers of our times, I am trying. So should you. Borrowing some analogy from the coronavirus pandemic, Taliban 2.0 is the advanced variant of the original 1990s avatar. It can spark a new wave of terror pandemics. There is no time to lose. We can’t let Afghanistan slip into a state of failure. To paraphrase the WHO’s coronavirus advisory, we must save everyone in Afghanistan. Because if everyone is not safe from the terror pandemic, no one is. It’s time!

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