Joe Biden has got it wrong

Robert Gates, a former CIA director who served as secretary of defence to Republican president George W Bush, and a Democrat, Barack Obama, said this about President Joe Biden: “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades”
US President Joe Biden. (File photo) PREMIUM
US President Joe Biden. (File photo)
Updated on Aug 27, 2021 06:14 PM IST
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ByYashwant Raj

For almost a month in November-December of 2001, Khyber (I am not using his full name given the conditions in Afghanistan) was by my side wherever I went — to Tora Bora, Jalalabad where Osama bin Laden was seen last; the dreaded Pul-e-Charkhi prison outside Kabul; or an appointment with a senior member of the Northern Alliance.

Khyber, a Kabul University student who wore baggy jeans and an oversized leather coat, was my interpreter. He was at my guesthouse at 8am and left late at night. We had at least one meal a day together and when we travelled, we stayed in the same room. Hotel rooms were at a premium in Afghanistan those days. On the Tora Bora trip, four of us were packed in one room, Khyber, our driver, the AK-47-wielding security guard and me.

But Khyber was more than my interpreter. He was my guide to Afghanistan, the key to understanding a simple people caught in a complex web of circumstances.

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I worked with another Afghan interpreter on a trip to Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balkh, and Sheberghan, the capital of the adjoining province of Jowzjan, a few months later in 2002. Let’s call him C. I am not sure if he would like to be identified even by his first name because he said he worked on and off with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

He had shown me a GPS tracker, which, he said, was given by the Americans. C was my interpreter when I interviewed Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek warlord who would go on to become vice-president of Afghanistan, and Mohammed Mohaqiq, a top Hazara leader.

As the Americans evacuated Afghans in recent weeks, I wondered if Khyber and C were among them.

Back in 2001 and 2002, they had seemed eager to work with foreigners, actually enthusiastic about it. Though the money was good — at rates fixed by the Afghan foreign ministry — it could not have been the sole or chief motivation.

They were driven by their belief that Afghanistan had moved on. That the Taliban, which had fled Kabul, was done, gone. And the 1996-2001 Taliban regime was a nightmare that would never recur. The British, who occupied Kabul from 1838 to 1842, did not invade Afghanistan again (they played only a supporting role in the invasion of 2001); and the erstwhile Soviet Union did not repeat its 1979 invasion.

But the Taliban returned, handed back the country they had abused, mauled and looted for five years and then abandoned, outmatched by American firepower.

I am not sure if Khyber and C follow US politics. Robert Gates, a former CIA director who served as secretary of defence to a Republican president, George W Bush, and a Democrat, Barack Obama, had this to say about President Joe Biden in his 2014 memoir: “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

The views expressed are personal

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Wednesday, December 01, 2021