Contours of the new ‘Axis of evil’

 With the Taliban’s takeover of the Afghan Government, the US must be licking its wounds after an inglorious exit from the country after 20 years

Soon after 9/11, and after sending troops to Afghanistan, US President George Bush had coined “Axis of evil” to denote nations known to incubate terrorism. The 9/11 attack had entailed 19 core perpetrators, of whom 15 were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates and one each from Lebanon and Egypt — the “mastermind” was also a Saudi ie Osama bin Laden, who had been actively supported by the Pakistani establishment and the Taliban. Yet, it was not the Arab Sheikdoms or even the perennially roguish Pakistan that was slammed under “Axis of evil”; instead it was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Iran’s favourite punching bag, and the distant North Korea — none of whom had any role in the subsequent ‘war on terror’. Pakistanis were given the long rope as usual, and the Arab royalty was spared the deserving rap for recklessly funding extremism, globally.

Almost two decades later, more than 240,000 lives down and over $2 trillion burnt — the evicted Taliban insurgents have just stormed back, and Afghanistan is in the dark grip of the brooding Taliban like never before. In these interim two decades, the hapless Iranians remained unfairly castigated as “the world’s number one sponsor of terrorism”, Saddam was deposed without any proof of the weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump apparently “fell in love”! The real ‘nursery’ of State-sponsored global terrorism, ie Pakistan remained subject to schizophrenic love-hate relationship, but was never really put into the “Axis of evil” owing the US’s own compulsion of tolerating Pakistani duplicitousness as the price for accessing its landmass towards securing its assets in landlocked Afghanistan. Ironically, none of the global terror attacks — from India, Sri Lanka and European capitals to African heartlands — had anything to do with Iran or North Korea, as terror fingerprints invariably pointed to the protected tracts of Af-Pak region, accommodatively untouched, undisturbed and flourishing under the protectorate of the Pakistani establishment.

While the “Axis of evil” classification in 2002 had a somewhat Chinese flavour in the form of Beijing supporting Iran and Iraq as a counterpoise to American influence and an overt lifeline given to the North Koreans — yet, the imperatives of global ‘Evil’ then were not clearly Chinese. Two decades later, with the Middle Eastern swathes retaken from ISIL (Al Qaida diminished), Saddam gone and North Korea no longer the face of “global terror”, the Chinese imprint has conjoined extremist pan-Islamism as the pet peeve of Washington DC. In this recalibrated melee of global outlook, the proverbial “Axis of evil” has metastasised the twin angularities of extremist religiosity and the Dragon’s fingerprints; herein Pakistan emerges yet again as amongst the foremost and most deserving contender for joining the “Axis of evil” (especially after the victorious march of its progenitor, Taliban, into Kabul).

Washington DC must be licking its wounds after its inglorious run from Afghanistan and pondering the “what if” question of Pakistan’s role and contribution to the situation that ultimately befell Afghanistan. Would the Taliban have survived the US onslaught for nearly 20 years in a landlocked country (with border countries other than Pakistan inimical to Taliban, like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China and Iran)? Wasn’t the Pakistani ‘establishment’ invaluable in supporting the Taliban to survive all these years? Isn’t it true that every US Military commander in-charge of Afghanistan had repeatedly blamed the Pakistanis of a dangerous double game? If the answer is “Yes” — then shouldn’t Pakistan now with its proven track record on terror and a further status as an unabashed Chinese minion, qualify as the leading candidate of the “Axis of evil”? The US is no longer obliged to swallow its pride and dignity in tolerating the Pakistani deceit as the need for Pakistani ‘hospitality’ in maintaining US assets in Afghanistan is now over.

Now even Afghanistan could emerge as a worthy candidate of “Axis of evil” if the Taliban end up delivering on their bigoted promises. Additionally and tactically, the Taliban has seemingly made deliberate overtures to the Chinese as a possible source of commercial, diplomatic and strategic cover, as is readily offered by the Chinese to any international pariah State like Pakistan, North Korea, Junta-led Myanmar and now, possibly, Taliban-led Afghanistan. Already in a telling augury of times, China has “welcomed” the Taliban and stated that “China respects the right of the Afghan people to independently determine their own destiny and is willing to continue to develop…friendly and cooperative relations with Afghanistan” — rare warmth in words that could even embarrass a serial-fabulist like Imran Khan who played a pivotal role in ensuring the Taliban phenomenon. If indeed, the ‘Emirate of Islamic Afghanistan’ does make a counter-intuitive alliance with Communist China (like the Beijing-Islamabad “all-weather friendship”), the Taliban-led Afghanistan could emerge as a worthy contender to the revised list of “Axis of evil”.

If only the US could get over its fixation over the wounded past of Iran-Iraq and acknowledge the nefarious role of its own derelict Arab Princelings (remember Khashoggi?) — new realities ought to force the lens on the new geographical continuum of the ultra-expansionist China, ultra-extremist Afghanistan and the ultra-untrustworthy Pakistan in a single-line arc to form the updated name, geography and face of ‘Evil’. New times, new entrants to the infamous “Axis of evil”.

(The writer, a military veteran, is a former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry. The views expressed are personal.)

Source: Contours of the new ‘Axis of evil’ (


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