What lies ahead for Afghanistan

June 13, 2021

The Taliban may try to reverse the gains in the direction of women’s rights

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President Ashraf Ghani’s reflection on Biden administration’s decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan by September 11, is a realistic as well as pedagogic projection regarding the future of Afghanistan and regional stability.

Ghani says the stability of Afghanistan depends on the attitude of the regional, local, and international stakeholders. The way they trade off stability and prosperity Afghanistan has only experienced in the recent decades is going to be important. In his recent statements, President Ghani has emphasised the importance of a US-Afghan bond, which he says must remain at the same pedestal in the future. He has also reposed his confidence in the capacity of the Afghan forces to defend their people in the absence of US security forces on Afghanistan’s soil.

Nevertheless, the situation on the ground testifies to pessimism and fear, instead of hope and promise. Recently, an increase has been noted in the violence. Around 570 Afghan civilians have been killed and 1,210 wounded in fresh fighting between Taliban and Afghan forces.

According to the United Nation this represents a 29 percent rise in human cost of the conflict over the previous year. Besides, in recent weeks, more than 100 Afghan security forces personnel have been killed because of direct fighting with the Taliban forces. This has become an everyday affair since the Americans have announced their withdrawal.

In the coming days, the weakness of the Afghan forces is going to be further exposed. Reuter has reported large scale Taliban attacks and their increasing control of key positions in Helmand province. They have adopted a multi-pronged strategy, ranging from surprise attacks on checkpoints to the occupation of strategic assets.

Attaullah Afghan, the head of Helmand’s provincial council, has admitted that hundreds of families have been displaced since the recent fighting started.

US military officials have also expressed concerns that show recognition on their part of the severity of the conflict that cannot be curtailed by the Afghan forces alone. Even the Pentagon, and many strategist around who have remained engaged in the Afghanistan crisis during the war on terror, accept the reality that Taliban power will grow in the post-withdrawal scenario and may threaten to seize control of Kabul.

The US withdrawal is not just the evacuation of the US and NATO troops but also the packing-up of a substantial logistical support to the Afghan forces. US engineers and international contractors used to regularly provide maintenance support to its planes and helicopters. They will withdraw with the US forces in increasing number that may change the ground reality and security conditions for the Afghan air force that has proven to be an effective threat against the Talban attacks and have evolved as a symbol of Afghan defensive autonomy and a success story.

Gen Milley, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that the US would keep on supporting the Afghan air force and will also provide them with logistics and maintenance. Reports coming from the outskirts of Kabul and rest of the areas which had been informally in the control of the Taliban do not show any promise for a peaceful future.

The US administration is justifying the exit on the basis of the hope that the war in Afghanistan is going to end. The question is whose war it is that is going to end? Is it the US war in Afghanistan or Afghanistan’s war characterised by a long-standing internal strife?

There is an iota of optimism in the US administration that the Afghan state has become a reality and that the Afghan government has the capacity to mobilise resources to deal with internal and external security challenges effectively. But stability in the recent decades materialised only because of the presence of US forces and their allies.

The absence of US from the Afghan soil would expose the weakness of Afghan government and strengthen the forces wishing to wrest power from it.

Recently, a discussion has started in the international media regarding the future of Afghanistan. A number of apprehensions were raised, ranging from regional stability to rise in drug trafficking. However, increasing attention has been given to human rights abuses in the post-US withdrawal Afghanistan.

A top US intelligence analyst has recently expressed his reservation that the Taliban may reverse the gains in the direction of women’s rights. Taliban embrace a restrictive approach; and it is expected that with their rise to power whatever has been achieved in the realm of women’s education, employment, social status, and health would be lost.

Some people are of the view that Afghans would resist such a reversal by the Taliban. However, it depends on the endogenous condition of the society. The Afghan society has not changed in its outlook. In rural areas, things have remained unchanged for centuries. The gains touted by the Afghan government with the help of US intervention are confined to a few posh areas of urban dwellings.

The writer is an assistant professor, Area Study Centre for North and South American and Africa, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He can be reached at tjamilqau.edu.pk

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