If any sanctions are clamped by America and NATO countries, the Taliban will have no choice but to resort to extreme measures
How surreal it seems. The military might of a proportion that one can only dream about or imagine threw in the towel against the feared Taliban. When they swept the entire country like a whirlwind, the Afghan government with its dyed-in-the-wool Western crony Ashraf Ghani in the saddle, melted away like a lump of butter put in a hot pan on a blazing stove.
When the Taliban were taking city after city, gloom and apprehension started casting their shadows among everyone other than the Taliban themselves. Analysts and policy makers could hardly believe their eyes. After incurring 2,300 fatalities and its 20,000 military personnel having got wounded, at least half a million Afghans, government forces, Taliban fighters and civilians were killed or injured, proves that 20 years of US occupation hasn’t done any good to either Afghanistan or the US, no matter what gauge or standard is employed to ascertain the measure of change.
The measure of harm done to Afghanistan is immense. American prestige as a hyper power got an excruciating hit. Washington is said to have spent close to $ I trillion on the war, making it yet another Vietnam for itself. The writer, Carter Malkasian, asks a pertinent question in his article: How the Good War Went Bad. What was the business left for the Americans in the region once they had managed to kill Osama bin Laden in 2011? They could draw down there and then. To their own hard luck, they opted to stay on to repeat the course of history. Because Americans don’t value history, they don’t learn from it. Ignorance of the course of history and indifference to the lessons, learnt from it end up in disaster. Americans made one mistake after the other.
Excluding the Taliban from the post-invasion (2001) political arrangement was the first mistake of the Bush administration. The Taliban were willing to lay down their arms and recognise Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan’s legitimate leader. But Donald Rumsfeld, then secretary of defence, shot down the deal in a press conference. Between 2002 and 2004, the Talban leadership tried several times to reach out to Karzai in a bid to participate in the political process. Karzai himself seemed amenable and brought up these overtures to the US officials but was snubbed yet again by the Bush administration.
According to several analysts, the second mistake of Bush and his acolytes was their procrastination in building up the Afghan security forces. In the next five years only 26,000 Afghan army soldiers had been trained. These soldiers could not deliver. The morale and will to fight were badly missing. In the end they quit without giving the Taliban a semblance of a fight.
The Afghan government, stigmatised as a stooge of the foreign powers, could not inspire courage or will to put up a fight. In 2015, a survey of 1,657 police officers was conducted in 11 provinces by the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies. It revealed that just 11 percent of them had joined the force specifically to fight the Taliban. The rest had come to earn a living. They lacked motivation.
The battle-hardened Taliban, despite their small numbers, always proved superior fighters to the Afghan army (trained by Americans and equipped with modern arms and ammunition). Now the arsenal worth millions of dollars left behind by the American/ NATO forces has been seized by the Taliban. War booty in the form of hard currency too is reported to be quite substantial. Thus, the Taliban are not short of resources.
Many of us entertained some concerns about the Taliban when their victory looked imminent. Their exclusionary interpretation of Islam and employment of coercive methods to promulgate their version of shariah were the most worrying of those concerns. The fate of women under Taliban, the state of the freedom of the press and their treatment of the minorities, which include the Hazara community, triggered alarm among many.
What will become of those who had worked with the foreign powers in various capacities, was yet another niggling question. It was not farfetched to imagine that the Taliban will make an example of them. Lastly, the fear about Afghanistan turning into a sanctuary as well as a breeding ground for terrorist groups like Al Qaida sent tremors among the Western nations, including the US.
After entering Kabul, the Taliban have constantly tried to dispel such doubts by holding press conferences and media talks. Women, they have said, will be allowed to work and get education. Freedom of the press will be ensured. People will not be coerced into observing religious rituals. Minorities and divergent sectarian groups will not be harmed just because they have a different faith or sectarian orientation. All ethnic, lingual, and tribal groups and factions would get their share in the government. The Afghan soil will not be allowed to be used against any neighbouring country.
They have also declared general amnesty. All these overtures signify that they are different from the Taliban who ruled Afghanistan previously.
Hopefully, the Taliban leadership will do what they are saying. All hopes, however, must not be attached to the Taliban. A huge responsibility lies on the shoulders of big powers. If sanctions are clamped by America and NATO countries, the Taliban will have no choice but to resort to extreme measures. An Afghanistan under Taliban rule might discover that its interests are better served by its neighbours, primarily China, Russia and Iran. The Western powers’ loss will then be great. American influence will peter out. The Talban are a political reality howsoever unpalatable for some. In my next column I will analyse the purported role of Pakistan in Taliban’s success.
The writer is a professional historian and an author.
He can be reached at tk393cam.ac.uk