US pullout from Afghanistan. What holds the future of the region?
In April 2021, president Joe Biden announced a full withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, thus bringing to end the country’s longest war, spanning across two decades and at an expense of over $140 billion of taxpayers money.
The US had two objectives in mind when they attacked Afghanistan. One, to destroy the Al Quida and the other, to kill the mastermind behind the ghastly 9/11 twin tower attack on the United States soil. By 2011, both their objectives were met. Al Quida was dessimated and Osama Bin Laden was taken out. Now the US troops were actually fighting the Taliban, who at that time, was protecting Al Quida and Laden on Afghan ground, to perpetrate terrorist attacks across the globe in the name of ‘jihad’.
The Taliban are actually an Afghan faction who at that time ruled Afghanistan and post 9/11, they refused to hand over the Al Qaida members to the United States to serve justice. From 1996 up until 2001, the US had no qualms about the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Even though some countries like India shared it’s concern about the ‘jihadi’ politics of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the world body (favoring Pakistan) largely turned a blind eye to the terrorism then perpetrated by the Pakistan and Afghan militants in Kashmir.
After fighting for virttually another decade post 2011, the United States now understood that they are staying and fighting a futile war with the Taliban forces in the quest for making Afghanistan a ‘democratic’ state. The puppet regime put by the US in 2004 in the face of Hamid Karzai (and currently Ashraf Ghani) was weak from the very begining and remained weak till date. The Afghan forces of the current government is unable to put any resistance against the Talibans who have already captured 70% of the territory in Afghanistan.
Witnessing the futility, the US declared their intension to vacate the Afghan ground and invited the Talibans to have a talk about the future of Afghanistan post US withdrawal of forces. The US was (rightfully) afraid of bloody civil war in Afghanistan and hence wanted a face saving exit with some written assurance that the factions would not engage into an in-fighting resulting civilian casualties.
In a February 2020 agreement with the Taliban, the US Administration committed to withdraw military forces by May 2021, in return for which the Taliban committed to preventing other groups, including Al Qaeda, from using Afghan soil to recruit, train, or fundraise toward activities that threaten the United States or its allies. However, when the actual official rounds of peace negotiation talks started taking place after August 2020, in Doha (Quatar), the current Afghan government was not in the picture. The Talibans were relectant to talk with the current government of Afghanistan which many observers believe to throw a spanner in the peace settlement dialog and an possibility of intra-faction war.
As part of the peace process, two peace treaties have been signed so far. On September 22, 2016, the first treaty was signed between the Afghan government and the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin militant group. The second peace treaty was signed between the U.S. and the Taliban on February 29, 2020, which called for the (a) reduction of violence, (b)negotiations within Afghanistan, and (c) counter-terrorism guarantees within the framework of the US-Taliban Peace Agreement negotiations upon the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan within 14 months if the Taliban upheld the terms of the agreement
There are currently multi-party negotiations ongoing with every country wants a stake in the peace talks. Pakistan, which has land border with the Afghanistan, wants to get involved in the dialog. It also is trying to include its’ ‘all weather friend’, China in the initiative. Then there is Turkey, Russia and middle wastern countries all have their own agenda. Recently, after keeping distance from the Taliban, India, which previously had an idealistic approach in foreign affairs, now changed its’ mind to have talks with the Taliban faction which is not controlled by Pakistan. This change in foreign policy led Indian Foreign Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar paid not one but two visits to Doha witin a week which raised many eyebrows in international political circle.
As always, the Taliban are not in favor of dialog with the current Afghan government. The Taliban though talking about a peaceful transition, is not actually in the mood for it. With US having the watch in their hand, its the Taliban who has the ‘time’. They know that either way, the US is unable to sustain their troops further to guard the Ashraf Ghani government and its forces. The Afghan government also realize the ground situation. They are all in for the talks but is constantly ignored by the Taliban. With time ticking on, the US Administration has little to offer to the Afghan government. As the deadline was set for final withdrawal, the land is now open for bitter clash among the Taliban and Afghan National Army.
One thing is coming out certain that the world body has realized that the weak Afghan government would unable to withhold the Taliban for long. To some extent, the Taliban have support of the general population of Afghanistan otherwise it would have been quite hard for them to sustain for such long war. The US has also realized that there is no point to fight the Taliban who are in any way, the sons of the soil. What the world body is looking is that a somewhat ‘reformed’ Taliban regime comes to power.
The name Taliban comes from the Pustun word ‘Talib’ meaning ‘student’. When coming to power in 1996, they enforced a strict interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law. During 1996 – 2001, the Taliban and their allies committed massacres against Afghan civilians, denied UN food supplies to 160,000 starving civilians and conducted a policy of scorched earth, burning vast areas of fertile land and destroying tens of thousands of homes. They were also well known iconoclast. The discrimination among religious lines, even to the extent of sects was rampant. The destruction of Bamyan Buddha statue, the largest Buddha statue in the world was done by the very same Taliban during their rule.
The Taliban were also notorious in harboring terrorism in the name of jihad. Then at that time, they were very friendly with Pakistan, who observing their penchant towards creating terrorism in the name of religion, decided to use them to spread further unrest in the Kashmir valley of India. Hordes of Afghan terrorists disguised as local militants poured into Kashmir in the middle 90s. Also, was the famous case of hijack of IC 814 by the Pakistani terrorist which made it landed at the airport of Kandahar, in Afghanistan. The Taliban aided and abetted the terrorist and arm-twisted the then Indian government to return them three dreaded Pakistani terrorists, one of whom is the infamous Masood Azhar, who then continued to create terrorism in India and was behind many terror attacks in Indian soil killing civilians.
So, when the future of Afghanistan lies in Taliban’s hand, the past deeds of Taliban made many world bodies remember the atrocities created by them during the 90s era. So will the mideaval period return when the Taliban come to rule in Afghanistan? That is the very concern of the US and other countries which made them wary of favoring the regime.
Can Taliban create the same ruccus? Chances are thin. The age of internet and social media, that of more awareness towards terrorism, the western countries and US allies would have a very different attitude and tolarence level towards these activities. The Talibans themselves know that. Being out from power for two decades made them realize the geo-political tolarence of the global authorities towards terrorism in the name of jihad. Even the countries (mostly middle east) who then supported the Taliban rule would not allow them to do what they did before. Sure there will be Shariya rule but not to the extent of fiddling other countries.
That is the very same reason the Taliban spokesperson called a formal press meet and emphatically stated that Taliban will not be a part of any foreign intervention in India and neither it will support the same. This is to counter some Pakistani political narratives doing rounds in the media that Pakistan will again gain an upper-hand once Taliban is back in power. Back then Pakistan financially supported the Taliban but now the country is neck deep in debt and is unable to sustain itself if the world powers are not providing financial support. Also, today’s India is racing among economic and military superpower, something that was unfathomable in the mid nineties.
So both geo-political equation and economic consideration has made Taliban realized that it is unsustainable to harbor any sort of terrorism in their soil neither is is a good decision to go after any ethnic warfare. The Talibans of today keeps laptops in their hands (instead of AK47) when they goes around holding talks with foreign dignitaries. Things have also changed the internal rule of Taliban. They have realized the futility of listening to instigations and losing the recognitation of the world powers.
Any government need money to sustain and so will be the Talibans. Unless foreign aid pouring, they themselves will not be able to hold themslves very long. So that is one of the reason behind the peace treaty with the US Administration. Afghanistan is a land locked country, meaning their is no reach to maritime resources and is dependant on its neighbors for transit. The US has already asked military base in Pakistan to monitor the Taliban while ensuring that Pakistan does not threat Afghanistan of the transit access for sustainance. India is also actively helping Afghanistan in building infrastructure in the war torn country. So it is in Taliban’s interest to keep India engaged in the infrastructure assistance in country.
India also helped the Afghan students free entry and schooling in reputed Indian colleges and other institutions. This has gained a soft power towards the Afghan nationals. The Afghans who got teaching in India’s premier institutes and organizations are bound to have a positive mental effect for India which was absent in the last century. In helping the Afghans both economically and cognitively, has helped India to gain an effective mindset advantage of India in the past two decades. So, of this day and age, India would be regarded as an important partner of Afghanistan rather than an enemy in the minds of the Talibans also.
Whatever the future holds for Afghanistan, one thing seems certain. The ruling elites of future Afghanistan would not want to return to the medieval foreign relations whosoever rules the roost. Almost all scenario, be it economic, social or political, the whole world witnessed a massive change and even the staunch religious mindset governments are re-looking their internal and foreign policies to keep up the pace. It is in the hands of the Talibs to move back or front. However, one thing is certain, they have witnessed the change and are keen to shape up their politics based upon the global perception of realignment of values.