The swift and relatively unopposed takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, in a matter of just days and not months as expected,has caught the United States and its Allies,as well as the international community, completely off-guard.It has led to a serious humanitarian crisis as countries scramble to get their own citizens, stranded in-country, out of harm’s way. An effort greatly complicated and impeded by the frenzy and sheer desperation of the tens of thousands of Afghans, who had worked with the Coalition,and are also attempting to flee to avoid retribution.
As Governments’attempt to make sense of this rather unsettling turn of events, it is crystal clear, none of them, including those regarded as the Taliban’s closest allies and benefactors, such as Pakistan, are quite clear as to the manner in which they will govern once in complete control. The horrors that it inflicted on its own citizens, especially women, in its earlier iteration are still fresh in the minds of most Afghans, despite two decades having passed. One hopes that they have learnt lessons from their earlier experience that led to their being treated as pariahs by the international community. If they have even a modicum of sense, they will not tread that familiar path this time around.
Off course, the Taliban may yet find itself in the midst of a civil war. Despite the Afghan National Army, though numerically superior, better equipped and trained, having collapsed without a fight, one cannot still discount the possibility that elements from within it may well resurface to take on the Taliban in the coming months and years. More so, if the Taliban behaves as it did in its earlier more obnoxious avatar. There are already reports that elements of the Afghan Air Force have flown out all serviceable aircraft to Uzbekistan as well as of growing anti- Taliban protests in the cities, including Kabul.
It also appears that anti-Taliban resistance is coalescing in the Panjshir Valley,100 Kms North East of Kabul, which remains free of Taliban occupation. Vice President Amrullah Saleh, of the deposed democratically elected Government, who has now appointed himself President, along with Ahmad Massoud, son of the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, the legendary resistance fighter who kept the Soviets and the Taliban at bay before being assassinated by the Al Quaeda, are spearheading this resistance movement. As to whether they will succeed in warding off a resurgent Taliban is a question that few can answer at the present time, and time alone will tell.
Having been way off target as to how the situation would unfurl in Afghanistan has not constrained the veritable army of analysts from holding forth on issues as diverse as the reasons leading to the collapse of the Afghan Army,the errors made by the United States in its rush to leave and as to why India should not have withdrawn its diplomatic staff. One common thread that runs through most assessments is that the United States has been defeated and can no longer be trusted, after having seen the manner in which it abandoned those who had collaborated with its forces.
The fact of the matter is that American defeat was preordained. It lost the plot the moment President George W Bush attacked Iraq in March 2003 without first destroying the Taliban and consolidating America’s hold on Afghanistan. The resulting loss of momentum, along with their unwillingness to hold Pakistan to account for its unprincipled and immoral support for the Taliban, set the stage for an ignominious end to this venture. That they did not use the death of Osama Bin Laden to disengage and withdraw while claiming victory, suggests that entrenched elements within the Administration, Military and the Corporates, profiting from the conflict, held sway over US policy formulation.A phenomenon, fairly common in conflict zones, which we can also see play out here in the North East and Jammu and Kashmir as well.
It also seems a little naïve to see the Americans as untrustworthy for having abandoned Afghanistan to its fate. All nations act in what they perceive to be in their own best interests and the rest is sheer hyperbole. We have also recently learnt this to our cost in Eastern Ladakh. As for collaborators, history is replete with examples of them flourishing as long as their benefactors were around, only to be sacrificed like pawns on a chessboard once the reality of defeat sets in, this case being no different. In any case one cannot visualise the American Government putting the lives of its soldiers at risk to evacuate Afghans however supportive or helpful they may have been in the past.This may seem morally reprehensible, but then as the legendary statesman and diplomat, Otto von Bismarck,so aptly wrote “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable- the art of the next best.”
In our context, there are many here hyperventilating over the possibility that with Pakistan in control of the Taliban, we face a heightened threat to Fortress Kashmir. Not only is it unlikely that the Taliban will actually risk international opprobrium by supporting Pakistan’s nefarious designs against us.More importantly, even at the height of the insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir, foreign militants, Afghanis or otherwise, posed little threat to our security establishment. That is unlikely to change, though one would not be surprised if the security establishment milks the perceived threat to bolster their own influence further.
As for Pakistan, realization will soon dawn that strategic space is an outmoded concept, especially as large-scale conventional operations are unlikely in any conflict between the nuclear armed neighbours. In addition, if the situation in Afghanistan does not stabilise quickly, they will have to deal with the added burden of refugees in their midst, in search of a safe haven. An issue that has already impacted the social and financial cohesion of the country.
Finally, we must accept the fact that there is little we can do to influence matters there, which suggests that evacuation of our diplomatic staff from there was justified given the prevailing situation. It is in our interest to just wait and watch as to how the situation plays out in Afghanistan over the coming months, while simultaneously keeping our communication channels open with both the Taliban and the factions that oppose it.