It is a collective moment of truth — to assess where Afghanistan stands today and where it is heading? Whether it would be a decisive lever for the development of the Afghan people? The present situation in Afghanistan is characterized by a deep institutional crisis including the responsibility of the US to uphold the inclusive democratic institutions which is the primacy at its every turn to find a peaceful solution to the decades-old conflict and to support the vulnerable Afghan people.
Breaking the pledges of the Doha peace deal of 2020, Afghanistan’s prospects for peace and development remain elusive and keep diminishing as the Taliban did not fulfil its obligations of adopting an inclusive government. Regrettably, the flawed Doha peace deal of 2020 brokered by the US drove geopolitical tensions to new heights. The onus is on the US as their discussion with the Taliban and the agreement that they reached did not represent the President Ashraf Ghani’s government and its people. The US carried out a discussion with the Taliban about the future of Afghanistan and reached an agreement in the absence of the people of Afghanistan. The US, a foreign country which is so far away from Afghanistan had no right to take decisions on behalf of the people of Afghanistan. The Afghan people have not chosen the US as their representative; the US is self-appointed in Afghanistan. The Taliban interlocutors who were located in Doha also included prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. The US which talks of proprietary, why do they have to talk to a delegation which consisted of terrorists whom they have jailed?
The US withdrew from Afghanistan without even informing its allies who were fighting along with the US in Afghanistan for over 20 years. And abruptly the US decided to withdraw from Afghanistan and no one had the clue that finally they are going to leave. The US handed over the reins of Afghanistan to the Taliban which is a terror outfit. The US stayed in Afghanistan for two decades and they could very well conduct an election-a prevention in action that is rooted in people’s elected government- this is because they had the military, they had the force, they had the strength- to elect a legitimate government which was the litmus test of the commitment of the US to the success of establishing an inclusive government to which countries and people would have willingly recognized but it did not happen. Behind these stances lies a gradual draining of hope and a turn towards despair as to who will reverse it, is a question to it. Why it did not happen? This is questionable? And the US withdrew; they left huge quantities of weapons in Afghanistan. The Afghan leadership which was there then without any other options available to them because of the sudden action by the US to withdraw, all flew from the country.
Conversely, impunity prevails and terrorism has been flourishing as the Taliban failed to deliver effective institutional arrangements since it took over Afghanistan in 2021. When the US fled from Afghanistan, the Taliban started formulating its governance setup in which the security of Kabul was undertaken by AnasHaqqani and the Taliban’s hardliners decided to settle in South-that is Kandahar. The structure of Taliban government is temporary. Obviously, they did not want to create any controversy or evoke the wrath of those not included in the cabinet. The Taliban designated the acting interior minister to Sirajuddin Haqqani who is the head of the Haqqani network- a terrorist organization.
Today, as the conflict lines shift between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the latter had the perception to run their proxy government in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover but it did not happen. Recent clashes between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been some of the worst on the contrary, the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) turned anti-Pakistan and they did not accede the request of Pakistan to help force TTP not to attack Pakistan. TTP, one realizes now, the Taliban have an alliance with the Al-Qaeda and TTP and the TTP, Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda may be aligned with each other which has not been mentioned anywhere as of now. The terrorism emanating from Afghanistan is a tragedy not only for the Afghan people but it became a threat to the stability of the region and a global security threat to the world as terrorism is benefiting from the crisis in Afghanistan, and several other crises around the world.
If one reflects on the instance of the Taliban’s support to the slain Al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Jawahiri’s presence in Kabul, it is quite clear both factions are in close connection with each other. There is no doubt, that these alliances are feeding the new threat of global terrorism. So, therefore, it is quite logical that TTP and Al-Qaeda together in the same line. In a nutshell, one needs to remember that Pakistan’s hope to rule Afghanistan by its proxy has failed miserably. Amid this backdrop, the border dispute between Afghanistan and Pakistan remains a major point of contention where Taliban’s repudiation to accept the Durand line as claimed by Pakistan devoid through the Pashtun-dominated tribal areas. The year 2022 was marked by the increased border disputes between Afghanistan and Pakistan resulting in unprovoked firing at civilian crossings.
Interest of Countries
China’s primary interest is that the terrorism from Afghanistan should not spill over to Xinjiang through Central Asia.
In January this year, the Taliban-led administration signed a 25 years contract with a Chinese company- Central Asia Petroleum and Gas Co (CAPEIC) investing 150 million USD to extract oil from the Amu Darya basin and develop an oil reserve in the country’s northern Sar-e Pul province even though it did not work when exploration and extraction contract of the Amu Darya oil field had been signed with the Chinese company in 2011 during the presidency of Hamid Karzai and the US‘s presence. What changes has China found in the setup or what agreements have been reached between China and the Taliban that they have decided to invest there now?
Very subtly, China has agreed on economic cooperation with the Taliban although the same mines for which the agreement has signed did not work with the previous government. Why did China do this?If China is economically supporting Afghanistan which appears to be the case with this agreement that has taken place, the other countries in the world especially the western countries and the EU countries which are talking about humanitarian aid and they would have invested in Afghanistan.
Emergence of ISIS (K) and other terrorist affiliates
The 31st report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team (ISIL, Al-Qaida) issued in February this year stated that Afghanistan remains the primary source of terrorist threat for Central and South Asia, with groups such as ISIL-K, Al-Qaeda and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan enjoying greater freedom of movement in the country owing to the absence of an effective Taliban security strategy. Further to it, the report said, “It originates from groups including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant– Khorasan (ISIL-K), Al-Qaeda, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, as well as ETIM/TIP (Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement/Turkistan Islamic Party), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Jihad Group, Khatiba Imam al-Bukhari, Khatiba al-Tawhidwal-Jihad, JamaatAnsarullah and others. These groups enjoy greater freedom of movement in Afghanistan owing to the absence of an effective Taliban security strategy”.
As per the UNAMA report of January 2023, Security incidents linked to the armed opposition and attacks by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K) continued. Claimed incidents included a suicide attack on the Russian Embassy on 5 September; an explosion in the Sekandar Mosque in Kunduz Province on 7 October; and several detonations of improvised explosive devices, including against a de facto security forces vehicle in Mehterlam City, Laghman Province, on 10 October, in which 44 civilians were wounded; and against a bus in Herat City on 27 October, in which 10 de facto security forces were killed or wounded.
In December, an attack targeted the Charge d’Affairs of the Pakistani embassy in Kabul. During the second week of December, ISIS-K attacked a hotel in Kabul, injuring several Chinese nationals. On January 1, 2023, ISIS-K targeted the entrance of the military section of Kabul airport, killing nearly two dozen individuals and injuring around 30. Finally, an ISIS-K attack on the entrance to the foreign ministry in Kabul on January 11, 2023, killed many people.
As far as terrorism in Afghanistan is concerned, ISIS is a challenge. Is somebody trying to replace the Taliban with ISIS? It is important to mention that the war on terrorism in Afghanistan beginning since the Russian invasion in 1979 till date has failed to defeat terrorist and extremist movements as so far, the US has only fought militarily against individual terrorist organizations. The end result to date has been the emergence of different factions from time to time-Northern alliance AL-Qaedathen came the Taliban and the ISIS- as a result, the terrorists have survived or mutated into different organizations with different names. Now it appears that there is a split in Taliban & there is a likely hood of ISIL replacing Taliban, at least the effort to that end seems to be on.Where does terrorism end in Afghanistan? Would terrorism end at all?
Iran & India
The interest of Iran in Afghanistan is most likely coinciding with India’s interest. What is Iran’s interest in Afghanistan? Iran’s interest is to see that the non-Pashtun Sunnis alone do not rule Afghanistan but it is ruled by both Sunnis and Shias belonging to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. If that sort of government is formed in Afghanistan, there will be relative peace because they cannot go against one another. Now India also wants the same structure, NSA. Doval’s visit to Moscow, if we notice-India’s objective also seems to be to see that there is an inclusive sort of governance brought in where the previous government, the representatives of previous factions, Taliban- they are all brought together with Russia and there is some sort of consensus which will automatically make the government more reliable and that would make the countries of the world recognized the Taliban government.
Russia and Central Asia
Russia and Central Asia are more worried about the inclusiveness of the government but somehow how or the other -Russia feels that the emerging threat because of the radicalization of Afghanistan by the Taliban including ISIS is a bigger concern to Russia. How that is going to affect both Central Asia and Russia? How to counter it? Both Russia and China probably are very much in support of inclusive governance. That’s the impression and if Russia and India joined together; if both countries start the initiative, importantly, India does not have a lot of money to invest in Afghanistan similar is the case as far as Russia is concerned. The money for the development of Afghanistan has to come from the west mostly. So if that is to happen, China has to lie low, Russia has to play down and India is a neutral sort of element there. If India and Russia together approach this problem to bring in an inclusive government in Afghanistan through dialogue with various stakeholders, that may be helpful.
Benefits from Afghanistan
The regional countries and major powers are interested in maintaining their presence in Afghanistan because of its geographical location which is central to Central Asia, Iran, and Pakistan and with China and Russia being just beyond Central Asia and India.
The US is looking for a base in Afghanistan and Pakistan but they have not succeeded. Indicating it needs to have a security presence in the Afghanistan area. The US may want to use that base for furthering its ambitions against Russia and China across Central Asia.
Challenges of Afghan People
The major challenges bring everyday suffering for Afghan people as the humanitarian needs are rising at an unprecedented rate. As per the UNICEF report, some 28.3 million Afghan people, more than 65 per cent of the population, are projected to require humanitarian assistance in 2023. The World Bank estimates that Afghanistan’s economic output has shrunk by 20 to 30 per cent since August 2021.
The prolonged and unresolved conflict, the heightened security threat posed by terrorism in all its dimensions and to add to this misery, the US froze about $7 billion of DAB funds at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York in February 2022.
There is no investment taking place and all unfinished projects were abandoned in 2021 and the Taliban is not getting funds. International agencies are reluctant to go to Afghanistan to carry out relief work for fear of terrorism.
The solution to Afghanistan lies in an inclusive government for which the regional countries and the major powers should discuss internally and arrive at an approach towards dealing with Afghanistan’s problem it should preferably be brokered by one country and considering the influence of various countries on Taliban and the regional countries, it may be better to employ India to impress upon the Taliban to follow the norm of an inclusive government. India needs to project the views of the regional countries and try and achieve for forming an inclusive government in Afghanistan and that should be the way forward to it.