Afghanistan has often been referred to as the “Graveyard of Empires and Kings”. Of these Taliban and its predecessor and continuum in Mujahedeen gleefully claimed the victory over the mighty Americans on August 15 – the day India was celebrating her independence at 75.
Earlier the Afghans had consigned the British and the Soviets to the same fate. This time post two decades and over 2-3 trillion dollars and the perishing of thousands of Americans and Afghans, the Americans have achieved a unique but ignominious feat of making a full circle from Taliban to Taliban.
The US had to go but this indeed can be simply termed as a comedy of errors. Even the Taliban were not ready for the speed with which the Ashraf Ghani fled and his government fell as the beleaguered Americans somehow managed to leave dashing the hopes of a large number of Afghans who had begun to believe in the “Dream Merchants”. But dreams got shattered fast.
So-called Taliban 2.0 is no doubt media savvy and made the right noises and perhaps wants to see progressive development within the confines of Sharia in the Islamic Emirate. It is no doubt a parody of paradox.
The Afghans, despite the preceding corrupt regime, preferred liberty, especially the women who had become used to an alternative lifestyle ensconced with the freedom to choose and lead their life as they wished and are going to be the most affected if the statements of some of Taliban spokesmen and some action on display indicate.
The women are not planning to disenfranchise themselves simply out of fear. They are protesting despite restrictions hoping the international community will keep that as a primary redline for the Taliban. That will be a difficult choice for the new government.
Degrading economy, increasing pandemic, and depleting financial resources need the international effort and assistance which is again predicated on Taliban behaving as claimed by them to align with the western expectations.
The human rights vs humanitarian assistance debate has already begun. UAE and Qatar and Iran and Saudi Arabia and China have already come to the rescue of the unfortunate Afghans who have only suffered the power games and plight in the past four decades and are hankering for peace even under the Taliban.
Qatar has been the main interlocutor of the Taliban for nearly a decade now has been at the forefront to help mediate and reduce the impact of a hard landing for the people of Afghanistan.
UN Secretary-General has been making calls to avert the humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan and is hoping that September 13 meeting will yield some relief for the hapless people.
The role of Pakistan remains predominant as it has successfully played the Taliban card with all major powers like the US, China, and Russia eating out of its hands.
It has been instrumental in the formation of the Taliban government by reining in its protégé in US-designated terrorist Haqqani group- whose leader Sirajuddin Haqqani is the new Interior Minister, controls Kabul and will appoint the Governors.
It has earlier provided military-technical and strategic assistance including reportedly funneling the extremist fighter groups into Afghanistan to support the Taliban while entertaining and misleading the Americans since it was disenchanted by Biden not calling up Taliban Khan.
After all Pathan’s pride can’t be compromised. Its ISI Chief laid his camp in Kabul to iron out differences and is also talking to his counterparts from the UK, US and hosted the intelligence chiefs of China, Russia, and other Central Asian nations.
But not all Afghans across the Durand line approve of Pakistani excessive indulgence and popular discontent is brewing against it as most accuse it of interference in their internal affairs.
They also are asking a valid question that if Islamabad or Rawalpindi outfits love the Taliban so much, why not institute Talibanization in Pakistan. This in due course may be a major challenge for ordinarily modernized people of the Islamic Republic.
Another major issue for the Taliban will be to face the reality of powerful yet deceitful Al Qaeda and ISIS-Khorasan as well as the patronizing LET (Lashkar e Taiba) and JeM (Jaish e Mohamed) – the key Pakistani terror organizations freely operating in the territory.
While the creamy layer of Taliban does claim not to allow terrorism against any country from its territory how will it ensure, and handle is a very big question? Partners in crime will eventually criminalize.
It is also a big red line for the international community which naively expects the Taliban to ensure compliance. Any fallout of terrorists is bound to hurt central and South Asia.
India has suffered from it for four decades as Islamabad not only followed a zero-sum game but also actively unleashed the terror groups including those from Taliban factions onto Indian borders as part of its foreign and security policy.
Radicalization can have far-reaching consequences and the South Asian countries, many of whom have rabid sleeping cells, must start worrying and taking preventive action before it is too late.
While many may debate the de facto or de jure recognition of Taliban by the divided international community but the “Doha Agreement” set in motion this very paradox.
Taliban is also caught between a rock and a hard place. Although no one seems to be in a hurry to recognize the Taliban government, it remains to be seen who bells the cat first and how the geopolitics is predicated on geo-economics going forward.
First Published in Kharbarhub On Taliban and its Limitations This Time Round on September 15, 2021
Read another piece on instability in Afghanistan by Anil Trigunayat titled Changing Equations in Afghanistan in IMPRI Insights
Read another piece on the role of Quad by Anil Trigunayat titled On Afghanistan & China-Pakistan, Is Quad Becoming a Lost Cause? in IMPRI Insights
About the Author
Anil Trigunayat, former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta.