Future Of Afghanistan

The Taliban have once again captured the power in Afghanistan. In one of the swiftest operations the Taliban took control of all major cities including Kabul within a ten-days period. This feat has however, put them in a tight bind on whether to continue with their old traits or try to portray a new picture of the Taliban, which has moved along with the world in the last 20 years and one which is more pragmatic and tolerant and most of all which is politically savvy not violence prone.

A widely held belief is that the Taliban would like to be seen as more pragmatic and inclusive force rather than the one, which brutally ruled Afghanistan earlier. Whatsoever be the case, it would be reckoned by the group’s attitudes towards jihadists and other militants present in Afghanistan, ethnic and religious minorities, women and governance.

Future Government

It has been a week since the Taliban captured the national capital but they are yet to announce any government and its structure. This has led to speculations that intense political activities are going on behind the scenes and the world is waiting with bated breath to know the outcome. In the meantime Taliban have tried to calm concerns about their rule by urging women to join a government that has yet to be formed, declaring an amnesty for people employed by the former government or US and other foreign forces. To assuage these feelings, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in May that the group, once in power, would write laws to ensure the participation of women in public life.

However, reports from Kabul indicate that the former president Hamid Karzai and former minister of external affairs Abdullah Abdullah are still present in the city. This leads credence to the fact that any future government might be based on Islamic foundations but it might be an amalgamation of Islamic and liberal democratic principles.

ALSO READ: Taliban In Frame, Afghanistan In Flames

Karzai and Taliban’s current supremo Haibatullah Akhundzade are relatives and belong to the Popalzai tribe, tracing their lineage to the Durrani clan. So in a possible scenario Haibatullah might lead the Islamic Council, wielding control and power, as in the past and Karzai might be named as the president or prime minister of the new government, in which Abdullah Abdullah might also be included. In addition, non-Taliban leaders like Hizb-i Islami’s Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and former deputy president Karim Khalili might also be included in the new setup.

Further, we also have to take into consideration the rise of young blood amongst the Taliban ranks. Figures such as Mulla Yaqoob, son of former Taliban supremo Mulla Umar now leads its military branch and is credited with the swift capture of power in the country with less bloodshed. This young generation is tech and media savvy, many Taliban leaders now announce the latest developments on Twitter. Coupled with this the Taliban delegation, which took part in the Doha talks, has experienced exposure to the liberal views and they might be more amenable to a not strictly Islamic form of government. As far as the role of Taliban is concerned, they were accepted as an important political force when the former American president invited them to the Doha Talks, lending credence to them as a group, which needs to be engaged with for any feasible solution of the on-going war.

Afghanistan’s Mineral Wealth

The Taliban’s resurgence has once again brought renewed focus on Afghanistan’s vast untapped mineral wealth and resources that could transform its economic prospects if developed judiciously. Some conspiracy theories circulated earlier, which claimed that behind the on-going military campaign in Afghanistan, the American experts were also exploring the mineral deposits in Afghanistan.

Lending credence to these theories, CNN on 17 Aug. carried a story, which said that Afghanistan possesses mineral deposits worth nearly $1 trillion. Iron, copper and gold deposits are scattered across provinces. There are also rare earth minerals and, perhaps most importantly, what could be one of the world’s biggest deposits of lithium — an essential but scarce component in rechargeable batteries and other technologies vital to tackling the climate crisis.

Said Mirzad former head of the Afghanistan Geological Survey told Science magazine in 2010 that if Afghanistan has a few years of calm, allowing the development of its mineral resources, it could become one of the richest countries in the region within a decade.

Three countries, which have been wooing the Taliban based on this assessment, are Iran, China and India. All of them could provide the expertise, infrastructure and labour force for the further prospecting, mining and processing of these minerals.

Iran and China have been early starters in this regard. Iran has been hosting Taliban delegations to Teheran since last year and in late July 2021, before the recent developments, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with a delegation led by the head of the Afghan Taliban political committee Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Tianjin.

India on its part began engaging with the Taliban leaders in Doha since September 2020 when the intra-Afghan dialogue began even as New Delhi refused to spell out its policy clearly and said it continues to engage with “all stakeholders”.

Afghan Psyche

Before commenting on the future of Afghanistan, we have to understand the geographic location, socio-cultural fabric and the internal forces, besides the Afghan psyche, all of which have always managed to play a key role in any political activity in the country.

The tribal Pashtun population of Afghanistan, which approximately is 42% has always enjoyed political influence both at the local and national stage. The Pashtun by virtue of being the largest tribe in the south and east has always dominated the national politics of Afghanistan, since the time of Ahmad Shah Durrani (1722-72).

Moreover, the central authority in Kabul has always governed the country through a loosely federal structure. Which means that the central law was more or less observed in major cities and some smaller cities, but at the district and village level the tribal writ was imposed with a heavy hand.

ALSO READ: Understanding The Resurgent Taliban

Added to this is the overall Afghan psyche, which has always remained fiercely independent and loyal to its tribal and clan ties besides being devout Muslims. To control them through a loose federal system remains the only wise choice, so as to let the tribal and clan ties continue and dominate the rural population but the major decisions are taken by the powers in the big cities.

This might be one of the reasons, which is forcing Taliban to evolve a government, which rules with an iron fist from the centre but at the village and district level the local tribes manage their affairs in their own style whilst participating in the development of the rural areas and the country as a whole.

‘Taliban Says Nice Things On TV, Do The Opposite On Ground’

Nasima Ahmadi, 32, a Hazara Afghan from Mazar-i-Sharif came to Delhi when her city was surrounded by Taliban gunmen last month. Ahmadi says she cannot think of a dignified life under Taliban rule

I belong to Shia Hazara community in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. Last month, the city was surrounded by Taliban gunmen and they were close to capture it. Desperate to leave Mazar-i-Sharif before the violence reached us, we applied for Indian medical visa. While I manage to bring my two children and in-laws here to Delhi, my own parents are still there and I fear for them.

In the one month that I am here in Bhogal (South Delhi) the situation is completely changed in Afghanistan. Of whatever little I have spoken to my family back in Afghanistan, the situation is not what the TV channels are showing. The Taliban militia forcibly enter into people’s houses at night, and conduct ruthless searches… I wonder what they are looking for. They also take away young girls with them at gunpoint and these women are never heard of again. One of my own uncles has been killed by the Taliban.

On TV, the Taliban leaders say girls can go to schools and study, they can take up a job, there are no restrictions… this and that. But they are telling blatant lies. Girls are not allowed to go to school, nor work. And our community (Shia Hazaras) faces the harshest persecution.

Our only crime is that we belong to the Hazara community. Can you imagine belonging to a community being a crime in any other part of the world? We cannot go to Afghanistan now; Hazaras cannot think of a life under Taliban rule.

ALSO READ: ‘Talibans Are Savage, I Fear For My Family In Afghanistan’

When the Taliban was in power last time in the late 1990s and we were in Afghanistan, the situation was horrible. The Taliban barred schooling for women. That is why I couldn’t get a proper education. That is why I always wanted to provide good education to my children. After the Taliban was rooted out of power, the situation started to improve and life got better for the common man. Now when the barbarians are back in power, the horror has returned to Afghanistan.

There is nothing worse than having forced to leave one’s homeland. We had constructed a new house recently but had to leave everything behind. We could only bring our savings and some clothes. We don’t know now if the house is abandoned. What keeps us going is our resolve to find a better life for our children.

There are only two more months before our visa expires, and we have been going to various embassies in New Delhi for help and asylum. We haven’t been able to get any help so far though. Everyone gives us an email id and asks us to send our details, problem and why we want a visa. I recently went to the American Embassy for help too. We are trying to get a visa so we can go to the US.

My husband is employed in Dubai. So I have to do the running around here to find a safe shelter for my children and family. If nothing happens in the next two months that our visa for India holds, I do not know what shall be our status. I request everyone reading this to help the displaced Afghans.

(The picture is representational as Ahmadi declined to share her photograph for safety reasons)

As Told To Mamta Sharma

Taliban In Frame, Afghanistan In Flames, India In Firing Range

Buzkashi, the national game of the people of Afghanistan, has horsemen competing to possess the headless body of a goat. In one of the world’s most enduring ironies, the country has itself become the goat, being dragged and tossed around. A horrified world watches as an elected government is losing out to the Taliban, a group of women-hating men poised to take control.

They have rendered impotent and helpless the outsiders, all powerful, that have been either backing them diplomatically and militarily, or opposing them meekly, with wordy resolutions.

It happened to the British and the Russians and now, it is the Americans. The unprecedented turn of events has yet again shown that Afghanistan cannot be controlled from outside. Even before the United States ends its longest war by this month-end, the Taliban are knocking at the gates of Kabul, poised to win this round of what has been gamely called the “Great Game”.

The Game’s original players, erstwhile imperial powers Britain and Russia, now pale shadows of themselves, are riding piggy-back on the United States and China respectively. As the US departs, yet dominates the global discourse, the ascending player is China. Sadly, the global line-up the two lead, guarantees more violence and bloodshed for the Afghan people.

This round unfolds without a political solution that the US naively sought, signing a deeply flawed Doha Agreement of February 2020. It gave the Taliban primacy and legitimacy, without securing an end to the conflict and certainly, to terrorism. Now, since everybody is talking, the world is witnessing a collective shedding of crocodile tears.

The only thing that seems certain is prolonged violence. A UN report says 6,000 fighters of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are fighting alongside the Afghan Taliban and along with thousands of ‘volunteers’ from many countries. The Pentagon has woken up to the presence of “terrorist safe havens” on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Time will tell who has played what role and why.

All this does remind of the past – except that the world’s most powerful nation, having conceded ground, both territorially and tactically, is left conducting aerial operations from outside. Signals from Washington, as it licks its wounds worse than in Vietnam of the 1970s, are that this may not continue after August 30. The Afghans will be left on their own – abandoned to their bloody fate.

ALSO READ: A Resurgent Taliban In India’s Backyard

If this sounds like a diatribe, well, it is, against all those who had begun with lofty ideas at the 2001 Bonn Conference to facilitate a moderate regime in Kabul. Two decades hence, a war-weary Joe Biden confirms what George Bush Jr. said in 2002, that “nation building” was never the aim in Afghanistan. The Afghans, then, have a valid question: why are/were they there?

India was not alone in 2003, when its External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha lobbied with the US against a military campaign in Iraq. But they persisted, with a patently false excuse that Saddam Husain had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) which were never found. Super-confident after removing the Taliban from Kabul in response to 9/11, Bush Jr. needed to avenge his father’s humiliation at not being re-elected America’s President.

The Iraq campaign badly distracted Afghanistan’s. Its consequences are now clearly visible. Eighteen years hence, by end-2021, the US military will quit Iraq. Meanwhile, in addition to Al Qaida, another Frankestein has been created in the Islamic State (IS).

Again, India was not alone when its then National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon pleaded against the US announcing a firm date to withdraw from Afghanistan. The Pakistan-hosted Taliban would merely “sit out”, Menon had warned. That, and worse has happened since Donald Trump struck a deal with yesterday’s ‘terrorists’ and ‘insurgents’, bypassing the US-supported and US-dependent government in Kabul. That hit the credibility of all those in the world community who supported the “global war on terror” in Afghanistan.

To put it bluntly, this is America’s hubris. Its failure to see where the Taliban, ousted from Kabul, had moved to was compounded by failure/unwillingness to touch them. It was satisfied getting Osama Bin Laden. It kept deluding itself, and the world, in seeking to separate the ‘good’ Taliban from the ‘bad’. To cover up its own failure at the eleventh hour, it expected everyone else to seek an “Afghan-led, Afghan owned” political solution. Nobody asked why the Taliban would want it.

This is a lesson for Big Powers: you can light a fire in any corner of the world, but cannot douse it. Taliban became ‘good’ since they are not supposed to have ambitions outside of Afghanistan. But what about Al Qaida and the IS? Will the Big powers return to Afghanistan, Iraq or any other place if they perceive a new global threat? Someone has aptly said that those who do not learn from past mistakes are doomed to repeat them.

Of the others, if China is ambitious in Afghanistan, Russia and Iran are being plain opportunistic. The hapless Central Asians must seek American, Chinese or Russian help to fend off a resurgence in Islamist extremism at home that a Taliban triumph guarantees.

India is again on the wrong side, like it was when the Russians left and now, when the Americans are leaving. It invested three billion dollars and earned goodwill. Will it now be India’s fate to “do more” in Afghanistan at the US’s behest, to compete with China and Pakistan?

That, of course, will depend upon how the Kabul-Delhi equations develop. A furious debate has ensued if India should talk to the Taliban and whether Taliban are interested in talking to the Indians, when they have support of India’s regional adversaries. Otherwise supportive of the present government, Vivek Katju, an old Af-Pak hand and envoy to Kabul, calls it “policy paralysis”.

ALSO READ: Four Lakh Displaced As Taliban Advances

Conventional wisdom is that a ‘friendly’ government in Kabul would mark Pakistan’s victory. But it will prove Pyrrhic, what with flow of refugees, drugs and arms. It successfully hoodwinked the West while benefiting from them militarily and materially, nurtured the Taliban and calibrated their across–the-border operations and backed them in negotiations. Islamabad’s more important move, however, is effectively shifting a part of its allegiance from West to China.

Not a factor before, China is now the region’s strongest power-player, with global reach. Beijing has embraced the Taliban diplomatically and as reports indicate, also militarily. It is poised to extend the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan. China gains greater access to the Indian Ocean and to the Gulf, through Iran. Not just geopolitics, geo-economics is also at work.

Now, the fast-shifting ground situation. The Taliban have played their military card commendably by seeking to eliminate the re-emergence of the Northern Alliance that had helped the US remove them from Kabul in 2001. They have captured huge territory and some of the provincial capitals from Herat in the west to Badakhshan in the north and closed the gates for any external intervention on the ground.

But it’s not going to be easy. Embedded in their campaign are seeds of resistance from ethnic minorities who will fight for sheer survival, and not just against Pashtun domination. It’s life-and-death for the Uzbeks and Tajiks, who are in significant numbers and the Hazaras who, as Shias, are traditional Pashtun targets. Battles are likely to be fought for long for control of the cities and the countryside.

It is almost certain that a government, if born out of Taliban’s military victory, will face economic sanctions. Without hand-holding, Afghanistan is bound to suffer. Besides political instability, economic misery will worsen, not to speak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some questions for the near-future: how long and to what effect will the threatened sanctions work? As had happened with the Myanmar military junta, will biggies of the world engage in behind-the-scene engagements to guard their business interests? Not to forget, a Taliban mission operated in Washington till 9/11 happened, because the US wanted to guard its interest in Afghan and Central Asian oil and gas reserves.

How will the Islamic world respond to the near-certain birth, or re-birth, of the Islamic Emirate? Now that the West has taken a beating, will the definition of terrorism change? What will be the new global security threat perceptions and how will they be responded to?

The new chapter of ‘Great Game’ has more questions than answers. Not the least, the fate of that Buzkashi’s goat.

The writer is co-author, with late Sreedhar, of Afghan Turmoil: Changing Equations (Oxford Books, 1988) and Afghan Buzkashi: Great Game & Gamesmen (Wordsmiths, 2000). He can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

Insecurity In Afghan Region After US Withdrawal

The American forces left Afghanistan secretly to avoid any interference or casualties resulting from intelligence breach that might have forced the US head to revamp the policy of withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Biden administration was determined to pull out their forces from Afghanistan. Many analysts do believe that Talibans could never survive against the allied forces if they had not been funded and supported by the secret hands. It seems obvious when we see that the Talibans never lacked modern weapons, technology, dollars, food, backdoor diplomacy channels and other facilities.

The future of South Asian politics seems troublesome. The UK and other countries have consented to work with Taliban governments but US along with other powers advised Talibans not to capture Kabul and political power by force because it would be difficult for them to cooperate with them. This gesture shows advice to Talibans that if they capture power with consensus they, US and allies, would be ready to render cooperation.  

We see a big change in Talibans in that their vision seems mature. They have been occupying the rival territories without resorting to barbarity and brutality they had were infamous for in the past. That they are capturing bordering districts one by one without any resistance from the locals shows the terror of the Talibans. The Afghan masses cannot forget the ruthlessness of Talibans and fear it will recur for coming decades. Therefore they don’t trust the Ashraf Ghani administration to provide the safety and security. Even people working in Government are submitting to them gradually and it seems that Talibans will soon occupy the major portion of Afghanistan.

The US allies have planned to retain Kabul to counter Taliban if they prove a menace for the international movement or diplomacy. Ashraf Ghani weak government, extremist ideology and past inhumanity of Talibans present a fragile situation of law and order in Afghanistan.

If Talibans come to power, many refugees will flee to Pakistan. Many pro US families had already applied for immigration in the west because they expect barbarian treatment by the Talibans after the US withdrawal.

ALSO READ: Afghanistan – The Great Game Continues

The circumstances heading towards conflict create a new sense of insecurity in Afghanistan and South Asia. Afghan refugees in Afghanistan will cause trouble in Pakistan because Tehrik-I-Taliban Pakistan and anti-Shia and other Muslim sects can be targeted, befriended and encouraged towards violence by the troublemakers infiltrating in the guise of the refugees. There is empirical evidence that the same happened in the past.

The only difference is that past happened under the Soviet Union while the current scenario presents US and allied forces. The rest of the situation is same.

In India, the BJP government under Narendra Modi has been targeting Indian minorities. The citizen laws, agriculture bills, ghar wapsi, conspiracies against Churches, Mosques, Gurdwaras, Granth Sahib, etc. Throwing the blame on its neighbour and promoting the disinformation that all troubles in India come from Pakistan will ignite a new era of tussle between Indian and Pakistan. The Kashmir issue, Sikh issue and Muslim issue in India are expected to heighten to the extent that the region could see a new wave of agony and terrorism. The Taliban could start to exploit these as well.

The Talibans were approached by the Indians but they were not welcomed under a revengeful atmosphere as India had supported anti-Taliban internal and external forces during the past decades.

The Talibans have enjoyed a soft corner by Pakistan but the post-withdrawal situation is not favourable for Pakistan either. The US should have reached out to all the fighting factions in Afghanistan and secured their agreement on a coalition government which could bring peace in Afghanistan. Unfortunately the US forces abdicated from all influence in the government formation or maneuvering power. This has caused a major crisis in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and India lack diplomatic vision, depth and wisdom to cope with the alarming situation that is developing under these circumstances. For this reason, all share apprehensions because if Talibans get the support from Russia and western secret agencies as happened in the past two decades the South Asian countries will be unable to handle the situation. Resultantly, the region will be destabilised and go on fire.

ALSO READ: How US Turned A Good War Into A Dumb War

The BJP government may benefit from this hate-ridden situation but they will have to make many sacrifices because hatred cannot be alternative to peace. Peace and love are the only solution to eliminate hatred and violence.

Pakistan is the most vulnerable country. Past record shows that Afghan wars hit it to the extent that terrorist activities of the Afghan sponsored factions not only supplied drugs and weapons but also resulted in attacks on Pakistani military bases, schools, markets, Imam Barahs, Churches, Gurdwaras and Mosques. It seemed that Pakistan would never be able to restore peace in the country.

The Pakistan army had to plunge into war within Pakistan against the terrors and with 70,000 lives lost. The Army managed to control the criminals and terrorists and restored law and order situation. However once again the same woeful situation is emerging and the Pakistani policymakers are pondering over the situation.

The issue of the daughter of the Afghan ambassador and their return to Afghanistan as tacit protest has created a new chapter of confusion between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistani government believes that Indian hand is behind all these incidents because Pakistan cannot afford such tensions with its neighbouring Afghanistan. Such incidents are engineered by foreign secret hands.

Under these destabilizing and increasingly fragile circumstances, Pakistan and India should hold more and more sessions of dialogue to clarify things otherwise they will face another wave of havoc in the future.

Weekly Round Up: SC Finds Its Mojo; Power Marches In, Marches Out 2,50,000 Dead

Supreme Court And Its New-Found Mojo

The Supreme Court has so far been accused by almost everyone outside the Bhakt world, to be Modi’s kangaroo court (I ask My Lords’ pardon, I am only stating what people say), including the protesting farmers who refuse to take their case to SC. Such is the loss of confidence in their Lords, the Justices of India. But now the SC has suddenly found a bit of mojo to prove it is independent. It has challenged revered leader Modiji’s dream of becoming India’s ‘Dear Leader’ by rampart use of Indian Penal Code article 124A.

To the surprise of everyone, the Chief Justice of India N V Ramana has suggested that IPC article 124A, sedition, should be scrapped! What! Imagine Modi ji receiving this news. He probably summoned the Attorney General and ordered him to slap IPC 124A on the Justice. ‘Can’t be done Vasudev Maharaj, he is Chief Justice of India’.

Boldly, the CJ stated, “Sedition is a colonial law. It suppresses freedoms. It was used against Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak … is this law necessary after 75 years of independence?

That must have sent tremors in the esteemed IAS officers of Indian bureaucracy who probably thought in silence, ‘Umm, we have been running British Colonialism mark 2 all this time with help of sedition and anti-terrorist laws, police brutality and army interventions. Does this CJ understand India will break up if we give that up?’ The IAS was set up by the British and its purpose is to keep the system functioning as was intended.

But CJI went on, obviously raising some blood pressures in the Modi-Shah Government. “The use of sedition is like giving a saw to the carpenter to cut a piece of wood and he uses it to cut the entire forest itself”.  Is the SC turning seditious!

And then sort of ordering the Attorney General, Venugopa, “Your government is taking out a lot of state laws from the law books, why have they not looked into this”. Boom, Boom. Imagine the scene in Home Minister Amit Shah’s office.

Then the Chief Justice went on to rub the entire Bhakt world, “If one party does not like what the other is saying, Section 124A is used, it is a serious threat to the functioning of individuals and parties”. Will it undermine the fourth pillar of Hindutva advance by use of 124A.

There were 93 cases on ground of sedition in 2019 and perhaps a lot more in 2020. Only two have been successfully convicted. But the scars on the rest must have been deep and long waits for court hearings, mentally draining.

124A has been the cornerstone of Government oppression in many areas. This recent case included veteran journalist Vinod Dua who criticised Govt lockdown policy without adequate preparations when hundreds of thousands workers were forced to walk home for hundreds of miles. Govt couldn’t quite say ‘Fake News’ as BBC had reported it, so it clapped IPC 124A for attempt at disaffection.

Other famous cases in history have included Arundhiti Roy (2010), Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi (2012), climate activist Disha Ravi (2020) and JNU Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar. In 2011 an entire village and some more, were charged with Sedition under 124A. In the protests in 2012-13 against Kudankuam Nuclear Power Plant, 9,000 people were arrested for ‘sedition’.

Not surprising when the law says “whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation or otherwise, brings or attempts into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India shall be punished with life imprisonment!”

With a law like this who needs a dictatorship. North Korea or China should consider becoming democracies to get away with complete suppression of dissent with this sort of law. Western human rights world wouldn’t even notice. After all it has been democratically enacted.

It’s not difficult to see why Modiji doesn’t like any criticism of his policy or character. He is simply upholding a democratic law in spirit and letter. That is what a leader is elected to do.

There is however a corollary. If somebody is convicted under a law still on statue, does the person have a permanent criminal record? If so, as Gandhi ji spent 6 years in prison under this law, and as this law has not been repealed by the wise and the great of Lok Sabha, is Gandhiji an ex criminal? We need a legal position on this.

Let us hope the Supreme Court mojo lasts a few more seconds. People may see that it has exorcised the Kangaroo image to a proper court. Or it could be that even the esteemed Judges have smelt that BJP isn’t invincible in elections.

USA Runs Away From Taliban After 20 Years

Being the most powerful is pointless if you lack stamina and can’t even bully a bunch of hill billies. The United States virtually walked into Afghanistan in 2001 meeting little resistance. They were against a rag tag army of the Taliban, hardly a version of the American ‘Universal Soldier’ with heavy metal, bulletproof everything, night vision equipment, satellite guided laser guns, supported by devastating air firepower, penetrating bombs blowing up deepest of secret tunnels and training that many an army would give anything for if it could afford. Yet twenty years later, with $850 Billion misspent, enough to give every poor American a free medicare for life, the best trained army has been forced to march out in the dark of the night.

The Americans wanted to ‘civilise’ the Afghan people with democracy, women rights and modern education. It would sound pious if it wasn’t that back in USA, millions of Black Americans, potential Democrat voters, have been denied votes by some administrative trickery. And the idea of a female President still shocks half of Americans.

The Taliban simply followed a long tradition of Afghans, particularly the Pashtuns. They get thrown out of their settled towns and villages only to return and chase away the enemy into history. They use the same tactic. They run to the hills, band together and then come back ferociously, persistently and tenaciously. With their home-made weapons, they haemorrhage the invader until the occupier finally decides that it’s not worth it. They did the same now. And they are quite content dying for this repeating sport. About 2,50,000 Afghans have died this time.

The irony of it is that a Taliban run State may yet put in place some form of democracy under a supreme leader after a few years. They will also provide education and jobs for women. The modern State requires some form of representation governance, otherwise missed warlords get angry. Modern economics cannot afford to feed half the population sitting at home, particularly if the State leadership wants the money to acquire big weapons, modern gadgets and have pothole-less roads to drive expensive cars on. It needs all hands to work.

All the same, American think tanks (tinker tanks) will write long articles justifying the crusade explaining how American intervention brought some form of democracy to Afghanistan and rights for women. It was all worth it depriving millions of fellow Americans free medical care. Next door Iran seems to have achieved democracy and women empowerment without American intervention and even by calling USA the devil.

A Resurgent Taliban In India’s Backyard

The recent advances by Taliban in Afghanistan compel us to impartially analyse their psyche and reasons for their success and continued survival

The US President Joe Biden in a speech on Thursday 8 July announced that the U.S. military would complete its withdrawal from Afghanistan by August 31, nearly two weeks before his earlier deadline of September 11, announced in April. The U.S. pull-out from Afghanistan, will end the US’s longest overseas war – which cost the lives of around 2,300 US troops and $825 billion monetarily- is a result of the February 2020 agreement that the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar.

In his latest speech Biden strongly defended his decision to pull U.S. military forces out of Afghanistan, saying the Afghan people must decide their own future, rather than sacrificing another generation of Americans in an unwinnable war. Biden called on countries in the region to help bring about an elusive political settlement between the warring parties. He said the Afghan government should seek a deal with the Taliban to allow them to coexist peacefully.

And this is what has proved to be the red herring amongst the neighbouring and regional countries. Most of the countries have reacted in a guarded manner over the advances of the Taliban forces in Afghanistan since May, who now controls 162 districts in Afghanistan.

In reality the chaotic and unpredictable conditions in Afghanistan will have a significant impact on the regional geo-politics. For starters, the Iranians have started fishing in the troubled waters by inviting the Taliban leadership for talks in Teheran.

Iranian Initiative

The Taliban-Iranian talks began in January this year, as part of Iranian efforts to broker peace between the Afghan government and other factions. The latest round of intra-Afghan talks began on Wednesday 7 July morning by a speech from Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who warned that the continuation of conflicts between the government and the Taliban will have ‘unfavourable’ consequences for Afghanistan, noting that a return to the intra-Afghan negotiations is the ‘best solution’.

Earlier, Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, had said that Taliban is part of the reality in Afghanistan and they are also talking to the Afghan government. During the recent meeting, Zarif discussed the prospect of Afghan people forming an all-inclusive government, including Taliban.

Pakistan’s Alarm

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in an op-ed in The Washington Post on 9 June sounded hurt by the accusations of the government in Kabul naming Pakistan as inciting violence in the country.

He further wrote that he would like Pakistan to be ‘a partner for peace in Afghanistan’, which may have ideated from the Indian outreach to the Taliban.

UK’s Concern

The UK it seems is more worried about the presence of Al Qaeda and Daesh elements in Afghanistan and not with the Taliban advances. Sir Alex Younger, former head of MI-6 has cautioned about the terrorism threat to Britain rising, following the US withdrawal and has further said the threat from terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and Daesh would grow if the UK turns its back on Afghanistan.

But the UK’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, who served several command tours in Afghanistan, believes the Taliban leadership may have learnt from their earlier mistakes. He maintains that if the Taliban expect to share power, or seize it, then they will not want to be seen as international pariahs. Wiser heads amongst the Taliban, especially those who attended the recent peace negotiations, may well argue for a clean break with Al Qaeda in order to secure international acceptance.

India’s Outreach

Indian officials recently met with the Taliban delegation in Doha. This marks a marked policy shift in India’s approach to Afghanistan and Taliban. Besides showing maturity of the policy makers and strategists, the move may accelerate the transition from a non-existent relationship to the inception of a diplomatic engagement, whilst acknowledging Taliban as a critical component of future Afghanistan.

Though Indian policy makers will also be worried about the security threat from the pro-Taliban Pakistani outfits, yet they may have weighed the advantage of engaging with the Taliban and also considered that in future the Taliban might be able to assert pressure on forces inimical to India.

India has always called for ‘an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled process’, and as such, the strategic move to engage with Taliban broadly demonstrates a regional security imperative for India and its efforts to minimise Islamabad’s influence.

Taliban Psyche: American View

The Americans have always wondered what fuels the Taliban to fight against a huge military machine despite the odds. Though in reality this has not led to any effort to try to understand the Taliban’s psyche and their commitment.

However, an American, Carter Malkasian has tried to discuss this in his new book The American War in Afghanistan: A History. Malkasian analyses the Taliban advantage in inspiring Afghans to fight. He opines that their call to fight foreign occupiers, steeped in references to Islamic teachings, resonates well with Afghan identity and psyche.

He says that for Afghans, jihad — more accurately understood as ‘resistance’ or ‘struggle’ than the caricatured meaning it has acquired in the United States — has historically been a means of defence against oppression by outsiders, part of their endurance against invader after invader. The Taliban were able to tie them-selves to religion and to Afghan identity in a way that a government allied with non-Muslim foreign occupiers could not match.

The very presence of Americans in Afghanistan trod on a sense of Afghan identity that incorporated national pride, a long history of fighting outsiders and a religious commitment to defend the homeland. The Taliban’s ability to link their cause to the very meaning of being Afghan was a crucial factor in America’s defeat.

He further says that the Taliban exemplified something that inspired, something that made them powerful in battle, something tied to what it meant to be an Afghan. They cast themselves as representatives of Islam and called for resistance to foreign occupation. Together, these two ideas formed a potent mix for ordinary Afghans, who tend to be devout Muslims but not extremists.

Now, with the Taliban overrunning districts in the north, they will likely press their attack, further emboldened by US departure over the next few weeks. Afghan soldiers and police will suffer from the same morale problems that have plagued them for two decades. Provincial capitals and Kandahar or Mazar-e-Sharif are likely to fall, possibly within a year. After that, Kabul itself will be in danger. The capital may hold, at least for a while, but the government and its allies will struggle to survive, with little chance of regaining what has been lost.

The world it may seem is bound to sit at the same table with Taliban, once they embrace political identity and become part of the political establishment, and this may mark a peaceful future for Afghanistan.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on issues related to Muslims, education, geopolitics and interfaith)

Taliban In Kabul: India’s Diplomatic Challenge

Next-door to India, a regional event with global implications that is dreaded by all, whether in support or opposition, is happening. Well-armed and highly motivated, the Taliban are overrunning Afghanistan, fighting pitched territorial battles with the government forces, pushing them out of the vast countryside and confining them to the cities.

It may be a matter of weeks before the government in Kabul collapses because the political and military will of the world powers has also collapsed. There seems to be room only for diplomacy as war-weary US-Nato withdraw their soldiers, a process they may complete well before the September 11 deadline.

The Taliban appear unstoppable. They couldn’t care less what the world thinks of them. They are focused totally on regaining power and their own national issues. A recent interview a top Taliban leader gave ‘Foreign Policy’ reiterates their well-known and much-criticised approach to their women. There will be little education and no jobs for them once they return to power.

The Taliban calculate that the world will worship the victor. After all, they have huge untapped minerals to offer. Weren’t they, when in power, wooed for access and exploitation of Central Asia’s gas an oil – till 9/11 happened?

But the dread persists and it is not just due to uncertainties of what may lie ahead. The nations that are withdrawing from a war they cannot win after nearly two decades are frightened of terrorism in the shape of Al Qaida and the Islamic State returning to Afghanistan, along with and even without the Taliban at the helm. The extremist forces they created and battled by turns as per their expediency have acquired strength they cannot control. It’s déjà vu.

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This is most apparent in the Biden administration that had little choice – and inclination – to undo what the previous Trump administration handed down. Biden’s Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says Al Qaeda could regroup in Afghanistan in two years.  Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, told the US Senate Appropriations Committee that he agreed. It was the most specific public forecast of the prospects for a renewed international terrorist threat from Afghanistan since President Joe Biden announced in April that all U.S. troops would withdraw by September 11.

If America fears this even as it withdraws, unconditionally and completely, the France-based think tank, Center for the Analysis of Terrorism (CAT), in a paper published this month sees resurgence of Al Qaida, the IS and its numerous affiliates across a vast region that covers West, Central and South Asia as  result of the forthcoming tectonic changes in Afghanistan.  

The title and the focus are “the Pakistani Jihadis and Global Jihad” which India can hardly afford to ignore. It says, “…following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, one is likely to witness a resurgence of the Taliban and probably a more operational coordination between Pakistan-supported groups like the LET & JEM and the Taliban.”

It further says: “The current threat landscape and its evolution is strongly tied to the evolution, transformation and fragmentation of historical organizations active in the region since the late 80s and to the continuing alignment of political organs and elites’ interests in Pakistan with those of the Pakistani jihadi organizations (for example the annexation of Jammu and Kashmir), whilst several of these organizations have since adhered to the global agenda of terrorist organizations posing a direct threat to neighbouring countries, primarily India.”

Is it surprising that Pakistan castigates India as a ‘spoiler’ in Afghanistan for trying to deny the strategic advantage it hopes to gain, post-US withdrawal, from a new regime in Kabul? But Pakistan has own set of Cassandras to deal with in the shape of more refugees, more drugs and more sectarian violence. TTP, the Pakistani Taliban have the same ideological inclination as the Afghan Taliban they have hosted for two decades. 

The situation is unenviable for India that sees repeat of its recent past. It was friendless when the Russians withdrew and the regime they had supported collapsed. It stands to become friendless again with a Taliban rise, this time having invested over USD three billion.  

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India has little choice but to engage with the Taliban, and whoever else gains powers after the US-led evacuation. Indeed, its growing proximity to the US makes its presence more vulnerable from the very people it has opposed and criticised. The memories of the 1999 hijack of an Indian passenger aircraft to Kandahar are fresh and so are attacks on its interests by the Haqqani group, said to be working for Pakistan’s ISI.

When the Mujahideen took power in the early 1990s, MK Bhadrakumar, a senior diplomat well versed in the region’s affairs was dispatched. He met the new top leadership, including Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ahmed Shah Masud. Full advantage was taken of an airport refuelling stopover in Delhi by Rabbani and his men. The rapprochement took long, but it happened.

The diplomatic situation is many times more challenging, what with India being identified with the US and against the Sino-Pak alliance, with old allies Russia and Iran missing from its side.

India is a straggler in engaging with the Taliban leaders who have resented India. The past record has been one of mutual dislike and distrust. This is hardly the time to reminisce what India has done or can do in Afghanistan and the goodwill it has gained. The time is to salvage what is built and protect, even the embassy in Kabul and consulates in other Afghan cities.

This is by far the biggest diplomatic challenge with overwhelming security component that India faces in many years.