By JK Verma
New Delhi. 21 August 2021. On 16 August President Joe Biden addressed the nation in which he defended his decision of withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. He mentioned that American troops went to Afghanistan 20 years back to punish those who attacked U.S. in September 2001 and “make sure al Qaeda could not use Afghanistan as a base from which to attack us again.” U.S. achieved the goals. He made it clear that “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves. We spent over a trillion dollars. We trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong”. Biden made it clear that when Afghan troops are not ready to defend their own country why U.S. soldiers should die for them. He accepted that Taliban won much before the expectations of security advisers. The Secretary of State Antony Blinken also defended the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Besides the death of U.S. soldiers Biden was also worried that his country is spending huge amount in Afghanistan while its competitors China and Russia are progressing.
It was expected that the ill motivated, corruption riddled Afghan National Defence Security Forces (ANDSF) would not be able to fight Taliban for a long time but they would accept defeat so early was not anticipated. Taliban instead of fighting, contacted warlords and tribal leaders and sometimes persuaded and several times bribed them to join Taliban instead of the Afghan security forces. Not only the militia leaders but even ANDSF personnel took money and handed over the weapons. Several soldiers ran away from Afghanistan while quite a few changed their loyalty and joined Taliban. In several cities, the ANDSF surrendered without fighting.
As Taliban reoccupied the country with unexpected speed several countries like India, France, Germany, United Kingdom, and others are busy in evacuation of their nationals as well as those Afghans who were helpful to them in last 20 years or so. European countries are also worried about the influx of Afghan refugees. French President Emmanuel Macron warned that all European countries should work jointly to curb the irregular migration though he mentioned that France would welcome those Afghans who worked with French forces in Afghanistan and the human right activists.
The speedy collapse of Afghan government created chaos and despairing scenes. Although Taliban are claiming that there is peace in whole of Afghanistan including Kabul but satellite images clearly indicate that Afghans are desperate to leave the country. There was complete chaos at the international airport in Kabul. Few people died because they tried to cling to ascending plane as they wanted to leave Afghanistan. U.S. forces who are controlling the airport had to fire on the unruly crowd.
The world is watching with suspicion how Taliban would rule the country. They would declare Afghanistan as an Islamic country which will be ruled by Sharia laws. The flag of the country will also be changed. Taliban rule in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 was atrocious and cruel, they did public executions and impeded the rights of women. This time Taliban and their supporters claim that they have changed themselves and will not be cruel but several militias are part of Taliban and their warlords govern the cities under their control according to their whims. Hence the reports are pouring that Taliban have started sale and purchase of young girls and forcibly either marrying them or making them slaves. The females who were working were told to stay homes. In reality Taliban have not changed, and the atrocities on women started. Social media and news channel are showing where Taliban fired a person who wanted to jump from the wall of airport and three thieves were publicly shaved.
The condition of minorities is more pitiable. Hindus and Sikhs are taking shelters in temples and Gurudwaras and afraid of their lives and the honour of their females. Several of them want to migrate to India and waiting for the opportunity.
Now after capturing Afghanistan Taliban want international support and recognition, hence they approached the countries from where they expect early recognition. At present they expect recognition from Pakistan, China, Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Taliban are projecting that they are changed. Just few days back Taliban official spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid emphasised in a T.V. interview that women are safe and they can work outside, he appealed to government employees to return for the work and they would not take revenge from anybody. The Taliban spokesman also mentioned that press can work freely and they would not work against any country. In a tweet he also mentioned that general public is happy because of arrival of Taliban. The interview was taken by a lady and T.V. also showed a lady reporter. He also claimed that there is peace in the country and no Afghan should leave the country and the nation needs the talents of all the persons.
Pakistanis are happy because of Taliban victory, as Islamabad does not want a powerful Afghanistan. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan openly supported Taliban triumph and stated that they had shattered the “shackles of slavery”. Pakistan is elated as winning of Taliban and defeat of ANDSF is a clear victory on India even though it would strengthen Pakistani Taliban who are fighting against Islamabad. ISI would also try to divert Taliban fighters from Afghanistan to India as their work in Afghanistan is over.
China has a sizable Muslim population including Uyghur Muslims, who have majority in Xinjiang province and are fighting for independence. The border of Afghanistan touches the restive Xinjiang province and China is scared that Taliban may extend assistance to Uyghur secessionists. Hence China wants cordial relations with Taliban. Abdul Ghani Baradar the founding member of Taliban and chief negotiator headed a delegation to Taanjin China and met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on July 28 and assured that Taliban would not help Uyghur terrorists. Chinese official stated on 16 August that China would honour the “choice of Afghan people.” It indicates that not only Pakistan but China may also recognise Taliban soon. The Chinese foreign spokesperson also mentioned that Chinese Embassy in Kabul would continue functioning normally. China would also try to lessen India’s influence in Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan. Beijing may also like to exploit vast mineral resources of Afghanistan.
Russia which also has sizable Muslim population and common borders with Afghanistan wants to have cordial relations with Taliban. Russian Foreign Minister stated few days back that Taliban are “sane people” and they mentioned that they would not make difficulties for Central Asian countries and they would fight with The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) officially know as Islamic State. Taliban delegations also visited Russia in March as well as in July 2021. In fact, Russia is negotiating with Taliban since 2017 and both have good equations. Russian ambassador to Afghanistan is also meeting Taliban leaders.
Few analysts also claim that United States is worried because of phenomenal rise of China particularly on economic field and if U.S. does not take remedial measures, it may lose its lone super power status. Hence U.S. along with its allies is putting several restrictions on China. U.S. and its allies are constantly assisting Taiwan, recently a French warship also anchored in Taiwan. Naval ships of other U.S. allies may also visit Taiwan. It is claimed that such a smooth and rapid victory of Taliban indicates that there was a deal between U.S. and Taliban. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar who was in Pakistani prison from February 2010 was released from jail under U.S. pressure in 2018 so that negotiations can be held with Taliban.
On one hand by exiting from Kabul U.S. is saving lot of its resources and also wants to drag China in Afghanistan as Taliban are unpredictable and few Taliban groups would certainly help Uyghur Muslims while few Taliban may sabotage Chinese projects in Pakistan. In that case if Chinese forces with active assistance of Pakistan enters Afghanistan, then it may meet the same fate of USSR and later of U.S.
The U.S. watchers also claim that President Biden may strengthen the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) and will like that India plays an important role in it. China considers India as potential threat hence India should also take counter measures.
In view of the changed circumstances India also has to plan its strategy in Afghanistan. India should try to have negotiated settlement with Taliban and if Taliban desires Delhi may continue with its developmental projects. However, agreement or promises of Taliban cannot be trusted as the influence of Pakistan on Taliban cannot be over-emphasised and ISI would certainly try to damage Indian interests in Afghanistan.
(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and member of United Services Institute of India and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at email@example.com)