Taliban’s Muddle – Telegraph Nepal

Dr. Rizwan Naseer
Strategic Security Analyst,
Karachi, Pakistan

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This article provides a glimpse into history that how Afghanistan remained ungovernable land for empires and then got stuck into quagmire i.e. the great game of great powers. It shed light on the current politico-economic challenges of Afghanistan regime and how the regional and global actors are responding to that. Why will Taliban not provide freedom to their women as is expected by international community?

Before the 18th century rule of Ahmad Shah Abdali, Afghanistan remained a contested place for many empires. Persians under the Darius (522-486 BCE) ruled Afghanistan and after him Greek expeditions led by Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE) tried to maintain their occupation of Afghanistan. Arabs brought Islam to Afghanistan in 699 and strengthened governance here. Mongol Genghis Khan invaded Afghanistan to end the power of Turks in Afghanistan and that is how Afghanistan remained a contested place between Indian and Persian empires for the next few centuries. Afghanistan fell prey to so called Great Game when British Empire tried to bring Afghanistan under its direct control but failed in 1878-80 in another campaign Afghanistan lost to Britain the control of external affairs as well as territory. Britain settled border of subcontinent with Afghanistan through Durand Line in 1893.

Some analysts termed Afghanistan as the “graveyard of Empires” because history reveals that though some empires won battles and gained control of the region but ultimately, they had to leave. It belongs to the local Afghans who are legitimate stakeholder of this country.

Despite atrocities, plundering, exploitation and cultural invasion by the imperial powers, Afghanistan remained a moderate society but the major blow to Afghanistan was inflicted due to so called Jihadist campaign that was tailored in the Pentagon to advance the U.S. interests against the expansion of Soviet Union. But after the collapse of Soviet Union, Taliban gained control of Kabul and laid the foundation of Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan which was recognized by three countries only (Pakistan, Saudi Arabi and United Arab Emirates).Taliban implemented Sharia law and strived to provide social justice to Afghans. But their government did not last longer due to two reasons. (i) their connections with Al-Qaeda (ii) exporting their ideology beyond Afghanistan. That is the reason the U.S. did not tolerate Taliban regime and removed it in the wake of 9/11.Taliban fought low intensity conflict with the U.S. and allied troops. They could not withstand to loss of American lives and economic cost that prolonged war incurred.

Twenty years of war against terrorism devastated country’s infrastructure and killed hundreds of thousands but peace did not return to Afghanistan.

When the U.S. troops were planning to leave, locals were highly unhappy with the U.S. her installed government there. That is why Taliban were quick to gain control and people posed no resistance. The U.S. backed government officials had to flee from Afghanistan. There were many speculations about Afghanistan that Taliban will rearm and start waging war against the U.S. and her allies. But several unexpected things happened. Taliban remained committed to “Doha Accord” that Afghanistan’s territory will not be used by Al-Qaeda or Daesh (Islamic State of Levant) as a launch pad against the U.S.

Taliban government faced challenges of governance as due to international isolation, it is a grave challenge to survive without financial assistance. That is why Taliban are urging to unfreeze their foreign reserves worth $8billion.

Pakistan has been raising voice for unfreezing Afghanistan’s   foreign reserves to avert humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Pakistan expects that Taliban regime will not prop up Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to undermine Pakistan’s security interests.

But Taliban’s tilt towards TTP does not augur well for Pakistan’s security. According to a United Nation’s Security Council Report released last June “the TTP still has the presence of about 6,000 trained fighters in Afghanistan. The banned outfit has been involved in targeting Pakistani security forces, Chinese nationals and Chinese projects in Pakistan”. In other words, TTP serves Indian interest in the Af-Pak region.

The U.S. State Department perhaps is deliberating on either Taliban should be opposed, isolated or engaged. The RAND study concludes that though America’s usual response to any unwelcome change in regime is isolation but engagement offers the only prospect of advancing American interests in the country.

Reemergence of Daesh in Afghanistan poses serious threat to Afghanistan, neighboring states as well as the U.S. interests in the region.

Recent attack on Sikh temple in Afghanistan’s capital clearly points towards the presence of IS in Afghanistan. If its network gains more strength in Afghanistan, that will pose more serious challenges to locals. There is a common proverb that “history repeats itself”. That proverb aptly unfolds Afghanistan’s current state. When Taliban were fighting for establishing for complete control of Afghanistan before 1996, they were faced with Northern alliance and other warlords. Now the situation is going to be the same again. General Rashid Dostum (Tajik) and some other warlords (from regional states) are preparing to wage resistance to Taliban regime. The purpose is to claim their share of power in Afghanistan. I believe such warlords have complete backing of the U.S. If Taliban do not face any resistance, they can strengthen their power in Afghanistan. A strong Taliban regime is unacceptable for the U.S., at least for the time being. But if war breaks out in Afghanistan between various factions, then humanitarian crisis cannot be averted.

Perhaps the U.S. strategy seems to be engaging Taliban in negotiations on one hand and propping up other militant organization to combat Afghanistan. If Taliban cannot be removed through smart power, low intensity conflict will create an unsatisfactory situation for Afghans and they eventually will rise against the Taliban’s rule.

This dual policy in Afghanistan will help in controlling anti-Americanism and keep Taliban weaker.

The U.S. and other European countries re much concerned about women freedom in Afghanistan? My point is that if Afghanistan’s Taliban regime is de facto entity in international community and is not recognized as a legitimate government then why is it expected that they will stick to international norms, values and standards about women rights. International community must know one thing about the Taliban that they will not provide freedom to women as is expected from them. They are Madrassa (religious seminary) educated men and their view of the women differs from universal rights of women.

They may relax restrictions if international demands keep mounting but that is only possible if Taliban are engaged economically and politically.

Afghanistan will remain under their control for the next 50 years. Therefore, a better approach is to transform Taliban and their nation from extremist ideologies to democratic values. That may be time-consuming strategy but is likely to reap plenty of benefits for regional as well as global actors.

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