As the Taliban is marching back on the roads of Kabul after almost 20 years, the situation is changing rapidly, and world leaders are watching keenly. The regaining of the control by the Taliban not only ensures their success but also raises many questions, particularly on the action US and NATO took twenty years ago. There is a general understanding regarding the hurried withdrawal of the US, but did the US had any other choice; the answer is simply no.
Let me put it simple, first, US invested $83 billion on the war in Afghanistan and lost 2448 American service members’. The damages done to the US due to this war are unprecedented. The war saw four Presidents of the United States. On April 6, 2021, President Biden has reportedly told his staff that he wanted to withdraw all the troops by Sept. 11. He said, “I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan — two Republicans, two Democrats,” he said later, “I would not, and will not, pass this war on to a fifth” (New York Times, August 15, 2021). Mr. Biden was convinced enough that keeping the small counterterrorism forces back in Afghanistan for few more years, as advised by some Defence Department officials, will not prevent an eventual Taliban victory. So, he found no reason in keeping back some forces in Afghanistan.
Second, the rampant corruption in the Afghanistan government played a greater role in weaking of the Ghani government. This eventually paved the way for the Taliban success that too without any hard fight from the Afghan forces. A confidential effort on “Lessons Learned” conducted by SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction), published by the Washington Post, highlighted a ‘devastating picture of corruption, incompetence, lack of motivation and other flaws among the Afghan forces’. The corruption was so rampant in Afghan government that many Afghan citizens began to question whether their government or the Taliban was the greater evil(New York Times, August 15, 2021).
This impatience of the US administration and the rampant corruption with the Afghan government paved the way for the early entry of the Taliban into the Kabul. The “Graveyard of Empires” as Afghanistan is called was substantiated again by the success of the Taliban, even the mighty power could not hold as they could have dreamed off. As is well said, the wars are not won by gun battles, rather in the minds of the stakeholders involved. It is really a mind game. Won in the minds and by the minds. There is no denying the fact the US knew that the Taliban is going to win this war, it was just the matter of time.
Now when the Taliban 2.0 has entered the Kabul, Ashraf Ghani has already stepped down and left the country, the big question of the time is WHAT NOW FOR THE TALIBAN. Will the Taliban 2.0 be different from the old Taliban. How will they deal with the unemployment, healthcare, development, and corruption. The biggest question ever is what about the girls’ education. Will the Taliban allow the girls’ schools to operate this time, though promised, but it needs to be seen. Women rights are without any doubt going to be the contentious issue within the new Taliban government. Maintaining peace and preventing the Afghanistan going to civil war are definitely big challenge to the Taliban 2.0.
Apart from these internal challenges, some of the external challenges are also there to be faced by the Taliban 2.0, which most importantly includes the international recognition. Without the international recognition it is impossible to sustain for long. This time Taliban does not have the option of being aloof. Though the Taliban have Russia and China, apart from Pakistan on their side, the world would like to see some changes in the Taliban government, which most importantly includes inculcating much needed democratic values in their ideology, if not, then the challenges will pour in the Taliban 2.0 as well.
Though capturing back Afghanistan was not so tough for the Taliban, sustaining is. For sustaining, they need international recognition. For international recognition peaceful atmosphere in all over Afghanistan, taking adequate care of the minorities and most importantly women’s rights are much needed.
The game for the Taliban and the regional powers begins now. India, Pakistan, China, Iran, and Russia are the regional and the most important stakeholders in Afghanistan now. How will Taliban connect to these countries and assure all its neighbours and take care of their interests in Afghanistan now, remains to be seen. As the Russia has refused to close its Embassy in Kabul after the guarantees from the Taliban, is it an indication that Kremlin will be recognising the Taliban regime?
China is already ready for the greater role in Afghanistan. On July 28, 2021, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosted nine-member delegation of the Taliban and described them “a pivotal military and political force”. The visit comes days after Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi met Mr. Wang in the Chinese city of Chengdu. China has also decided not to close its Embassy in Kabul, a swift change in its policy towards Taliban 2.0.
Pakistan, without any doubt is already maintaining its influence on the Taliban. From the regional compact, only India is left out. As of now, India is closely watching the situation and vacating Kabul. The future course of action of Russia and China will be known very soon, but the Indian government may not be in any hurry to take any immediate action. Very recently, Russia also invited US, China, and Pakistan for the Extended Troika Meeting on Afghanistan, again India was left out. Though it seems Russia and China may very hurriedly recognise the Taliban regime, India and the West are unlikely to do so at this point of time.
Until the Taliban 2.0 will guarantee the rights and security of the women, minorities, and its citizens in general, world may not recognise them. This in fact is the time for the Taliban to redevelop and revisit their ideology and take along all the necessary stakeholders. They must not punish any person who have worked with the US or the Ghani government, only then the peace will prevail in Afghanistan. Though they have announced the general amnesty for all those who have worked with the US and the Ghani government, much cannot be predicted as of now. It is their duty to assure the people of Afghanistan and the international community for the same. The peace and security must be maintained, only then the world may look towards them, and the future of Afghanistan may be secured.
Note: Views are personal.
Dr. Mudassir Fatah is Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, School of Liberal Arts, Noida International University, Gautam Budh Nagar, UP. The author is a researcher on Afghanistan.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.