The defeat of the US, the world’s strongest military power, by the bare-foot soldiers of the Taliban has stunned, shocked and surprised the world.
The vaunted 300,000-strong Afghan army, trained and equipped by US experts, melted like butter on a hot plate as the Taliban closed in on Kabul from all sides. It was a kind of blitzkrieg action that left the Afghan army no option but to surrender completely. The speed with which the Taliban took control of the whole country made a mockery of all the estimates given by US intelligence outfits.
The reasons for the collapse of the Afghan army are not far to seek. Hired by a foreign occupation power, the Afghan soldiers had no motivation, and lacked the will to fight. To boot, a puppet government mired in corruption could not inspire a demoralised and abandoned army to hold its ground against a band of fighters driven by patriotic fervour and ideological zeal.
The situation in Afghanistan was made worse by widespread corruption from top to bottom. The Kabul regime embezzled much of the $100 billion of aid to the Afghan army and most of it was shifted to Dubai using the Kabul Bank and direct flights with millions of dollars in cash. While soldiers fighting the Taliban were deprived of essential supplies and resources, the Afghan elite enjoyed a luxurious life in their villas in Kabul and abroad.
Belying the propaganda of hostile forces, the Taliban captured Kabul without any bloodshed. They followed a carefully crafted strategy for a peaceful takeover, giving a safe exit to all the people wanting to leave Afghanistan, including President Ashraf Ghani, Afghan spies, families and supporters of US and NATO contingents and foreign diplomats.
Not surprisingly, strong negative reactions and comments have been emanating from New Delhi. The Indian media has gone berserk with frenzied whines on the social media as all Indian disruptive schemes and conspiracies in Afghanistan and Central Asia have been upended. India’s 20-year investment in Afghanistan to wage a multi-dimensional and two-front war against Pakistan stands annulled. India stands exposed as a strategic partner of America, with its capacity to deliver against Pakistan and China cut down to size.
What next for Afghanistan under the Taliban? It is gratifying to note that this time around, the Taliban are showing more political maturity, a greater sense of magnanimity and accommodation and better internal cohesion and organisation. It is very significant that, at the very start, they announced a general amnesty for all and no revenge or witch-hunting against their rivals.
In the first press conference after their takeover of Kabul, the Taliban spokesman claimed they would behave differently, having learnt from their past experience. Pledging no victimisation against those who fought against them, they also sent a number of messages about how they intend to govern. They vowed to establish an inclusive government, respect human and women’s rights and ensure that Afghanistan’s soil will not be used against any other country. This has gone a long way to reassure an anxious international community. As things stand, they also seem to enjoy the support of regional states like China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, CARS and many more.
Questions have been raised whether the Taliban rule will be a throwback to the past. In recognition of the reality that the international environment today is very different from the one two decades ago, Taliban leaders have given broad hints that the future of Afghanistan will be different from the past. Reportedly, talks between the Taliban and former political foes are in progress to set up a broad-based government.
Contrary to the propaganda about Islamabad’s support to the Taliban, Pakistan has throughout played the role of a peace maker because stability in Afghanistan is in its own interest. Pakistan played a key role in persuading the Taliban to sit on the dialogue table with the US in February 2020 – an opportunity deliberately missed by Ashraf Ghani, who danced to the RAW-NDS tune.
The final contours of the peace process will take time to emerge in Afghanistan. This is a critical period and Pakistan must be proactive and play its role in bringing the process to an early fruition. The pitfalls of a limited civil war are there. The spoilers, particularly India, do not want peace returning to Afghanistan. It suits their interest to keep the pot boiling in the war-ravaged country.
The war of narratives is already on. Attempts are being made to bolster proxies within Afghanistan to create geographic or ethnic division, fuel covert war inside Pakistan to disturb the law and order situation in the urban centers. Hostile forces are also trying to engineer political chaos by the corrupt political elite, manoeuvre a new influx of refugees and target BRI and CPEC projects. Islamabad needs to keep an eye on the activities of hostile forces.
In the given context, Pakistan in coordination with China, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Central Asian Republics should take the lead role in promoting peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. The Taliban will need full political, diplomatic and economic support from regional countries as well as the international community so that they can cobble together an inclusive, broad-based political dispensation for long-term stability in their war-ravaged land.