The Afghanistan issue has remained a major focus of attention in all era. There is a reason why Afghanistan is called “The Graveyard of Empires”. It is the major crossway connecting Asia to Middle east and Europe. Therefore, every global power wanted to take control of its resources along with benefits from its geopolitical position.
Short History of Turmoil in Afghanistan
The Afghanistan issue trace back to time of World War II. The World War II is the most significant event in the modern political history of the world. It has brought several unique changes to the world order. It had given humanity a sneak peek into the horrors of the nuclear warfare in the form of Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings. It was concluded in 1945, and resulted in the transformation of two countries into superpowers: the US and the USSR (Soviet Union).
As a result of bipolar world order, the two superpowers competed with each other regularly in numerous sectors –technological, trade, and influence– but avoided direct confrontation at all times. Due to this limited confrontation between the US and the USSR, the time period from 1945 to 1990s was known as the cold war era. In the game of influence, two blocs were formed: the western (NATO) and the eastern (Warsaw pact) bloc. The two south-Asian nemesis went into opposite blocs: Pakistan went under the influence of the US while India join forces with the USSR.
Access to the Sea
At that time, the geography of the USSR was such that it lacked access to the sea routes. Being in the North Pole, all the sea routes were frozen, and cannot be accessed through ships. Due to this factor, the USSR was in a search for warm waters. The closest sea route was the Arabian Sea accessible through Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a result of this, the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan in the 1970s. On the other hand, the US wanted to restrict the Soviet Union’s access to the sea at all costs. Thus, the US along with Pakistan launched Jihadist groups in Afghanistan to fight and resist the soviet expansion.
These Jihadist groups provided tough resistance to the Soviets both financially and militarily. Due to financial breakdown as a result of war, the Soviet Union disintegrated into fifteen new nation-states. With this, the World Order becomes unipolar and the US becomes the sole superpower.
Instead of showing responsibility and leadership, the US abandon Afghanistan. There started the bloody civil war between the Jihadist groups, the same Jihadist groups which fought unanimously against the USSR, for the control of Afghanistan. Nonetheless, one faction, by the name of Taliban, won the control and established their government in Afghanistan in 1996.
Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda
Osama Bin Laden was an influential man from Saudi Arabia. He established an organization by the name of “AL-QAEDA” to pressurize the western world to leave control of Muslim world and their resources. His demands were legitimate, however, his approach was wrong. Instead of unifying Muslim Ummah to attain these goals diplomatically, he resort to terrorism which created many problems for Muslims across the globe. He had also developed difference with the Saudi royal family due to which his citizenship got revoked, and he had to move to Afghanistan. On 11th September 2001, he attacked US by hijacking planes and destroying World trade Centre. After that he went underground.
As a result of these attacks, the Bush administration demanded Osama Bin Laden from the Taliban government. The Taliban’s were of the view that they will prosecute Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan’s court under municipal law. Nevertheless, the US neglected all norms of international law and attacked Afghanistan in 2001 under operation Enduring Freedom. The Taliban were unable to counter the attack of the superpower and their government was toppled.
In the end of 2001, Hamid Karzai met the Taliban delegation in the Shah Wali Kot district outside Kandahar. Taliban had agreed to surrender the control of Kabul if general amnesty is given to them. Karzai’s condition was that the Taliban’s leader Mullah Omar must renounce terrorism, was accepted and an accord known as Shah Wali Kot agreement was reached. The Taliban were to lay weapon and go home with dignity. However, the next day the then US secretary of defense Ronald Rumsfeld called Karzai and asked him to step back and not to give amnesty to the Taliban. Thus, the Taliban went into the hiding and started insurgency.
Operation Enduring Freedom
The US, under the Operation Enduring Freedom, had two pronged agenda in Afghanistan:
1.To weaken and destroy al-Qaeda and to kill Osama bin laden.
2. To reorganize the Afghan society and create a liberal democratic political structure (nation-building).
The US war efforts were successful in killing Osama Bin Laden in 2011, and significantly weakened Al-Qaeda. For political reorganization, the US installed puppet government of Northern Alliance, first, under Hamid Karzai and, then, under Ashraf Ghani.
Not only this but also they provided trainings, equipment, and funding to run the day-to-day affairs of the Afghan government. The Afghan National Defense and Security Force (ANDSF) was created which were trained and supported by the US and the NATO. However, this puppet Afghan government lacks the respect of the Afghan public.
This was evident from the fact that the total population of Afghanistan consisted of 42% of Pukhtoon while the rest includes numerous other ethnicities, however, not a single Pukhtoon was included in the government. Whenever minority rules the majority, the government lacks the respect of the general public. Contrary, the Taliban have the support of the general Afghan public.
The US’s Quest for Nation-Building in Afghanistan
In their quest of nation-building and political reorganization of the Afghan society, the US prolonged its war in Afghanistan. Because of immense war costs and pressure from the American public, the US government, in order to show progress, committed gross human rights violations in Afghanistan.
The International Criminal Court has several complaints to investigate the US and The NATO for the crimes against humanity in Afghanistan and Iraq, however the Obama and the Trump administration threaten retaliatory action against ICC if it took up the complaints. Similarly, these human rights violations were also evident from the fact that the US and the NATO soldiers have experienced trauma, and many ended up committing suicide. According to an expert, 22 soldiers commits suicide every day.
Afghanistan Issue and The Cost of War
From nation-building to establishing democracy, liberating women, and building representative institutions, the US goals in Afghanistan have been changing all along. Two decades of deadly war, which resulted in the death of 2,500 US troops death, economic losses of over $2 trillion, and hundreds of thousands of innocent Afghanis and Pakistanis killed.
The US is confronted with irony that it is easy to start a war but difficult to end it despite having the world’s best military equipment. Despite having the backing the US and the NATO, the Afghan government was no match to counter the Taliban’s resistance on their own.
Rise of China
On the other hand, taking advantage of the US war losses, the China attained great economic and political success. As a result of this, the US wanted to end Afghan quagmire in order to focus on maintaining its superpower status.
The Trump administration started negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban whereby the insurgents would lay down their arms and participate instead of redesigning the Afghanistan’s political system.
With this peace deal, the US was abandoning the country of almost 40million people, the local people whom it protected from the Taliban, this withdrawal was a calamity. For all its wealth and military might, the US failed not only to create a strong, self-sufficient Afghan state but also was largely unable to defeat the insurgency.
A ray of hope for Afghanistan Issue: The Doha-Peace Deal
The Doha-Peace talks were held in February 2020 by the Trump Administration. It granted legitimacy to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Previously, the Taliban were blacklisted and a pariah in Afghanistan, and were fighting the US government and the Kabul government. At the time of the deal, the Taliban have successfully taken control of 26 out of 34 Afghanistan’s provinces. Thus, they were successful in getting vital military edge.
The Doha peace deal requires all stakeholders in Afghanistan to achieve political stability with some power sharing method. The two principal actors in Afghanistan were the Taliban and the Kabul government. However, the Kabul government (under the Ashraf Ghani’s presidency), objected on US to directly dealing with the Taliban. This pose a major challenge. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), working under the presidency of Ashraf Ghani, were ill-prepared to fight Taliban — lacking in motivation and fighting Spirit– without NATO and US support. There were possibilities of ANDSF disintegration.
The threat of transnational terrorism have been significantly downgraded, and a combination of other factors like bad governance and corruption are endemic in Afghanistan. However, in case of abrupt US withdrawal, these terror outfits (al-Qaeda and IS) are likely to make serious effort for a strong comeback. The presence of small elements of these terror outfits and their possible re-emergence in Afghanistan is a nightmare for regional countries as well as the US. Thus, US wanted to keep some kind of presence in order to do some counterterrorism activities in order to protect its interests.
Announcement of Withdrawal
However, the withdrawal announcement (mid-July) from the Biden administration have significantly boosted the Taliban’s confidence. The conditions mentioned in the Doha agreement were meant to curtail Taliban’s wild power ambitions in an effort to make the power transition a little orderly and give the whole exercise and appearance of a negotiated settlement by the US. Moreover, the abrupt US withdrawal has been experienced by the regional countries before, when the US had left the war-torn country with horrible consequences in 1970s.
Hasty Withdrawal and its Impact
The countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan had to bear the brunt of hasty withdrawal and war. Similarly, there were valid concerns for Pakistan regarding the remnants of the TTP hiding in safe havens. Islamabad had already paid a heavy price in terms of human and economic losses with 83,000 people martyred and dollar 126 billion lost according to a conservative statement. Therefore it is in vital interest of Pakistan that some kind of power sharing agreement to be put in place that ensures smooth transition of power.
The quick us pullout from Afghanistan, without any political settlement, has attracted following criticism:
1 The US will going to abandon those afghan people who helped them as translators, drivers, and other local work to be left on the mercy of Taliban. They can possibly face revenge attacks.
2 The US has not fulfilled the duty of nation building in Afghanistan.
3 The Afghan Government of Ashraf Ghani was not taken into confidence. The Bagram incident, where the US had left the airbase without informing the Afghan Government, speaks volume of the US intentions.
4 Some analyst are of the view that the hurried US pullout may be an intentional attempt by the US to keep China in a problematic position. China’s Xinjiang province share borders with Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province. East Turkmenistan Islamic movement has sanctuaries in Badakhshan and is credible threat to china. According to them, the Taliban are sympathetic to the Muslims in Uyghur and they might gave China the tough time. On the other hand, China has called the US pullout an irresponsible attempt to challenge regional peace.
The Taliban’s Takeover
It was no shock at the ease with which the Taliban has taken over the Afghanistan. More shocking was the meltdown of the Afghan government forces which included 180,000 personnel of ANDSF, Police force of 150,000, Air force, and other security wings that were armed with the latest technology transferred by the US and NATO. It took only 7 days for Taliban to sweep all major cities.
For Taliban, winning the war was the easy part, maintain peace and governance will be the hard nut to crack. For this purpose, recognition of their government would be necessary.
Two issues that doomed the Doha-peace treaty, and helped Taliban in taking over includes:
1 Ashraf Ghani’s irresponsible behavior. It was unfortunate of him to blame Pakistan for his own incompetency. Moreover, the very next day of signing the Doha peace deal, he announced that he would not release the Taliban prisoners, making a great irritant.
2 Majority of Afghans supported Taliban as no guerrilla war can be won without the public support. In the Afghan government, the Pashtuns (42%) were left out of power. Similar is the case with Afghan security forces. Therefore, the public supported the Taliban.
The Afghan Economy
Afghanistan is one of the poorest country, and more than 20% of its gross domestic income comes from foreign aid. Moreover, 75% of the public spending comes from the grants. When it became clear that Taliban would seize power, the US Federal Reserve froze all of Afghanistan foreign exchange reserve amounting to $7 billion.
The IMF has also frozen the Afghan government access to IMF resources (Special Drawing Rights, SDR) which otherwise could be deployed by Afghanistan for balance of payments and government finances. The SDR includes Afghanistan’s $450 million share, which other countries have supposed to access automatically in times of crises. By the end of April 2021, the Afghanistan gross reserves were estimated $9.5 billion with the Afghan Central Bank, according to estimates of the IMF.
In order to rule Afghanistan effectively and to crush TTP and IS remnants to minimize terrorism, stable economy is a must. For this recognition of Afghan Taliban’s government is a starting point.
The Role of India
From the very first day of the Afghan turmoil, Indi’s role was of that of a spoiler. India’s policy on Afghanistan was based on the following two factors:
First, the US will withdraw from Afghanistan after making India the major player in Afghanistan’s affairs.
Second, it believed that ANDSF, with the US and NATO equipment and training, will never allow the Taliban to succeed.
Both of these assumptions proved wrong for the India. Similarly, in 2016, there were authentic reports that India has established more than 24 consulates in Afghanistan, near Pakistan’s border, which were meant to train TTP (anti-Pakistan terror group). Thus, any peace effort by India in Afghanistan makes no sense. The recent Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan was just a show-off for hiding New Delhi’s past sins (spoilers cannot be peacekeeper). Furthermore, with Afghanistan issue resolved, the world will focus more on the Kashmir issue.
Future Regional Prospects
Stable Afghanistan offers many great opportunity for the whole region. The Central Asia- South Asia Electricity Transmission Project (CASA-1000) will send surplus hydropower from central Asia to South Asia. Turkmenistan- Afghanistan-Pakistan Power interconnection project will help support power trade among the parties. TAPI gas pipeline will supply gas to the participating countries. Moreover, Afghanistan will provide Central Asian republics an easy access to connect with South Asia and BRI.
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