The Taliban, contrary to all military analysis and strategic calculations, took over Kabul with jaw dropping speed on 15 August 2021. The reasons that divested the well trained and well equipped Afghan National Army of the will to fight the Taliban are not too complex to be unfathomable.
While the abrupt and nervous US withdrawal of troops, witnessed by military strategists in disbelief demoralised the Afghan security forces, the unpopular and corrupt Afghan political leadership riven by dissension could not hold their nerves too without the foreign security umbrella.
Interestingly and ironically, the Taliban did not conquer Afghanistan. The weak and discredited Ashraf Ghani surrendered the country to his nemeses. While cut from the ground realities, he had a delusional perception about the infallibility of foreign support, the fire power of his military, the fighting prowess of his allies especially the well-fed warlords, and his personal public popularity. He was fed with wrong and fanciful assessments of his corrupt Generals and foreign intelligence agencies including RAW and CIA.
The US also shared his delusion that he would hold the ground long enough until the conclusion of intra-Afghan talks resulting in a power sharing formula.
Though the US generals remained on ground in Afghanistan for two decades, they failed to grasp the dynamics of the Afghan society. The Afghan problem is profoundly steeped in the centuries-old fragmentation of the country on tribal, ethnic, linguistic, religious and ideological affiliations that militate against national unity, and create and reinforce numerous tribal and religious power structures.
The country has always remained a loose confederacy of these power centres, swearing nominal allegiance to the central authority in Kabul which could only survive by maintaining equilibrium among these power structures.
Afghanistan has remained a crucible for strategic and political ambitions of empires and major powers from the Great Game of the 19th century to a new round of contestation between the US-led western world and the Soviet Union after the First World War particularly when the Soviets completed the annexation of the Central Asian states.
This rivalry between the two powerful blocs culminated into the Soviet military intervention in December 1979 and the US misadventure in 2001. Throughout these cataclysmic phases of their national history, the proud Afghans fought for freedom rejecting every foreign sponsored ruler and system of governance.
Imperialism never listens to the faint whispers of history. The US was no exception.
Two decades is a long time to bear the brunt of an imperialist power. The Afghans braved imperialist atrocities and revisited their historic spirit for freedom and resilience. The Americans failed to understand the Afghans who prefer to live in hunger as a free people than prosperity in subjugation. They unite as a people against foreign occupants of their land.
They have no fear of death. What they can die smilingly for is honour and ‘Pashtun wali’ which simply means to a Pashtun: taking on the enemy and protecting those under his charge.
This tribal code has underpinned the warfare the Pashtuns have waged against for eign adversaries. The US sub-contracted the war for defeating the Taliban to tribal chiefs and warlords.
They took the money from the Americans but never seriously pursued their task to take on the Taliban who carried out their guerilla warfare and melted away into Pashtun population in the rural regions. The Americans fanned tribal and ethnic rivalries by overly depending on non-Pashtun forces from the north.
As they turned the war into a long haul, the Taliban preempted their ‘divide and rule’ by broadening their ranks reaching out to non-Pashtun tribes. The Americans also alarmed traditionalists initiating hasty cultural changes. Disrespecting Afghan dead bodies and their religious tenets was the certain way of hurting the Pashtun pride and earning the anger and hatred of the Afghani population.
The US leadership did not have an idea about the devastating consequences of their hasty and abrupt withdrawal of troops. The Bagram base should have been the last fortification to be evacuated after a power sharing formula.
Their pressure on the warring factions for the conclusion of intra-Afghan talks was upended by the Taliban’s swift conquest of rural regions and district capitals restricting the writ of the puppet regime to the environs of Kabul. The fall of Kabul was becoming imminent.
The American leaders could see the inevitability. Maybe, they were not prepared to admit the reality.
The Taliban are now on trial. The US-led Western countries do not believe in their words notwithstanding their announcement of general pardon for opponents, protection of foreigners and Foreign Missions and the life, property and honour of the Afghan people, respect for human rights especially of women and creation of inclusive governing structures.
They have engaged various Afghan factions for broad-based or inclusive governance and extended hand of friendship to every country. They need to be given time to keep their words. The civilised world should help Afghanistan to achieve peace and stability.
The extended troika (US, China, Russia and Pakistan) has a greater responsibility in this task. Afghanistan needs to be treated as an independent and a sovereign state mainstreaming its new rulers rather than shunning and isolating them. The international community should appreciate the enormity of the task of the Taliban.
Apart from the creation of broadbased governing structures in the politically and ethnically fragmented Afghan society, they have to rid the country of terrorist outfits, poppy cultivation, narcotics trade and tribal militias.
These formidable challenges could not be carried out without the international help. The US will further lose grace by supporting an insurgency in the country by remnants of the Ghani regime or any tribal militia to prevent troika countries to help stabilise this war-ravaged country or hinder the Taliban to create inclusive and stable governance structures. Enough is enough.
Afghans have suffered untold miseries because of the active interference in their country by foreign powers since five decades. Pakistan has the onerous task of closely coordinating with the extended troika and the other regional countries to help Afghans to bring peace and stability to their country.