Since the silent and sooner than expected fall of Kabul, debate about the victory and defeat has become talk of the town. Different people are assigning the titles of victorious and defeated to either America or Taliban based on ideological and sympathetic inclinations. Loser of one is winner of the other.
Locating the victor and loser of the Afghanistan war through binary approach of either black or white is misleading and confusing specifically for those who have acquired a neutral posture with regard to both America and Taliban. Binaries impose limitations, narrowness, oversimplification, which in turn create confusion, misunderstanding, and obscurantism. Objective and better analysis of the scenario demands non-binary understanding of phenomenon at hand.
From the perspective of international relations, winner and loser of a conflict, battle and war is determined based on the purpose and objective of each party involved in the dispute. In ancient times, the identification of loser and winner was quite easy and obvious because the victorious army was supposed to capture the territory, resources both human and material of the vanquished army. However, in 21st century, where physical control of another territory is out of question, winners and losers are calculated on the basis of the objectives of the war.
Moreover, there are multiple dimensions in which winner in one dimension might be loser in other. In case of Afghanistan, there were not only two actors as the binary approach suggests, but multiple actors, multiple winners, and multiple losers. Similarly, there is no crystal clear and all-out winner and loser of the Afghan war.
Looking from the dimension of objectives of the Afghanistan war, both Washington and Taliban are winners. The objectives of Washington in Afghanistan included punishing Taliban regime of the time for harboring Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda responsible for the 9/11 attacks, dismantling of the Al-Qaida network and establishment of strong, peaceful, and prosperous democratic Afghanistan. America achieved all her objectives minus peaceful democratic country in Afghanistan. The last objective was denied by the current president of the United States of America by saying that “nation-building was not supposed to be our mission in Afghanistan”. In the same way, the one and only objective of Taliban was to get rid of the foreign troops and occupation in Afghanistan and they succeeded in achieving their stated purpose through the Doha agreement of 2020. Thus, from this perspective both actors are winners.
Furthermore, there was another diode namely, Ashraf Ghani government and Taliban. The former wanted to run the government democratically, and the latter wanted to topple the government manage it as per the teachings of Islam. With the fall of Kabul, Taliban succeeded in achieving their objective of occupying the seat of power and Ghani and his cabinet lost by bequeathing the center of power. In this category, we can classify those people as winner and loser who were on the side of Taliban and Ghani respectively.
In addition, there are winners and losers in the Pashtun nation across the Durand line. Religious parties’ leadership and followers celebrate the Taliban takeover of Kabul and consider it their ideological victory too. On the other hand, nationalist and secular factions of Pashtuns perceive it as their defeat.
Finally, there are common people of Afghanistan, particularly minorities i.e. numerical minorities, ethnic minorities, religious minorities and political minorities, who longed for peace in the country. Their example is that f grass which got trampled in the fight between elephants. They suffered the most in the 20 years of war. Their objective is peace, which has not seen the light of the dawn so far. They are losers at the moment. They will be victorious the moment peace is prevailed in Afghanistan.
The current fall of Kabul can aptly be described as a manufactured palace coup or regime change, in which one set of leadership is replaced with another, in the same as it was done in 2001 when Taliban government was replaced with that of US installed Karzai government in Kabul. This time, Taliban will rule moderately, refraining from harsh rules and regulations of 1990s. There are multiple reasons for this change of behavior including legitimacy for their rule, foreign recognition of their government, international aid, and not to provide any reason that would provoke internal revolt or uprising, which might put their rule at stake. Apart from the internal reasons, there is one convincing external structural reason that is the changing global political order with the ensuing of rivalry between China and America. Afghanistan under Taliban provides a promising ground for the upcoming cold war between America and China for primacy in the world.
About The Author
Rafiullah Khan has major in Political Science. He is currently doing MPhil in international relations from Qauid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of Rationale-47.