The American president Joe Biden had made some statements as a senator when US and NATO forces were entrenching their footsteps in Afghanistan at the outset of War on Terror. “Our hope is that we will see a relatively stable government in Afghanistan, one that provides the foundation for future reconstruction of that country”, he stated as senator in 2001. Later in 2003, he stated “alternative to nation building is chaos, a chaos that churns out blood thirsty warlords, drug traffickers and terrorists”. Recently recently after US exit and Taliban’s easier than expected takeover, president Biden stated, “our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building, a unified centralized democracy but to prevent a terrorist attack on American homeland.” All these statements contradict one another by themselves.
Back to the past, we should keep in mind that the War on Terror was meant not only to curb terrorist attacks on American soil but was also meant to root out terrorism also. The Taliban regime was ousted for US accused them of giving safe haven to Al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden, who was held responsible for hatching the plan of 9/11 attacks from the Afghan soil. If the aim of US military adventure, according to Biden, was to counter terrorism, not insurgency, the irony one can find is that the Taliban, insurgents, were attacked as they aided and gave sanctuaries to Al-Qaeda, a terrorist group, and that the US mission has completely failed as according to the recent UN report, the latter’s members are still present in 15 provinces of Afghanistan, primarily in the Eastern, Southern and South-Eastern areas with many others in the sub-continent being supported by Taliban from Kandahar, Helmand and Nimruz provinces. Though Mr. President has assured that Taliban would not let Afghanistan’s soil to be used against America, the question is has he given the same same assurances to other allies who fought and lost much for the same purpose, i,e to counter terrorism. After the release of TTP leader, Faqir Muhammad, he has claimed that he will establish an Islamic state in the erstwhile FATA region; other terrorist organizations too have taken heart from the revival of Afghan Taliban.
The geo-strategic interests of US in Afghanistan cannot be ignored. A country with the reputation of graveyard of empires, has been the epicenter of global powers rivalry since the invasions of Alexander the Great and it is a historical fact that without the control on this region, sustaining hegemony in the world is too difficult if not impossible. There was much possibility of toppling down the Taliban regime from within if US supported the anti-Taliban factions but it did not as it had to intervene at any cost owing to its interest relative to South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. Let us take one example of TAPI gas pipeline project which aimed at isolating Iran and to change the direction of resources towards South Asia so that US arch-rival Russia could not make use of them; these were one of the main US objectives at that time.
On one hand the soft image of US may have been deteriorated with the decision of withdrawal from Afghanistan, but on the other hand, the US has succeeded in bringing the Taliban to the table to make a peaceful pull out of its forces. The exit can be analyzed better through the lens of the changing dynamics of global politics. When US-led forces invaded, the world was unipolar and there was no state powerful enough that could counter its domineering bullying in the region. With the emergence of China and other regional powers ,and the shift from military to economic strategies of the states, it had become clear to America that by physically stating in the region, its interests could not be saved. Therefore, we should not be deluded that the Taliban has defeated the imperial but it was the need of an hour for the US to go away.
As regards the Afghan people, over the two-decade long war, the Brown University estimates the killing of Afghan security forces at 69.000, of coalition forces at 3.500, of civilians and militants at 51.000 each; the UN declares Afghanistan having 3rd largest displaced population in the world. In the current developments though. Taliban have pledged a pragmatic and an inclusive political dispensation, it remains to be seen how far they would cope with their claims. With the fall of Kabul to the hands of Afghan Taliban, women rights and human rights’ activists who had hoped and dreamt of a democratic Afghanistan showed their grievances regarding their untiring efforts going all in vain. Another matter worthy of attention is that while the Taliban have ensured women freedom within the limits prescribed by Islam, the freedom to women within those limits is subjected to their own interpretation, whether flexible or hard. Given the past experience with the Taliban, people are scary with many fleeing their country and others remaining confined in homes and not daring to go out for their job or other business activities.
Regarding the change in the behaviour of Taliban. it can be said that it is not because they want to change but because Afghanistan they have captured now is much more different than they had last had in 1996. There are now more women and children having access to education with the establishment of educational institutions, roads connecting major cities, public-sector enterprises, and long-distanced transmission lines carrying electricity. Most importantly, the people are now more conscious of their political rights. With the advancement of social media, any brutal act by them can be laid bare to the world in no time. Notwithstanding the exit of foreign troops and the Taliban on maximalist position, the transition and sharing of power is another big challenge the Afghan stakeholders have to face. Moreover, unemployment, poverty, malnutrition, administrative issues, currency depreciation, infrastructure and so many other problems merged out in the wake of a devastating war, are still to be dealt with.
In a nutshell, America has succeeded in its safe exit and has left Afghanistan in the lurch and therefore, the win and lose situation is for Afghan people and those regional countries which foresee the ramifications for their interests if the already traumatised Afghanistan faces another protracted war.
About The Author
Abdullah Khan is a graduate of University of Peshawar and is currently studying Pakistan Studies at Qauid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He is interested in international events and is an avid observer of the politics of Afghanistan.
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.