Afghanistan has been a warzone for many centuries and many superpowers of their times wanted to conquer it but failed. Why Afghanistan has been under focus of many countries and how can we explain what just happened recently after withdrawal of America? But before, let us have a quick recap of the history of Afghanistan.
A Quick Recap Up to Current Events
No doubt, great Muslims emperors, all came from Afghanistan after conquering it. Mughal emperor Babur from Farah valley in today’s Uzbekistan, first conquered Afghanistan after fighting with Tajik emperors and then gained the control of Delhi and Ultimately covered whole Bengal.
Then British tried to capture Emirates of Afghanistan, fought three wars, but were forced to back foot and in 1919, urged their leaders to make contract with emir of Afghanistan. And then final boundaries came to existence between Emirates of Afghanistan and British India in which British also took a huge benefit by claiming parts of today’s Balochistan.
In World War 1, again allies and central powers, both wanted to take over Afghanistan but emir wanted to be neutral and asked for toughest resistance in case of any attack on Afghanistan. Afghanistan stayed away from the war because it was far from hot points.
In 1979, Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan to support its ideology by helping Daud Khan’s communist government in Afghanistan. But after heavy losses in 1988, it came back. And in 1996, Taliban took control of Afghanistan after several clashes. Ultimately, American attack on Afghanistan after 9/11, demolished Taliban government and gave control of Afghanistan to Hamid Karzai. On 31st of August 2021 Americans also packed their bags and escaped in hurry from Kabul and now Afghanistan is under Taliban control.
Why Capturing Afghanistan is so hard?
Now let see why Afghanistan is so difficult to capture or if captured, difficult to maintain. If we discuss geographically, on the north-eastern and eastern parts along with Pakistani border, it consists of Hindukush range which not only comprises of Highest peaks but also dark and deep valleys, from where no one can protect itself against guerrilla attacks. On southern side, it consists of Marshy areas along the borders of Sistan and on northern and north-western side, it is landlocked with great Amu Darya which not only provides resistance to Central Asian region but provides Afghanistan a natural border due to deep valleys and terrain of Amu.
Rubbing salt into the wounds of conquers is Afghanistan’s harsh weather which become insanely hot in summer and intense cold in winter making it unique in world and invaders from others parts do not have the ability to survive easily in this winter. This makes its location very vital for itself.
Why a Strategic Warzone?
The answer is Afghanistan is politically and civilizationally unique. Samuel P. Huntington in his book “The clash of civilizations” called Afghanistan a buffer zone of civilization. On the north, the great communist civilization just started (Central Asian countries have somehow Russian influence till now, which today, we call as Central Asian culture), on the east, it is strongly eastern civilization, on south is great Sasani civilization, and on west is Arab civilization. So, in order to counter other civilizations, every country wishes to take control over other civilization through Afghanistan.
Various actors have different strategic interests in Afghanistan. India wants to strategically lock Pakistan through influence in Afghanistan, Pakistan wants strategic depth in Afghanistan to counter India. China and Russia want connectivity through Afghanistan. Iran wants Shia influence while Saudi wants Sunni (Wahhabi) influence in Afghanistan, Central Asia wants to keep Afghanistan busy to maintain its secular position While America wants to keep an eye on entire region and to full stop Russian, Chinese influence in this area. Another view is that America came to stop Islamic influence and conduct mass-manipulation in the name of nation-building in Afghanistan. All of these powers support their agendas through their proxies.
Let us now look at the key international actors and their strategic interests in Afghanistan.
First of all, Iran heavily supported Taliban besides its sectarian conflicts as photos leaked of Taliban using Iran manufactured machine guns and SMGs. Iran has been under strict financial restrictions imposed by America, and additionally American presence continuously posed danger to Iranian nuclear deal. America first imposed its own points in nuclear deal and then itself withdrew from deal asking Iran to completely shut its nuclear program. On receiving a refusal from Iran, America through Israel threatened Iran by asking for bombing and killing of important personalities. For Iran, it was very difficult to sustain its nuclear program with sustained American presence on its border. Iran hence added him in alliance supporting American withdrawal from AFGHANISTAN to fight for its right without any strong pressure and Iran also favoured Taliban to takeover Afghanistan.
Pakistan, no doubt, after Daud Khan’s threatening of attack to regain Pakhtunistan and Indian nuclear tests at Pokhran in 1974 called Pakistan to take interest in Afghanistan. Pakistan for its strategic depth and responding to Afghanistan’s policy of supporting Pakhtunistan, first trained 5000 militants from Afghanistan in the name of Muslim unity and then intensified it after Soviet intervention. These were afterwards called Taliban. From 1996 Pakistan continuously supported Taliban govt and then secretly after American attack following 9/11. America due to its economic benefits, gave India a unique position in Afghanistan. India ultimately used its position to counter Pakistan. Pakistan for its survival, made policy to kick out India from Afghanistan as well as America to freely play in Afghanistan and hence supported Taliban regime and American withdrawal.
China sees presence of America at its border as a threat to its great Belt and Road Initiative BRI project as well as its economic policies. hence, it ultimately added to favouring Taliban control and American withdrawal.
Central Asia, for the first time, appears to be partially in support of Taliban as it sees America as a threat to the regional stability and it’s policies. America pose threat to Central Asian trade through hot waters as Afghanistan is the only way for them to get their trade.
Russia was not happy with staying of Americans in the region as continuous weapon upgrading posed threat that America could attack it on two fronts due to its one belt, one corridor project and secondly diversion towards Chinese trading policy. In the presence of America on Afghan soil, Russia could not freely play the trade game in region as the way to hot waters only goes through Afghanistan, so Russia did not resist Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
And the last question is why all groups have focused and chose Taliban for the fate of Afghanistan? The answer is as not simple but Taliban added people from other ethnicities and hence made them all country nationalist party. Besides Taliban, there are only two factions, one under Ismail Khan and one under Ahmed Massoud, which somehow maintain their influence, but their influence could not build in the whole of Afghanistan, hence after founding the right opportunity at the right time, Taliban without wasting time, captured whole of Afghanistan.
About The Author
Saad Bin Ubaid studies Mathematics at Quaid-i-Azam University. He is interested in National Security as well as Agricultural and Industrial development. He is a keen observer of International Relations and Strategic Affairs.
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.