Return of the Taliban in Afghanistan!
THE long, bloody and tragic American involvement in Afghanistan has finally come to an end.
The American forces packed up quietly in the dead of night and very secretly left the biggest strategic military base of Bagram and even the Afghan Government was not privy to the American departure from Bagram.
The American withdrawal as promised by Joe Biden will be completed by September 11, 2021 the 20th Anniversary of attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.
The Taliban leaders are not wasting any time in their bid to grabbing power in Afghanistan and establish their writ by imposing their draconian rule of Sharia as they did in 1996.
They launched their first attack against Qala-i-Naw, a provincial capital in the north-west of the country and since the beginning of May they have targeted Afghan forces in all directions. This is a bold, dazzling and spectacular return of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
As of today the Taliban forces number about 80,000 to 100000 battle hardened fighters and before the withdrawal of the American forces the Taliban were already in control of 73 districts out of the 421 in the country.
Since the beginning of May the Taliban conquests have been extremely rapid and now almost every day two districts are falling under their control and by now they control 200 districts or nearly half the country. The Taliban attack the countryside first and then the cities.
The Afghan National Army trained and armed by the Americans seems to be falling like leaves in wintry weather before the advance of the Taliban horde.
The soldiers of the Afghan Army are not prepared to die for a lost cause as they can see the writing on the wall.
Just a few days ago more than a thousand Afghan army soldiers crossed the border and asked for asylum in Tajikistan.
It has now been revealed by Ashraf Ghani that more than 45,000 members of the Afghan security forces have been killed since they took over from NATO in the end of 2014.
It is now not a question of if but when the Taliban capture Kabul and take control of the entire country to begin their second stint as rulers and impose their own laws based on their version of the Islamic Sharia.
The Taliban leadership is now trying desperately to emerge from under Pakistan’s shadow and bolster its political legitimacy.
Pakistan has never been very popular in Afghanistan and continued association of the Taliban, with Pakistan will severely damage their political credibility.
Pakistan cannot remain unaffected by the happenings in Afghanistan and will be the country most affected by the return of the Taliban.
The return of the Taliban to full scale power in Afghanistan will be a great morale booster for a plethora of Jihadist groups, militants and Islamic Jihadists in Paistan.
This event will trigger a tsunami of extremism and radicalization and will provide impetus to the Deobandi Madrassas network already sympathetic to the Taliban philosophy and waiting to act as facilitators and helpers.
Immediately after the return of the Taliban Pakistan will be inundated by a flood of Afghan refugees and among them will be battalions of hard core terrorists and suicide bombers disguised as refugees.
The top leadership of the Taliban is taking steps to facilitate their penetration into Pakistan.
One example is the rise of Mullah Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar who has been appointed as the head of the Taliban Military Commission after superseding many Taliban commanders.
Yaqoob is representative of the younger groups of the Taliban who do not carry the baggage of any links or patronage of Pakistan.
In a recent press conference the Pakistani Foreign Minister stated categorically that violence and lawlessness could reign in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal and that Pakistan will shut its border to the country if the Taliban take over.
He said that Pakistan has already taken 3.5 million Afghan refugees over the years but we cannot accept any more and we will have to shut our borders to safeguard our national interests.
Policy planners in Pakistan since the time of Zia Ul Haque have been fond of the idea that controlling Afghanistan will give us strategic depth needed to control and challenge our main adversary India.
This concept of strategic depth and strategic assets was coined by General Aslam Beg, who believed that a pro-Pakistan regime even a Taliban regime in Kabul will be in our interest.
This time the civilian leadership and the army chief have declared in no uncertain terms that Pakistan does not have any favourites in Afghanistan and we will support any Govt. formed by the people of Afghanistan.
Our strategists should also realize that creating and sponsoring militant groups has no guarantees that they will remain in your control. The idea of good Taliban and bad Taliban has to be abandoned.
We can take a lesson from the fictional story of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that creatures we give life to can develop minds and needs of their own like Israel’s role in building up Hamas as a rival to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
—The writer is Professor of History, based in Islamabad.