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It is time for Taliban to change

City Star Hall,  a wedding hall in Kabul (Image courtesy:  Los Angeles Times)

Homechevron_rightOpinionchevron_rightArticlechevron_rightIt is time for Taliban...

It is time for Taliban to change


Fevered speculations are raging about how the next government will be formed in Kabul. Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan, who held office between 2001 and 2014 is playing a paramount role in enabling the formation of the new government. The two other leaders of the council are the head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, and the leader of Hizb-e-Islami, Gulbudin Hekmatyar. It is too early to say what the role of these three would be in the future Government. All were surprising events. On 14th August , Afghan President Ashraf Ghani praised the high morale of his army's troops. On Sunday 15th, he fled by helicopter to Tajikistan and became the former president. By Monday, Taliban Commanders were sitting in the presidential palace in Kabul. No handover of power. The American Army collapsed and the victorious Taliban took over. Agree with them or not, they stood fast for twenty years against the mightiest power in history and made them sip the bitter cup of defeat.

American military analysts look humiliated. They predicted that the Afghan army would hold out at least for a few months after the withdrawal of the US forces and that Kabul would resist the Taliban advance. But the army and state institutions disintegrated and the capital fell almost without a fight. Its skies were soon crowded with giant helicopters evacuating American diplomats and citizens, but not the Afghan military chiefs or politicians who collaborated with them who were left behind to their fate. According to observers these were same scenes reported from Saigon after the American defeat in Vietnam. This was replayed on 16th August ,Monday in Kabul. All the traffic was in one direction: towards the airport to find a flight on which to flee the city after the Taliban seized control of all the roads. But the number of planes was limited, and they were mostly reserved for people with white American and European skins.

Post-US factors at play

The Taliban have not yet formally assumed power. They will do so only after the withdrawal of US and Western forces and the evacuation of their Afghan helpers has been completed. A secret meeting was reported between Taliban leader Mullah Abdulghani Baradari and CIA director William Burns. This was aimed at ensuring the American Army's safe and unimpeded departure . The Taliban would have threatened the American Army as their legitimate targets when the Biden administration started dragging its feet over the evacuation. The meeting, according to the political observers may have covered other issues and reached other understandings. But the key thing about it – according to a source close to the movement — was that Mulla Baradari spoke to his American guest as a victor able to dictate his terms.

According to British media reports Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban leader freed from a Pakistani jail on the request of the US less than three years ago, has emerged as an "undisputed victor" of the 20-year war in Afghanistan. While Haibatullah Akhundzada is the Taliban's overall leader, Baradar is its political chief and its most public face.Once Mullah Omar's deputy, he is now widely believed to be a highly effective strategist. He was a key architect of Taliban's victories and played a series of military and administrative roles in the five-year Taliban regime (1996-2001). By the time Taliban was ousted by the US and its Afghan allies, he was deputy minister of defence. According to a Guardian report, in 2018, as Washington's attitude changed, Donald Trump's Afghan envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, asked Pakistan to release Baradar, so he could lead negotiations in Qatar, thinking that he would settle for a power-sharing arrangement. Baradar signed the Doha agreement with the US in February 2020. The Trump administration hailed it as a breakthrough towards peace. But, it appears now that it was a mere staging post towards the final victory of Taliban.

On the fall of Kabul, Baradari said in a televised announcement that Taliban's real test was only beginning as they had to prove their worth by the service to the nation. Experts from Pakistan, Turkey and Iran agree that only the formation of a rational and inclusive government in Kabul will lead to peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region. This was the view expressed in a webinar, organized by the Pakistan Development Communication Network and Defense Technology News Network (DTN), titled "Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Challenges for the Region". Experts noted that there are "good signs" that the Taliban movement has become more mature this time and speaks to neighboring countries in its own language, in addition to taking a more rational approach towards different segments of society. They pointed out that the Taliban's rapid takeover of the country without strong resistance from the Afghan National Army showed the Taliban gaining wide acceptance in their country. For others, this smoothness of the "Taliban" in all aspects, was a pre- planned affair between the Taliban leaders and Ashraf Ghani.

The participants in the webinar pointed out that the United States wasted $6.4 trillion on the "war on terror" including $2.2 trillion in Afghanistan, and about $100 billion on 300,000 Afghan soldiers and air force during the war over the past twenty years. Despite these massive investments, the United States could not build a strong defence in Afghanistan, and this is a catastrophic failure of a superpower. The webinar urged the countries of the region to formulate a regional policy with China, Russia, Iran and Turkey, in addition to the Central Asian countries neighboring Afghanistan, including Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, and to call a conference and also invite the United States to work on a comprehensive plan for peace and stability in the region. Taliban's control over Afghanistan was expected in Pakistan and hence its seizure of power was not surprising there. According to them this time the Taliban has shown maturity and so believe that the consensus of Afghan tribes will play an important role in the country's future.

Winners and losers

Expert opine that the main losers in Afghanistan are the West in general and the United States and the "NATO" countries in particular, because they all invested in the invasion of Afghanistan. Afghan being located in the heart of Asia, they thought of establishing a unipolar Western hegemony alongside the invasion in Iraq, but they failed miserably in both the places. India is also reckoned a loser as our collaboration with the Afghan government under Ashraf Ghani could not achieve anything. Ashraf Ghani's sudden departure from the scene without showing any resistance to the Taliban is interpreted in many ways. People believe that he colluded with the Taliban and helped its usurpation. Hence, we suffered strategic, diplomatic and economic losses in Afghanistan. It is being pointed out that the third losing group is the allies of the United States, such as Israel and some Gulf countries. Now, all realize that the alliance with the United States is unreliable, and that it could leave its ally alone at any time.

Pakistan, China and Russia claim to be the victors, and with them, Turkey and Iran also do to some extent. Pakistan is believed to have supported the resistance against the American invasion for many reasons. One thing clear is that the Taliban has deep roots in Pakistan. Secondly, they wanted to guard their northern borders. Turkey's help is even now sought by Taliban and it gains legitimacy in the diplomatic field . Anyway, Taliban in 2021 is not the same as it was in the nineties of the last century. But there are also people who fear that it could be "more dangerous" as its influence will extend to other countries in the region. The Taliban's announcement of the formation of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" will have serious consequences, and the neighboring countries should find a way to closely coordinate to facilitate a smooth transition in Afghanistan for regional peace. The Saudi Press Agency, "SPA", said that the Saudi Cabinet, during its meeting chaired by King Salman bin Abdulaziz, renewed the Kingdom's firm and historical position in support for peace in Afghanistan. Other members of the Islamic Cooperation Council (ICC) may follow suit. So do the Chinese, who want to portray this withdrawal of the US as a sure sign of the decline and erosion of American power.

China and other neighbours

China realizes that peace and prosperity can be achieved in Afghanistan only through infrastructural and economic development, where the "Belt and Road Initiative" can be beneficial to Afghanistan as well as to Pakistan. Afghanistan can benefit from its natural wealth to attract investment in the mining, energy and agriculture sectors. Chinese exponents emphasize that China was engaged in regional development and integration through building hospitals, roads, bridges and railways, while the United States was engaged in war in Afghanistan. However, China is waiting to fill the vacuum being created by the evacuation of the United States.

The Taliban may be the ally that the Iranians wish for and they supported it for years against the Americans. Doctrinal differences, between the Sunni Taliban against the Shiite clerical regime, are not enough to conclude that there is a conflict between the two extreme neighbours' regimes. The Taliban have long relied on Iran's support in the years since their ouster from the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States that were planned in Afghanistan. Iran provided military support to the movement, and opened its borders to the fugitives of the leaders of Al-Qaeda. Iran's most prominent victories in Iraq came from its use of the armed Sunni opposition and extremist organizations in Iraq against the American forces. Iran and the Taliban have been allies for years, and this cooperation may continue. Taliban delegations have visited Tehran extensively since last December, and the Supreme Leader has publicly praised the Taliban.

Although the Taliban have demonstrated their hardline behavior and narrow understanding of Islam and Muslim history, they have also demonstrated their straightforwardness and simplicity in their dealings. It confidently suggests that they will not play any Machiavellian or Kautilya-stained racist politics. It is believed that the international community could have persuaded the Taliban not to destroy Buddha statues in Bamiyan by engaging Muslim leaders. Bamiyan also brings to memory the destruction of the Babri Masjid that took place almost a decade before the Bamiyan. Both these are humiliating experiences in history. How can one connive at one and criticise the other?

The Taliban 2.0 prospects

The Taliban seem to have learned from their past mistakes in dealing with girl's education and women's role in society. Even otherwise, they cannot proceed now ignoring the representation of women in Afghanistan Parliament. In the parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, in 2018, some women, it was reported, received more votes than men. Women currently hold 69 seats out of 249 in the House of Representatives - a 27.7% share. Of the 102 seats in the Senate, 34 are appointed by the country's president, 50% of which are reserved for women. In our parliament, the number of women MPs in the Rajya Sabha is 25 of 245, just over 10% of the house. This brings the tally of women in parliament to 103 (78 women being in the 17th Lok Sabha), which is a new record. Unfortunately, we cannot help the fact that the people in general are blindfolded and partisan in their criticism .

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