Emergence Of Taliban ‘Rule’ And Future Of South Asia

6 mins read

Sumera B Reshi

Taliban claims to have controlled 85 per cent of the Afghan territory. It has made steady progress ever since the US withdrew from Afghanistan. The obvious victory of the Taliban had raised fears among its neighbours and it has been predicted that the Afghan government could collapse given the Taliban’s second rise to power unabated and unhindered. Thomas Harding in his 10th June 2021 report has described Afghanistan post US drawdown as ‘Saigon Moment’.

According to a Foreign policy report, the Taliban control’s 188 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts and they are moving forward faster than expected. Some Afghan forces have fled the country to Taliban’s advances and have crossed over to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Soon after the US decided its plan to withdraw from Afghanistan, its ally NATO followed the action. Nonetheless, NATO didn’t sign any deal with the Taliban but the Doha agreement mentions all the US military forces, its allies, and Coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security to be withdrawn from the Afghan territory, so NATO had to follow the US. Besides, NATO can’t operate in Afghan territory without the support of the US.

The Taliban in turn committed to preventing the use of Afghanistan territory for terrorist attacks on the US and its allies.  There is a flaw in the Doha agreement as per Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow – Foreign Policy, Center for Middle East Policy, and Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology.  The Afghan government headed by Ashraf Ghani was excluded from the negotiations held in Doha, Qatar in 2020. Mr Riedel equates the move that of the Nixon administration’s deal with North Vietnam in 1973, in which the South Vietnam government was left out of the negotiations.

Undoubtedly, the Taliban is a dominant force in Afghanistan and the US and its allies failed to engage the Taliban in the political process post-2001. Taliban’s influence is growing and they control a major part of the Afghan territory now. Since the US forces set off, the morale of the Afghan government forces is low and the Taliban is taking advantage of the current situation. It has launched a well-planned offensive to capture major territory in its control. According to Antonio Giustozzi, a Rusi associate fellow, a large number of Afghan police had already surrendered and young men were volunteering to join the Taliban.’

Aidai Masylkanova, a visiting fellow at Harvard University, described Afghanistan as a ‘sinking boat’ post US departure. Since the US is setting off for home, the Taliban has launched its offensive to take over townships and control major key routes of communication encircling Kabul. Many political experts opine that the ‘Doha agreement’ inked in 2020 was packaged as a ‘peace deal’ when in reality, it is a ‘withdrawal deal’

Intelligence agencies and policy analysts had earlier predicted that the US drawdown could lead to a bloody ‘civil war’ and the fragile government in Kabul would collapse within six months or so. Also, experts believe that the US withdrawal has set Afghanistan back on the path of terror, havoc and breakdown. Rather Afghanistan is heading towards a catastrophe.

The Guardian (4th July 2021) quoted the former Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. “He said, he is similarly pessimistic. “Look at the scene. We are in shambles. The country conflicts. There is immense suffering… Those who came here 20 years ago in the name of fighting extremism and terrorism not only failed to end it but, under their watch, extremism has flourished. That is what I call failure”.

Since the US started its departure, the Afghan government looks helpless. It seems Afghanistan is heading back to 20 years position. The government forces have to fight the Taliban or surrender to them and there are reports that many ethnic groups have revived to fight back the Taliban. Afghanistan will likely have to go for war on many fronts rather than peace. The instability and chaos in Afghanistan can have ripple effects on its immediate neighbours as well. The Taliban’s second rise has undoubtedly rattled its neighbours. India has invested heavily in Afghanistan and its policy watchers are looking for an option they utilized after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. India is trying to revive the Northern Alliance, an anti-Taliban group led by Tajik and other Afghan ethnic minority groups. Back in 2001, this anti-Taliban group was supported by Russia, India and Iran. But since 2001, the Taliban and other ground realities in Afghanistan has transformed drastically. Whether the revival of the Northern Alliance will bear any fruits for India is hard to reply.

In an interview with Deutsche Welle (DW), Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistan journalist and author of Taliban said that the current situation in Afghanistan is ‘extremely dangerous and can affect its neighbours and if that happens, that will be the end of Afghanistan. At present, the Taliban has control over Kandahar, Helmand and northern districts like Mazar-e-Sharif. Its ambit is not restricted to the traditional areas only.  Rashid also believes that in Doha Peace Deal, the Afghan government wasn’t engaged at all and the US drawdown was a decision in haste. He also deems Ghani as a weak leader unable to unite people for a common position of dialogue. After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, all the warlords were brought to Kabul by the US to join the government. Nonetheless, no efforts were put in to unite these people. Like Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, they also rigged elections & lost the sympathy of the Afghan masses. The real failure, as per Ahmed Rashid ‘has been the lack of unity among the Afghan resistance’. International forces under the surveillance of the US & NATO neglected this issue from the very beginning. The US left its homework incomplete in Afghanistan and rushed to Iraq to bring in its concept of ASAP (As soon as possible) democracy in Iraq. This American somersault gave enough time to the Taliban to revive and come back with full force.

Furthermore, China isn’t happy with the US departure from Afghanistan. A few years back, Beijing engaged the Taliban in a dialogue to protect its ‘Belt and Road Initiative, however, the Taliban didn’t agree or accept Chinese strategy. Beijing didn’t want to get trapped in any conflict with the Taliban so they stepped back from encouraging the peace process in Afghanistan. Beijing isn’t in favour of Taliban –led Afghanistan as it fears Afghanistan could become a haven for Uyghur separatists & the East Turkestan Movement (ETM). As per Chinese experts, these groups seek to undermine China’s territorial integrity in the region of Xinjiang.

In addition, instability and chaos in Afghanistan could negatively impact China’s premier transcontinental infrastructure project: The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). As per an MoU signed in 2016, Afghanistan was to jointly cooperate with China under the BRI, mainly through the development of the Wakhan Corridor, Badakhshan Province, and the linkage of Southern Afghanistan with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Also, US withdrawal from Afghanistan may have major implications for the emerging US-China geopolitical rivalry. According to analysts, continued US involvement in Afghanistan provided a great opportunity for China. The endless war in Afghanistan deteriorated US moral exceptionalism and bogged it down with costly military commitments, allowing China to rise uncontested post-2001.

India also has concerns if the Taliban takes full control of Afghanistan. India deems ‘a China-Pakistan and Taliban alliance’ an insoluble ‘national security challenge’. Moreover, India can’t digest Afghanistan’s inclusion in China’s BRI and CPEC and India isn’t in favour of China exploiting Afghanistan’s natural resources which according to an Indian Express article (21st May 2021) are worth $1 trillion. If China succeeds to include Afghanistan in its mega infrastructure projects, then India is likely to lose control in the region. Since the US is no more in the picture, India has to firmly hold its ally Iran to establish closer ties with Afghan trading centres in Herat.

India has invested in various infrastructure projects in Afghanistan and the investment is more than $3 billion as per the Times of India report, dated 2nd July 2021. Further, India announced 100 projects worth $80 million in November 2020 and increased violence would mar the progress of these projects and put the lives of Indians working in Afghanistan in jeopardy. Niranjan Marjani, an independent researcher and columnist based in Vadodara opines that if the Taliban takes over Afghanistan, there would be security concerns for India and the Chinese influence along with Pakistan might lead to a strategic & economic competition for India in Afghanistan.

Moreover, Afghanistan shares its borders with Iran, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as well. Tajikistan & Uzbekistan are also worried about the rise of the Taliban. The Taliban regime means there will be a huge ethnic migration push into Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Political analysts believe that Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan and Turkmenistan also fear the return of the Taliban into power as they worry that the rise of Taliban could push Islamic extremism into their territories.  Already many Islamic extremist groups are active in these countries with ties to outfits in Afghanistan as per the experts.

Despite Russia’s engagement in talks with the Taliban, it has its worries vis-à-vis the return of the Taliban into power. Therefore, not just India, Pakistan and China are fearful of the Taliban’s second rise but the other countries bordering Afghanistan have apprehensions.  However, nothing is clear in Afghanistan yet. The situations in Afghanistan depends on the Taliban with the lessons learnt after its fall in 2001, the involvement of its immediate and distant neighbours in proxies and a parallel force who oppose the Taliban.

 

 

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