Prof. M. Waseem Raja
Professor of Diplomatic History
CAS, Department of History
The recent events which unfolded in Afghanistan have been astounded for international community. The swift takeover of Kabul by the Taliban has surprised many and needs to be analyzed critically. The foremost challenge now before the US and other concerned is to ensure that the setback must be alternated with diplomacy, dialogue and further engagements. Now the ‘Doha- Dialogue’ fully implemented, the US needs the furtherance of such talks in future for a viable government at Kabul. It is for the peace and reconciliation with the new Taliban regime and stability in the region. The new Afghan regime of ‘Taliban 2.0’ must be given acceptability, recognition and thus chances of reconciliation emerge which will eventually lead to an ‘inclusive government’. Their accommodation among the world body politic would be heralding a new era, as they became a reality.
Undermined ‘Superpower’ and Taliban’s swift takeover of Kabul; The rise of the Taliban and their swift takeover, astounded Pentagon, MI5 and other security agencies all over the world. It baffled all but they forgot the fact that the phantom was once the creation of the US and hence dealing with them was the challenge for the mighty Americans. The present Taliban are yesterday’s American trained and motivated militia, which toppled Ashraf Ghani’s government in a flash and within no time the years of rebuilding process in Afghanistan by US-led coalition withered away. The fallout in Afghanistan is something that will change the course of the American action, dealing with the nations at will. No longer such forcible military tactics or plans like an imperialist will work. It was a dishonorable exit of a ‘Global Super Cop’ indeed.
Dangerous Militia Government; With America leaving a huge cache of arms and ammunition which even most of the third world countries do not possess at present, it is going to be a difficult task for others to challenge the present Taliban government of Biradars. The emerging ruling clique will be a power to be reckoned with and difficult to come to any terms. This time they will be in position to dictate. Between 2003 and 2016, the U.S. purchased and provided 75,898 vehicles and 208 aircraft, it couldn't take home 20 years of accumulated hardware and instead left much of it to the Afghan military. This includes four C-130 transport aircraft, 23 Brazilian-made A-29 "Super Tucano" turboprop ground-attack aircraft, 45 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, and 50 smaller MD-530 choppers30 military versions of Cessna single-engine fixed-wing aircraft. The 20 years of hard work and America's $20 Trillion of money wasted, the country is fully under control of the Taliban. The surprising element was the melting away of around 300,699 trained Afghan armed forces, 118, 628 police personnel and other big fighting mechanized units. Now, there seems to be no one to challenge this rising sphinx known as the Taliban 2.0.
Legitimacy and recognition to the new Regime; Even the self-righteous triumphalism of Pakistan, the all-season friend of the Taliban – and its principal supporters – China, Russia, Iran, and Turkey – has given way to sober realism. The emerging Taliban power is seen in Pakistani ranks and file as an opportunity not to be missed. Pakistan is more than assured that the emerging regime is on threshold to be friendly with Pakistan and the repeated allegations of abetting militancy to be put aside. So, Pakistan could be the front-runner in accepting the Taliban as the legitimate regime in Kabul. On the other hand, Taliban 2.0 is holding talks with former government officials and other stakeholders to form an “inclusive government”. This time they don’t want to repeat the past mistakes. There is virtually no opposition to the Taliban 2.0 and within no time, Taliban could dictate terms to any recalcitrant elements.
Survival of the Nascent redefined ‘Emirate Afghan-i Islamia;’ Changed system
They refer to themselves as the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, which is a reality now. Shura’, Majlis, Ulusi Jirga, Loya Jirga and other such Pashto terminologies loaded with customary and Islamic imageries would be common features now in its conduct of the state business. They would definitely seek guidance from Quran and Sunnah like 42nd surah of the Qur?an, in which believers are exhorted to conduct their affairs “by mutual consultation.” The International community should be cosier with such reality and forge relations with the new dispensation.
The state structure left by the Ashraf Ghani Government is largely intact and the organs of the state remain functional. Like other Islamic states in the Middle East, definite change with the Afghan government of Taliban Islamic tint with some tenets, finding its way into its establishment. Banks , Internet and other public concerns are functioning and so far, foreign/Afghan media is still operating. Unlike the war-ravaged country it took over in 1996, the Taliban 2.0 have inherited a functional state including a parliament building. Thus, Taliban 2.0 has gone out of its way to assure the world that they would adhere to acceptable norms of behaviour subject to limitations imposed by their ideology and the sharia code much like Arab countries, Iran, Pakistan and other Islamic regimes. They can adopt the Saudi or Iranian model of Islamic governance. It is too short a time to judge the actions of the Taliban but they are reality now.
Northern Tribes, Sharia, Women, and Issues of work culture; There have been reports, some unconfirmed, some exaggerated, of repeated reprisals against previous government officials and excesses related to imposition of the sharia, particularly on women. The Taliban very wryly says, International media has exaggerated these reports due to preconceived image of Taliban 1.0. Taliban would not want to lose this time and for them the changed perception would work wonders. If they happen to be a bit liberal, bit inclusive and want to have recognition from the world body, their task is cut out; they must shake off the hard-core stands taken earlier. Life, liberty, right to livelihood, education and health concerns all Afghans but those are restricted in the name of Islam, it’s again will be tarnishing the humanitarian outlook of Islam. Taliban with all its saner conduct would not do it again.
Whosoever dominates Kabul Shura or Jirga, dominates Afghanistan. Pushtun domination is a reality and Northern tribes including Tajik , Uzbeck Hazaras and others must reconcile with the reality that Taliban 2.0 is a ‘Pushtun dominated clique.’ They have tasks cut out. More bloodshed will do more harm to the unity of Afghan factions and disservice to the new Afghanistan.
India’s Dilemma; With the recent events in Afghanistan, the US–India partnership in the country has suffered a jolt. The US left Afghanistan in a huff, leaving India in South Asia in a tight spot. India had invested heavily in Afghanistan, a whopping Rs. 23000 crore already invested, such efforts of India can go waste. India’s relations with Afghanistan have now taken a hit and it has left American allies nowhere to look for. China’s interest in Afghan affairs and its closeness to Pakistan will change the region's political and security dynamics. India’s most worrisome aspect on Afghanistan is its Kashmir angle. There are already murmurings in Kashmir while Taliban and other radical fighting groups see Kashmir issue as an emotive Islamic issue. The Taliban 2.0 or any other radical regime is creating a psychological impact in the ranks and file of India. The expected outcome is a threat to the security apparatus in the Kashmir valley. The return of the Taliban is being projected as a signal, a victory of religious fundamentalism in the region by Pakistani media and it is going to have severe implications for the region as a whole.
Whatever be the mood of the general populace in India and its non-serious media outlets, the Government of India must recognize the fact that it will be in its best interest to engage the radical Taliban element, as talks and dialogue can solve any problem. If the US can have dialogue with the tough North Korean regime, why not India; should come forward and discuss the burning issues with the new Taliban regime. Leaving Taliban unattended will give the other players a chance in the region. The growing nexus of China, Russia, Pakistan with Afghanistan, is definitely a worrisome sign for India. It should not leave the Taliban without having them on the dialogue table. So that issue of cross-border terrorism, Kashmir issue and concerns related to trade and commerce, strategic issues should not be left for others to get benefit. The need of the hour is the cooperation between all the stakeholders, including the US, the UN, the regional countries and other international organizations. It is only then peace will prevail in and around Afghanistan. We can only hope for the deal to be abided by all and the commitment shown hitherto will be respected for the betterment of Afghanistan and the region at large. Unless India carefully envisages a counter-strategy, these factors will increasingly push India into a geopolitical tough spot in the region. Smart statecraft, precise diplomatic formulations and approach of reconciliation and adjustments in newer political arena is needed in such a scenario. Therefore, it is required to deal with changing dynamics in Afghanistan keeping in mind it will affect the whole of South-Asia. The Radical group that has taken over the Kabul regime will never be so friendly with India. Indian foreign policy and its think tank will not recognize the Taliban so easily. Now the question arises, is it the right approach adopted by our foreign policy makers. Certainly not, we need to rethink and think again.
Conclusion; The Taliban must eradicate the fear factor in masses to be able to build a strong and an inclusive Afghan Government. Protecting human rights, respecting women and focusing on development will help them earn domestic support and development funds. The Taliban of today must match Afghans of 2021. It must develop friendly foreign relations with its old allies.
©The author is a strategic expert on Afghanistan. He teaches History of Modern World and History of Ottoman Empire and at CAS, Department of History, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.