As a ‘Saigon Moment’ repeated on 15th August, ending the United States (US) adventure in Afghanistan, various issues and predictions are surfacing about the drivers of the emerged situation and the coming future. After the Taliban’s rapid advancement towards Kabul, taking over Kabul without any challenge, and president Ghani’s fleeing, a power transition has taken place without any bloodshed marking the start of the ‘Post American’ Afghanistan. This epic moment of Afghan history also shows how corruption, fragmentation, and lack of morality can turn a defense force with modern equipment and training into a ‘paper tiger’ in front of a bike-riding militia. Moreover, it also showed the failure of the US intelligence as it predicted that it would take three months for the Taliban to take over Kabul. However, taking over Kabul without bloodshed and taking no retaliatory actions by the Taliban also strongly suggest that the new generations of Taliban, also known as Taliban 2.0, are also politically wiser and more prudent than those before. Again, though human rights conditions are in serious threat under Taliban rule, the latest developments suggest that they may not be as worse as we are preconceiving.
The sudden Kabul takeover shows the failure of the US intelligence, which predicted that it would take around or less than three months for the Taliban to take over Kabul. But the sheer suddenness of the takeover within a month has proved it wrong, putting the US embassy and its officials in danger resulting in a quick evacuation similar to the Saigon evacuation of 1975.
Apart from US intelligence failure, the Afghan National Army has also come out as a ‘Paper Tiger’ as it failed to pose any credible threat against ‘bike riding’ Taliban, a militia force. Afghan National Army had 300 thousand personnel where the total Taliban is 80 thousand in number. Moreover, it was a conventional army with modern equipment and training and had its air support unit. But still, it failed to create any credible defense against the Taliban. Analysis shows that the Afghan Army’s heavy reliance on US troops, extreme corruption, fragmentation within itself, lack of morals, and lack of motivation to fight resulted in such a disaster. As the Afghan Army heavily relied on its US counterpart, it was never an independent force in practice. Hence, the US troop withdrawal had created a void and put an extra burden on the shoulder, which the Army wasn’t ready to bear.
Moreover, the West invested $88 billion in the Afghan Army, apart from modern equipment, training, and facility; this massive investment also brought corruption. Corruption found its way at the core of the Army. And sometimes, alleged crimes took place with US contractors’ help. The ‘Ghost Soldier’ issue was quite common where a soldier only existed in paper, and his salary went to someone else. The Afghan Army was also a fragmented force both ethnically and politically. The troops consisted of personnel from various ethnic backgrounds, and due to tribal mindset, they had their allegiance to their tribe and prejudices.
Furthermore, there were a lot of personnel who joined to avoid unemployment. As a result, they had no will to fight, and interestingly, there were many Taliban sympathizers within the Army itself. As a result, this ‘multiethnic’ Army eventually turned into a paper tiger within a month.
The emerging Taliban Afghanistan also raises several apparent issues and questions. The refugee crisis is one of them. Since the takeover, the whole world has seen Kabul Airport Saga and the Afghan people’s plight. Apart from that, the Afghan refugee crisis affects the central Asian states and Turkey as a junction. At this point, at least 116 thousand displaced Afghan refugees and asylum seekers currently live in Turkey, with Turkey facing a potential new wave. Other neighboring states, including Pakistan and Iran, have already tightened their border security to avoid the refugee influx. Apart from the apparent issue, it will remain a long-term issue as dissident forces may not find any place in Taliban society and will have to seek asylum.
After the Taliban takeover, the human rights condition in Afghanistan faces a severe threat, and the predictions about the coming future are mixed. While taking over, according to various reports Taliban is marrying off girls as young as 12 years old and considering unmarried and widowed women as ‘Qanimat’ or ‘Spoils of War.’ Apart from gender violence, the takeover also resulted in repressions and killings of political rivals and activists. Taliban even killed a comic, and a video also went viral. Predictions were that the Taliban might seek retaliation, banning sporting events, woman’s participation in Afghanistan. But after the takeover, it seems that the new generations of Taliban are not as hardliner as the world perceived. Since the takeover, through allowing Cricket to go on, it seems the Taliban will patronize most of the sporting events.
Moreover, in the Afghan media, female reporters have started to join again, and an influential Taliban leader has also appeared alongside a female host in a Live Talk show. Furthermore, female schools in Kabul have reopened, but students are wearing ‘Hijab.’ Such events depict that women may take part in public life under Taliban rule. But one thing is clear that ‘Hijab’ will be mandatory, and various aspects of a woman’s life will be under strict control, and indeed, participation will be limited. The fates of women sporting events are also unclear at this moment. It seems that Taliban rule will be ‘slightly’ moderate than we thought as the new Taliban will seek international recognition. And they are also influenced by other Islamic societies.
The beginning of ‘Post-US’ Afghanistan and Taliban victory is marked by the failure of US intelligence, falling apart of an expensive yet ineffective army, and violation of human rights during the takeover. However, on the one hand, it has ‘unsettled’ many predictions. On the other hand, it has brought several serious issues, including refugee and asylum seekers, human rights under Sharia Law, women’s participation, and gender violence. The recent development suggests that, as new Taliban will seek international legitimacy, they are also ‘not as hardliner’ as we are thinking. As a result, the human rights condition may be ‘better’ or ‘a little better’ than our prediction, but it is still unclear as the Taliban hasn’t announced its governance policy yet. Hence, for a clear picture, we will have to wait for a while.
*MD Mufassir Rashid, MSS in International Political Economy (Ongoing), Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, Bangladesh.