By Ahmad Masoud
The fall of districts one after the other and surrendering of the Afghan security forces to the Taliban have taken the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan to a new stage. According to an Aljazeera report, the Taliban now control roughly a third of all 421 districts and district centres in Afghanistan. A Taliban commander has recently told Sky News that his fighters had taken 70 sniper rifles, 900 guns, 30 Humvees, 20 army pickups and 15 articulated military trucks.
The Afghan government call their retreat and surrendering of their armed forces a “tactical retreat” while the Taliban see it as a major victory. Whatever the Afghan government call it, in fact this is seen by many as a notable success by the Taliban, after the withdrawal of the US and international forces from the country, and the failure of the Afghan government that has already lost control over a vast swathe of territory.
The Taliban continue calling on the Afghan security forces to surrender without resistance and that they will be safe and under the Taliban protection. Some of the Taliban commanders and senior officials in their address to the surrendered Afghan security forces usually, posted on social media, address the surrendered security forces as “brothers” and say, “you should be proud of joining the Taliban ranks, we will provide you with pocket money and clothing and take you to your homes and you will be in the protection of the Taliban.”
Mola Amir Khan Mutaqi, one of the senior Taliban officials, in his address to the surrendered Afghan security forces in Maiwand District in southern Kandahar province said: “Now that you have joined the Mujahideen ranks, you will be respected, and you will be safely taken to your homes.”
“Do not be worried at all. Once the Islamic Emirate promise something with someone, they remain committed to their promise,” he said and added, “I swear that we are not happy about your death, we don’t become happy when your children become orphans, and your parents become griefful and your wives become widows.”
“You are our country men we are all from the same country and we should all work to save this country and there is no need for resistance and supporting infidels. Brothers, you are now our brothers, don’t worry at all you can see the situation of the Kabul Administration that two of them are not going in the same path. Their international supporters are now thinking to ensure only the security of Kabul airport. You should go to your homes and convey the message that the arm of the Emirate is open for you and we all are from this country,” he emphasised.
The Taliban message to the Afghan security forces might have worked and encouraged them to join the Taliban along with their weapons and military equipment. There are conflicting reports about the fate of the weapons, ammunition and military equipment which have fallen into the Taliban hands. An eyewitness who has recently visited one of the main military bases captured by the Taliban in the southern Afghan province of Ghazni said that the captured base was under a strict patrol of the Taliban and that the heavy weaponries and vehicles were intact and guarded by armed Taliban. However, some reports from the northern and northern eastern parts of the country say that the Taliban have burnt the captured district headquarters and looted whatsoever came into their hands.
The ongoing conflict in the country has displaced thousands of families. Those whose homes were around the military bases, which have been taken over by the Taliban, are now happy and return to their homes, but they are worried about the strict Taliban rule and what will come next.
Meanwhile, the electricity pylons are usually blown up and most of the time Kabul residents as well people in other cities are deprived of the electricity. The Afghan government blame the Taliban for disturbing the flow of the electricity by blowing up the electricity pylons.
The Afghans living in major cities including Kabul are deeply anxious about the possibility of eruption of a full-fledged civil war in their country. The fear of Afghans of a civil war is getting closer and closer to a reality as the Afghan government is losing their forces and territory day-by-day while the Taliban are expanding their dominance. However, the recent Taliban victory should not be seen as a collapse of the Afghan government and the end of conflict in the country. It is impossible for the Taliban to take over the control of major Afghan cities by force, but of course the standoff between the Afghan government and the Taliban will ensure the continuity of war in Afghanistan where many countries have their own stake and proxies.
There are all signs to confirm the fact that unlike in the past this time the conflict in Afghanistan will soon spill over into its neighbouring countries and some of these countries such as China, Pakistan and Central Asian States are more vulnerable than others.
The continuation of conflict and eruption of a civil war in Afghanistan will put China in a tricky situation with two major challenges. First, Afghanistan will soon turn into a hotbed of terrorist groups, including the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) which was designated, in 2002, by the US and the United Nations as a terrorist group, but last year the US removed it from the terrorist organisations list. ETIM with the help of their international supporters can pose a serious security threat to China, particularly in Xinjiang. The spill over of fighting into Chinas’ territory will not only be a big security headache for China, but it will also turn the Chinese border area into a hub of international terrorists who have been fighting in Syria and other parts of the world. This is what China doesn’t want at any cost and strives very hard to preclude it at any cost.
Second, the continuation of conflict and a civil war in Afghanistan have severe adverse impacts on the success of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) flagship project. It is obvious that the future of the BRI project and connectivity of Eurasia, Central and South Asian countries depend on the peace and security in Afghanistan. China is well aware that its international opponents including the US and its international allies are determined to do whatever they can do to curb the Chinese regional economic activities including its BRI project.
Therefore, China is fighting tooth and nail to steer the trend of the events in Afghanistan in a way that best serves its national, regional and international interests. To this end, China with the support of its “all weather friend”, Pakistan, is actively engaged in backdoor diplomacy with the Taliban and the Afghan government. A recent Financial Times report says that Beijing has held talks with the Taliban and although details of the discussions have been kept secret, government officials, diplomats and analysts from Afghanistan, India, China and the US said that crucial aspects of a broad strategy were taking shape.
Meanwhile, China has posed itself for a significant investment in Afghanistan. A source in Kabul has recently told The Daily Beast that Kabul authorities are growing more intensively engaged with China on an extension of the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of BRI , which involves the construction of highways, railways and energy pipelines between Pakistan and China, to Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the Central Asian States also feel the heat of what has been going on along their borders in Afghanistan. According to France 24, Tajikistan’s national security committee said that 1,037 Afghan government troops had fled into the ex-Soviet country “to save their lives” after clashes with the Taliban during the night.
“Taking into account the principle of good neighbourliness and adhering to the position of non-interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, the military personnel of the Afghan government forces were allowed to enter Tajik territory,” said the statement, published by Tajikistan’s state information agency and quoted by France 24.
“We are closely watching what is happening in Afghanistan where the situation has a tendency to swiftly deteriorate including against the backdrop of the hasty exit of American and other NATO troops,” Reuters News Agency quoted the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying.
Speaking on 7 July 2021 during a visit to Laos, Lavrov, according to Reuters, said Russia was ready to use its military base in Tajikistan, one of its biggest abroad, to ensure the security of its allies in the region, part of the former Soviet Union and an area where Moscow tries to retain influence.
These developments indicate the level of anxiety of Afghanistan’s northern and north-eastern neighbours which endeavour very hard to preclude the expansion of insecurity to their territories.
There are only two options for the Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries, especially China, Pakistan, Russia, and Iran to either use their influence, with the support of Pakistani military generals, over the Taliban to agree with the establishment of a coalition government in Afghanistan or face the music over their failure and spill over of insecurity into their territories.
*Ahmad Masoud is an established writer, usually writing about the ongoing political and security developments in Afghanistan.