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Taliban Resurgence: Onset Of Another Great Game In Afghanistan – OpEd

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Inevitably nation-states thrive for stability and consolidation in challenging contemporary political backdrop nevertheless the case of ‘the heart land of Asia’; Afghanistan has been quite different rather strange enough to cope up political stability related issues ending in dismay. Afghanistan is home to diverse communities with multi ethnic roots having divergent views about politics, religion and society. Factually, 1990s era witnessed the gradual rise of Taliban as a dominant political force; although we may vary in ascertaining origins of that but the role of the US along with allies can’t not be ignored in empowering them during Soviet containment period in Asia. The global ‘war on terror’ scattered the political and military muscle of the Taliban in Afghanistan with the help of ISAF forces lead by the US troops in order to eliminate the terrorist sanctuaries in Afghanistan and the region.

Likewise ever since the foreign forces took over, the efforts to restore democracy in Afghanistan have been underway in different contours. Financial and military assistance have been intensive to strengthen the Afghan forces to counter Taliban influence for bringing peace in the region. Different kinds of developmental strategies and projects have been launched there ranging from infrastructure development to capacity building measures and institutional sophistication. Civil democratic government though with weak legitimacy lacking credible mass participation was strengthened in every possible way under different administrations.  On the contrary, the changing regional landscape has overthrown every effort for installation of western liberal democratic model by the US and allies through consensus building among different sections of Afghan society even after years of heavy financial spending’s along with moral and diplomatic support.

Quite recently, the US withdrawal hustle has reversed the situation all of a sudden resembling the Taliban era of 90s. Doha peace agreement between Taliban and the US was expected to be enforced thoroughly with agreed agenda involving Afghan government in peace process but as did the Biden administration announced the drawl date, the Afghan soil started shortening under Taliban forces. According to notable Taliban representative Sohail  Shaheen “ Taliban have captured 170 towns in less than six weeks till date”, he was talking to Salim Safi of Geo news Pakistan over the Doha  commitments in a TV interview. He further added that majority of Afghan military personnel are surrendering willingly being sick and tight of inefficient Afghan government and foreign forces presence. However, we may call this as Taliban propaganda against dismal government in Kabul.  In support of such claims international media is also broadcasting that situation is tilting in Taliban’s favor more and more with every passing day. Sky news the British media house has broadcasted a documentary of a female journalist in which she is visiting an important base recently bagged by Taliban with hundreds of guns and armed military vehicles apparently on Taliban’s invitation to show their military power to the outer world.

This situation was anticipated even before the withdrawal date announcement of the US led foreign forces which came after apprehension of two decade’s long endless efforts to axe Taliban phenomenon. Arguably, this development is having serious concerns for the region. The regional stake holder Pakistan being under immediate spill over impact of any kind of ill-fated events in Afghanistan is consistently being ignored by the incumbent US administration not even consulted about withdrawal urgency. Significant point here to ponder upon is that Pakistan assisted negotiation process with Taliban and suffered heavy losses in US led ‘war on terror’ under the role of frontline ally in geographical proximity. A lot of buzz was there concerning the US demand of bases after New York Times story about CIA chief’s secret visit to Pakistan during last month which was justly negated by Pakistani government officials clearly at every forum seemingly precise apprehension based on bitter past experiences. Up till now the US has not shown great concern in regional context in the wake of evolving situation of Taliban’s over whelming resurgence. A stumbled press conference of  president Biden recently have left many analysts stunned while panicking over many questions related to Afghanistan.

Another flurry of debates generated by other regional players including Russia, Iran and India’s recent engagements with the Taliban have supported the skepticism related to providing legitimacy to the resurgent Taliban. Interestingly, the Afghan government always criticized Pakistan for its engagements with the Taliban earlier but now apparently more pro Afghan government states like India are working on CBMs with Taliban both overtly and covertly. This should augment the latest regional understanding of the upcoming political scenario where Taliban might seek legitimacy ending dismal and inefficient unity government’s rule in Kabul. In general perception, corrupt and dysfunctional Afghan government and weak military couldn’t resist Taliban though initially troops retreat was stated as tactical retreat with hundreds of Afghan soldiers fleeing towards Iran and Tajikistan. Furthermore, sudden withdrawal has given free hand to the united and militarily disciplined Taliban aspiring Islamic emirates in Afghanistan. Moreover, general public had never been satisfied under crumbling and inefficient modules of US installed democracy from Karzai to Ghani. Ethnic split had been another problem with divergent political dimensions and outlooks dating back to Soviet invasion.

Many questions are still unanswered related to the surprising silence of the US especially over massive retreat and surrenders of US trained and equipped Afghan forces. Pakistan military’s spoke person DG ISPR while talking to a news reporter of Hum TV, was also heard expressing suspicions about massive retreat of Afghan forces without any credible resistance a couple of days ago. Similarly, few others put an allegation over the dubious hibernation of former Afghan defense minister who used to wear military uniform and lead operations against Taliban. It is not worthy that he was quite famous and considerably reliable for keeping unity of command of Afghan forces. President Ghani has appointed Bismillah khan as his successor while predecessor is said to be in US for secret medical treatment. 

Skeptics eye brows are raised up assuming any possibility of secret consent of the US with massive steady retreat but one might think that what is the fate of Afghan government who is just concentrated in major cities, is it going to witness its ashes with open eyes?, why India is so keen to develop relations with Taliban and why Russia and Iran are assisting Taliban to bring them out of the US diplomatic bargaining dominance?, or the Sino-US ‘new cold war’ is resulting in the US priority shifts?, and above all how the region and common people in Afghanistan would survive?, these are the genuine questions.  Whatever is going on behind the scene, one thing is for sure and that is the ultimate realist approach of the super power adjusting itself to the changing regional landscapes which the rest of above mentioned states are following as well. This principle debacle of the super power’s foreign policy goals in the words of a congress man labeling this shifting as an outcome of the end of the alternate choices fears analysts as compelling the form of reverse policy in presumed disguise of another great game which is going to put this region under another regression and that really concerns everyone here in Pakistan and every political learner elsewhere at the same.

*Fateh Najeeb Bhatti is a visiting faculty member at Bahria University Islamabad Pakistan holding an M.Phil degree in IR from Quaid i Azam university. 

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