By Saima Afzal
It was a surprise for the whole world when the Taliban captured Kabul on 15th August 2021, cementing its renewed grip on the country two decades after the US ousted it from power. The Afghanistan capital was controlled by the Taliban without any resistance from Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). On 12 May 2022, SIGAR released a report “Collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces: An Assessment of the Factors That Led to Its Demise”. According to this report, various factors were behind the failure of ANDSF including the US-Taliban agreement in February 2020 under the Trump administration, followed by President Biden’s withdrawal announcement in April 2022. Then-president Ashraf Ghani fear that his military would turn against him and suspected the US was plotting to remove him from power.
Since 2002, the United States has invested nearly $90 billion in the security sector assistance of ANDSF intending to develop an independent, self-sufficient force capable of fighting both internal and external threats. The US and its NATO allies including the UK have spent the best part of the last two decades in training and equipping the Afghan security forces. Countless American and British generals had claimed to have created a more powerful and capable Afghan army. However, Taliban advancement indicates that U.S and UK have ruined two decades in Afghanistan. Additionally, the Afghan army and police had a high number of recruitments on paper under the Ashraf Ghani government who claimed salaries but actually they did not exist.
Jack Watling, of the Royal United Services Institute, says even the Afghan army has never been sure of how many troops it actually has. Failure of the Afghan army and police is a factor in the Taliban’s triumph. Moreover, the Taliban’s military campaign exploited the ANDSF’s logistical, tactical, and leadership weaknesses. The Taliban’s media campaign, magnified by real-time reporting further undermined the Afghan forces’ determination to fight. SIGAR report also found other factors that played a key role in ANDSF collapse including lack of ANDSF ownership, length of U.S military operation, dependency on funds, poor and corrupt Afghan leadership.
Furthermore, UK Foreign Affairs Committee also released its first Report of Session 2022–23 on 17th May 2022 “Missing in action: UK leadership and the withdrawal from Afghanistan”. The report also said that “the manner of our withdrawal from Afghanistan was a disaster and a betrayal of our allies that will damage the UK’s interests for years to come. This inquiry has identified systemic failures of intelligence, diplomacy, planning, and preparation”. UK admits in its report that the UK Government failed to adequately shape or respond to Washington’s decision to withdraw, predict the speed of the Taliban’s takeover, or plan and prepare for the evacuation of our Afghan partners. Taliban are a reality and UK report admits that the failures of the withdrawal and evacuation make it even more significant that the UK commits to a serious strategy for its future engagement with Afghanistan. It is valid to withhold recognition but attempts to isolate the new regime entirely may only worsen the situation for the Afghan people, also reduce the UK’s influence, and leave a vacuum to be filled by the other powers such as China. The overriding goal of international policy toward Afghanistan should be to reduce the impact of the humanitarian disaster unleashed by the international withdrawal.
Therefore, SIGAR and UK Foreign Affairs Committee report not only shed light on the intrigue and suspicion that consumed the Afghan leadership before the Taliban takeover last August but also repudiates the false accusations leveled against Pakistan. Pakistan always desired peace, stability, and development in Afghanistan and sincerely worked to achieve this objective. Pakistan believes that being the immediate neighbor its peace and progress are directly linked to peace and development in Afghanistan. The puppet government of Ashraf Ghani had vested interests in ruling Afghanistan and it never cared for the well-being of the Afghan masses as well as the strengthening of the Afghan army. Pakistan must not be burdened with the ANDSF and the Ghani government’s own failure in Afghanistan.
*The author is an Islamabad-based analyst and holds MPhil in Peace and Conflict Studies and can be reached at [email protected]..