By Aqeel Ahmad*
On April 14, President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan starting from May 1, with complete withdrawal till September 11, ending the longest and the costliest war. It was an extension of the previous US Taliban agreement of February 29, 2020, by President Donald Trump. The deal signed in Doha compelled the US and its allies to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan by May 2021.
On May 4 the Taliban launched a major attack on Afghan forces in the Southern Helmand province. As the violence intensified in Afghanistan, they captured the Nerkh district just outside the capital Kabul. In the offense, many Taliban fighters died, where their initial numbers were around 150. Taliban got an opportunity to take over the remaining parts of Afghanistan after the final US troops abruptly pulled out from their main military base, the Bagram base on July 2, 2021. The US withdrawal ended 20 years of US war and its military occupation of Afghanistan.
Soon after the departure of the last standing troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban intensified their attacks, and one after another district came under Taliban control. The last remaining major city that surrendered under the Taliban was Kabul on 15 August 2021, ending the government of Ashraf Ghani. The resisting force against the Taliban in Panjshir also fell with a boom and a whimper on Sept 6, 2021. The current situation of Afghanistan is not clearly defined by the Taliban, but they are promoting a peaceful government in the country. It is not known yet that the fate of Afghanistan will be decided by the Taliban or by anti-Taliban, as there is a power vacuum. Fortunately, a civil war has been averted by the Taliban as they captured Kabul and gave safe passage to people leaving the country. The Taliban now controls Afghanistan that has become an undeniable reality.
Nevertheless, since the interim Taliban government took over control, it has been facing lots of hardship dealing with institutional works in Afghanistan. The capital Kabul faces electricity blackouts as the Taliban did not pay bills to suppliers. Similarly, hospitals in Afghanistan lack medicine and other essential supplies, creating a health crisis. According to Amnesty International, thirteen soldiers who surrendered were killed by the Taliban belonging to the Hazara ethnicity fueling grievances. In addition, due to a lack of funds, as well as border restrictions and increasing international isolation, workers are going underpaid, causing local businesses to close and banks to limit withdrawals. The cash crisis has crippled its already feeble economy. With no access to central bank reserves or government help, the 38 million country is facing food shortages that may trigger famine and a severe refugee migration. Besides cash crunch and other issues, Afghanistan faces another short coming: the skilled labor. As the US-led forces began to withdraw, Afghans with skills and expertise headed for the exits. They included bureaucrats, bankers, physicians, engineers, teachers, and university graduates that were among those who feared losing their lives under the Islamist rule.
Firstly, the Taliban should know that the world has dramatically changed since they were in power before 9/11. They should establish diplomatic relations now with the world to form a sustainable and long-lasting government. The Taliban should make better and stronger ties with the regional powers such as Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and China, as well as Qatar, which for many years hosted the Taliban’s political office. They have to be careful not to give the world a chance to isolate them and cripple them economically. This time they should earn wide international recognition by ending being the cruel and hardline Taliban. Also, they need to learn how to manage, govern, and control the evolving situation in Afghanistan. In addition, the Taliban should make good diplomatic relations with two regional powers China and Russia, for military aid and economic investment.
Secondly, they have to make sure that Afghanistan under their control is not used by terrorist organizations like the Islamic State of Syria and Libya, Al Qaeda, Balochistan Liberation Army, and IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) against any neighboring countries.
Thirdly, they should seek aid to end their health and food shortcomings and prevent livelihoods collapse, widespread hunger, and increasing displacement movements in the country.
Fourthly, the Taliban should preserve the rights of minorities and those who have collaborated with the Afghan government after the US invasion to prevent any further escalation of grievances.
Lastly, the Taliban should stop the spread of US weapons in and out of the country and avoid arming civilians. Similarly, they should prevent smuggling arms and illegal goods to neighboring countries while minimizing corruption in the country to prevent any further collapse of the economy.
Following a reasonably smooth transfer of power in Kabul, Pakistan is in a cautiously favorable situation. During two decades of unrest along its western border, which spilled over and caused devastation within Pakistan, the country’s long-held anti-Taliban stance may be vindicated in some ways. Peace in Afghanistan will help Pakistan to achieve stable border areas. But the Taliban must adopt an optimistic and diplomatic approach to manage timely and effectively the evolving complex situation in Afghanistan.
*Aqeel Ahmad is a Research Assistant at Balochistan Think Tank Network (BTTN). Email: [email protected]