Afghan Taliban on trial
File photo of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
Lt-Gen (retd) Naeem Khalid Lodhi
The spectacular victory of Taliban in freeing their Country from foreign occupation forces and their stooges has taken everyone by surprise. My selection of words in the opening sentence may have irked many. So let me first acknowledge that we know very well and understand that the attack by US and Coalition Forces was approved by UNSC Resolution and supported by the world at large, thus legitimate and just. But what about continuous changing of objectives and goal posts? Without going into the details and taxing the readers, suffice to say that the whole exercise of Allied Forces in Afghanistan became illegitimate the moment there was deviation from the UN approved purpose. Anyway this is not our main subject.
Is it a military miracle that Taliban pulled in Afghanistan? Definitely not, but strategic brilliance was also a part of the entire episode. I would rather term it as a ‘Politico Military’ coup. It also carried with it mastery in Psychological and Intelligence Operations. They managed to do all this in the absence of any support from International Media. So let us dissect various aspects of this magic.
Reading of the Situation
The first to go wrong were Americans, UK and Allies, who undermined the Taliban’s prowess and believed in much exaggerated Afghan govt forces’ abilities. Probably US after taking the decision to exit, couldn’t care less what happens to Afghan Government and its forces. Ashraf Ghani was confident about the strong Afghan Armed Forces equipped to the teeth with the most modern military hardware including night fighting capabilities, modern helicopters and combat aircrafts. Afghan Taliban left nothing to chance. They kept themselves very busy in making pre-war political preparations through clandestine meetings with all important personalities in all provinces, probably employing stick and carrot pressures.
Taliban at the very outset of operations first absorbed all the relatively empty spaces and communication arteries, followed by entry and exit points all along the international border and finally went for the important cities and provincial headquarters, leaving Kabul for the final Coup de Grace. And most of this happened without much of fighting, more with the help of talking and activating sleeper supporters. The lightning speed with which they defeated the reluctant Afghan National Army is mind boggling, defies all military logic, and can only be termed as a POLITICO-MILITARY COUP.
On the other hand the Afghan Army that was well equipped and trained but poorly led with no motivation to fight in the absence of any worthwhile national purpose, was dispersed in small penny packets void of strong air support. Afghan soldiers were also not happy with the behaviour of occupation forces with them and their fellow citizens. The corrupt to the core Ashraf Ghani’s setup was also no inspiration for the Afghan people and the soldiers. The way Taliban was greeted at places further lowered the morale of Afghan Army.
Taliban enjoyed the overwhelming support of the people in most of the areas. This can be amply deduced from two facts, one that such a large freedom struggle against the strongest armies of the world cannot succeed without the masses providing shelter and logistics. And secondly such speed of operations freeing city after city cannot happen without the local support.
Taking over the country from an existing regime that was weak due to lack of independent working space, relied heavily on US economic, military and administrative support and on top of it was highly corrupt, may not have been very difficult. But cobbling up an inclusive government, in such a politically and ethnically diversified Country would be a Herculean task, and may take some time. Then creating or strengthening an effective governance infrastructure and running it against a plethora of contesting and conflicting interests would be another big challenge. On the foreign policy front to get initial recognition by enough countries enabling the new regime to get international legitimacy and the right of representing Afghanistan at UN and other global forums would be another diplomatic difficulty. Taliban has made numerous pledges to alleviate some strong apprehensions the world over. Harbouring terrorists or providing them safe havens, attitude towards working women and their dress codes, girls education etc are the leading questions that are being asked due to worlds memory about the last time Taliban was in power.
Taliban’s two spokespersons Zabihullah Mujahid and Sohail Shaheen have been working and speaking over and over again giving assurances that without abandoning their original faith the modus operandi this time would be very different and in line with the expectations of the international community. There are some indicators also that give positive signals. The fact that Taliban by and large adhered to the clauses of the Agreement signed with the US (though Americans violated the agreed timelines), avoided much bloodshed, granted amnesty to nearly all and are allowing a peaceful exit of foreigners and their Afghan helpers in spite of enjoying a good control nearly all over the country including Kabul except Panjsher Valley, speaks volumes about a sea change in their attitude. Continuation of such benevolent and peaceful behaviour may get them international recognition and internal support, two very important ingredients required to help them settle as legitimate rulers. Some riots related to resistance to change of National Flag etc has been observed but were swiftly controlled. Protests by women for their rights were also allowed and remained peaceful.
But the moment the detractors of peace ( very much there) both internal and external, get a breathing space they will start spewing venom and may also resort to false flag actions to create rifts and misunderstandings in an already fragmented society. Purpose would be to initiate a civil war or large resistance movement. Assassinations of some key figures to further their nefarious designs cannot be ruled out. Taliban need to be wary of such characters, entities and countries. Already disinformation campaign is picking up that Taliban is carrying out door to door search to smoke out intelligence operators supporting the erstwhile regime. Few casualties attributed to Taliban firing is being blown up whereas none talking about the callous US action of a Military Plane taking off in spite of knowing that all the twenty-odd Afghans clinging outside the body would definitely be killed, and that is exactly what happened. All lost their lives in cold blood. But who cares when Americans are the killers.
Implications for Pakistan
If peace and comparative tranquillity return to Afghanistan, that seems probable this time, it will have huge positive influences on the entire Region of Central Asia, West Asia and South Asia. Pakistan needs to prepare for this enormous opportunity as it would require agility and organised focused endeavours to benefit from unprecedented economic activity waiting in the wings. Connectivity likely to improve, BRI and CPEC will start bubbling with commerce and industrial activities. Trans-border movements, people to people contacts, education, arts likely to flourish. The negative impacts that were envisioned earlier pertaining to the high influx of refugees and increase in cross border terrorism are quite unlikely. Except those who find these times an excellent opportunity to move for greener pastures, thus long queues in Kabul to leave for greener pastures in Europe and USA, create a pathetic sight. Allow a visa-free departure in any poor country and see what happens. Much longer queues and more desperate attempts to board for free rides will happen.
However certain Islamist Groups can get inspired and start asserting themselves with more vigour. As long as these activities are within political domain, there should be no worry. Any show of muscles can be conveniently taken care of by State Institutions. So all said and done, impact on the region and Pakistan is likely to be positive and reassuring.
Reading the Tarot Cards
It seems Taliban will succeed to form an inclusive Government within few weeks. First group of countries likely to recognise would be Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, few CARs etc. It will be quickly followed by many European, African and South American nations those who would not like to miss the boat. US, Canada, Australia, Japan, India and UK with some allied countries may take some time, but they would also not like to leave the arena for Russo-China Group uncontested. Economic competition may also bring with it certain intrigues and destabilising efforts, but if the future Afghan Government keeps a firm control over the events and steers its economic and political policies well, they may be supervising over an emerging international market with unprecedented economic activity.
KEEPING OUR FINGERS CROSSED