Taliban’s historic victory
The Taliban have achieved a historic victory after fighting for two decades the US-led NATO forces and the Afghan government installed by the West in the aftermath of 9/11. After spending more than a trillion dollars and suffering thousands of casualties, the US and its allies have little to show for their misadventure in Afghanistan. They did succeed in decimating Al Qaeda. But if that was the only objective of their invasion of Afghanistan, as Secretary of State Blinken recently claimed, they should have withdrawn from the country militarily soon after they installed Hamid Karzai as its President and certainly after May 2011 when Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad.
The fact that the US-led West continued its military occupation of Afghanistan thereafter showed conclusively that its real goal was to establish a government of its choice, reflecting its political and cultural preferences, in Afghanistan as declared by President Bush in April, 2002. Washington has clearly failed in this nation-building task as evidenced by the precipitate collapse of the forces of the erstwhile Afghan government in the face of the lightning military offensive launched by the Taliban.
The political structure established by the US in Afghanistan proved be a house of cards fundamentally because it did not enjoy the widespread support of the Afghan people, especially those in the rural heartland, many of whom are deeply committed to the Afghan society’s conservative religious and tribal values. Washington also made the serious mistake of relying initially at least on military means rather than seeking a political settlement to overcome the growing Afghan opposition to the Kabul regime established by it. Widespread corruption and inefficiency of the Afghan government functioning under the US tutelage further damaged its cause. So when the crunch came, its forces evaporated into thin air and its President took the first flight out of the country to UAE to save his own life and the lives of his family members.
The Taliban are now in the process of consolidating their control over Afghanistan after the capture of Kabul. Wisely, they have declared general amnesty for their opponents and assured their compatriots and the international community that they would work for the establishment of an inclusive government in Afghanistan, allow women their rights to education and work within the limits laid down by Islamic Shariah, and not permit terrorist groups to operate from Afghanistan’s territory against any foreign country. If the Taliban actually practice what they have announced, this would help overcome domestic and foreign opposition to their rule.
The Taliban representatives have been discussing with other political leaders and groups the formation of an inclusive government in Afghanistan. However, considering the history of past grievances against one another, pockets of resistance in areas like Panjshir Valley, regional spoilers such as India and the expected opposition of the US-led West to the Taliban, the prospects for a political settlement are not bright. Nevertheless, the Taliban must continue earnest efforts for the establishment of a broad-based government in the interest of durable peace and stability in Afghanistan.
The Taliban have already announced the establishment of an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan where rules of Islamic Shariah rather than democracy would be enforced. Considering the Taliban’s overwhelming military superiority, widespread political support for them, especially in Afghanistan’s rural heartland, and the sympathetic attitude of Moscow and Beijing, it would be reasonable to assume that the government currently being put together in Afghanistan would be dominated by them.
The US debacle in Afghanistan has driven home the limits of American power. Despite its enormous global military and economic power and political clout, the US is no longer able to impose its will on others in the emerging multi-polar world. The US failure in Afghanistan in a way marks the beginning of the end of the era of US global supremacy. Secondly, the American misadventure in Afghanistan brings out the futility of nation building projects in foreign countries in disregard of local customs and values. The disasters wrought by foreign interventions in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen besides Afghanistan lead one to this inescapable conclusion.
Thirdly, while as a rule military power is an essential ingredient for the durability and stability of a government, its long-term survival will remain doubtful without broad-based political support of its people. This has implications for the future organization of governments in Afghanistan and other countries. Pakistan’s leaders and policy makers would be well advised to keep this principle in mind in the formulation of their internal and external policies.
Fourthly, as shown by the Afghan history of the past few decades, neither the Taliban nor their rivals are able to rule exclusively in Afghanistan in conditions of durable peace and stability. Afghanistan’s ethnic, religious and tribal divisions demand an inclusive government in the interest of durable peace and stability in the country. Any effort by one group or the other to establish a government excluding the majority of other political forces would aggravate instability in Afghanistan and may even lead to a civil war. Fifthly, Pakistan, Iran and other regional countries must not repeat their policy blunders of 1990’s. One would hope that while encouraging the establishment of a broad-based government in Afghanistan, they would refrain from interfering in its internal affairs.
While welcoming the end of the military occupation of Afghanistan by the US-led West, one cannot ignore the possible negative ideological and political fallout in Pakistan of the victory of the Afghan Taliban because of their obscurantism and retrogressive ideology. Of course, it is for the Afghans to decide how they wish to run their country free of foreign interference. But it would be prudent for Pakistan’s leaders to adopt concrete policies to counter the spread of obscurantist tendencies in the country. Pakistan’s stability and progress demand the promotion of a progressive and enlightened interpretation of Islam as advocated by Iqbal while remaining faithful to the basic principles of Islam.
Looking ahead into the future, the possibility of regional spoilers like India and some non-regional powers playing a negative role in Afghanistan cannot be totally ruled out in pursuit of their regional and global hegemonic ambitions. Pakistan, in close cooperation with China, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan’s neighbours, especially Iran, should counter such efforts through pro-active diplomacy and offering hand of cooperation and friendship to Afghanistan.
The writer is a retired ambassador, an author and the
president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.