Sudden withdrawal of the USA and coalition forces from Afghanistan not only surprised the world but Americans as well. Perhaps the allies were not prepared to suddenly leave too. The Afghans and the Afghan government were in a state of shock, and interestingly so were the Afghan Taliban. Consequent chaos and mayhem at Kabul airport following the USA announcement of taking Afghans abroad without a visa or passport resulted in misery and deaths. The Afghan Taliban were further surprised when 300,000 plus Afghan National Security and Defence Forces evaporated in the thin air, peacefully giving in to the announcement of their strategy of “Tasleem”. in literal terms “Tasleem” means acceptance.
The Afghan Taliban announced that no harm will be done to those who lay the arms without fight. Their strategy found wide acceptance. They also stood by their promise of no harm to the ones who did not fight with them. The most surprising was the Afghan Taliban conduct after the speedy takeover. Contrary to much trumpeted propaganda, that the Afghan Taliban are brutal, the most dreaded ones are behaving in quite a civilised manner. They announced a general amnesty, and are abiding by that too. This surprises every one too.
There are so many questions to answer. How did it happen the way it was not expected to? War weary USA right from draw down of 2014 wanted to quit, but USA as a responsible hegemon was not expected to repeat the history of its hasty withdrawal of1989, when Afghanistan and Pakistan were not only left in a lurch but put under sanctions too. Post 9/11 the media is full of US leadership and officials commitments, reiterated over years that it would not leave Afghanistan in a disarray, the way it did after USSR withdrawal from Afghanistan. Unfortunately, they repeated the same act. The other question is that did the USA and the partners intentionally want to leave a chaotic and unstable Afghanistan so that the neighbouring states remain effected and by implication the Belt and Road Initiative, China Pakistan Economic Corridor and China-Iran 25 years’ agreement of 400 billion USD assistance and investment are impacted negatively? Another view could be that they let the Afghan Taliban take over after they realised that Ashraf Ghani stubbornness was not going to allow Intra-Afghan reconciliation as enshrined in USA- Afghan Taliban “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Afghan Taliban and the United States of America” signed on February 29, 2020 at Doha. They may have concluded that Afghan Taliban were popular, shall be accepted by the people, and they gave tacit approval for the “surprised and peaceful” take-over of Afghanistan in few weeks. The Afghan Taliban, with some regional players guarantees might have assured an inclusive government respecting rights of all citizens specially the women? Whatever the case, the apparent peace appears to be taking roots and optimism in and abroad is growing. The peace is tenuous till and all-inclusive government is formed that has regional and international support.
The USA- Afghan Taliban agreement comprised four clauses to include foreign forces withdrawal from Afghanistan, assurance for not allowing Afghan territory for use against USA and Allies by the non-state actors, release of Afghan Taliban prisoners and start of Intra Afghan dialogue by March 10, 2020. This agreement is very unique. It is perhaps for the first time in the history of the world that an agreement has been signed between a super power – a hegemon in International Relations terms – and the resistance force, then commonly referred to as terrorists. With the help from USA, Pakistan and Qatar, this was the beginning of serious engagement between USA and Afghan Taliban that continues till date. However, major retardation in implementation of this agreement came from former President of Afghanistan, Mr Ashraf Ghani. He hedged on Afghan Taliban prisoners release and Intra-Afghan dialogue imposing various conditionalities, making numerous excuses and not adhering to commitments made in the agreement.
The Major Powers including China, Russia, to an extent European Countries appear willing to recognise and help Afghan Taliban provided they install an inclusive government. Interpretation of the inclusiveness may differ however. These are some positive indicators, hence the optimism!
Recent news that the American forces destroyed the military equipment left behind. They have dismantled, destroyed and disabled the Kabul Airport’s air control and aviation system. These news are surprising and disappointing too. That indicates the USA intentional bid to deny Afghanistan and its people use of the modern technology. Consequently, it will result in making Afghanistan dependent upon foreign powers that may be willing to help them to stand on their feet and become self-sustaining ultimately. These developments make the Afghan situation murkier, dynamic and to an extent unpredictable.
There are controversial reports on the military equipment, aircrafts, and helicopters etc that have fallen into the hands of Taliban. There are wide gaps in the quoted financial figures that range from 28 billion USD to 85 billion dollars. Whatever the value, the equipment will have to be made usable. If the USA do not help, the China is likely to assist. Chinese interest could even be to benefit from USA advanced technology. Turkey is reported to have promised help in making the Kabul airport functional. Most important challenge for the world is that Afghanistan should become a positive member of international community. This can only be ensured through engagement not by isolating them. Freezing of their assets abroad, brain drain and sanctions will prove counterproductive resulting in alienation.
Forty years of protracted war and instability have made Afghanistan dependent upon foreign aid and assistance. They need hands-holding, help in reconstruction, making basic civic facilities functional, repair damaged infrastructure, extract the minerals and precious metals and develop industrial base to reduce dependency on the foreign aid. Socio-economic development and stability of Afghanistan is considered essential for regional peace and stability. Pakistan on the other hand has and is expected to continue playing a positive role. China, Qatar, Russia, USA are also trying best for a smooth and peaceful transition towards an inclusive government in Kabul. Though murky and fluid, the situation in Afghanistan carries more hope than despair. Best is to help them the way they want it.