In the morning hours of 13th of August, the commander of few thousand Taliban soldiers contacted the high brass for permission to enter in Kabul city. By then, the Afghan Taliban were knocking on the door of Kabul. The top Taliban brass, ‘for some reason’ asked the commander to wait for the next orders and eventually, in the early hours of 15th August, the the commander was given a go ahead to capture Kabul the same day.
The world witnessed the Taliban forces entering in government buildings in Kabul. Interestingly, 90% of the Taliban soldiers who entered in Kabul were in between the ages of 18 to 30 years of age.
Afghanistan has a long history of domination by foreign conquerors and has experienced never ending internal rifts on ethnic as well as theological basis. The landlocked door between Europe and Asia, this land was conquered by Darius I of Babylonia and Alexander the Great of Macedonia in ancient BCs.
Mahmud Ghaznavi, an 11th-century conqueror who created an empire from Iran to India, is considered as one of the greatest of Afghanistan’s conquerors whereas, Genghis Khan took over the territory in the 13th century, but it wasn’t until the 18th century that the area was united as a single country.
During the 19th century, Britain, looking to protect its Indian empire from Russia, attempted to annex Afghanistan, resulting in a series of British-Afghan Wars. British failed to gain ground on Kabul and gave up the idea of creating an Afghan fortress against the Russians.
In early 1926, Amanullah declared Afghanistan a monarchy, rather than an emirate, and proclaimed himself a king. He pursued to a series of modernisation plans and attempted to disturb the power of the Loya Jirga, the National Council. His opposition took up the arms and Amanullah was forced to leave the country.
A few years on, Zahir Shah became the king and Afghanistan saw four consecutive years of stability and security. It was the very time when in mid-30s Afghanistan got recognised by the United States. When Britain left subcontinent, it left a long uncontrollable border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Importantly, in 50s, Afghanistan saw secularisation in the bigger cities under the premiership of Muhammad Dawood Khan, a cousin of Zahir Shah the king. His pro-Soviet stance during the heights of Cold War was a threat to the United States. This was the very time when internal political problems started gaining strength. Afghanistan and the Soviets became active allies.
In 60s, Soviets clandestinely created Afghan Communist Party that turned out to be a disaster for Soviets themselves. Muhammed Dawood Khan got killed in a communist coup in 1978. Nur Mohammad Taraki, one of the founding members of the Afghan Communist Party, takes control of the country as president, and Babrak Karmal is named deputy prime minister. They proclaim independence from Soviet influence, and declare their policies to be based on Islamic principles, Afghan nationalism and socioeconomic justice. Taraki signs a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union. But a rivalry between Taraki and Hafizullah Amin, another influential communist leader, leads to internal fighting. At the same time, conservative Islamic and ethnic leaders who objected to social changes introduced by Khan begin an armed revolt in the countryside. In June, the guerrilla movement Mujahideen is created to battle the Soviet-backed government.
In 1979, while Iranian revolution was changing the region, American Ambassador Adolph Dubs is killed. The United States cuts off assistance to Afghanistan. A power struggle between Taraki and Deputy Prime Minister Hafizullah Amin begins. Taraki is killed in September 1979 in a confrontation with Amin supporters. The USSR invades Afghanistan in December to bolster the faltering communist regime. Amin and many of his followers are executed in late December. Deputy Prime Minister Babrak Karmal becomes prime minister. By the early 1980, US backed Mujahideen get united against the Soviet invaders.
Nearly 1.5 million Afghans become refugees in Iran whereas double the number reach Pakistan as refugees. The same refugees play a key role in Afghan Jihad as Pakistan became the recruiting turf for the Mujahideen. That lead to the eventual victory of the Mujahideen against the Soviet invaders. During Afghan Jihad, OBL played a key role as he brought in the Arab Mujahideen. It was the very time when the western media highlighted OBL as a hero. Interestingly, Pakistan was not the only country supporting the Mujahideen, Britain, Saudi Arabia, China and never to be forgotten is the US that supported the ousting of the Soviets. The American Stinger missiles played a key role in the victory.
The Mujahideen, after the ouster of the Soviets were faced with a new challenge as the internal fighting for the control erupted. Najibullah got killed and hung in Kabul whereas Babrak Karmal had already fled the country. Interestingly, India supported anti Mujahideen government at the time but with sudden changes in Afghanistan, did not even help Najibullah when he direly needed it.
In 1996, Newly formed Islamic militia, the Taliban, rise to power on promises of peace. Most Afghans, exhausted by years of war, approve of the Taliban for upholding traditional Islamic values. The Taliban outlaw cultivation of poppies for the opium trade, crack down on crime, and curtail the education and employment of women. Women are required to be fully veiled and are not allowed outside alone. Islamic law is enforced via public executions and amputations. The United States refuses to recognise the authority of the Taliban. Ethnic groups in the north, under Masood’s Northern Alliance, and the south, aided in part by Hamid Karzai, continue to battle the Taliban for control of the country.
Following al-Qaida’s bombings of two American embassies in Africa, in 1998, President Clinton orders cruise missile attacks against OBL’s training camps in Afghanistan. The attacks miss the Saudi and other leaders of the terrorist group. OBL officially started getting considered an international terrorist and is widely believed to be hiding in Afghanistan, where he is cultivating thousands of followers in terrorist training camps. The United States demand that OBL be extradited to stand trial for the embassy bombings. The Taliban decline to extradite him. The United Nations punishes Afghanistan with sanctions restricting trade and economic development.
Just 2 days before 9/11, Ahmed Shah Masood, the head of the Northern Alliance and the nation’s top insurgent, got killed by assassins posing as journalists while he was meeting the crowd of his supporters. The 9/11 event shook the world and immediately the US blamed OBL’s Al-Qaida for it. President Bush demanded for OBL again but Taliban refused to cooperate due to Pashtoon Walli, the Pashtoon code or values. Pakistan did try to mediate but failed as US hurriedly attacked Afghanistan. Within two months, US was able to enter Kabul with help of its allies within northern alliance. In December, US makes Hamid Karzai as a leader of the interim government. Karzai, who was ethnic Pashtoon and anti Taliban, immediately created his importance in the eyes of the western world. Importantly, Karzai lived his life in Pakistan and only came to Afghanistan when the US overthrew the Taliban government.
Pakistan, unwantingly became an ally of the US in war on terror. Whereas the NATO forces came to Afghanistan to fight against the terrorism. NATO took the responsibility of the security of the major cities of Afghanistan whereas the rural Afghanistan, that happens to be more than of Afghanistan, was left at the hands of local warlords. Administrative system only worked in the cities while Taliban’s jurisdiction prevailed the overall Afghanistan. Majority of Afghanistan had no identification cards to prove their existence in Afghanistan and neither they ever were accounted for nor they ever voted for post-9/11 regimes. But, Ashraf Ghani became president of Afghanistan after two rounds of voting that too followed by the claims of election fraud thus a power-sharing agreement with main rival Abdullah Abdullah. The power-sharing setup portrayed as Democratic government of Afghanistan that in reality was empowered and secured by the US-led allied forces rather than by people of Afghanistan.
Then in 2014, NATO officially ended its combat mission in Afghanistan. US-led NATO troops remained in Afghanistan to train and advise Afghan forces. The Afghan National Army (ANA) started getting trained by the allied troops. Ironically, India extended its services to train Afghan forces in the name of defence cooperation between Afghanistan and India. Indeed it brought a good opportunity for India to further enhance its influence in Afghanistan to increase its pressure on arch rival Pakistan. Pakistan was already successfully engaged by India on its western front through proxies like BLA and TTP. Pakistan time and again raised the issue but less than a little heed was being paid to its concerns.
Importantly, approximately 40% of the ANA officers were trained in Indian war academies. When Taliban entered Kabul, 80 of ANA officers were still getting trained in India. One might wonder, is it India that played a key role in bringing back the Taliban in Kabul, as the military tactics displayed by the Indian trained ANA officers suggest that all they learnt from India was how to sell their arms and gears to Taliban, drop the weapons and escape.
Interestingly, Obama, in 2015, did abandon the plan to withdraw US forces by the end of his presidential term and decided to maintain 5,500 troops in Afghanistan when he left the office in 2017.
Though Trump initially committed himself to continued military involvement to prevent emergence of terrorism but in the start of 2019, US and Taliban eventually signed a peace deal that would serve as the proposed terms for the US withdrawal from the country by May 2021. Another interesting fact is that the spoilers have been at job ever since the peace process was initiated. Indian premier intelligence agency RA&W alongside the Afghan NDS were actively trying to sabotage the efforts. The sabotage included attacks on American troops and international aid workers to blame on Taliban. For some time, the spoilers did gain Trump’s attention who called off the peace talks only to resume later on and further reduce the troops in Afghanistan.
Post Trump, the US presidential office maintained the number of troops kept by Trump. President Joe Biden, who once was Obama’s Vice President, even set the date for complete withdrawal by 9/11 of this year. But, Taliban had plans in contrast to that of the US. Rather than waiting for the withdrawal of the US, one by one, Taliban started taking over the control of major city. Alongside the territorial gains, Taliban got hold of all important American arms worth of billions of dollars.
July 2021 was the turning point in this episode when US left Bagram Airfield without giving a prior notice to the freshly appointed base commander. Meanwhile US kept on maintaining that ANA is fully equipped to counter Taliban takeover as they outnumber the Taliban. But what US was not aware of was the fact that already, ANA officers as well as soldiers were switching sides along with their arms. Resultantly, the regime installed by the allies collapsed and gave away Kabul to Taliban without a fight on 15 August 2021.
Here, important to note are the ground realities of Afghanistan. The Afghans as a nation has never accepted the foreign direct or indirect rule. It is rightfully said about Afghanistan that ‘you can rent Afghanistan, but you can’t buy it’, but in today’s scenario, ‘no one can afford buying Afghanistan’ is the right phrase.
Three American presidents tried to tame Afghanistan but the efforts were in vain. America spent billions of dollars in Afghanistan every year to sustain its favourite setup but it went to waste. The Afghan National Army was raised from scratch and constantly injected with power boosters of latest arms but it could not deliver as expected. An important fact that Americans started figuring out that the money they are investing on the Ghani regime is ending up in Middle Eastern and European banks. The never ending list of corruption was part and parcel of the regime.
One must not neglect the China-Russia factor in the region. Both have a history of anti-US stance. The role of both in Afghanistan is significant for bringing the peace deal on the table. Stating that both facilitated the deal ‘for Taliban’ in Afghanistan would definitely be an appropriate statement. After all, both did not like American presence in the region. China wants its economic endeavours to come true by securing its plans in the region and Russia wants its political influence over Central Asian Republics get further deepen.
In the midst of all the giants playing their parts in Afghanistan, all Pakistan wants is to have a long lasting secure Western front. To ensure that, Pakistan wants to have the economic security of Afghanistan in place. Taliban are the only group amongst others that can be acceptable to the majority of the rural Afghanistan. Only rural security can ensure the urban wellbeing. This is why, Pakistan wants Afghanistan to be connected to CPEC as it will not only benefit Pakistan but Afghanistan as well. Importantly, connecting CPEC to the CARs through Afghanistan would be a win win scenario for all. The world must understand that an economically stable Afghanistan under the rule of Taliban is the only viable solution to the regional as well as global insecurities.