In less than a month since the US announced and started its withdrawal from Afghanistan after two decades of violent conflicts the entire nation was besieged by the Taliban with an astounding haste. One after the other major cities and commercial centers fell like dominos into the hands of the Taliban. Today we take a look at the factors that led to such a swift win for the Taliban and an embarrassing loss for the US and NATO after precisely 20 years of conflict and an expense of 2 trillion US Dollars in the efforts.
India and the world were in for a shock as India celebrated the country’s 75th Independence Day. On this same day India’s neighbor and historical ally Afghanistan’s democratically elected government fell, it’s President fled the country while India had to join the world in evacuating its diplomats, citizens and embassies as the Afghan capital Kabul fell into the hands of the Taliban.
The bloody conflict that started in 2001 in the aftermath of the infamous 9/11 incidents with the US invading the Taliban concluded 20 years later in 2021 with a harrowing defeat for the US and its NATO allies.
But was this defeat expected? Could things have been different had the US delayed the withdrawal from the country? Well unfortunately No. Things would have been the same more or less even if the US decided to stay longer.
To start with the democratically elected government was mostly there in power due to foreign backing and not by the people’s mandate as democracy requires. President Ashraf Ghani who was elected in the 2019 elections which had participation from less than 20% of the population.
After being elected there was a political crisis between incumbent Ashraf Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah. It was only due to the US threats of cutting off foreign aid that Ghani and Abdullah agreed to come to a power sharing deal.
It is even alleged that the government did not do well to represent the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and other ethnic groups uniformly which the Taliban did adding to the lack of support from the localities.
It must be noted that neither the US nor the US backed government had much of an actual power in the region. To paint an image of control and supremacy the US brokered a deal with the Taliban to deescalate the tensions and the Taliban refrained from attacking the US or the Afghan forces. Thus the US or the Afghan Government had no actual power but merely an illusion of it.
Another reason for what makes this event so baffling is the fact that the US had spent billions of dollars to train and equip the Afghan forces. The Afghan forces were equipped with Humvees, Apache Helicopters and state of the art weaponry. Despite this, the Afghan forces surrendered without putting up any fight against the Taliban and the fall of Kabul happened without a drop of blood. Even in terms of numbers the Afghan forces were hundreds of thousands up against merely 200000 ill equipped Taliban fighters who had no air or fire power whatsoever compared to their US funded counterparts.
This has puzzled even the most expert diplomats and officers who were deployed on field in cities like Kandahar and Herat. In this case the motivation to fight explains the Taliban supremacy. Afghanistan has had a long history of conflict and it is this history of fighting against foreign powers that helped Taliban create a narrative to their advantage. “Jihad”, “Fighting against the Infidels” are some of the major narratives used by the Taliban to fight against a seemingly superior army of US backed Afghan forces.
But what motivation did the Afghan forces and police have? Only money. So while the Taliban fought for a cause it was only a money making arrangement for the Afghan forces that disappeared the very moment the Taliban started to mobilize and take control of the country.
Last time the Taliban took control of the country in 1996 the Taliban led regime got recognition from only a handful of Islamic countries like Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE. It remains to be seen if the Taliban government in Kabul is recognized by the world and how influential neighbors such as India and China deal with the change.
For China there are several risks possessed by the situation as the fall of Kabul might trigger the Taliban to fight for Uyghurs in Xinjiang which shares a border with Afghanistan. China should also be concerned about it’s ambitious One Belt One Road or the OBOR initiative which might take a substantial blow if this win of Taliban triggers an inspirational movement within the other Islamic rebel factions and separatists in Pakistan and other Muslim states nearby.
India too is wary of the situation as it has invested heavily in the region by creating several infrastructure Projects ranging from Roads, Bridges, Schools, Banks, Hospitals, irrigation systems and Dams.
Other than the physical infrastructure investments the major area of concern for India is the diplomatic efforts and progress that it made during the last decade of relative peace in Afghanistan. While celebrations were on in Pakistan following the fall of Kabul and the rise of Taliban India is staring at an uncertain future as chaos unfolds in Kabul and Afghanistan in general.
Arunava Bhattacharya, DNI: