If a Taliban administration is unable to build its credibility, provide effective governance, bring in reforms and control narco-terrorism, it would just need a spark to ignite passions in tribal regions for a Greater Tajikistan and Pashtunistan, leading to the de facto partition of the country
The quest for the establishment of a broad-based, gender-sensitive, multi-ethnic, and fully representative, independent Afghanistan has eluded the world powers once again. Afghanistan is back to square one, to its pre-war status of a possible base for jihadist non-state organizations.
The country has once again fallen under the sway of a resurgent Taliban, after two decades. It threatens to create a Greater Pakistan, with an adjunct Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan under the patronage of Jallaluddin Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other radicalized elements like Al Qaeda, LeT and Hezb e Islamic Group.
Afghanistan has ceased to be the geographical buffer between the Iranian plateau and Central Asian Republics, coveted both by Russia and British India, in the past. It now provides the much-needed ‘strategic depth’ to Pakistan.
Operation Enduring Freedom launched by the US-led coalition forces for the location and elimination of Osama bin Laden in later 2001, and the withdrawal of the coalition forces, starting July 2021, are now history. To be fair, the US has given top priority to its national interests. It helped raise a 350,000 strong and fully equipped Afghan National Defence Security Forces (ANDSF), revamped the police and civil administration and was rebuilding Afghanistan. Yet the Taliban succeeded in toppling the government of Afghan president Ashraf Ghani.
This was not a war between nations; it was a war among the Afghans. At one end were the insurgents, the indigenous Taliban, who after 2001 had melted into the countryside with their regime toppled. At the other end was ANDSF, raised specifically to deter the Taliban from an insurgency by isolating them from habitation areas and preventing them from gaining control in the provinces.
What the Taliban regime may do
The history of successful counter-insurgency operations around the world has shown that the victors would be those who maintain cohesion and prevent themselves from being isolated. In this case, the Taliban deserves full marks for establishing bases and gaining control in the rural areas, whereas the ANDSF personnel either deserted or fled from their posts or surrendered The trump card had been played with finesse by Pakistan, through its simultaneous support to the US and the Taliban.
The Taliban has learned a few lessons from its earlier stint in power. They were extremely surprised to achieve their goals without much resistance. In their recent avatar. they will not want to be seen as international pariahs. They would not waste time in assuming responsibility and announcing key portfolios.
They may now opt for a clean break with al-Qaeda to secure international acceptance and recognition. However, that does not imply that the Al-Qaeda would abandon them. Al-Qaeda, IS and other radicals would easily embed their cells unseen within the outlying areas in the present chaotic situation and re-emerge at a time of their choice.
Generally, the Taliban can be expected to build its credibility with the world and its own citizens, deliver services and administer justice effectively, following the constitution. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan could exist only on paper.
Pakistan’s future role
Pakistan too has learned some lessons. Pakistan appears to have negotiated a quid pro quo with the Taliban to reject new US bases on its soil in exchange for the Taliban’s assistance in tackling the Tehrik-i-Taliban.
Pakistan would avoid any mention of the Durand Line, which may resurrect old differences. Its deep state has been achieved and the turn of events has proved that the decoupling of Pakistan from the Taliban is not going to be easy.
World powers may now seek Pakistan’s assurance to keep their ally, the Taliban, under control. The fear of economic sanctions such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), more barriers in trade and financial inflows, .and the declaration of Pakistan as a terror state, would keep the Damocles sword hanging on Pakistan. Logically, the dissolution of the Haqqani Network and the Quetta Shura should follow next.
Afghanistan has always been a simmering pot of tribal violence. The militias of the various tribal factions did not come to the rescue of ANDSF primarily because the regime was also the most corrupt, inefficient, and unable to govern. Tribal affinities, loyalties and habits die hard. Tribals, especially in the North, Northwest and South, love possession of weapons, and are forever looking for ways and means to procure and use them on every available opportunity.
If a Taliban administration is unable to build its credibility, provide effective governance, bring in reforms and control narco-terrorism, it would just need a spark to ignite passions in tribal regions for a Greater Tajikistan and Pashtunistan, leading to the de facto partition of the country, Here again, neighbors like Russia and Central Asian Republics, China.and Iran could play a decisive role.
Afghanistan on a global stage
The free world appeared to be in deep slumber when Doha talks were deadlocked, a vacuum was created by the sudden exit of coalition forces and theTaliban onslaught that followed.
Rather than issue calls for more infructuous United Nations Security Council meetings and issue resolutions and communiqué on its future status, it is now time to allow the Afghans to settle their issues themselves, once and for all. But can they?
As and when the stability is restored, subject to the successor regime’s requirements, there should be a UN-sponsored multi-national development assistance plan for massive reconstruction, civic actions to restore democratic institutions and confidence in the present regime. The restoration of law and order, good governance in both urban and rural areas, capacity building and destruction of poppy cultivation could then follow. Afghanistan remained neutral during both World Wars. What stops it now from becoming one, guaranteed by the five powers?
Who knows when the world powers would sink their differences against the common enemy of terrorism and deny the establishment of an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan? Who knows if the US can resolve its mutual differences with Iran and work for peace efforts in the Middle East? Who knows when the US will settle all issues with Russia, and may conceivably partner with Russia in a strategic alliance to force China to abandon its South China Sea claims?
Sounds a bit utopian, but it is within the realms of possibility in the present era of alliances.
(The writer is an Indian Army veteran. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)