The collapse of the Ghani government and the Taliban capture of power in Afghanistan was stunning. Indeed, given the decision to withdraw military from Afghanistan by the end of August, Taliban victory was inevitable and a foregone conclusion. However, the collapse of the Afghanistan government wasn’t foreseen and speaks of an intelligence failure on the part of the US and NATO. The scenes of chaos and panic at the Kabul airport will long be remembered. The evacuation of people has now been hindered because of the presence of hundreds of desperate people on the tarmac trying to board planes flying out of the Kabul airport. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is being widely criticized for the botched evacuation of personnel from Kabul airport. The blame game shall continue for some time.
Notwithstanding criticisms of the Afghanistan exit, it was basically a correct decision. The war in Afghanistan was nearly 20 years long and the “forever war” had to end. The sudden withdrawal was a decision made to protect the military personnel, However, what wasn’t expected was the collapse of the Ghani government and the Afghan military followed by a stunning Taliban victory.
Afghanistan is now under the full control of the Taliban. They will very soon consolidate their control of the country and establish their Islamic Emirate. The Taliban will share power with some non-Pushtun allies as junior partners bin the Tajik, Turkmen and Hazara regions. The Taliban had been quietly negotiating with them.
The biggest challenge of the Taliban is an economic one as Afghanistan was governed very badly in the past twenty years or so. Both the Karzai and Ghani governments were inept, corrupt, and ineffective. The country suffered immensely for bad governance. The people of Afghanistan are now tired of conflict which has now been over 40 years. They yearn for peace and stability. The collapse of the Afghan military and police is a resultant of past failures. The country remains one of the poorest in the world.
The US and NATO have no leverage, except for Taliban regime recognition and that doesn’t matter much now. The winners of the new Taliban government in Afghanistan will be Chia, Iran, Russia, and Pakistan. When and if the Taliban provide peace, security, and stability to Afghanistan, the world will come to recognize the new regime. The losers of the new Afghanistan situation is primarily the US, NATO, and India. The US not only failed to defeat the Taliban but also failed to establish a credible alternative to it. A review of the Afghanistan misadventure should now be undertaken to learn lessons for the future. Meanwhile, the humanitarian emergency in Afghanistan requires some bold measures to be undertaken by the Biden administration now. Most importantly, the US cannot abandon the country again as it did in 1989 when the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan. Notwithstanding criticism of the Taliban, it isn’t a global jihadist entity at all. Secretary Blinken is right to say that the Al Qaeda threat has now been eliminated and that was the reason of the Afghanistan war in the first place. The American military power has succeeded in this objective and to punish Taliban for its past sins of somewhat accommodating Al Qaeda inside the country. The main failure of the Afghan war project was in establishing a credible alternate to the Taliban. The past hubris led to the nation-building project in Afghanistan which has now collapsed and allowed the Taliban to return to power after 20 years or so.
The Biden administration should now review it’s Afghanistan policy and take some bold steps needed to tackle the humanitarian emergency in the country. Primarily, it must work with Pakistan to salvage the situation there. It must not repeat past mistakes and allow hubris to take over sound policy. The emergency in Afghanistan requires immediate action by the US and its NATO allies. Thousands of civilians need to be evacuated immediately from Afghanistan. For a viable response to the emergency, the US must work with China, Russia, Pakistan, and Iran; especially Pakistan because it was once an ally. The Biden administration must also signal to the Taliban that it will recognize the new government and that the US doesn’t consider it as an enemy. With the assistance of Pakistan, a new chapter can be opened in Afghanistan. The US owes it to the hapless people of the country.
President Biden is standing firmly by his decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan. Behind his confidence is a political bet that a war-weary US public will stick with him and enable him to weather a firestorm of criticism” NBC News. Basically, the statement is right with one very significant provision: That the evacuation of thousands stranded in Kabul, and elsewhere happens. To attain this outcome peacefully, the US can’t use military force against the Taliban now. However, a small window of diplomatic solutions exist provided the US closes the military option against Taliban forever. The world has changed, and the US isn’t the sole superpower it was decades ago. China is fully capable, and willing, to fill in the power vacuum in the region. All power vacuums are filled, one way or the other. That is the way it is in global politics, with no exceptions. The US must now focus on non-military tools at its disposal. Resident Biden’s threats of using force against the Taliban can be provocative, and most importantly misplaced and counterproductive to the immediate situation. For argument’s sake, if the US uses military force against the Taliban now, it will be met by a quick reaction. The Taliban will destroy the airport immediately. Remember, the Taliban now control the country. Therefore, the military option must be discarded immediately. However, other options remain on the table. The window of diplomacy hasn’t closed yet. The Biden administration can get the assistance of allies like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Turkey, even Pakistan to accomplish its evacuation project. The Islamic Emirate is now a reality whether you agree with it or not. The new Taliban government will be formed very soon. It will get the support of China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey. That is all that matters. Meanwhile, some quick diplomacy is needed to get us out of the evacuation mess. It is doable, indeed.
After a botched start, evacuations have finally picked up at Kabul airport by August 22, 2021. The Taliban are fully cooperating with the US and NATO, as per the Doha deal of February 2020. Most probably, the operation will go beyond the August 31, pullout deadline. Meanwhile, the ISK poses a threat to the evacuation operation. It bears repetition that President Biden was correct in ending the Afghan war. Given the focus of the Biden administration, the evacuation will be completed, as planned. The Taliban are fully on board on this one. Notwithstanding the criticisms of a botched evacuation, it seems on the right track now. Finally, the US and NATO got their act together. A mammoth global operation is underway to evacuate thousands of Americans, and others, from Afghanistan. As of August 22, 2021, some 33,000 persons have been evacuated from Kabul. More than two dozen countries are now involved in the global operation. Both US and Taliban are cooperating to meet any such eventuality. It is remarkable, that the US and the Taliban are now collaborating to achieve a common end: The peaceful evacuation of Americans, and others, from Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the Republican party is blasting President Biden on what they consider as a botched evacuation operation. That is to be expected and is basically politics as usual in the US. Now, serious discussions are happening on the whole Afghan war episode and its meaning to the people of the US. In retrospect, a lot went wrong in the 20-year long Afghan war. Therefore, a 9/11 type commission must reveal what happened, and why. In short, now is the time for some serious introspection of the 20-year Afghan war project which was arguably a historic mistake to begin with. Given the internal divisions in the political fabric of the USA, this won’t happen though.
Meanwhile, developments inside Afghanistan appear to indicate stability and peace finally returning to the country after conflict lasting nearly half a century or so. By August 22, 2021, barely a week in power, the Taliban are still establishing their new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Given the collapse of the Ghani government, and the subsequent takeover in Kabul by the Taliban, this delay is to be largely expected. It isn’t going to be easy at all. The Taliban government faces immense challenges, mainly financial and state administration. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. The brain drain from Afghanistan poses the most serious problem in establishing good governance in the country. Given the background of the Taliban movement, it will take some time to establish full administrative control of the country. As expected, the energy of the Taliban leadership is focused on consolidating their rule over the country. Time to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Dr. Sohail Mahmood is an Independent Political Analyst based in Chapel Hill NC.