Defeated? US and Allies Leave Afghanistan
On February 29, 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed a so-called peace agreement in Doha, Qatar, officially titled the ‘Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan’. The agreement was believed to be largely in the interest of the Allied Forces troops withdrawal but lopsided for the Afghan Government, leaving them almost defenceless. It had four parts:-
- Prevent the use of Afghan soil by terrorist groups against the US and its allies.
- Lay-down a timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan
- To start an intra-Afghan talks between Govt and Taliban and
- Work-out a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire with joint political roadmap.
The first two parts were exclusively in the interest of US and Allied Forces that they should not be attacked while winding out and pulling out of the country…and why not? More than 3700 soldiers of the Allied Forces had already laid-down their lives in a war that they most of them had nothing to do. USA soldiers alone suffered about 22000 casualties (dead or wounded). Almost all participating allied forces had suffered some or other casualties. The coalition nations having laid-down 10 lives or more as on 18 May 2020, are mentioned in the text box below.
The third part of the so-called peace agreement involving intra-Afghan talks remained shaky and the fourth part never materialised as Taliban has already gained control over the major parts of the country. Recently, Taliban is proposing a conditional cease-fire asking Afghan Govt as below:-
- To release all 7000 Talibani prisoners from jail,
- Bring Taliban in power sharing with the govt.
- Change the constitution to make it purely Islamic and
- Take out the Taliban terrorists out of the UN terrorist list.
Afghan leadership knows very well that all the released Taliban fighters & terrorists will straightway join the Talibani fighting force hence, are not biting the bait. They have asked Taliban to cooperate with the govt and be flexible for the benefit of the nation. Govt has also warned Taliban that they will not be permitted to capture the nation by force.
It is a fact that by 2018, the allied forces assisted Afghan forces had lost their control over large parts of the country as shown in the box opposite (as mentioned in a current Pentagon report, extracts from Long War Journal Oct 2020).
However, even before the US-led NATO and Allied forces were preparing to leave, Taliban had already shown its actual colour of why they were ‘not to be trusted upon’. Taliban forces had started moving physically and capturing the important locations, installations, camps and districts vacated by the coalition. They attacked some, applied psychological pressure over many others to compel them to give-in without a fight. Videos were circulated by Taliban that they had already captured several districts and that in most cases, the scared Afghan military willingly surrendered to them by handing over their Arms, ammunition and abandoning the posts/camps. As a result, almost 3 months before the allied forces left, on 15 Apr 21 to be precise, BBC had aired a story of Taliban view of having ‘defeated the US-led forces’. One may debate whether they were the one who defeated or the US-led NATO forces…or the latter lost their steam and hence, the campaign…but it is true that the objectives with which US-led NATO forces had occupied Afghanistan…remained un-achieved, unfulfilled.
The reason for Taliban resurgence in the mid-2010s are many. Many experts believe that the US led Allied Forces continued treating the symptoms in their military campaign whereas the disease process continued…and that disease was Pakistan. Taliban and their splinter terrorist groups obtained their desperately needed support from Pakistan. Pak Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) funded and controlled most of the Jihadi networks both in Pakistan and Afghanistan…including the Haqqani network. All major attacks on the allied forces and foreign embassies were believed to have been carried out at the behest of the Pak ISI or with their knowledge. Top most US military commanders knew it, yet they did not take any direct action against the perpetrator, Pakistan. Ex-Prez of Afghanistan Mr Ashraf Ghani spoke of the Pakistani hands in no uncertain terms but they could not have taken action. As late as mid July 21, Afghan Prez blamed Pakistan in the very presence of Imran Khan of having sent ~10,000 Jihadi fighters to Afghanistan to assist the Taliban. Pakistan played the double game with the US leadership all through. All important operatives of Al-Qaida and Taliban found their sanctuary and safe heavens in Pakistan and worse…Pakistani leadership continued feigning ignorance…incl those of sheltering the top-most ‘wanted’ terrorist Bin laden and Mullah Omar.
It was only in 2018-19 that President Trump spoke of Pakistani acts of duplicity. But it was too late. By this time, US led allied forced were in no position to fight both Afghan terrorists and Pakistan. They neither had intent, resources or the capacity to do so with the handful of the largely demoralised forces. Having carried away the numerous body bags, the Americans have been looking at some ‘face-saver’ way of exit and they got it the worst way they could have ever imagined… by signing a peace deal with Taliban…the ones against whom they had come to Afghanistan…to root them out. But that did not happen. There was a time in 2003-04 when the allied forces could have made an honourable exit but that is many of the the US blunders of the past. Now the Taliban is firmly rooted in Afghanistan and the Allied Forces have to flee…in the disguise of the so-called ‘peace-deal’. Mighty Americans faced such reverses earlier in Iraq, Syria and now in Afghanistan. This must make every single nation to rethink whether it is worthy of sacrificing their men for the betterment of the Islamists? It may be worth pondering.
The major timelines through the USA’s costliest ‘War on Terror’ are mentioned in the table below.
It was a bygone conclusion that US led allied forces while ‘fleeing’ would leave a huge void. This creates a power vacuum in Afghanistan for all…whether the radicals and anti-democratic establishments to try a take-over or the neighbouring regional powers…be it Russia or China. India as of now, is out of race, actually it never was. It will be difficult for India to safeguard the over $3 billion worth of investment projects. Taliban is already threatening the few of the remaining territories and establishments still in the hands of the Afghan Forces, to surrender. The ‘not-so-professional’ govt forces are holding a few bases and districts for now and surely there will be power struggle to take control of it too.
All those people who have enjoyed the partial freedom of democracy in Afghanistan are under serious threats. Dark days of Taliban of late 1990s and early 2000s are looming large. Educated and employed women are under threat to retreat in to the anonymity of the four walls of their homes, as subservient to their men folks. Many women working in media, journalism and judiciaries have already been targeted and killed. Lowly placed women teachers and other professionals in Afghanistan societies have been receiving messages…go back to the four walls or else... Whispers of wide-ranging threats have become loud enough to be heard by one and all. There are strong apprehensions of the closure of Women institutions incl Schools, Colleges and vocational training centres. Innocent men are in no better position either. The lives of all those who had earlier worked for the US led coalition, are in immediate danger.
It seems Afghanistan is heading towards a full-fledged civil war much sooner than later. There are already enough indicators to it…the fleeing civilians heading towards adjoining nations. Most of the international check posts have already been taken by Taliban…possibly with the concurrence of Pakistan. Thus a huge revenue has already started accruing part of which are likely to go to Pakistani terror network too. This is what Pakistan wants…a weaker Afghanistan to whom they can dictate the terms. Pakistan will love to push their Sunni radical and jihadi groups trained in their madrassas…to assist Taliban, Al-qaida and ISIS elements wracking havoc in Afghanistan… where they can operate freely under the instructions of Pak ISI. None other than Pakistani PM Imran Khan has instructed the fringe Jihadi groups in Afghanistan not to attack the advancing Taliban. When an Afghan minister talked of using Afghan Air Force to stop Taliban atrocities and their march ahead, Imran Khan threatened the Afghan minister that if they did so, Pakistani Air Force will not hesitate in attacking Afghan Air Force. This clearly indicates that Taliban is heavily supported by Pakistan. Thus Pakistan has become an open supporter of Talibani terror in Afghanistan. The writing is on the Afghan walls…’bye bye democracy…bye bye rule of law’. Hereafter, the Talibani radicals and jihadists coordinated by Pakistan will rule Afghanistan.
Pakistan is a major stakeholder in the Afghani insurgencies. It houses nearly a million of the Afghan refugees who fled the war-torn state from the days of US led invasion in 2001. The US kept on looking for Osama bin Laden in each nuke and corners of Afghanistan. They were fooled by the Pakistani establishments who had been sheltering him in Abbottabad under close watch of the Military and the ISI. All major terrorist attacks in Afghanistan is believed to have been engineered by Pakistan either directly or indirectly. Pakistan would love to have a weak and destabilized Afghanistan so as to exploit their natural resources all along its 2670 km border. Their trade & transit to Turkmenistan and beyond is through Afghanistan. They are highly sceptical of Indian presence there…even if doing good. They fear encirclement by India in the times of any possible future action. The Indian govt would like to see a strong self-sustaining Afghanistan, preferably led by their Pashtun majority constituting nearly 42%. Although radicalism is inherent to Islam, a strong Afghan govt may not permit the numerous jihadi factions who are flourishing at present. Being rich in natural resources of over 1,400 mineral fields, containing barite (BaSO4), chromite, coal, copper, gold, iron ore, lead, natural gas, petroleum, precious and semi-precious stones among many other minerals, it could be a self-sustaining nation.
After all, what is the strength of Afghanistan that earlier made the Russians to leave unceremoniously and now the US led formidable allied forces of NATO are to retreat? Russian were driven out by the US and Saudi sponsored, Pakistan supported Mujahids who inflicted moderately high costs on them. But what lead the US led allied forces to exit? Afghan Taliban alone could not have sustained the attacks by the allied forces. They did have the backing of various other Islamic radicals and fundamentalists whether in Afghanistan itself or from Pakistan, Kashmir, Palestine, ISIS and the northern part of Africa. It is believed that Most of the Islamic nations are helping jihad in Afghanistan in some form or the other. If nothing else, a part of global Islamic contribution of ‘Jakat’ goes to them. Afghanistan is also a good source of opium cultivation. Most of the income of this grey economy eventually lands up in the hands of the terrorists incl those in Pakistan.
Radical Islamic nations send their contributions too. As such Al-Qaida, ISIS, Iran & Pakistan have shown the world that despite sanctions, their terror networks remain intact and functional, they continue getting weapon to commit terror and that their Madrasas continue producing the home-grown radicals & Jihadists. These radicals and jihadists are brainwashed to such extent that they don’t mind even blowing-up themselves, a trend so common in the Islamic Jihadists…be it Asia, Africa or elsewhere.
Who are these bandits on the Afghan streets issuing threats and committing deaths so rampantly? It was supposed to be the humanitarian wing of Islamic Brotherhood, meant to help Muslims under various pretexts of personal piety but it turned the other way. So, if the human face of todays’ Islam is that of a Bandit, who are these radicals? Radical Islam in Indian sub-continent dates back only to the 1920s with the Mawdudi’s subsequently founding the ‘Jamaat-al-Islami’ in British India, that finally led to the emergence of Pakistan. The radical Islam gained ground after the Palestine struggle against Israel and became a sticking point between the Muslim world and the USA backing Israel. This is also believed to be resulting to 9/11 terror attack on the worlds’ strongest nation, the USA.
It is a harsh reality now that Afghanistan will be heading back to Taliban mis-rule. As elsewhere in the Islamic world, the near 10% Jihadists duly supported by about 30% radicals, be it Taliban or the other groups, will control the remaining 60% population in Afghanistan. Anyone opposing, will be eliminated…as is happening in the Islamic nations elsewhere. The 20 yrs of democratic freedom of Afghanistan, even if limited, will be undone now. The civil war seems to be looming large that will make it absolutely weak, unstable and fractured…where Pakistan will have free hands. Power vacuum after US and their allies leave, is also likely to bring the Chinese for altogether a different reason. Their first concern is to pressurise the radical Islamic nations not to fuel the Uyghur fire. They will surely create their own border posts to make it difficult for the radical elements to cross over. With their Belt & Road initiative (BRI) offer they will show the fig leaves to the Afghans along with easy loans so as to make them fall in to debt trap…just like Pakistan, Sri Lanka and many other nations. Then the debt-ridden nation will fall in line with the Chinese dictats. Further, the rich Afghan natural resources of oil and mineral must be in the Chinese calculations too.
Costs on the Americans were substantial both in terms of lives and monetary. The loss of lives have already been elaborated above and the financial costs too are huge. Although the financial aid to Afghanistan was just around $144 billion, a rough estimate of the cost of US combat operations (including related regional support activities and support for Afghan forces) as of December 2020 stands at $824.9 billion since FY-2002. This is a really prohibitive cost and all these seem to have been gone worthless, for a nought. It is difficult to say who is victorious in these power games. The position of the democratic Afghan govt seems to be untenable. Afghan President’s recent visit to Washington has been anything but reassuring. President Biden has committed to leaving about 600-odd US troops in Afghanistan for now…but what 60,000 could not do, 600 can surely not. These troops could be handy for safeguarding their own embassy though. Hence, the vulnerability of Afghan remains…purely in the hands of the radical forces…the Taliban.