A new era has dawned for the war-shattered country and its millions of impoverished people. The momentous events of August this year took everyone by surprise. Most surprised were the Taliban themselves. Perhaps no observer of the Afghan scene could ever have visualized such a swift end to a system that was imposed on the country twenty years ago.
But the seeds of disintegration were planted in 2001 when the US toppled the Taliban government in a matter of few days. Was the invasion justified? Was there any rationale for an assault on a country that had nothing to do with Septem-ber 11? If Osama, then sheltering in a remote village of Nan-garhar province in Eastern Afghanistan and cut off from the world, had anything to do with the attacks on the twin towers in Washington, he could have been taken out just as he was picked up years later from his Abbottabad compound.
But the invasion had other motives. The Islamic model of governance in Afghanistan could have become a beacon for the regional Muslim countries. Osama came to Afghanistan and sought asylum in May 1996 when Jalalabad was still under the control of President Rabbani’s government. Rabbani’s government allowed him to settle in the country and imposed some conditions.
A few months later, the Taliban swept into power, having taken Kabul as well as the Eastern Nangarhar province. The new Taliban Governor allowed Osama to stay on, imposing more stringent restrictions on his movement and activities, effectively isolat-ing him from all contacts inside Afghanistan and beyond.
When the attacks of 9/11 happened, the US demanded the handing over of Osama. Mullah Umar, then Taliban supremo, offered to hand him over to a third country for standing trial. He (Osama) may be punished if found guilty. The US rejected the offer and chose to occupy Afghanistan. Such reactions from Washington are not uncommon in a country that has had a historic addiction to wars.
Starting from the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan ( although Japan had agreed to surrender the nuclear weapon had to be tested ) in 1945, to the removal of Iran’s first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran in 1953 to the dismantling of the Chilean government on September 11, 1974, to the unwarranted war of Vietnam, to the war of Afghanistan, to the removal of the first democratically elected President of Egypt in 2011, to the criminal assault on Iraq to find “weapons of mass destruction” – the list is never-ending.
The US has used its immense arsenal of weapons of destruction to annihilate, eliminate or intimidate governments worldwide.
Unraveling of the US scheme
The failure in Afghanistan may be the beginning of the end of the American century. The withdrawal of US forces would have profound implications for the political landscape of the region. No longer would the US allies bank on Washington’s support in their hour of need.
No longer would partnership with the US be counted as a factor of stability for smaller nations. No longer would the US be regarded as a bastion for promoting pluralism, democracy. And no longer would the world look to America for any lead role in confronting the many challenges
humanity faces –climate change, population growth, depleting water tables, rising sea levels, cyber crimes, pollution lowering defense expenditures, etc.
Learning from the Afghanistan fiasco
There are lessons to be learned from every major episode in history; unfortunately, they are not. Errors of judgment are perpetuated. In dealing with Afghanistan, the Americans relied heavily on training, provision of equipment, technology, and manpower resources. They overlooked the most crucial lesson: Afghans have never accepted any occupation of their country.
They would get recruited in the army because of poverty but should an opportunity arise; they would lose no time in shifting their loyalty. The Americans did not realize their control of the country was never accepted by the rank and file Afghans. They did not discover that the system they imposed on the country breeds corruption and generates more poverty.
Read more: The beginning of a new era in Afghanistan
They did not realize how fragile were the structures of governance they created. They ignored facts like the alarming increase in opium production and the growing desperation of millions of Afghans seeking to emancipate themselves from subjugation as soon as the time was ripe.
They ultimately remained ignorant that the puppet regimes they created had no rapport with the masses, were never popular with the people, and had no genuine inter-est in bringing about a change for the better. Those rulers also knew one day they would face the wrath of the masses, having agreed to function under the guidance of the occupation army.
They paid a horrendous price. More than $ 2 trillion was invested. Thousands of army soldiers and contractors’ security forces died, and thousands more were wounded; hundreds of soldiers returned to the US from Afghanistan and Iraq commit- ted suicides. And then a chaotic exit.
What now for Afghanistan?
There are two reasons for optimism in the current scenario. For the first time since 1978, a government in Afghanistan faces no external or internal threat to its existence. There are no signs of an uprising. Former warlords have fled the country. Secondly, there is a fatigue syndrome —people are fed up with a conflict that has raged for more than four decades.
This gives the Taliban a unique opportunity to unite the country and prepare the nation for the historic task of reconstruction and rehabilitation.The challenges they confront are also enormous. Poverty has overwhelmed the country, with more than 70 percent falling below the poverty line.
Unemployment is at its peak, touching about 70 percent. There are 3.5 million internally dis-placed people in the country. Tens of thousands have become drug addicts. Wheat production in this last year is down by 40 percent because of drought. The pandemic has added to the woes and sufferings of the people.
The health delivery system has collapsed, and the Taliban government has just no money to pay the salaries of the public sector employees. The country needs immediate delivery of some cash to disburse the salaries and keep the Government machinery functioning.
Depending upon whether the Taliban would maintain unity in their ranks, there are reasonable prospects of the country being launched on a development trajectory if some immediate issues are addressed. There is the issue of ‘recognition.’ The world is waiting and watching.
Whether the Taliban would institute systems that would provide opportunities for both men and women to seek educations, jobs, whether minorities would be adequately protected and whether the Taliban would be able to deal with the militant groups operating in their country? Taliban have pledged to do all this and more. Their survival lies in guaranteeing peace to its war-weary citizens and introduce systems that reflect the aspirations of the masses.
In the matter of recognition, Pakistan’s role remains ambiguous and incompatible with the ground realities. To align itself with the regional countries is understandable in matters relating to Afghanistan’s socio-economic emancipation. But to delay recognition only because other countries are undecided is not a wise course to adopt.
No other country has a 2600 kilo-meters long border; no other country hosts 2.5 million Afghan refugees; no other country has leaders of the Taliban residing on its soil with their families. Islamabad should determine its policy based on objective realities. And since there is no other option, why delay recognition.
Soon the world would have to reconcile with the new emerging order in Afghanistan. There is Government that has its writ all over the country. There is a Government that has roots in the masses. There is a Government that has delivered peace for the first time in decades. Why then withhold recog-nition? The US is concerned because it believes the new emerging order would result in China becoming the dominant economic and political power.
Washington is anxious because, after its exit, the grand Chinese ‘one belt, one road ‘project will be carried out to its completion, giving ingress to Beijing in countries of south and west Asia and Eurasia. But this had to happen. But Washington’s concerns should not detract the Taliban from relentlessly pursuing their goal of establishing a system that ensures peace and prosperity. Taliban are seeking good relations with the US.
If they can warm up to Moscow, they can also build bridges with the US. Europeans would soon realize there is no point in delaying recognition. There are hopes that the Americans would be willing to release Afghanistan $ 9 bil-lion currently lying in their banks. Taliban, in the meantime, would be well advised to focus on seeking assistance from the UN – technical, financial, and critical manpower.
China is one country that can provide immediate cash assistance to help the regime overcome urgent payment problems. The world must not forget that the Taliban would be able to deal with the menace of ‘Daesh’ only if they could overcome their financial difficulties. They can confront other militant groups like Turkistan Islamic movement, ‘Fidayee mahaz’ if they succeed in consolidating their control of the country.
The Afghan army has disintegrated; the Police have lost thousands of their personnel. A new Police force has to be resurrected. That will happen only when they can focus on critical nation-building issues rather than seeking recognition. Driving the Taliban into isolation would be counterproductive.
That will be a historic folly. When the negotiations in Doha were in progress in 2020, and when the draft agreement was ready, President Trump decided to invite the Taliban leaders to the white house for the signing ceremony. The ceremony did not take place for some other reasons, and the agreement was signed in Doha.
If the Taliban representatives are invited to the White House to meet the President of the US, then how can recognition be held up of that very Government? Taliban have to align themselves with the international community and seek support for the country’s reconstruction and its institutions. They have to present the image of a Government that seeks cooperation, collaboration based on their commitment to promote the cause of peace and progress.
The world must acknowledge that the Taliban are not a transnational entity; their sole aim is to operate inside Afghanistan and establish a truly Islamic system that meets the requirements of justice and equality. With this in mind, the hurdles in the way of trust-building could soon be overcome.
Ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand is a senior Pakistani diplomat, political scientist and politician. He has served as Chief Secretary NWFP, Interior Secretary of Pakistan, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan and Commissioner for Afghan Refugees.