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Afghanistan conundrum: What lessons can be learned?

What is happening in Afghanistan is a tragedy for the millions of Afghans who believed the line that the United States and NATO forces were there to protect them and give the country a chance at stability. In this regard, Dr. Tahir Ashraf highlights how two decades of investment to sustain that tenuous peace has been swept away and what conclusions should we draw from this debacle?

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The 20-year war between the United States and the Taliban ended with the defeat of the United States and the complete withdrawal from Afghanistan on August 31, while the Taliban are still in the process of forming a government after taking control of Kabul. The Taliban have also promised the international community that they will formulate an inclusive and consensus-based government that will be acceptable to all.

However, it appears that the US and the Western countries are skeptical of it and view the statements given by the Taliban in this regard with suspicion. The ongoing war in Afghanistan over the past 40 years in the wake of the invasion by foreign powers (the former Soviet Union in 1979 and the United States in 2001) and the current situation require many lessons for the United States, Europe, regional powers, Pakistan and the Taliban themselves.

Read more: Why America lost its way in Afghanistan?

What are the most important lessons learned?

The most important lesson for the United States is that the Taliban is a reality that has the support of a significant segment of Afghan society. Most importantly, it is impossible to win a long 20-year war without public support, let alone fight it, while the Taliban have been fighting the United States and its allies for almost two decades. The Afghan army could not even resist the Taliban for ten days. Similarly, the Afghan warlords, backed by the United States, proved to be a wall of sand against the Taliban.

The United States must now restore Afghanistan’s nearly $ 9 billion frozen assets and release the $ 400 million assistance frozen by the IMF. If the Taliban government fails, Afghanistan could once again fall victim to a civil war. And, repercussions of which will not only extend to Afghanistan’s neighbors, rather to Europe and the United States.  The most important consequence is the global threat of terrorism by the Islamic State-Khurasan which has carried out the recent terrorist attacks on Kabul airport. Similarly, the failure of the Taliban could lead to a civil war that could turn Afghanistan into a drug hub.

In this regard, it is the responsibility of the United States and Western countries not to repeat their past mistakes and not to abandon Afghanistan as they did in the past, but to engage the Taliban. In his latest statement, US Secretary of State Blankenship reiterated that the Biden administration is keeping a close eye on what kind of government the Taliban form. And, to what extent the Afghan political factions, other than the Taliban, are accommodated?

Read more: IFRC demands urgent humanatarian aid for Afghanistan

There is also a lesson for the European countries to take realistic thinking while keeping the ground realities in mind and to engage the Taliban otherwise the flood of Afghan refugees like Syria could affect them this time as well. Because Afghanistan’s neighbors Iran and Pakistan have already been carrying the burden of Afghan refugees for the past three decades, and in the event of a global epidemic like the Corona, the burden of more refugees will be unbearable for them.

Perhaps realizing this danger, the European Union announced at its Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Slovenia on September 3 that it would maintain conditional relations with the Taliban. “We have to engage with the new government of Afghanistan, which does not mean that their government is being recognized, but it is just an operational engagement,” said Borrell, the EU’s foreign affairs chief.

What is the next step for the Taliban’s administration?

The most important of the conditions proposed by the foreign ministers of European countries for the establishment of these ties is that the new Taliban government should ensure that Afghanistan should not be used as a breeding ground for terrorism.

In the current situation, the key lesson for the Taliban themselves is to move beyond rhetoric and put into practice the promises made to the international community. In this regard, the central prerequisite is the establishment of an inclusive government of all ethnicities including Uzbeks and Tajiks, while their government protects human rights, including women’s rights.

Read more: India exposed: “American F-15 jet flying in Wales”, not Pak F-15 in Afghanistan

The Taliban must also understand that Afghanistan has changed a lot in the last 20 years, especially in Kabul where an educated and vibrant middle class has emerged which has enjoyed access to information through free media that has flourished over the past two decades. This urban middle class will not easily surrender the freedom which it has achieved during the last twenty years especially in the contemporary age of social media.

Pakistan also needs to be cautious

Pakistan should not try to take credit for the Taliban’s victory because it is an internal matter of Afghanistan and this credit may create difficulties for Pakistan in the days to come because Pakistan’s opponent elements can exploit it for propaganda against Pakistan at the international forum. Pakistan should also refrain from dictating to the Taliban as they are no more non-state actors rather they are the ruling party and will not tolerate any external interference to protect their national interests.

However, the Taliban will have to renounce the anti-Pakistan Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. They must not allow their territory as a sanctuary for terrorism against Pakistan so that a cordial and lasting political and economic relationship can be maintained between the two neighboring and brotherly countries.

Read more: Why dress code is an important issue in Afghanistan?

Dr. Tahir Ashraf holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and teaches at the Department of International Relations, Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan, Pakistan. He can be contacted at tahirmian1@bzu.edu.pk.The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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