The current seizure of the Afghanistan capital Kabul by the Taliban is an event no less important than 9/11 as it has the potential to change the course of history. The sheer speed of the takeover and the ease with which it was accomplished startled the world. It’s not what the West or at least the US anticipated as is clear from the recent address of US President Joe Biden. It seems they were expecting fierce resistance from the so called Afghan national army created by the US.
What could this resistance have meant? A civil war breaking out in Afghanistan could continue for an indefinite period. Initial estimates of US intelligence were given six months to two years’ time for which the US backed Afghan government could hold on. However, the on ground situation developed at lightning speed and the seizure of entire Afghanistan was achieved in a matter of days.
Anticipating the future of Afghanistan
Their major concerns seem to be the human rights condition especially women’s rights. Memories are still fresh of Taliban rule in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 when women were suppressed and even their basic rights to education and work were completely denied. They are rightfully worried that the same dark era might return. Another concern is that Afghanistan might become a terrorist’s safe haven and could lead to future terrorist attacks.
Further, the Taliban’s traditional rivalries with other ethnic and religious groups (Taji’s, Uzbeks and Hazaras) might lead to a perpetual state of civil war. However, in his first press conference on August 17, Taliban spokesperson Zabi Ullah Mujahid tried to clarify. He said that they had learned from the past and would allow Afghan women to get an education and work to contribute towards various aspects of society. He also stressed that the Taliban would ensure that their soil is not used for terrorism against anyone including all their neighbors.
Regarding the other ethnic and religious groups, which were part of the previous government, the spokesperson announced blanket amnesty. He also indicated including ethnic minorities in the future governance setup.
Can the Taliban be trusted?
We have to look at their behavior in the recent past to get more insight. Taliban agreed to sit with the American envoy Zalmeh Khalilzad to carry out negotiations for peace in Afghanistan. It was a long process continuing for months and Taliban leadership exhibited traits of statesmanship and negotiated a peace deal for ending the two decades old Afghan conflict. Later events testified that they generally held on to the promises and guarantees they offered. Attacks were not carried out on American and other western forces during their withdrawal, as stipulated in the terms of the agreement.
Taliban, who were already controlling large parts of rural Afghanistan, started taking over remaining territories and encircled the major cities. Then advanced further and captured the main cities and capitals of the provinces one by one. They started the takeover from the north of Afghanistan instead of the south which seemed to be the more obvious choice as the Taliban were strong in the Pashtun areas of the south (Taliban are mainly ethnic Pashtuns). Strategically, it proved to be a brilliant move as they were able to seize the majority of the cities even without firing a single bullet.
Read more: No democracy in Afghanistan: Taliban
After capturing those territories which offered some resistance Taliban announced an amnesty for the Afghan army fighters. So much so that the fierce Taliban opponent, Ismael Khan, governor of Herat (popularly called as “lion of Herat”) was pardoned and released after a few hours of his capture. This motivated the national army in the remaining cities to lay arms and get amnesty.
Taliban captured one city after the other at blistering speed and finally the fall of Kunduz, only a few kilometers away from Kabul, was the final blow. Taliban were at the gates of Kabul in a matter of a few hours and their advance parties captured the presidential palace giving Ashraf Ghani just enough time to resign and flee.
The monumental financial crises of Afghanistan
Clouds of a civil war still persist on the horizon but the ongoing negotiations facilitated by Islamabad (with support of Russia, Iran and other neighbors) to form a broad based government including Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, are a hopeful sign. Then, the financial problems emanating from the US announcement to freeze nine billion dollar reserves of the Afghan Government and similar announcements by IMF. The role of China and Russia would be of crucial importance to overcome this financial crisis. Taliban have announced a blanket amnesty for all their rivals and government servants, including interpreters who worked for allied forces.
They have vowed to allow women rights, enforcing no restrictions on their education and employment except that they have to follow dress codes allowed by Islamic law. During the advance up to Kabul, the Taliban have held on to their promises of not taking revenge as evident from the brief capture and release of Ismael Khan and not attacking the American or Western forces during withdrawal.
Their assurances about respecting basic human rights and especially women’s rights are yet to be seen. If they deliver, the recent developments in Afghanistan can lead to a new chapter in the history of this war-torn country and could be a glimmer of hope for Afghans who are suffering for almost four decades.
The writer is a Professor and Director of the Media Resource Center at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) Japan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.