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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Who messed up in Afghanistan?

Nearly 20 years after United States forces entered Afghanistan, this is what it has come down to: The government has effectively collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani has left the country. The military has lost its will to fight and disintegrated and Afghanistan has new rulers in the name of the Taliban. The Taliban is expected to improve governance, build confidence and trust among their people and abroad through promoting their soft image which might be made easier via forming an inclusive government.

The tragic breakdown of governmental machinery in Kabul and the Taliban’s ascendency cannot totally be reported as something that happened overnight, rather an outcome of a long process. The cold remiss toward the Afghan National Army, Police and Security forces by the US and its allies and the Kabul administrations gave birth to serious structural problems in the institution leading to its tragic fall. The corrupt Kabul administrations and the support of the US to its puppets in Afghanistan caused a handful of serious governance crises.

The Taliban filled that vary gulf as they were reportedly welcomed across the country except for a few areas. However, they will come across a plethora of challenges whose solutions would demand them to show flexibility and adopt a positive approach. The international community must play a positive role in bringing peace into Afghanistan which can start via assisting it humanitarian. The Taliban will have to improve governance, build confidence and trust among their people and abroad through promoting their soft image which might be made easier via forming an inclusive government.

Read more: An important message from Afghanistan!

Factors Responsible for the Fall of Government in Kabul 

a)The Role of the U.S. and its allies

There is a plethora of literature that is uncovering the parochial nature of the American mission in Afghanistan. The United States of America backed Mujahadin via its spy agency CIA against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan back in the 1980s. It abandoned Afghanistan alone following the withdrawal of the former USSR from Afghanistan thereby paving way for the devastative civil war which left Afghanistan tattered. Following the 9/11 complex episode, the U.S landed in Afghanistan to counter-terrorism and cut the roots of al-Qaeda for its alleged involvement in the 9/11 attack on the world trade center. The new US assignment in Afghanistan also aimed at installing democracy and preserving human rights in Afghanistan. Geo-strategically, Washington aimed at staying in the region.

The US adopted wronged policies like relying upon the reinstatement of the local warlords to win against the Taliban till 2005 followed by the increase in troops by Obama and the withdrawal of NATO forces in 2014. The US never intended to form an inclusive government in Afghanistan rather it supported its puppets over there. The nation-building and reconstruction were totally set aside. The country’s administrations were reported to have committed massive corruption, nepotism and power politics which rewarded Afghanistan with serious governance crisis thereby compelling the common Afghans to welcome any kind of change in the power corridors in order to improve living standards as both James Dobbins a former US Special Envoy for Pak-Afghan and V. Falbab- Brown a senior research fellow at Brooking Institutions think so. The US ignored the institutional building of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

Similarly, Henry Kissinger brings the United States of America under storm for its abstract military and political objectives of its Afghan mission in his well-known write-up Why America Failed in Afghanistan. Zahid Husain quotes the conversation between Gen. Ashfaq Parvaz Kyani the then COAS, with US Gen David Petreaus about the plan and strategy of the US and its allies in Afghanistan in his book No-Win War: The Paradox of Pak-US Relations in Afghanistan’s Shadow, where the US and its allies were found with no concrete strategy for their Afghan assignment. Finally, the hasty withdrawal of foreign troops actually paved the way for the return of the Taliban to Kabul.

Read more: What is the future of bilateral ties between Afghanistan and Iran?

b) The role of the erstwhile Kabul Administrations

The well-known work Why Nations Fail unequivocally puts Afghanistan into backward and failed states by virtue of its centralized authority, extractive economic and exclusive political institutions. The institutional corruption, nepotism and political interference caused serious governance crises where the services delivery remained a daydream as the country had been ranked 169 out of 189 at HDI 2020.

The former US ambassador P. Micheal MicKenly considers the various Kabul administrations responsible for today’s Afghanistan in his well-known write-up We All Lost Afghanistan since they settled to remain in power echelons the topmost priority. They left an indelible record of massive corruption, plundering, nepotism, political interference and power politics which cracked a widening crevice between the public and their representatives. Therefore, the common Afghans had had a strong desire for the second coming to bestow them with good governance.

c) The dramatic downfall of the Afghan Army

The abovementioned reasons paved way for the dramatic failure of the Afghan military. According to the former U.S. Ambassador P.Micheal MacKinlay, the indifference shown by the Kabul administrations and the US and its allies toward the reformation of organizational and administrative set up of the Afghan Army compelled it to surrender before the Taliban quickly without showing even a single episode of resistance. The three different reports on Progress Toward Security and Prosperity in Afghanistan issued separately in 2012, 2013 and 2017, uncovered the perceived and overt capability of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces to avert any danger facing it.

The US intelligence briefing to Biden in 2021, warned the US of the likely fall of the ANDSF against the Taliban. The ANDSF faced serious structural problems which demoralized it. The institution fell prey to corruption, bribery, nepotism and political interference. The forces were paid minimum salaries and were equipped with less military equipment as reported by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction. The forces lacked proper training and were left totally dependent on the assistance of foreign troops. Thus, the ANDSF was doomed in hours soon after the gradual withdrawal of foreign troops and the appearance of Taliban across the country.

Read more: Maintaining Law and order in Afghanistan: Another challenge for Taliban?

d) The Resurgence of Taliban

The corrupt and exclusive Kabul administrations, the indifferent US and the structurally weak Afghan National Army reinforced the Taliban cause. Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior research fellow at Brooking Institution, urged in her well-known write-up Why Taliban Won, that the structural deficiency of ANDSF and the poor-governance dilemma paved way for Taliban entry to Kabul. She further states that the resurgence of the Taliban dates back to the group’s occupation of Kunduz in 2015.

Moreover, the Taliban reformed its disputed past by showing concerns for the international-cum-communal values and roles. The said outfit revamped its structure by making it more inclusive to the different sections and factions of Afghan society. A general amnesty was announced for all; women were seen in the streets protesting and the provision and protection of human rights have been vowed. Geopolitically they succeeded in acquiring the support of their neighbors- the regional stakeholders of the new great game to pursue their respective geostrategic interests.

Finally, the Taliban fully exploited the gap provided by the structurally fragile ANDSF, serious governance crisis and the remiss by the US and its allies toward Afghan reconstruction and nation-building, to enter Kabul. Zahid Hussain in the second chapter, the Original Sin, of his book  No-Win War: The Paradox of Pak-US Relations in  Afghanistan’s Shadow stormed the US for not taking the Taliban on board as the US repudiated the offer by Musharaf to invite the Taliban to the Bonn Conference.

Read more: Moscow meeting to announce policy on Afghanistan

e) An ethnically fragmented society of Afghanistan

Today’s politically chaotic Afghanistan is somehow the replica of the 1990s  where politically disturbed Afghanistan was in the dire need of sincere leadership and administration. The wrestling for occupation over Kabul barely exposed the ethnically divided Afghan society where a devastative civil war erupted among the different sections of Afghan society. The ethnically fragmented contours of  Afghan society–Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazara and Pashtun among others– are yet to unite over a single point for a national cause. The recently closed episode of resistance by Ahmad Shah Masood’s group demanded a lion’s share in decision-making power.

Afghanistan is also home to a number of minor or major militant outfits like the Islamic State of Khurasan Provine and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which may also disrupt the peaceful fabric of Afghanistan in case it is installed in near future. The external spoilers and manipulators also play upon the divided nature of Afghan society. In recent years, a demo of the power wrangling has been observed in the Ghani-Abdullah Abdullah episode for making government in Kabul and the stalemate occurred in the intra-Afghan dialogue over power-sharing. Most importantly has been the indifference of US as per the words of Henry Kissinger on Why America Failed in Afghanistan and the Afghan governments toward the fractious Afghan society.

f) The Role of the Regional Players

China and Russia have been the key rivals to the US in the contemporary world order. The US-China rivalry pushed Beijing ahead to play a crucial role in regional and global geopolitics thereby doing its level best to thwart any intention of the US to stay over there where it may infringe Chinese interests. Therefore, China has been a key rival to US here in this region too. China also aspires of a peaceful region for its growing economic interests under the BRI especially for the investment it is doing in Afghanistan which might be impossible without a peaceful Afghanistan.

Read more: Situation in Afghanistan is not easy: Putin

Russia is the erstwhile cold war rival to the US and the present-day resurgent force threatening the interests of the U.S. beyond its borders. Iran, though a former supporter of the Northern Alliance in the erstwhile civil War and still loyal to the Shia community, supported the Taliban politically and diplomatically against its rival US. Pakistan, despite the fact it has persistently been blamed for backing the Taliban, has, no doubt, stakes in Afghanistan and, therefore, has been contributing to the future’s peaceful Afghanistan in one way or the other. It is undoubtedly clear that the aforementioned countries looked after their geostrategic interests in Afghanistan, they have given their best in bringing peace in Afghanistan while using the Troika plus one platform and the different settings on the ministerial level and meetings of their intelligence agencies chiefs among others.

Finally, the fall of the government in Kabul and the ascendency of the Taliban is not an incident rather a result of a long process. The  US administration misconstrued the ground realities. It misjudged the Taliban’s potential and never paid heed to the regional geopolitics. It channelized the Afghan Reconstruction Funds and other foreign assistance toward strengthening the footsteps of its puppets over Kabul. It totally ignored the institutional and nation-building in Afghanistan thereby contributing to the tragic fall of the Afghan National  Defense and Security Forces and the poor performance of overall developmental indicators. Similarly, the various corrupted administrations in Kabul contributed well to today’s Afghanistan.

They just wanted to stick to power at any cost thereby paving way for power politics, corruption, nepotism, political interference and serious governance crisis. However, the new dawn of Taliban rule would hardly bring a bed of roses, rather it would be surrounded by mounting challenges: economic, political, social, national integration and international acceptance. They must follow a positive approach and must show flexibility to get themselves recognized by the international community and trusted by their Afghan fellows. The International community must give a chance to the rise of a peaceful Afghan Dawn with the dreams and wishes for a prosperous Afghanistan which would be in the best favor of regional and global peace. The efforts of Pakistan for an inclusive government in Afghanistan must be supported not only by the Taliban; but also by the international community.


The writer has done his Masters of Arts in English Literature and Linguistics from NUML, Islamabad columnist and can be reached at abdulsamadkhanbannu@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.