Explanation: What are the fates that await Afghanistan?
Context of the current crisis
Geography has always been Afghanistan’s strategic curse. In the 19th century, the “great game” was played out in Afghanistan between Tsarist Russia and the British imperial power.
At the turn of the 20th century, Afghanistan realized that it was becoming the proxy nation to fight the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Being closest to the softer part of the Soviets’ southern belly, the Soviets wanted to control political power in Afghanistan, involving the Americans. This made Afghanistan the victim of superpower rivalry.
The 1979 invasion by the Soviets led to 10 years of instability in Afghanistan causing the alliance between the Americans and the Mujahedin, which in 1989 was finally made with the lost Soviets. With the departure of the Soviets in 1989, America also lost interest and left.
The desire for a Pakistani regime in Afghanistan has always pushed Pakistan to find allies among the Islamists in Afghanistan.
For Pakistan, a Soviet-friendly regime would mean an Indian-friendly regime, which it could not afford, and as a result, it continually tried to join forces with the Islamists in Afghanistan to destabilize the government.
With the Soviet government and Najibullah’s friend of India, Pakistan continued to work with the Mujahedin even after the Americans left. Pakistan set up a chain of madrasas on its side of the border where the war was taking place; Sharia in its strictest sense was taught. This started in Afghanistan with the expulsion of the Mujahedin and the Taliban takeover in 1996.
With Taliban control, all violent Islamists have found refuge in Afghanistan, one being Al Qaeda which finally brought the Americans back in 2001 after 9/11.
The Americans came to Afghanistan to wage a war on terrorism and defeat the Taliban, but they also democratized Afghanistan, helping to organize various elections.
Americans stayed longer not only to wage their war on terrorism, but also to improve the quality of life in Afghanistan.
This situation becomes complex for Pakistan since the elected government of Afghanistan was friendly to India and hostile towards Pakistan. And so, while being an ally of the Americans, Pakistan continued to harbor the Taliban.
General David H. Petraeus, the former US commander, said that “we are never going to be able to defeat the Taliban until the Pakistanis abandon them, and we know they never will.”
The American occupation force has invested in the education of the Afghan people. Internet use increased from 0% to 22%, adult female literacy rate increased from 17% to 30%.
Access to electricity has increased from 22% to 99%. As the United States withdraws its troops and leaves the Afghan people at the mercy of the same group they came to fight, the situation for the Afghans has not yet worsened.
The three destinies
Looking at the current situation, one can draw three possible conclusions. With a Taliban seeking to establish formal relations with nation states, a peaceful situation can be envisioned where women are safe, not killed at least if they agree to the terms and conditions of the Taliban.
The hypocritical nature of the Taliban has already been established when they held a press conference declaring that “women’s rights will be guaranteed but under Sharia law”.
The only likely outcome would be a stable takeover by the Taliban to establish their Islamic emirate strictly under their governance where women and other groups demanding their equal share are silent and obedient.
Another possibility can be drawn from the conflict between the Taliban and Ahmed Shah Massoud in the north.
This would mean an ongoing internal struggle between the stakeholders i.e. the Taliban, Afghans, tribals and warlords for governance and power across the country.
The takeover of the Panjshir Valley has already projected “absolute control” of the Taliban in Afghanistan enough for other nations to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government under international law.
For now, internal conflict between stakeholders is the key factor in determining the future unless the international community recognizes the Taliban and brings them within the realm of “responsibility”.
And the worst possibility could be that the fighting in Afghanistan never ends, and the role of China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran further complicates the problem and Afghanistan becomes what most people do. fear as “Syria” above South Asia.
China’s interest in Afghanistan is reflected not only in its acceptance of the Afghan political reality, but also in its aid to the Taliban. The Russians fear the spread of Islamization.
India diverges from China and Russia since its mission is to fight terrorism and establish peaceful governance in Afghanistan. Iran’s interest in Afghanistan stems solely from its vision of expanding its influence in Afghanistan.
Iran and the Taliban have a common enemy, the Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) which can make them cooperate while allowing Iran to serve its interests.
Qatar, on the other hand, has always given a voice to the Taliban through the Doha-based Al-Jazeera TV channel and by allowing the Taliban to open offices in Doha.
The reason, suggested by many experts, is that Qatar wants to improve its regional positioning, by freeing itself from the embrace of its big neighbors and by positioning itself as an independent mediator.
The interests of the great powers in the international community are completely different when it comes to the Taliban and therefore this leaves a huge window for the conflict to be endless in Afghanistan. Looking at these possibilities, one can only wish the best for the Afghan people.
As unpredictable as it was for America to realize the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, one cannot conclude a precise fate.
(Mubiyana Adhikari is an undergraduate political science student at the University of Delhi. She is currently affiliated with NIICE as a researcher)