Afghanistan is a landlocked, multiethnic country with deserts and mountains located within South Asia above the equator in both the northern and eastern hemispheres. The bordering countries are China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. As far as the climate is concerned, it is arid to semi-arid and seasons range from cold winters to hot summers. Afghanistan is rich in energy resources of natural gas, petroleum and coal in addition to a variety of mineral resources.
Afghanistan has a long history of foreign invasions and strife among warring factions. Of late, the Russians invaded in 1979 and the Mujahadeen group fought against the Russians with the arms received from US and Britain. Following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the Mujahadeen continued their operations against the Soviet backed Afghan administration. Thereafter, the Taliban, which in Pashto language means “students” or “seekers” came to power in 1996 and took over the administration on the promise to bring about peace and uphold traditional Islamic values. Thereafter, US and British forces locked horns with the Taliban and Al-Qaida and started bombarding their targets including strong holds in Afghanistan believed to be Al-Qaida camps. Subsequently, these armed groups had been toppled in US-led invasion in 2001 following the 9/11 attack on twin WTC towers in New York.
In 2001, consequent to defeat at the hands of allied forces, Taliban, totally ended their rule after abandoning and fleeing from their positions in Afghanistan. Surprisingly, they managed gradually to regain strength and fight tooth and nail against Afghan forces as well as allied forces by launching attacks during the past 20 years. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden, an exile from Saudi Arabia who was widely believed to be covertly operating with his Al-Qaida cohorts in Afghanistan, had been in the most wanted list of the US forces for his terrorist activities. Following an intensive intelligence dragnet thrown far and wide the globe, US forces located his whereabouts in Pakistan and succeeded in killing the Al-Qaida leader in 2011 in a covert operation.
In the year 2001, for a short period of six months US backed Mr. Hamid Karzai came as the leader of Afghanistan’s interim government. Subsequently in 2014, Mr. Ashraf Ghany was elected and clinched power as the president of Afghanistan. All in all, right from the beginning, setting a bad example among the countrymen, Afghan administration had been highly corrupt at all levels.
In the meantime, it was appalling to note the US Army unceremoniously leaving the Bagram Airport in a mighty hurry leaving behind certain allied troops that backed the US troops shoulder to shoulder in their offensive in Afghanistan. What is more, it transpires that the outgoing US troops had not even briefed or kept the incoming new Afghan commander about their exit plans. However, with the collapse of Afghan government on August 15, 2021, many major cities fell to Taliban and finally when Kabul, the last bastion fell to Taliban, Mr. Ashraf Ghany fled to UAE leaving many of his intimate colleagues in the dark. Arguably, unknown number of US troops had to arrive in Afghanistan to help evacuate thousands of people stranded including embassy staff, Afghans and their families who worked for the US forces.
It would be imperative to note that Russians and the Americans waged an irrational protracted war in Afghanistan. However, it was not all plain sailing for them. Interestingly, both countries bogged down and miserably failed in their tour of duty in Afghan soil. What is more, according to certain reports, US had spent a sum of nearly $ 83 billion on the Afghan forces and ended up benefiting only the Taliban. Simply put, both countries had to pay a high price through the nose in terms of men material and money. More so, while compromising their own reputation, they had to offer lame excuses and ignominiously retreat and exit with humiliation from Afghanistan when they found it untenable to hold ground any further.
Let’s not forget that people of any country have their own beliefs, values, self-esteem including their unique cultural heritage. Therefore, it is no easy task for an outside alien force to forcibly brainwash on newfound values and new order to people of another country. In this context, Afghanistan, a country with a rich culture and history is no exception.
History teaches us that irrational and unnecessary invasion and wars waged against weaker countries to fulfil western aims and showcase their military might had always been a failure that brings about misery and disaster, not to mention the 20-year operation against the Taliban, the largest tribal Pashtun fighters in Afghan soil.
It is no secret that the Taliban fighters are a battle hardened and a devoted outfit with strong determination and will power. At the same time, the array of sophisticated armaments of the global powers put to test and more so indiscriminately used in battlefield, at times had been proved useless and futile in the face of strong resistance and guerrilla tactics of resilient fighters. Moreover, they know only too well the in and out of their terrain where they had gained hands on experience over the years in battleground guerrilla tactics, CQB and field craft, not to mention their frugal lifestyle including the respect and sympathy they command from the wider populace.
On the contrary, far away from home, the allied forces who are used to the modern-day comforts, luxuries and other cosy lifestyles, obviously would have found it difficult to acclimatize quickly to the ground realities in an alien terrain. Specially conduct of prolonged military operations in the scorching heat in desert and mountainous terrains is no easy task. Under these conditions, unless one is adequately physiologically and psychologically conditioned and mentally fine tuned, one could even go berserk in an alien environment. Same modus operandi would have been the impediment in Vietnam, Iraq and which holds true in many other countries with similar situations.
With the recent fall of Afghan cities, one by one to Taliban, it transpired that Afghan forces had abandoned their fortified positions and unconditionally surrendered to Taliban, sans offering any resistance. It seems, the whole saga had been a cake walk for Taliban. More so, speculation is rife that surrenders had defected with their arsenal of firearms in their possession, provided by the allied forces. On the other hand, Military intelligence gathered in situ from Afghan bigwigs including the hoi polloi appears to have not been meticulously collated to portray the real picture of the ground realities to enable planning of offensives. Surprisingly, it transpires that there had been even ghost soldiers in the pay roll of Afghanistan armed forces. In this regard, there had been dissent and displeasure even among the members of Afghan forces, let alone complaints regarding arrears of pay and non-payment of their salaries and other grievances. In short, during the past widespread corruption had been rampant among the stakeholders, especially nepotism and embezzlement had been at its peak. There is also controversy surrounding the death toll of the Taliban fighters, allied forces and innocent Afghan civilians. Tragically, according to speculations, innocent people who failed to tow line with the warring parties on either side of the divide in the conflict had been massacred at the drop of a hat on the pretext of killing combatants. There are also stories of death toll figures that had been exaggerated or misrepresented and projected as that of terrorists to drum up support of US policy makers and bigwigs.
Hence, in the present scenario, one could question as to whether, adequate training had been provided to Afghan forces on the techniques of holding the ground and secondly as claimed by allied forces, whether Taliban fighters had been really decimated in military operations. Otherwise, how on earth could Taliban re-emerge en masse with renewed power and vigour to control and administer whole of Afghanistan. On the other hand, what made the US trained Afghan forces to surrender to Taliban. Obviously, this goes to show that during the past 20 years all stakeholders seem to have had a field day to make a fast buck. It seems that good governance which is synonymous with strict adherence to checks and balances including audits, monitoring, supervision etc had not been the order of the day.
Be that as it may, today all eyes are on Afghanistan. As of now, according to Taliban’s first press briefing, they appear to have turned over a new leaf and seem to be extending an olive branch towards all belligerent parties. As per the evolving situation, plans are afoot by Taliban to form an inclusive government of all factions in Afghanistan. Who knows, what the future hold for the people of Afghanistan? At face value, initial step taken by Taliban seems to be in the right direction and sometimes could even be a game changer to turn the tide in Afghanistan. Yet with the onset of new Taliban administration, inevitably, there could be initial teething problems. Therefore, Talibans should strive to stick to their initial promises without upsetting the apple cart. Hence, it’s too early to predict the future outcome of an inclusive government to be established. In any event, “Proof of the pudding is in the eating”. It’s high time for all stakeholders to bury the hatchet to forgive and forget the past. In the meantime, it would be prudent to wait fingers crossed and see how the situation unfolds without getting carried away by the sense of euphoria sweeping across international political circles. In this respect Mahatma Gandhi’s following quote holds true. “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong”.