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Why the War in Afghanistan is Over

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Almost fifteen years has passed since the initiation of the Afghan war and yet the Taliban pose a larger threat today than at the beginning of the conflict. They are on the verge of taking over the entire Helmand province.

At the moment, the government in Kabul can only claim full control for three out of the fourteen districts within the province. The government ignored a last minute appeal on Facebook by local officials in Helmand for additional reinforcements against an impending Taliban siege. This unusually off season offensive came after the Taliban temporary captured Kunduz, which was a major symbolic victory for the insurgency. The capture of Kunduz was the first time during the entire war that the insurgency was able to establish full control of a city within Afghanistan. After fifteen years of training and millions upon millions invested into the Afghan army and police, what has been the result?

After almost fifteen years of blood, treasure, and time spent by the international community on the war in Afghanistan, the gains are minimal at best. The Afghan government has come to epitomize everything the American-led effort was against. The only way the West can ensure the viability and perpetuity of the current Afghan government is to continue the long and expensive occupation of Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. This type of no end in sight occupation is not only impractical but unpopular to the American and European public at large . The war in Afghanistan has been a failure. A new approach is needed to withdraw from the region while ensuring terrorism never emanates from it.  

How Did We Get Here

When historians look back at this war, they can perhaps outline the mistakes that were made. Until then, the following is a start:

Created with Original Sin

The Afghan government was hastily put together in Bonn, Germany to replace the toppled Taliban government. This new government consisted mainly of the same warlords whose atrocities gave rise to the Taliban in the early 1990s. While in power, the Taliban provided security and safety from the horrors that were perpetuated by these warlords. Unfortunately for the Afghan people, security came at the cost of being subjected to a harsh and fundamentalist theocracy, which eventually rendered the Taliban government unwanted by those whom it governed.

The Iraq War

Despite an ill-formed government, the selection of Hamid Karzai, the only leading figure in the government without a tarnished history, as president brought hope to a country that had been in continuous war for the past twenty years at that time. As soon as Karzai began to lead, attention transitioned from Afghanistan to Iraq, where the drums of war were beating for an eventual campaign that removed the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein. The war and ensuing insurgency in Iraq continued to be the center of the media’s attention. Afghanistan became the forgotten war. This negligence of the Afghan war would have devastating consequences for the war effort.

Corruption and Accountability

With Iraq in the limelight, the warlords in the Afghan government had cart blanche to do as they pleased. Without the proper oversight, the government’s main function became corruption. Rule of law became applicable on a selective basis. Besides the reintroduction of warlords in the government, the empowering of the Afghan minorities at the expense of the Pashtuns, the majority ethnic group, would create further resentment. This exclusion was partially attributed to the fact that the Northern Alliance, NATO’s main ally in the war, was comprised largely of all of Afghanistan’s minorities while the Taliban were mainly comprised of the Pashtuns. With significant help from the US and NATO, the Northern Alliance ascended to power from near defeat.

Insecurity and crime increased dramatically throughout the country as the warlords turned diplomats returned to their former fiefdoms. The once eradicated production of opium flourished throughout the country in areas controlled by the warlords and Taliban . Horrendous crimes that were eliminated accompanied the return of the warlords such as the practice of sexually abusing young boys. The government in Kabul knowingly turned a blind eye to the practice that was being perpetuated by the Afghan military and local police . These types of monstrosities become the norm.

In a conservative society such as Afghanistan where values and belief stem from religion and tribalism, the gravity of such acts of abuse appeared to not be fully understood by the US and NATO. Ordinary citizens were left powerless as no “legal” means were left to address their grievances. They began to fear their government. Once again the people across the country thirsted for security. The Taliban pounced on this opportunity and provided justice with their mobile courts and provided the social needs that the government failed to do. Slowly their popularity began to rise. For the people of Afghanistan, the Taliban appear to be the lesser of two evils.

National Identity

The United States and international community were hoping to remedy their past mistake of abandoning Afghanistan after the defeat of the Soviet Union. An outline for a government and a well-trained army and police was put together. Unfortunately, the recent Taliban advances display a government that lacks not only proper training but even more importantly ideological cohesiveness. The government has failed to exude a sense of national identity that the population can unite under. Unlike the Soviet-backed government of Najibullah whose members to a large extent saw past ethnic identities and shared a common political ideology, the current government is held together by the inflow of foreign aid and the presence of foreign troops. As soon as the aid spigot is closed and foreign troops withdraw, the government in Kabul will unravel and collapse.

Conclusion

Defeating the Taliban will not be an inexpensive or easy feat. Unlike ISIS or Al Qaeda, the Taliban are a native insurgency with a vision that does not extend beyond the borders of Afghanistan. To cluster them with terror groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda only hurts America’s strategic imperative for the region. As a result of the Afghan government’s failures, parts of the country that did not support the Taliban before are now turning to them for help. Badakhshan, which was one of the last remaining areas to not fall under Taliban control prior to September 11th, have districts now that are under Taliban control. To a large extent, it appears as if the Taliban have shed some of their Pashtun-centric identity for a more inclusive Afghan identity. Whether this will hold after the full withdrawal of foreign troops is a different story.

The Afghan people are no longer wondering if their government will fall but rather when. Those who can afford to leave are doing so . The current strategy with its opaque objectives will continue to erode any goodwill the West attempts to build in the Afghanistan. A change is needed and the only viable solution is to open a genuine dialogue with the Taliban with limited pre-conditions.

The main concern of the US and NATO is to get a guarantee of no more human rights abuse and ensuring that the group does not shelter nor aid terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. If the guarantee is not adhered to after the West withdraws, sanctions and isolation should follow. The Taliban have experienced the detrimental effects of being a pariah in the international community before and will not want to relive that again.

The expectation of the Taliban laying down arms and integrating with a corrupt government is an impractical prerequisite. Momentum and time is on their side, there is no feasible reason for them to engage with such a prerequisite. If the West can ensure terrorism will not emanate from Afghanistan and human rights abuses will not occur, the rest can be left to the internal dynamics of the Afghan people and region to work out amongst themselves.

The current strategy has not resulted into anything that was initially hoped for by the international community in 2001. Any further extension of the country’s occupation by the US and NATO will only result in more unnecessary troop and civilian deaths as well as prolonging the conflict. The war in Afghanistan is over and a new approach is needed by the US and NATO.

Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of "Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State" and "China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine." Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani

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South Asia

World ‘must engage’ or risk Afghanistan’s collapse

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A woman walks through a corridor in a village in Zindajan district, Afghanistan. © UNICEF/Shehzad Noorani

“Patience is running out” for many in the international community when it comes to effectively engaging with Afghanistan’s de facto rulers, the Taliban, senior UN envoy for the country, Markus Potzel, told the Security Council on Tuesday.

Despite some positive developments over the past few months, the Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan said they have been “too few and too slow and they are outweighed by the negatives”.

Women’s rights

He drew attention to the ongoing ban on girls’ secondary education and growing restrictions on women’s rights, as “signals that the Taliban are indifferent to more than 50 per cent of the population” and are willing to risk international isolation.

“The relegation of women and girls to the home not only deprives them of their rights, but Afghanistan as a whole is denied the benefit of the significant contributions that women and girls have to offer,” he detailed.

Terrorism concerns ‘dismissed’

Meanwhile, from armed clashes to deadly terrorist attacks, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has monitored a steady rise in security incidents by terrorist groups and others.

“Our earlier warnings about the capabilities of Islamic State Khorosan Province (ISKP) were dismissed by the Taliban”, he told ambassadors.

“But ISKP has demonstrated in the last few months alone that it can carry out assassinations of figures close to the Taliban, attacks against foreign embassies, as well as fire rockets across Afghanistan’s border to attack its neighbours – all while maintaining its long-standing sectarian campaign against Shia Muslims and ethnic minorities,” said Mr. Potzel.

Provincial rights violations

And armed clashes are continuing between Taliban security forces and armed opposition groups in the Panjshir, Baghlan, Kapisa, Takhar, and Badakhshan provinces, the UN envoy continued.

“There are disturbing reports, as well as videos and photos, indicating possible serious human rights violations committed in Panjshir,” he said, calling for an investigation into allegations of extra-judicial killings there.

The mission will continue to carefully monitor these and other reports of serious human rights violations, he added.

UN bolstering cash economy

As per capita income has collapsed to 2007 levels – erasing 15 years of economic growth – the country’s economic situation “remains tenuous” (with little detail forthcoming from the Taliban) due in part to Afghanistan’s isolation from the international banking system.

Liquidity remains heavily dependent on the cash that the UN continues to bring in for humanitarian operations – cash, I must stress, that supports the needs of the Afghan people and does not directly reach the de facto authorities,” said Mr. Potzel.

But even the funding is uncertain as the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan has only received $1.9 billion out of a $4.4 billion requirement.

No representation

Humanitarian and economic measures will not meet the Afghan people’s longer-term needs, and the emergency aid cannot replace essential service delivery systems, such as health and water, or hold off an economic collapse, he warned.

Moreover, a continued lack of political inclusivity and transparency in decision-making leave most Afghans without any government representation.

“There are no consistent mechanisms for citizens to provide feedback to the authorities and little indication that the Taliban wish to even hear any,” the UN envoy said.

‘We have to engage’

While the Taliban’s self-identified emirate has not been recognized by any State, the international community also does not want to see the country collapse, Mr. Potzel stressed.

“If the Taliban do not respond to the needs of all elements of Afghan society and constructively engage within the very limited window of opportunity with the international community, it is unclear what would come next,” said the Deputy Special Representative.

“Further fragmentation, isolation, poverty, and internal conflict are among the likely scenarios, leading to potential mass migration and a domestic environment conducive to terrorist organizations, as well as greater misery for the Afghan population.

“That’s why we have to engage”, he declared, adding that “continued qualified engagement” was the most realistic way of helping the Afghan people.

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Changing Regional Security Paradigm: A Challenge to Kashmir and Options for Pakistan

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The post-cold war world has witnessed shifts in international and regional security paradigms. Due to globalization, easy migrations, advanced technologies, changing geopolitical scenarios, and social resources the world today is more vulnerable to diversified threats.  In this regard, traditional conflict resolution tactics are not enough or influential. New strategies and options are needed to gain interest without being in direct war and confrontations. One such old conflict which has been there for more than 70 years despite 3 major wars between India and Pakistan is Kashmir Issue. While Pakistan is struggling economically and politically, India on the other side is increasing its soft power projection within the region and beyond, posing a serious threat to the traditional tactics of Pakistan towards the Kashmir cause.

The 4 major factors that boosted the strategies of the Indian state are identity, security, prosperity, and soft power. Along with defense, India was focused on its economy, diplomacy, and identity so much from the past few years. It is one of the key drivers of the global economic market, making up about 15% of the world’s economic output. Soon India will become the world’s largest country by Population, accounting for maximum youth, meaning it is offering incentives, consumer markets, and youth force to other countries. Moreover, India has become the third largest producer of steel (producer with Arcelor- Mittal), enhancing the credibility and reliability of MADE IN INDIA across the globe. It is considered an IT giant. Many IT companies from India entered Fortune 500-group that has opened doors of businesses and jobs for the Indian youth.

Furthermore, along with being a major partner in trade and commerce in the international market, regionally India provides aid and acts as an advocate of welfare for many developing countries in Asia. Along with that, it is also looking towards opportunities to gain the interest of Afghanistan which is an internationally isolated state.   Internationally, it has become a major geo-strategic and geo-economic partner of many western states like the US and UK, as it has the potential to counter the Chinese Rise. It is part of various geopolitical alliances initiated for the containment of China such as QUAD and middle eastern alliances i.e., I2U2.  Moreover, India also has a settled Middle Eastern policy to benefit from all major actors instead of choosing blocs. Thus, India has worked on its economy, over the years to bring prosperity and self-sufficiency within the country. It has provided markets and incentives to other countries thereby increasing its lobbying power. Through its strong diplomacy, it has become a major actor that also promoted its values and identity.

Lastly one can’t deny that the hegemonic capabilities of India have challenged the Kashmiris and their freedom movements. India is now integrating into Kashmir not only militarily but also diplomatically, politically, and economically. It has incentivized the Kashmir issue as well.  After India revoked articles 370 and 35A It is working on Kashmir’s demographic changes. India also opened doors for tourism and international investments in Kashmir. If someone starts investing there, that will normalize that Kashmir is part of India. Yet India didn’t receive any backlash, nor it is isolated or being sanctioned. The reason is simple, India has good ties with many western states. It provides incentives and fulfills the economic and political interests of the west.

For Pakistan, which is a party to the conflict, instead of normative a more realistic approach is required now. Though Pakistan has emotional attachments with Kashmir but it’s not enough to just talk about morals and injustice at international forums.  If Pakistan wants to support the Kashmiris it should enhance its intellectual power, academia, and soft power projection. Literature and academia help export the actual ideologies and narratives to the rest of the world. The Kashmiri diaspora within Pakistan and abroad should be supported for that. In addition, Pakistan needs to increase its influence to counter India not only in the military sector but also in the economic and political domains.  The defense ratio between Pakistan and India is 1/8 while on the other hand in the economy it is 1/20. Though the importance of defense can’t be ignored in the balance of power, but international politics has evolved, and power is not limited to military only. One can look at the two recent world events where there was the use of force and weapons to gain interests i.e., Afghanistan and the Ukraine-Russian war. Afghanistan is now internationally isolated while Russia is being sanctioned and criticized. So, direct confrontations and wars are not accepted and supported by states at broad levels. Thus, with the changing global political and strategic environment it is important to work on spheres of academia, research, soft power, and diplomacy.

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The Taliban and the current Afghanistan

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

After the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, the Afghan state and the public rapidly declined. The country’s territories have become the source of international terrorism and many global problems.

August 15 is the first anniversary since the power in Afghanistan was seized by the Kabul Taliban, and the ex-president of the Afghan state, Ashraf Ghani fled. After a year of the Taliban’s power, their power has not yet been recognized by any state in the world.

According to the UN International Labor Organization, the Taliban’s ascension to power in Afghanistan has led to rapid growth in the unemployment rate among the population. Based on the data of the UN, such a situation in the Afghan labor market was caused by the economic crisis and the prohibition on work for the female population. Over five hundred thousand people in Afghanistan lost their jobs during the first month of the Taliban rule. “The crisis has affected women the most. Thus, their employment level, already extremely low by world standards, decreased by 16% in the third quarter of last year. By mid—2022, it is projected to fall to 28%,” the UN investigation states.

In addition to the economic decline, there has been a rise in drug production in Afghanistan. Drugs are one of the Taliban’s main income zones, and their power has re-activated the production and export of opium and heroin. However, the drug business was also active under the former Afghan authorities. According to the UN, in 2021, Afghanistan’s income from drug exports amounted from 1.8 billion to 2.7 billion US dollars. This profit is from 6 to 11% of the GDP of the Afghan state. As before, the main drug export channels pass through Pakistan. The leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada, issued a fatwa in 2022 to ban the production and distribution of opium and other drug substances in Afghanistan. However, there have been no significant changes in this situation. Nevertheless, the Taliban repeatedly make statements about the cessation of drug production, but they also confirm that the prohibition on opium production will lead to the loss of the only way of earning for peasants, leading to an uprising.

Pakistan acts as the main partner country for Afghanistan. Bypassing sanctions, weapons are coming from Pakistan to Afghanistan. And the majority of Afghan drugs are exported through Pakistan’s western provinces – the southern route. The main patron and sponsor of the Taliban is also the Pakistani military leadership. With the help of Pakistani support, the radicals seized power in Afghanistan and persecuted other alternatives to power.

The Taliban’s first financial income was provided by transportation fees that the militants took from truck drivers on the border of Afghanistan and the state’s territory. The Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan concentrated its forces on extracting natural resources. In February 2022, the Afghan media reported on the negotiations of the new Afghan government with China on the development of copper and lithium by Chinese companies. But even though China, along with Pakistan, is a vital partner of the Taliban regime, mineral development has not yet begun. Without the support and diplomatic assistance of China and Pakistan, the Taliban would not have been able to establish their authority over Afghanistan. However, Beijing still has not officially recognized their power.

Also, summing up the results of the year of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, we can definitely say that the new regime fails to solve the economic and social problems of the state. According to UN research, Afghanistan is on the verge of famine and humanitarian collapse. It is worth noting that during the presence of the United States and NATO in the country, there was no such catastrophic situation. Also, during the period of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the position of terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State has strengthened. The Taliban does not intend to start the fight with the presence of these organizations.

Also, in June 2022, an earthquake with colossal consequences occurred on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The death toll during the disaster was more than 1.5 people, and more than two thousand were injured. The UN has recorded that Afghanistan’s government cannot cope with the threats that the Afghan society is forced to cope with alone.

UNICEF and the World Food Program note the catastrophic situation of Afghan children, and organizations make statements about the high level of undernutrition and that over 3.5 million children urgently need treatment. The UN website says, “Hospital wards are full of malnourished children: many one-year-olds weigh as much as a six-month-old baby would weigh in a developed country, and some are so weak that they cannot move.”

The new government of Afghanistan carries out mass executions, severe human rights violations, and forced disappearances of citizens and previous security forces employees. This is recorded by the United Nations Assistance Organization in Afghanistan. To a large extent, the repression is carried out by two Talib departments – the Ministry of Propaganda of Virtue and Prevention of Vice and the General Directorate of Intelligence. Both organizations are under the auspices of Pakistani security agencies.

UNAMA experts report “arbitrary arrests and detentions of journalists, human rights defenders and protesters.” There were 160 extrajudicial executions, 178 unjustified arrests and 56 cases of torture of former Afghan military and Government employees. In addition, 2106 victims were registered among ethnic and religious minorities (700 killed, 1406 wounded).

After a year, the Taliban authorities, according to international organizations, destroyed the essential state structures in Afghanistan responsible for solving social issues such as jobs and the state’s humanitarian condition. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission premises were also seized, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was closed. Afghan women are deprived of the right to work. Except for some professions, they are not allowed to travel more than 72 km unaccompanied by men and cannot appear on the street with an open face. Responsibility for all violations of the rules of a woman is borne by her father or another close male relative. The punishment is dismissal from work or imprisonment.

Freedom of speech was also seriously impaired. The international human rights organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reports that there are half as many media in Afghanistan as a result of the year-long run of the Taliban. During the year, 219 organizations out of 547 media were closed. Before the Taliban came to power, there were 11,857 journalists in the country. Today only 4,759 of them remain. Female journalists took the first impact. Almost all of them were left without their job.

The Taliban sees the UN’s message about human rights in Afghanistan as propaganda. On July 21, Taliban official Zabiullah Mujahid posted on social media: “There are no arbitrary killings or arrests in the country. If someone kills or arbitrarily arrests, that person is considered a criminal and will be brought before Sharia law.”

In sum, a few conclusions about the power of the Taliban must be noted. The Taliban is characterized by a lack of qualification in the country’s rule, and the leadership cannot organize public service. Also, the Taliban does not fulfil its duties to combat terrorist organizations, which has ensured the strengthening of the position of existing banned groups. The female population of Afghanistan and various social minorities suffered. The Taliban are building strong relationships with authoritarian countries such as Pakistan, China and Russia. Islamabad carries out the actual control of the Taliban and also uses the Taliban in the South Asian region for its geopolitical purposes.

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