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Why peace in Afghanistan is elusive?

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Afghanistan is commonly known as graveyard of empires. Several rulers tried to overpower it. , but in vain. They had to bite the dust. Genghis Khan lost a son during siege of Bamian. Alexander the Great had to beat hasty retreat. In the nineteenth century `Great’ Britain, at acme of the imperial power, invaded Afghanistan. It was humbled, marking beginning of the British Empire. They never again attacked Afghanistan taking refuge under their strategy of `Masterly Inactivity’.

Erstwhile Soviet Union rushed its troops to Afghanistan in aid of tottering Afghan government. In retaliation, the USA and its allies cobbled up Afghan resistance, mujahideen, to fight the Soviet forces. The Soviet Union had its nosed bloodied on Afghan soil. It retreated. Meanwhile, several component countries under Soviet umbrella rebelled. The Soviet Union broke into congeries of several independent republics, confining the Union to Russia.  A Taliban government emerged at the helm after Soviet departure. 

The sole super power, the USA, attacked Afghanistan to oust the Taliban. The ostensible reason was that the Taliban had sheltered Osama bin Laden, mastermind of 9/11 attack on twin tower of the World Trade Centre at New York. The Taliban had no answer to incessant aerial bombing. Their government collapsed. For a while it looked as if the Afghan invincibility has been proved to be a myth. After decades of fighting, it dawned on the USA that the Afghan intervention was a misadventure.  The Afghan war was the costliest war in terms of dollars and human lives. The USA stopped responding to SOS signals from Afghan forces, under intermittent attacks by Taliban. They held several rounds of talks with Taliban to negotiate safe exit. Why peace in Afghanistan is elusive? Peace in Afghanistan will remain elusive unless complex ground realities are understood. Shortly after meeting Pakistan’s foreign minister, Afghan president dashed to New Delhi with a situation update.

Taliban now well understand the stalemate situation in Afghanistan. They understand frailties of the government forces and the `invading ‘Americans. American soldiers willy-nilly perform duties.  They understand Taliban’s view that they are fighting a holy war to flush out invaders. Afghan troops too are not motivated to fight their own Muslim brothers. President Trump fumed and fretted when an Afghan soldier shot dead a member of a US army training unit in the southern province of Uruapan. Taliban showed their muscle in a sudden attack on Ghazni, and occupied the city centre, 150km from Kabul. It took four days of intense fighting backed by a number of strikes by American war planes to push them back. The operating budget of the Afghan national security forces is to the tune of $ 6.5 billion, more than twice the entire federal expenditure of Afghanistan. Trump may stop funding if American advisers and soldiers continue to get killed in action.

Like American soldiers, Afghan trainees too realize it pays to connive at Taliban presence and let farmers grow poppy. Afghanistan has become a kleptocratic state where every government posting and promotion depends on power and patronage. India fears that if the USA strikes an accord with Taliban, Indians manning spy stations in Afghanistan will be left in the lurch. Besides, Islamic state may emerge another challenge. China too is fearful of rising IS influence in Afghanistan. China, quietly wants access to the rich mineral and oil resources in Afghanistan. China’s National Petroleum Company has won rights to explore and develop oilfields in Amu Dariya basin in Afghanistan, which has enormous oil reserves. India has completed a dam in Afghanistan and constructing 11others. It wants Americans not to leave Afghanistan until 1922. Afghanistan wants India to accelerate work on various India-supported infrastructure projects, including the Chabahar Port and supply of NATO force equipment particularly four helicopters immediately. Pakistan fears India is entrenching itself in Afghanistan to support the rebels in Baluchistan.

China also wants peace and stability in Afghanistan so that there are no unsettling repercussions among the Uyghur’s in Xinjiang province. Russia and Iran are supporting Taliban with a view to counteracting the common enemy, the Islamic State, which is seeking a foothold in Afghanistan. US wanted India to send more troops to prevent a Taliban takeover or a civil war. But, India was nonchalant. Bitter lesson it is the USA, not the Taliban who are weary of the unending fighting. A Taliban commander quipped, `you have the watches, and we have time’. American mothers are no longer fond of contributing body packs to a pointless war.

The USA knows without Pakistan’s whole-hearted assistance, there is no end to Afghan imbroglio. Many a time, India tried to fish in Afghan hot waters. It offered to mediate with the Taliban. But, the USA rejected Indian overtures. India’s hand could have flared up fighting instead of dousing it. Undeterred by USA’s cold shoulder, India is still trying to carve out a niche in Afghan solution. It has sunk billions of dollars in Afghan infrastructure and hydroelectric powers. It built Chahbahar port in Iran to bypass Pakistan transit. Like Pakistan India too had influencer over mujahideen, belonging to Northern Alliance, It trained Afghan Northern Alliance fighters. India’s ambassador Bharath Raj Muthu Kumar, with the consent of then foreign ministerJaswant Singh, coordinated military and medical assistance that India was secretly giving to Ahmad Shah Massoud and his forces in Afghanistan.

The support involved helicopters, ordnance, mortars, small armaments, refurbished Kalashnikovs seized in Kashmir, combat and winter clothes, packaged food, medicines, and funds. These supplies were delivered circuitously with the help of other countries (Aeini and Farkhor air bases in Tajikistan) or throughMasssoud’s brother in London, Wali MassoudIndia opened four consulates at Kandahar, Jalalabad, Heratand Mazar-e-Sharif, besides its embassy at Kabul. India is using these consulates to stoke up secessionist movements in Baluchistan and volatile tribal belt. Current situation (January 2020) Afghanistan’s `president’ Ashraf Ghani won the Afghanistan election. He secured slightly over 50 per cent of the vote. Thus he avoided the need for a run-off election. His rival, Dr Abdullah Abdullah doubts fairness of the election result. President Ghani is rueful at being marginalized in US –Taliban talks. He has demanded a lasting ceasefire as a prelude to the talks.

He has expressed muffled ennui, if not a threat, that without a ceasefire or something akin to it, the Afghan government will have difficulty endorsing a US-Taliban agreement. Ghani’s problem is that Afghan forces are no longer enthusiastic about fighting the Taliban. When Taliban kill about 20 to 40 Afghan troops each day, emitting SOS, the US air force no longer scrambles for their rescue. During 2020, The US air force As for Taliban, they regard Ghani as also his government puppets. Ghani is being supported by India who is rueful at Pakistan’s crucial role in asolution. The USA initially called for India’s role in a solution. But, it is now mum about it. It rather lauded Pakistan’s role in resumption of dialogue, intermittently truncated by hardline demands of the stakeholders. US Air Forces Central Command said in a January 2020 report the US has dropped 7,423 bombs on targets in Afghanistan in 2019as against 7,362in 2018. The figure represents a dramatic increase in bombings in Afghanistan in contrast to 2009 when 4,147 bombs were dropped under former President Barack Obama. Besides, more than 60 civilians were killed or wounded in a US drone attack targeting a top Taliban splinter-group commander in the western Afghanistan province of Herat in January 2020.

At long last, the Taliban have agreed to a ceasefire for about 10 days. During this period, attacks on major cities and highways would be scaled back. Taliban are yet to decide whether they would keep ceasefire while about 13,000 American forces and thousands more NATO troops leave Afghanistan. The US is optimistic that the ceasefire would help strike a deal. War costs The US spends about $4.9billion a year to support the 320,000 Afghan National Defence Security Forces. The US and other donors provide about 53 per cent of Afghanistan’s annual budget. If US hold back the money, there would be no pay for the Afghan armed forces. Besides, many of the schools and hospitals would have to be shut down. The USA needs some plausible justification, like maintaining a counter terrorism presence, to continue the aid after the war ends.

The toll of war: A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post (December 9, 2019) reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the Afghan war. They kept making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and concealed unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable. Since 2001, an estimated 157,000 people were killed in the war in Afghanistan. Afghan civilians 43,074, Afghan security forces 64,124,Humanitarian aid workers 424, Taliban fighters3, 814 and other insurgents, U.S.contractors67 Journalists and media workers 2,300,   U.S. military personnel l42, 100,   NATO and coalition troops 1,145.

Other revelations: The documents were generated by a federal project examining more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.  Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking. ”If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction.2, 400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of U.S. military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department. “Who will say this was in vain? “Since 2001, over 775,000 U.S. troops have deployed to Afghanistan. Of those, 2,300 died there and 20,589 were wounded in action.

The U.S. government failed to curtail runaway corruption, build a competent Afghan army and police force, and reduce Afghanistan’s thriving opium trade. Since 2001, the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development have spent between $934 billion and$978 billion, according to an inflation-adjusted estimate calculated by Neta Crawford, a political science professor and co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University. These figures do not include money spent by other agencies such as the CIA and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is responsible for medical care for wounded veterans. The documents also contradicted public statements from U.S. presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan and the war was worthwhile.  Military headquarters in Kabul as also the White House distorted statistics to portray the USA as a winner. 

Afghan government’s connivance at poppy cultivation International media has begun to question what would be the legacy of allied intervention against Afghanistan. Despite spending over US $ 9billion during past 18 years, poppy cultivation is rising. One may have reservations about Taliban’s monopoly of right to issue fatawa (religious edicts). But, there is a silver lining to the edicts. Mullah Mohammad Omar (1996-2001) outlawed poppy cultivation (in 1990s).He declared poppy cultivation to be haram, prohibited, under Islam. Subsequent Afghan governments made it permissible, halal, by collecting ushr (ten per cent deduction on poppy income). Government functionaries strike marriage of convenience with farmers to encourage poppy cultivation in vast swathes of land. According to a 2009 UNODC report on opium production, ushr generates around US$ 22 to 44 million a year.

The pictures of foreign soldiers posing in poppy fields confirm the allegation that the intervening force also is a shareholder in the booty. The US military is paying off the Taliban with bags of gold to prevent them from attacking vehicle convoys, proving that there is no real “war” in Afghanistan, merely a business agreement that allows the occupiers to continue their lucrative control of record opium exports while they construct dozens of new military bases from which to launch new wars probably on Pakistan to denuclearize it .Voracious readers may go through Paul Joseph Watson’s report, November 20, 2009, Afghanistan: Troops Guarding the Poppy Fields. The US government mulled to impose a tax under The Sacrifice Act of 2010 to meet the burgeoning cost of Afghan war (key debaters Dave Obey, Representative John Murtha, Barney Frank). Watson alleged the extra tax would be used for paying, nay `bribing the Taliban, paying off CIA drug lords, and protecting heroin-producing opium fields’. He added: `The Afghan opium trade has exploded since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, following a lull after the Taliban had imposed a crackdown’. According to the U.N., the drug trade is now worth $65billion.

Afghanistan produces 92 per cent of the world’s opium, with the equivalent of at least 3,500 tonnes leaving the country each year. This racket was secured by drug kingpins like Ahmed Wali Karzai, the beloved brother of former president Hamid Karzai, and other influential persons. The essence of UNODC’s policy is that there is a causal (apriori or cause-and-effect relation) between poppy cultivation and the ongoing insurgency. Afghan government handpicks pliable provincial governors for eradication of poppy. These governors feed fictitious figures to the UN agencies about their landmark achievements in rooting out poppy cultivation at its various stages. These focal nodal prodigies have created the euphoria that government-controlled provinces are poppy-free.

RAW’s nod: Aside from euphoric reviews, the factual position is that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is flourishing by leaps and bounds. The governors are motivated more by self-interest than by national objectives. They are minting money from all quarters, including India’s intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing. The RAW is interested in turning influential Afghans against Pakistan, and planting insurgents in Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas, than in poppy eradication. The RAW understands that there is no single fail-safe panacea for eradicating the poppy curse. Exterminating the menace of poppy lies outside the RAW’s mandate.

Poppy, a cash crop: Aside from the RAW’s machinations, the problem of poppy cultivation calls for a closer look in a multi-dimensional perspective. Afghanistan has a predominantly agrarian economy. Opium production contributes35 per cent of Afghanistan’s Gross Domestic Product while cereal crops only about 27 per cent. There is no industrial structure to name, despite its tall claims, India has not been able to lay tangible industrial infrastructure to boost Afghan economy. Afghanistan is the one of the world’s least developed country and the poorest in Asia. In terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, majority of the country’s population is concerned about physical needs (food, clothing and shelter).

Poppy cultivation is the main avenue of physical security. There is a symbiotic relation between the people’s needs forsook-economic security and poppy cultivation. Majority of population is preoccupied with how to survive by ensuring food security by getting employed in poppy cultivation. Yet, they find it difficult to make ends meet. The UNODC’s observation that about 14 per cent of Afghans are employed in poppy cultivation does not reflect the real life situation. The agricultural-production system is mostly dependent on seasonal rainfall and poor water-management. As such, productivity per hectare is low. The centuries-old traditional cultivation system impedes their economic progress. The system if pivoted on salaam that is cash advance given on security of future crop yield. Poppy is the favourite crop by way of security rather than wheat, black cumin or some other crop. Afghan government could veritably be termed a poppy syndicate because of its lack of interest in poppy eradication. The governors look like custodians of poppy-growing lands. How could this coterie axe its own interest? 

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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Religion Freedom Index of Bangladesh: Current Developments and Government Responses

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Pope Francis joins in prayers led by a Rohingya Muslim man at an inter-religious conference at St Mary’s Cathedral in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on December 1, 2017. Mohammad Ponir Hossain / Reuters

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) recently published its annual Religious Freedom in the World 2021 Report (RFR) that scrutinizes the situation for all major religion groups in 196 countries across the world. The report found that, over the past two years, oppression against susceptible faith communities has augmented in all but one of the 26 countries listed in the survey’s worst (‘red’) category. Bangladesh is that only country whose position on the red list of religious persecution remains unchanged.

The annual report says that religious freedom is being undermined in one out of every three countries in the world which composed two-thirds of the world population. 62 countries out of a total of 196 face severe violations of religious freedom. The situation of minorities in India and Pakistan is deteriorating further. The situation in China and Myanmar is the worst. According to the report, the situation is worse in 95 percent of the 26 countries where persecution is taking place. Nine new countries have been included in this list- seven from Africa and two from Asia.

The report on Bangladesh says that the torture of minorities has not increased in recent years but the influence of Islamic groups is increasing in the politics of Bangladesh. However, the government has been successful in subdue the influence and maintaining religious freedom. For instance, after the rise of Islam-fabric politicization leading by “Hefazat-e-Islam”, the top leaders and at least 375 people nabbed for their recent violent activities. The strict position of law enforcement agencies against the rampage of the group denotes the zero-tolerance of Bangladesh government in ensuring religious freedom and upholding “secularism” which is one of the state principals of its constitution. The argument can be evident with the recent report of the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) titled, “Bangladesh and Pakistan: acting against extremism versus making a show of acting against extremism”. Highlighting the activities of the Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam (HIB) in Bangladesh and the radical Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) in Pakistan, the report comments that Bangladesh government has been making “noticeable progress in dealing with the radical Islamist HIB whereas Pakistan has floundered dramatically in its inconsistent, ill-considered and ill-implemented attempts to pacify the TLP”. Besides, the initiatives of the Bangladesh government in protecting the minority rights are so much praiseworthy.

According to the 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom of US Department of State, to advocate the minority rights and to foster religious tolerance, Bangladesh government has taken a number of initiatives such as-

•Providing guidance to imams throughout the country to prevent militancy and monitoring mosques for “provocative messaging”.

•Deploying law enforcement personnel at religious sites, festivals, and events considering potential violence. The Economic Times reported that 30,000 and 31,272Durga Pujas were organized across the country in 2017 and 2018 respectively without any security issue.

•Zero-tolerance to Islamic militancy. For instance, Special Tribunal convicted and sentenced to death seven of eight defendants who were accused in the 2016 killings of 22 mostly non-Muslim individuals at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka.

•Offering stipends to students from the minority groups in the primary and secondary level; and

•Providing funds for minority rituals and social activities.

Most importantly, Bangladesh ensures a level playing field in the employment sectors and a viable people-to-people contact. ‘Dhormo Jaar Jaar, Utsob Shobar,’ (Religion for own, but festivals for all” is a testimony of its secular values and communal harmony. The ACN report itself showed, in Bangladesh, where due to fear of infection, minority faith groups were incapable of offering the last rites to family members, an Islamic charity buried not only Muslim but also Hindu and Christian victims of COVID-19. Besides, reliefs were equally provided to every sector of the society regardless of their race or religion.

To conclude, Bangladesh always believes in fraternity beyond ethno-religious affiliations and practiced secularism in daily life throughout the history. But at present, due to the rise of right-wing populist politics both at regional and global level and rise of fundamentalism, religious harmony in Bangladesh is also affected. However, comparatively, Bangladesh is doing better than many regional states and the country is destined to overcome the challenges in near future due to the pro-active role of the government in this regard.

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West Bengal Election: Implications for Indian Politics

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Polling officials collecting the Electronic Voting Machine (EVMs) and other necessary inputs required for the West Bengal Assembly Election, at a distribution centre, in Uluberia, West Bengal on April 05, 2021. Image source: Election Commission of India, Government of India

After a tumultuous eight phase election process, Trinamool congress has become successful to retain power for consecutive third terms amidst growing popularity of saffron tide. However, Mamata Banarjee’s Trinamool congress has successfully halted the tide at West Bengal frontier. The victory of TMC in the state testifies to “Bengal Exceptionalism” and is also a victory for Indian secularism.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) victory in the assembly election has far reaching repercussions for wider Indian politics. For one, it sends a resounding message to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that their dream of monolithic Hindu India is still far-fetched. While BJP was much enthusiastic and ardent to gain a victory in the election, as evidenced by Amit Shah’s intermittent visit to Bengal and the latter’s incendiary rhetoric and Prime Minister Modi’s several visit to state to canvass votes. Interestingly, the ubiquitous display of Narendra Modi’s posters led one commentator to sardonically quip whether NarendraModi is vying for chief minister position. This partly explains the importance BJP and Narendra Modi attached to West Bengal election.

Above all, this election was important for BJP to prove their regional appeal. BJP’s vision of “one state, one party” largely hinged on the victory in the Bengal. If BJP could win in Bengal, there had been possibility that other states would fall in order. This significance of Bengal election illuminates the importance that BJP attached to Bengal and their buoyant activities to seal the victory.

Bengal was long been known as bastion of ethnic politics rather than communal one. It was never been a fortress of all-India political parties. Even, in its heyday of all India politics, Indian National Congress (INC) couldn’t gain much favor in Bengal election as the politics in Bengal is driven by an appeal to “Bengali-ness” which other nationwide party lacks.

However, upheavals in Bengal politics had been unmistakable in recent times. Especially, the event of BJP’s significant performance in 2019 union elections led some observes to presage an ominous trend of Bengal politics unfolding. The BJP’s 40% share of vote from Bengal is largely an anomaly in the Bengal’s election history where all India political parties had hard time managing minuscule portion of the votes. The 2019 election result therefore doesn’t augur well for TMC in 2021.The defections of stalwart TMC leaders in favor of BJP exacerbated this grim predication and forbade an electoral mishap for TMC.

The detractors implicated Trinamool Congress for power abuse, extortion, misappropriation of welfare money and egregious Muslim appeasement. Especially, BJP seek to frame Trinamool Congress as anti-Hindu party. They had pointed to how Mamata Banarjee had benefitted Muslim clerics inordinately by providing them with benefits which their counterpart of Hindu religion was deprived of. Beside, “Bangladesh Card” had been recurrently employed to accuse the alleged lenient approach of TMC with regards to Bangladeshi migrants.

BJP capitalized on anti-incumbency resentment emanating from prolonged period of TMC role which had generated local level corrupted politician and scandals of misappropriated welfare schemes facilitated BJP rhetoric. Besides, BJP promised that the coordination with center government will be far easier if BJP gains state power. BJP rallied unemployed youth with the pledge of jobs had BJP

ascent to Bengal throne. Above all, BJP appealed to Hindu sentiments of the 60% majority Hindus of the state.

However, with the charismatic leadership of Mamata Banarjee and the promise of being rooted in Bengali soil and a proponent for peaceful communal relations, Mamata Banarjee’s TMC has been indomitable as manifested by resounding victory of Trinamool Congress.

The BJP’s promise of “Hindu Bengal” hadn’t materialized as West Bengal had long been a fortress of communal harmony, largely an aberration from all other Indian states. This communal harmony has been again bolstered by defeat of BJP in the assembly election.

The result of the election will largely reverberate across India with far-reaching consequences. Firstly, the victory of Trinamool Congress means that Modi’s vision of monolithic India isn’t viable in view regional peculiarities. Secondly, it safeguards the federal structure of India in face of increasing intrusion of central government. It also will restrain Narendra Modi’s unchecked centralization of the state. Thirdly, it will make Mamata Banarjee a spokesperson and central figure of anti-BJP movement in absence of vigorous congress presence. Fourthly, it puts an end to NarendraModi’s contentious CAA(Citizen Amendment Act) and other policies.

Lastly, this win of Mamata Banarjee has the possibility of catapulting her to the heft of an all India leader. Especially, in the absence of a BJP’s strong chief minister face, Mamata Banarjee was vying with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This has momentous implication. This will consolidate the popularity of TMC in other states also with the image of Mamata Banarjee and memory of implicitly defeating Narendra Modi serving as an accelerator of her all-India appeal.

Nevertheless, there is marked indications that the Bengal politics has irrevocably altered in the process of this election. While Bengal had long been the indisputable image of Indian secularism, the communal tendencies have made deep inroads in Bengal politics. BJP has surpassed all other local political parties and now only second to TMC. This trend is unnerving for secular Bengal as well as India. However, it can now rightly be articulated that saffron tide of communalism has been retarded. This victory of Mamata Banarjee has reverberation across India and can be termed as the victory of Indian secularism and federalism.

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Feasible Outcomes after Withdrawal of US Troops from Afghanistan

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According to US President Joe Biden’s announcement, the process of withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan has begun. On September 11, 2001, there was a militant attack in the United States. The United States went on a military operation in Afghanistan in the wake of that attack. Now all US troops are being withdrawn from Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of the longest war in U.S. history. US President Biden commented that the goal of the US war in Afghanistan has been achieved. After the Taliban’s overthrow, the civilian Afghan government was established in Kabul with US support. The US administration now feels that the present Afghan government is capable of ensuring the security of its country.

The announcement during Trump’s tenure was that the troops would leave on May 1. Biden pulled it off in September. Biden’s Republican party has persuaded him against the rapid departure of troops. The reason behind Biden’s announcement of the new withdrawal date lies in repairing relations with NATO, which suffered under Trump. This transatlantic relationship was damaged by several of Trump’s statements. According to Trump, NATO members were not doing what they were supposed to pay for the alliance and wanted to approve Germany, Afghanistan’s top contributor after the US. When the withdrawal agreement was negotiated with the Taliban last year, the demands of NATO members, who are dependent on the US military for airlift support, were not considered sufficiently. Now it appears that NATO also announced the withdrawal of troops after Biden announced the withdrawal of troops to fix September 11 as the withdrawal date. This time change has given NATO members the opportunity to work to coordinate with the United States for their departure from Afghanistan. The Biden administration’s move could be seen in the context of efforts to bring US foreign policy back to multilateralism.

The United States also feels that rebuilding relations with NATO and other partners is very important. Because it will enable the US to stay in better position to face various global challenges like China’s rise and climate change. Already China has expressed concern over the decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan. China thinks foreign troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan in a responsible and orderly manner. According to them, this is necessary to ensure a smooth transition from Afghanistan as well as to prevent any terrorist group from taking advantage of the chaos. But the real problem lies for China as US officials point out that the United States now wants to focus on addressing other important challenges, including the threat from China, by shifting its focus from Afghanistan.

However, the long-term presence of US troops did not eventually defeat the Taliban. Afghan forces and the central government in Kabul could not be able to increase control over the entire country. After 20 years of war and thousands of deaths, US officials have acknowledged that the Taliban are at their strongest military level. We see that the attacks have increased dramatically in the last one year. The Taliban has taken over and has destabilized the position of the Americans in Afghanistan. The provincial capital, briefly occupied by Afghan troops, is regularly recaptured by rebels. US forces are leaving behind a deeply unpopular Afghan government that has not won the confidence of the people. Afghans blame Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s weak leadership for the Taliban’s resurgence. His reluctance to share power is hampering the initial move to map a post-war future, which is a barrier to peace.

The Taliban are indicating that they want to return to the role of the previous regime when American troops leave. Their desire is single authority. Unwilling to compromise and run the country, they want full authority after September. They are talking about establishing their own model of ‘Islamic rule’. But it won’t be that easy for them as they have full control of only 20 to 30 per cent of the districts of the country. The same is true of government forces. Both taliban and government forces hold power in the remaining 50 percent of the area. However if Taliban are able to take control over the whole country, women’s society and the media are most afraid of their past rule. Higher education institutions are often attacked by the Taliban. Millions of girls went to school while Americans were still there, who were forbidden by the Taliban to receive any kind of education. From under the protective shield of Americans, women became doctors, entrepreneurs, Parliamentarians. They will now be in danger. Similarly, Afghans who have struggled to make the country a more hospitable and socially tolerant place will be at risk. Meanwhile, about 17,000 Afghans from those communities are waiting to get U.S. visa.

It remains to be seen whether Afghanistan’s warring sides come to an agreement. As the US moves away, it is time for Afghans to lead the talks and agree on a permanent ceasefire and peace settlement. The coming months will tell how much faith the Taliban and the Afghan government can give to the war-weary Afghan people and show the leadership they need to rule. Whether the Taliban will undermine the rights of women and minorities returning to Kabul has become a question. It also remains to be seen whether the Taliban will allow al-Qaeda and IS militants to be active in Afghanistan if they return to power. There is a possibility of high levels of polarisation across the country due to insecurity among the groups. Stability can come only if the present government and Taliban in Afghanistan work together.

The United States is now more interested in shifting attention from Afghanistan and the Greater Middle East and looking to Eastern Europe and Asia-Pacific region. The United States is reluctant to take responsibility for the negotiations even though it has announced the withdrawal of troops. Biden’s announcement does not have a roadmap for how the country will run after their departure. The United States wants Russia, China, Pakistan and India to participate in talks on Afghanistan. As a major power, it is dependent on who will be in governance in Afghanistan in the interest of Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and India. China and Russia are interested in Afghanistan for regional dominance and trade reasons, but India has a major interest in Afghanistan’s geopolitics in the conflict-making relations with Pakistan and the Kashmir crisis. The current deal will benefit the Taliban as well; It will also help Pakistan create a comfortable position in regional politics. Pakistan would like its backed Taliban government to be established in Kabul in its desire to consolidate its influence. But Pakistan also has a reason to worry. If the Taliban cannot bring peace to the country, the world society will put the responsibility on Pakistan. The refugee wave in Pakistan could rise another round if Afghanistan is newly disturbed. India, on the other hand, will want Pakistan’s influence-free Afghanistan. Again, in northern Afghanistan, where the Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek people live, they will not easily accept Taliban forces controlled by the Pashtun population. So there is a risk of long-term unrest. Afghanistan’s future situation depends a lot on what the role of regional powers will be after the withdrawal of US troops and how much the agreement of international community to control itself will be implemented there without being in Afghanistan.

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