Explainer: What are the destinies that await Afghanistan?

Context to present crisis

Mubiyana Adhikari

September 21, 2021


Explainer: What are the destinies that await Afghanistan?
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Geography has always been Afghanistan’s strategic curse. During the 19th century, the ‘great game’ was played in Afghanistan between the Czarist Russia and the British Imperial power.

With the beginning of the 20th century, Afghanistan was realized to become the proxy nation to fight the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Being closest to the softest part of the Soviet’s southern belly, the Soviets wanted to control the political power in Afghanistan, making the Americans interfere. This made Afghanistan the victim of the superpower rivalry.

The 1979 invasion by the Soviets led to 10 years of instability in Afghanistan causing the alliance between the Americans and the Mujahedeen, which in 1989 was finally concluded with the Soviets lost. With the Soviets leaving in 1989 America lost its interest too and left.

The desire for a Pakistan-friendly regime in Afghanistan has always pursued Pakistan to find allies among the Islamists in Afghanistan.

For Pakistan, a Soviet-friendly regime would mean an India-friendly regime, which it could not afford and hence it continuously tried to join forces with the Islamists in Afghanistan to destabilize the government.

With Najibullah’s Soviet and India-friendly government Pakistan kept working with the Mujahideen even after the Americans left. Pakistan set up a string of madrasas on their side of the border where training for war; Sharia law in its strictest sense was taught. This was unleashed in Afghanistan throwing out the Mujahideen and the takeover of the Taliban in 1996.

With the Taliban in control, all violent Islamists were given sanctuary in Afghanistan, one being the Al-Qaeda which eventually brought the Americans back in 2001 after 9/11.

The Americans came into Afghanistan to wage a war against terrorism and defeat the Taliban, but they also democratized Afghanistan, by helping conduct various elections.

The Americans stayed for longer not just fighting their war on terror but also adding quality of life in Afghanistan.

This situation gets complex for Pakistan since the elected government of Afghanistan was India friendly and hostile towards Pakistan. And so, while being an ally to the Americans, Pakistan kept harboring the Taliban.

General David H. Petraeus the former American commander stated that “We were never going to be able to defeat the Taliban until the Pakistanis would give up on them, and it is known that they would never do this”.

The American occupation force invested in the education of the Afghan people. Internet usage increased from 0 percent to 22 percent, the female adult literacy rate was raised from 17 percent to 30 percent.

Access to electricity grew from 22 percent to 99 percent. With the USA withdrawing its troops and leaving the people of Afghanistan at the mercy of the same group they came to fight, the situation for the Afghans is yet to worsen.

The three fates

On contemplating the current situation one can draw three possible conclusions. With a Taliban seeking to establish formal relationships with nation-states, a peaceful situation can be contemplated where women are safe, not killed at the least if they agree to the terms and conditions of the Taliban.

The hypocrite nature of the Taliban has already been established when it held a press conference stating “rights of women will be ensured but under the sharia law”.

The only probable result out of this would be a stable takeover of the Taliban to establish their Islamic Emirate strictly under their governance where women and other groups demanding their equal stake 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 a continuous internal fight between the stakeholders i.e., the Taliban, Afghans, the Tribals, and the Warlords for governance and power across the nation.

The takeover of 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, the internal conflict among the stakeholders is the key factor to determine the future unless the international community recognizes the Taliban and brings it into the ambit of ‘accountability’.

And the worst possibility could be that the fighting in Afghanistan never ceases, and the role of China, Russia, Pakistan, and Iran complicates the issue furthermore and Afghanistan becomes what most people fear as ‘Syria’ on top of South Asia.

China’s vested interest in Afghanistan reflects not just in its acceptance of the political reality in Afghanistan but also in its aid to the Taliban. Russians fear the spread of Islamization.

India diverges from China and Russia since its mission is to curb terrorism and establish peaceful governance in Afghanistan. Iran’s interest in Afghanistan solely comes from its vision to extend its influence into Afghanistan.

Iran and the Taliban have a common enemy, the Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) which can make the two cooperate while allowing Iran to fulfill its vested interests.

Qatar, on the other hand, has always provided a voice to the Taliban through the Doha-based TV station Al-Jazeera and by allowing the Taliban to open offices in Doha.

The reason, as 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 major powers in the international community completely different when it comes to the Taliban and hence this leaves a huge window for conflict to be never-ending in Afghanistan. Looking at these possibilities one can only wish the best for the people of Afghanistan.

As unpredictable as it was for America to realize the speedy takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, one cannot conclude a specific fate.

(Mubiyana Adhikari is an undergraduate student pursuing Political science from Delhi University. She is currently affiliated with NIICE as a researcher)