The Taliban Northern Revival
There is a mystery in how the Taliban have started to make gains in Northern Afghanistan which historically holds bad memories for them. Taliban thrust in their traditional areas of the Pakhtun belt. Taking over districts without any major battle and reaching Bander Sher Khan port on the Amu Darya and Doshi at the entrance of the Salang Pass in Northern Afghanistan is surprising – it warrants a deeper look. If Dostum in Jawzjan and Ustad Atta Noor in Balkh are not resisting the Taliban, a greater game is being played.
Reports from Kabul point towards the fact that Khalilzad and the US were disappointed at the Afghan government’s level of corruption and every important Afghan notable. A stage had arrived where over ninety percent of the funds were never utilized but transferred abroad to personal accounts. It was impossible to work further at either the government level or at the provincial level. Both Dostum and Ustad Atta were vehement in their opposition to any US-Taliban treaty. Khalilzad issued a clear warning, it is believed, of serious consequences. Both showed little signs of backing down. An understanding between the Taliban and the US was that the Taliban might push first in the North against both Dostum and Atta and remove their strength and influence.
It was reportedly agreed that the Taliban would be allowed to take an additional 80+ districts over the ones they already control as a reward. In addition, the US may be looking for a buffer zone in areas up to the Amu Darya covering the borders of Tajikistan and China. Finally, the US hopes that all major warlords in the North will be eliminated by the Taliban and expects the Taliban to return the favor.
The US plans to use these borders in the hope to push ETIM fighters, with the Taliban’s help, into ‘Godless China to help the thousands of Muslim Ughiars who are living under life-threatening conditions. In other words, nip the CPEC in the bud on Chinese soil. Whether the Taliban will push for a confrontation with China so early in their conquests is yet to be seen. However, there is no doubt that money and facilities to the Taliban have been provided by ‘outside sources.’ The real game then is to deny China’s entry into Afghanistan for its OBOR/CPEC connectivity.
Peshawar-based analyst M. Ishaq Khan feels that the ‘US /Kabul move is brilliant as it exposes Taliban front line commanders and their leaders in the field. With US high-tech imagery and drone advantage, the Taliban will have no place to hide. It is like breaking an anthill or disturbing a beehive to see them scatter in all directions. The Taliban may not have understood this grand strategy and could have been lured into an eventual trap. However, it does look too good to be true.’ He further believes that a full-fledged civil war is anticipated; ‘Local Militias are being raised to tackle the Taliban and keep them at bay from nearing Kabul.’
It is strongly rumored that the US has signed approximately 271 agreements with the Ghani Government that covers nearly all Afghan wealth on the spectrum in raw form. This is again to blunt any future agreements between Kabul and China if ever it takes place. While bent on taking Kabul, the Taliban will be denied at all costs, while Bamiyan and Panjshir will continue as safe-havens. The Ghani visit to Washington in the last week of June 2021 was meaningful. An assurance was given that it is believed that the Taliban will not take Kabul. Ghani was given life. However, Ghani asked Washington to show its commitment to Kabul by targeting a few Taliban advancing warriors. For the first time since the Doha Treaty, the US carried out four drone strikes against the Taliban in the last week of June 2021, causing many casualties. This has cautioned the Taliban to rein in their exuberance for some time.
The Afghan Army is melting away in front of our eyes. Just like in 1996, districts upon districts are being blown away. The US has silently decided to leave the Afghan military to deal with the Taliban alone. No air cover will be provided. However, there is again a method in this retreat and surrender. ‘It is better to cede territory than get your soldiers killed’ is the phrase being advocated. It seems to be working well.
The US plans to pitch the local militias against the Taliban and keep the Afghan Army a reserve. In that sense, Dostum in Jawzjan, Atta in Balkh, Hazrat Ali in Laghman, Haji Almas in Ghorbund, Ahmed Masoud in the Salang Pass and Panjshir Valley, the Shomali Plains militia, the Hazaras of Muhaqqiq and Karim Khalili in Sar-e-pul and Bamiyan are expected to engage the Taliban for years to come. The Afghan National Army will be shielded as planned. Neither Kabul nor any other major city can be expected to fall in the short term.