The Afghan Predicament
Afghanistan has left the World exhausted. 15 August is a memory and so is the US invasion. Effects of twenty years of war have left the Afghans deeply scarred. It was cruel, gruesome, and horrific. The new Government at Kabul is out of its depth and faces myriad problems that do not lend itself to easy solutions. They would need to find answers quickly. To understand this colossal canvas one must look at its political, diplomatic, fiscal and humanitarian issues. Understanding the prevailing internal dynamics and the real threats the Movement faces explains why the Taliban say and act as they do. The US-Taliban Exit Treaty went ahead as planned except in the last few days where chaos and panic set in. The US abandoned that country and left them to the Taliban. The Taliban kept their part of the bargain and hoped that sufficient goodwill would be generated by them for the US to reciprocate once they departed permanently. This was the first fallacy. Desperately short of cash, Kabul looked at their 10 Billion US Dollars, now blocked by the US, to be released. This did not happen. This was the second fallacy. Announcement of their Government, a legitimate, corruption free body of Ministers representing almost all ethnicities was a step that the region and the West was anxiously waiting for. Again Kabul hoped that recognition would follow as a matter of routine. Serious doubts were raised at the appointments given to the Haqqani family, which the US still considered them to be on their “Wanted Lists Of Terrorists”. The Government was unacceptable. This was the third fallacy. Any official recognition was put on hold till the Taliban came up with a plan that saw ’30-40 percent women representation in government’. NATO and the US consider remnants of AQ/ISIK/ISIS left over in Afghanistan as serious threats to them. They also made it clear that recognition would depend on how the Taliban Government performed in the coming months in particular to human and women rights. Release of funds would be dependent on performance. Even on the release of funds it was made clear that the funds would not be given directly to the Taliban Government but rather to the NGO’s/World bodies that they nominate and who would disperse them as deemed necessary. The Afghan Government-US Talks in Doha in the third week of October were harsh and a failure. Now that the question of release of funds and recognition was made amply clear, Kabul refused US assistance to any joint intelligence cooperation to target the AQ/ISIK/DAISH in Afghanistan. The Taliban rightly assessed that the US design to re-create a network inside Afghanistan would be detrimental to its own security in the future.
To understand the impact of lack of funds one can look at government figures. As a rough estimate the Afghan Government employs 3.5 million men and women who in fact form a greater part of its middle class. These officials have not been paid salaries for three months. Pays of doctors, teachers and professors have been drastically reduced. Prices of daily use commodities have skyrocketed and are now beyond the reach of the majority. Afghans are selling their furniture, valuables, crockery at minimal prices just to feed their families. Everything is for sale. The Afghan Government argues that during the War period, the West was pouring in money only to prop the corrupt governments of Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, knowing fully well that they stole and pocketed most of it. Now that the war had ended and peace had returned and with a clean government in place the West instead stopped help and ceased all funds. Was NATO/US then complicit and encouraged corruption to continue? Almost every important minister /office holder of the previous governments owned high rise buildings /plazas, expensive residences which are palatial in essence and bank balances. Where did all this money come from? No Taliban minister owns a house or business. Even Mullah Haibat and Mullah Yaqub do not own their own houses.
Kabul argued at Doha that women education will continue and in time they will absorb women in Health, Education and Social Sectors. However to ensure that this is all possible, funds are required to re-start the functioning of the government machinery. Teachers, medical staff and office workers need to be paid to start functioning. Funds will make all things possible. The US was not convinced.
On an average during the US occupation there were reportedly 300 war related deaths on a daily basis in the entire country. This meant that between 8-9000 Afghans were killed every month.This went on for years. One can only imagine the number of families that lost their father, brother, husband and wage earners in that period. The war was creating 20000 orphans every month. Since 15 August 2021, these figures are now close to nil!
It is generally believed that the Afghan Government will be out of funds within a couple of months. This is a precarious situation to be in. Daish/ISIK related violence is on the increase. The spate of suicide bombings in Afghanistan has caught the Taliban by surprise. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the DAISH and ISIK/ISIS fighters are paid 500 US Dollars per month. With the abundance of money available to these terrorist organisations, it is only a question of time before they attract and recruit much of the lower ranks and file of the Taliban to their fold. This is a real dilemma. At this point of time the Taliban are in a position to tackle and eliminate this emerging threat for which they need international support and funds. If not, then these groups will gain ascendancy over the Taliban. If that happens then no country in the region or outside it is safe. As it is, Afghanistan is already attracting undesirable elements from Syria and Iraq. This is definitely a clear and a future threat to Europe and even the US. If the US strategy is to allow the collapse of the new Government then the West and the region must be prepared to endure its fallouts.
The Kabul Government is still hopeful that sense prevails and the international community, having understood the environment, will step forward. If not then one must not be surprised to expect Kabul to create funds through other means i.e.,narcotics. The global aim must focus on creating conditions for the Afghans to stay in their country. The threat of a mass migration by the Afghans to Europe and the West is very likely. It would be wiser to tolerate, support and do business with a government however distasteful it may be, rather than allow it to crumble and deal with the unforeseen.
The internal dissension within the Taliban movement has not been allowed to spiral out of control. Specific area wise identity of Taliban are emerging. This is visible in Kabul where nearly 1,00,000 warriors from the closer provinces amalgamated to seize Kabul on the US exit. The Logari / Maidan Wardak Taliban, more loyal to the Kandahari Taliban than the Haqqanis, showed an ill-disciplined side of the Taliban. This could either be due to poor indoctrination, having borne the brunt of the old regime’s excesses or just plain jubilation, but their actions on entering homes and looting people’s money in the name of the Taliban has left the city even more vulnerable. While the Kandahari and the Haqqani centres display no visible hostility, yet observers sense a growing intolerance between both, especially in the case of Mullah Beradar and Karzai. The Northern Taliban look towards Kandahar. If true peace returns, it is more than likely that the Haqqanis and the Kandahari Taliban will part ways due to animosity.
Closing the book by the US on Afghanistan is a hasty decision. It is fair to assess that the US is likely to revisit this region in the next five years. Doors and channels must remain open. The World cannot afford another catastrophe that evolves behind closed doors. Isolating the Kabul Government is not an option policy.
Analytically the environment is nothing new for Afghanistan; an uncertain future, a temporary change of faces, a surge in terrorist activity and narcotics production, a population wanting to burst out and a very apprehensive neighbourhood.