Time to Hide the Bactrian Gold Again

The situation in Afghanistan has been unimaginable for the past four weeks. So a lot has been going on; The Taliban Revival, US and NATO scrambling for an exit, Kabul government’s state of paralysis, the Afghan National Army in disarray, and the local Afghans in complete shock of what is to unfold. This is a sad story all over again. Panic is real and heavy; anyone associated in any manner, form, enrolled or casual, listed or beneficiary, provincial or central fears for his life. The US Embassy and Embassies of EU, Turkey, UAE, India, and many more are flooded with visas and asylums. Those with foreign passports have mostly left. Those without are now struggling to find a way out. Borders with Pakistan, Iran, and CARs are reportedly closed. Those traveling to Pakistan can only use the air route.

The Indian COVID variant has posed further travel restrictions. It would otherwise be in a matter of weeks before the Taliban take hold of their Eastern exit points at Vesh Mandi, Ghulam Khan, and Torkhum. The US is neither alarmed nor worried. It has tucked itself nicely into convenient packages that fly out regularly with their manpower and equipment. What they leave behind is nothing short of a coming nightmare: An abandoned Afghanistan which has nowhere to run.

Hamid Karzai, the man who set in motion all US-led plans in Afghanistan and establishing a deep anti-Pakistan mindset in the early Government, is believed to have given his immediate family and others a long list to the Turkish Embassy for asylum or temporary relocation in Turkey. There is a deathly silence and no response as yet. Where will others go? UAE? India? Lebanon? None of the worried citizens of Afghanistan expected a swift change. Brave words of resilience spoken by Ahmed Masoud, Dostum, Ustad Atta, Ashraf Ghani, and Amrullah Saleh will be tested.

The Taliban seem to be following a set pattern or a methodology in tackling the surrendering of government troops and officials. They know all officials of a particular district that they intend on tackling. The officials are given a choice either to surrender or join the Taliban. Practically, none of them prefer to fight. The Taliban left them with a warning that the officials will be killed if they are found fighting against the Taliban. Surrendering officials and troops are given 5000 Afghanis as goodwill.

Pictures of the Taliban hugging the adversary is indeed a rare sight. The news from some districts over the exuberance of Taliban occupation is narrated that the local warlords were brutal in enforcing their rule. No young girl or boy was safe. Rape, kidnapping, wanton killings were encouraged to instill fear in the population. The extraordinary welcome is then understood.

Statements from the Taliban spokesman and other trickling information suggests the following:

  1. The Taliban will avoid bloodshed. They will pardon and forgive all those who denounce their will to fight the Taliban.
  2. They will not spare all those warlords that have committed crimes against humanity, killed at random simply to justify their authority. All those who have violated Haquq-ul-Abad (disregarding the rights of fellow Muslims) will be held accountable.
  3. Taliban will invite all ethnicities to join them to build a new Afghanistan. Those who join are expected to show their commitment and will not demand a position of authority.
  4. Afghanistan will not be used as a sanctuary by non-Afghans that use Afghan soil against its neighbors. Taliban is clear that Daesh, TTP, and other groups are no longer welcome. They will be told to leave Afghanistan or face the Taliban’s wrath.
  5. Efforts by countries to push the Taliban for agreeing to talk about an inclusive government, a shared government, democracy, and elections are just that – talks. Instead, the Taliban will ensure that Sharia will be supreme and followed literally.
  6. They intend to have good relations with all their neighbors.

The Taliban are date conscious all of a sudden. Biden’s plan to move his troops by the end of August is no surprise. The speed at which the US and NATO are extricating is again interesting. The strange revelation by Biden that the US never planned for any nation-building in Afghanistan is astonishing.  All the fuss over democracy, institution building, revamped fiscal and commercial policies, reorganized Afghan Intelligence and military, reconstruction of the task force in each US Command Zones was for nothing.

The push for Kabul will be after these dates. This time, a major difference from the old Taliban movement is apparent. It seems likely that Taliban presence will prevail in nearly all Afghan provinces and districts, encompassing all ethnicities.

The Haqqanis and the Kandahari Taliban are still united. Irritants, if any, are kept under a cloak. This facade is not expected to last long and will surface once Kabul is captured.

Pakistan must closely follow events along its western border. The Taliban will take over all posts and cross sites in time. Before that happens, TTP and Baluchi non-state actors are likely to carry out Baluchistan and KPK. Border cooperation will be the need of the hour. There is no need to rush to hug the Taliban. Wait until the Taliban prove themselves worthy of being befriended.

When Kabul fell on September 27, 1996, the Taliban, fresh from their victories, destroyed many artifacts in the Kabul Museum and the Buddha statues of Bamiyan. The most important, the Bactrian Hoard or Bactrian Gold, which was unearthed in Northern Afghanistan, hidden from the Taliban in the secret vaults, survived in its entirety. It would be wise to prepare contingencies for its protection again possibly.

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