After spending two decades on the rugged terrains of Afghanistan, another superpower has edged close to making its final exit from the often denominated ‘graveyards of empires’ that is Afghanistan. The U.S’ association with Afghanistan remains decades old, where it first entered into the battleground albeit not directly (and with the support of so-called mujahideen) in 1979.
The U.S initial forays into Afghanistan were premised to oust its main Cold War rival, the USSR. After concluding the Geneva Accords of 1988 and in the aftermath of the unraveling of the USSR and the winding of the Cold War, the U.S fled from Afghanistan, only to return a decade later.
Nobody knew the new re-engagement with Afghanistan, coming on the heels of widely derided 9/11 events and the subsequent declaration of War on Terror would only bode one of the U.S longest war of this century. Not even the acclaimed political pundits and military hawks occupying the Pentagon and the State Department would have envisioned such a flawed and indecisive end to their longstanding military engagement to the Afghan battleground.
The U.S has drawn closer to making its final exit in the backdrop of hastened U.S and NATO troop pullout from Afghanistan. The specter emerging from the vacated Bagram Airfield -the epicenter of the U.S counterterrorism and war activity to outdo the Taliban – is speaking the truth of this matter. Bagram Airfield has been officially handed over to the Afghan National Security and Defence Force in its entirety.
In the flurry of events, the news dominating the official quarters is yet limited to only troop withdrawal and the surging violence in Afghanistan. All attempt to break the deadlock on peace talks has gone to naught. The deep introspection on the matter gives rise to the question of whether this would be the end to the war or is just a harbinger for a new civil war? The looming scenario points towards the latter option.
Since the U.S announcement of the final withdrawal, the Taliban’s offensives have picked pace. Although 2020 was the deadliest year in the history of the Afghan war, the signing of the Doha pact in February 2020 had spurred hopes that this violence would be tamed to facilitate the prospective peace talks between the Kabul government and the Afghan Taliban.
As no build-up on talks could be made, the position of the Taliban group seems to have hardened. The group has readily captured more than a hundred districts of Afghanistan. Sheer fighting is going on in 26 out of 34 provinces of Afghanistan. Recently, the Taliban has advanced its footprints across the northern frontier and seized one of the main trade artery linking to Tajikistan. The heavy fighting and escalated violence describe the picture of Afghanistan.
Anticipating the Taliban’s advancements, the Kabul government has ratcheted up its efforts to withstand the Taliban onslaught. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah are in the U.S to devise some kind of strategy. Additionally, the Kabul government is increasingly looking towards the regional militias of different provinces to aid in the fight against the Taliban. Also, it is contemplating having newer recruits to sustain the momentum. The defections from the Afghan National Security Forces are adding worries to the government’s efforts.
Altogether, the emboldened Taliban insurgency is a worrisome factor for not only the Afghan government or the U.S, but for the wider region and Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors. The apprehension on the Taliban’s renege of its promises is griming the prospects of a peaceful Afghanistan. The group promised in the event of the inking of the Doha agreement that it would cooperate in charting out the peace plan for Afghanistan’s future. To chalk out such a plan, agreement necessitated talks with the Kabul leaders.
After several botched delays, talks began in September 2020, however, the endgame is still elusive with no concurrence for the interim government or any joint proposal. The future government setup too remains out of the sight with no unanimity for a republic or Islamic emirate type of political dispensation.
Reports increasingly suggest that the Taliban are mulling an armed capture of Kabul in the wake of U.S retreat. A U.S intelligence report says the Ghani government in Kabul could collapse within six months of the U.S withdrawal, revising previous estimates for two years.
The deadly rise of violence, the increasing footprints of Taliban across the country, the power vacuum caused by the U.S flight from the Afghan battlefield, the reinvigoration of local and regional militias, and the weakening authority of the Afghan government paint an ominous picture for the future of Afghanistan.
The resurgence of intense fighting, exploitation of the murky situation by Islamic State militants, and the demonstration of Taliban’s intransigence on breaking the political impasse augur the future that would be mired into conflict, chaos, and more anarchy. Afghanistan’s slide into chaos seems imminent considering the forceful resistance that would be presented by Afghan people, Afghan security forces, the peppered warlords, and their militias to any attempt by Taliban to override the country this time. This can ensue a new civil war in the war-wracked country for a foreseeable future.
In the aftermath of incessant bickering between mujahideen fighters in the 1990s, the Taliban had a literal walkover in Kabul. Besides, they strongly pulled their regime by way of the strict enforcement of the Islamic Shariah, curbing all forms of dissent and secluding their emirate. This is not in congruence with contemporary Afghanistan, which has seen spaces for human rights, women’s rights, education rights, and more efforts to orient the Afghan polity on lines of new international values.
The security outlook is gloomy and unpredictable as the Afghan Security forces would not be able to sustain the heavy fighting given that U.S airpower support and logistics will be absent from now on.
Afghanistan’s descent into chaos would not only be threatening for the Afghan nationals but will have a spillover effect on the region. The Afghan instability has been the predominant source of the geopolitical crisis encapsulating the entire region, where terrorism and extremism have become one of the defining elements of the societies. Any new war or crisis thus diminishes the prospects for connectivity and economic integration of the region.