Mere days after American Chinooks made a hasty and humiliating retreat from their embassy in Kabul, the Taliban had gained control over the Afghan capital. It made one thing clear; America had sorely underestimated the capabilities of the Taliban and overestimated the number and capacity of their Afghan allies. No sooner than this transfer of power happened, the Taliban began its reign of oppressive laws.
Afghanistan’s history is filled with violence and extremism. Its people have suffered through dictatorships, war and famine. But there always seemed to be a silver lining for them. For some time it was the Soviet Union and its aid and then it was the American soldiers and their support that brought temporary relief to the people. But history has taught us, it is the common man who becomes the victim of power plays among the global dominions of the world. Here, they became the victim of proxy wars fought in their country. But this time, things won't be getting better anytime soon.
Who Are The Taliban?
The Taliban are considered the successors of The Mujahideen. The Mujahideen were originally guerrilla fighters in the hills of Afghanistan that rose up against the Soviet-supported Communist Afghan Government. Many of the fighters who now run the Taliban were the children who sought refuge in camps set up by the United Nations (UN) when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The Pakistani intelligence agency; Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in collaboration with their American counterparts; the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) decided to oppose Soviet influence by indoctrinating students in Madrasas, in cities such as Peshawar. These Madrasas received funding from wealthy donors who lived abroad and supported the Pashtun cause. The students in these Madrasas also received military training. Within the span of a generation, Pakistan had the perfect weapon to seize back control and drive the Soviets away. In fact, the name “Taliban” is the plural for the word “student” in Arabic.
When the Taliban drove out the Mujahideen from Afghanistan, the Afghans at first were relieved. But soon the reality dawned on them. These fighters spoke a different dialect, enforced Sharia Law with strict punishment for those who defaulted and perpetuated Pashtun chauvinism. When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2002 after the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban realized that the United States was a formidable opponent.
How And Why Did The Afghan Forces Capitulate?
Since the Obama presidency, the United States has been releasing statements that it will be pulling its troops out of Afghanistan and ending the war on terror they began. In May 2021, Joe Biden gave the order to his military to leave the country, making good on the statements he had made during his tenure as Vice President in the Obama administration. With the retreat of the US troops and the under-armed Afghan Army, the Taliban began its siege on the nation. There were several reports published by US intelligence agencies that said that Kabul could resist and hold out for about 3-4 months. It took them less than a month, here’s why:
The Afghan forces faced an enemy well versed in asymmetric warfare. The militant group’s in-depth knowledge of the terrain and guerilla tactics meant that ‘hit and run’ attacks were difficult to defend against and dealt huge casualties.
America did not give any frontline combat experience to the Afghan soldiers. They were mainly used for mopping up operations behind the frontline. Thus without actual combat experience, the military did not possess the technical know-how at the tactical, operational and strategic levels.
When President Donald Trump agreed to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, he agreed to also stop airstrikes against the militants. These airstrikes were crucial in keeping the Taliban from regrouping. Thus the Taliban had over a year to regroup, plan and retake territories once the Americans left.
The Afghan military was overly dependent on airstrikes from the United States Air Force (USAF) to flush the militants out of their defensive positions. Thus they also did not have contingency plans if the airstrikes failed or were unavailable.
The Afghan Army had not received their salary in 3-4 months, they were running low on ammunition, food, water and other supplies. Furthermore, they did not have logistical support on the ground. The Taliban were also threatening them with the safety of their families, via text message. They also offered more money and promised safety to their families if they joined their side. This affected the morale of the soldiers.
American coalition troops had built the Afghan army to complement their militaries. The underlying idea was that the army would play a supporting role. This meant that when the Americans retreated the Afghan army found itself in an untenable position
The Afghan government focused too much on spreading their forces all over their country instead of building fortified positions where the army had an advantage. Hence the poor defences withered under minimal pressure from the Taliban. On paper, there were 300,000 Afghan soldiers in the Army and only around 72,000 Taliban fighters. Due to the aforementioned reasons, the Afghan military offered only token resistance.
The only faction of the Army that had any real chance of fighting the Taliban were the Afghan Special Forces, and they were all located in Kabul.
The Taliban had already either captured or made deals regarding better living situations with the rural and local population. Gaining control of major cities was just a formality. Within a span of 7 days, the Taliban captured Afghanistan's biggest cities; Kandahar and Kabul marking the defeat for the Afghan Army.
According to a study published in 2013 by The Independent in collaboration with the Pew Research Centre data, 99% of the population of the country prefers Sharia Law.
The most pressing question is, what happens to the people of Afghanistan? Women and children are the most vulnerable part of the population. Under Sharia law, women are forbidden from:
-being educated above the age of 10,
-leaving the house without a male relative
-choosing their husband
Boys will be forced to join the Taliban as they come of age and they are not allowed to be clean-shaven. Girls will be treated as second-class citizens with no rights in their own country. When their spokesperson Suhail Shaheen gave an impromptu interview to BBC news presenter Yalda Hakim, he assured the people that this time it would be different.
Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzada, known as the “Leader of the Faithful '', the Islamic legal scholar is the Taliban’s supreme leader who holds final authority over the group’s political, religious and military affairs. He says that under their rule, women will have rights and do not have to wear a burqa, only a hijab. He also stated that anyone who wants to leave the country can do so without any persecution, but this promise has already been broken. Those who tried to flee the country were shot outside Kabul airport on August 19th, Afghanistan’s independence day.
As luck would have it, even the Taliban has a nemesis. The Northern Alliance (an alliance of various tribes in the Panjshir valley) stands between the Taliban and their quest for total Afghan dominance. It is the only group that has withstood the Taliban onslaught. Ethnic tribes in the valley are the only people who know the terrain better than the Taliban. Recently there has been an effort to revive the Alliance, with current “caretaker President” Amrullah Saleh a native to the valley himself, seen with the tribal leaders in order to take Afghanistan back from the militant outfit.
The country’s future has approached an inflexion point. Since power changed hands so quickly, the way forward for the nation remains shrouded in ambiguity. The international community can only provide humanitarian aid and assist those who require it. When it comes to India’s case, we are an outside player in this situation and cannot directly interfere in the politics of the country. But we can help those who need it and maybe even provide a safe haven to those who want it.
History, F. (2017, June 20th). Feature History - Soviet-Afghan War [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDQLHFBp4aM
Report, C. (2020, March 1st). Origins of Taliban [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzBVvyBWDD4
Vox Media. (2018, January 11th). How the US failed to rebuild Afghanistan [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKVDXbIpW9Q