Balwan Nagial
Balwan Nagial

Reigniting Rivalries for Influence in Afghanistan

Rapid industrialisation after the civil war, the growth of the mighty navy of the US in the late 1880s and the victory in the Spanish-US War of 1898 led the US to emerge as recognisable power by the start of the 20th century. The war against Spain was well calculated and aimed at launching the US as a world power. However, not until World War II was the US able to play a significant role in world affairs. War was declared to end the Spanish rule in Cuba, but the first shot of this war was fired in Manila Bay in the Philippines. The US was perceived as a declining force in the 1970s when it failed to check the rise of communism in many parts of the world. The US lost its influence in Iran in 1979 when Islamic Revolution took over Iran. Sandinista forces succeeded in Nicaragua. However, the table was turned when the former USSR occupied Afghanistan in 1979 and established the communist government. This was the actual start of the second ‘Cold War’ between the USSR and the US. The Ronald Regan administration brought Pakistan into a frontline nation to fight Russians in Afghanistan. Thus backed many mujahideen groups in Afghanistan to fight Russians through Pakistan. Finally, USSR withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. When USSR collapsed in 1991 into fifteen different nations, the ‘Cold War’ ended. The mujahideen in Afghanistan were further divided into three groups viz the terrorist groups remained in Afghanistan and called themselves al-Qaeda and Taliban. Many terrorists went back to their countries and started terrorist organisations. Moreover, the third group of terrorists entered the US and West as refugees started radicalisation, recruitment and funding for the terrorist groups.

After replacing Great Britain as a significant power, the US has played a more significant role in shaping world politics. Many global and regional actors have sought alliances with the US to protect themselves against ambitious or troublesome neighbours.

In the Middle-eastern region, Israel’s security, ensuring oil supplies, competing with other powers, making regional peace, promoting democracy, and the war on terrorism were the significant factors that demanded US military, political and diplomatic interventions in the region.

Now the US has turned its attention towards the Indo-Pacific region to counter China’s growing influence and exiting from Afghanistan. The terms of the deal and how it was negotiated indicate that the deal was more about providing an honourable exit route for the US military campaign in Afghanistan than ending its violence. The US withdrawal may perhaps put Afghanistan on the verge of yet another long-drawn battle. Further, these events may prove geopolitically disadvantageous for India and may have severe implications for our national security.

Throughout the lengthy Afghan civil war in the 1990s, regional nations reinforced Afghan factions; therefore, intra-Afghan and regional contentions would likely start again with the US gone.

Earlier the civil war was chiefly fought on ethnic and sectarian lines. The  Northern Alliance is epitomised mainly through the Tajiks, the Shia Hazara and the Uzbeks and its foremost opponent was the Sunni-Pashtu faction of the Taliban. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and  UAE backed this faction of the Taliban. Pakistan extended military support and training facilities and Saudi Arabia funded them financially. As soon as the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE recognised the newly formed government.

Uptill1998, due to economic and geopolitical interests and the wish to marginalise Iran, the US even inclined toward the Taliban, despite being a terrorist organisation and knowing fully well the Taliban’s relationship with al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, the US’s viewpoint transformed after al-Qaeda attacked the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in August 1998. US perception of terrorism changed after the massive terror attacks on 9/11, thus launching the ‘War on Terrorism’ in October 2001.

Reversal of balance of power. The period between 1996-2001  saw the majority of global and regional players turning against the Taliban. Nevertheless, after two decades, the Taliban has become an essential stakeholder for Afghanistan as many regional powers are backing it.

This reversal of power is because the US retreat benefits the countries like China, Pakistan, Iran, or Russia. These countries consider the US is a more significant challenge than the Taliban. Given the war fatigue and the geopolitical stakes in Afghanistan, most key players are lending legitimacy to the Taliban. US president wants to fulfil his electoral promise of withdrawing the US military from the conflict zone. Russia, just like Syria, sees Afghanistan as another theatre to outplay the US. Pakistan military may consider the Taliban as a strategic asset once it returns to power, which can be used against India to fuel terrorism. China Pakistan’s closeness with the Taliban and the strong strategic relationship between Pakistan and China may be used by China to extend its Belt and Road initiative over Afghanistan.

Chaos and confusion in Afghanistan. As US-led forces endure their retreat from Afghanistan,  dissection on the two decades US-led military involvement has started. In all likelihood, several in the US nation-wide security founding are revisiting the age-old discussions about the fight and what may perhaps have led to victory, more troops, flexible instructions of engagement, or more independence to select the military targets. These opinions and arguments are comparable to those made after the US war in  Vietnam, seriously undervalue the overwhelming ramifications of the ‘War on Terrorism’ for Afghans, both non-combatants and combatants.

The distinctive defining feature of this war in Afghanistan over the last 20 years has been damage to civilians instigated by enormous human rights abuses and war crimes by all sides. This rampant violation of human rights sequentially stoked up the conflict sequence in many ways, together with inspiration for recruiting the insurgency. This resulted in political dialogues without any conclusions and discouragement of efforts to encourage constancy through improved governance.

The resurrection of the Taliban, to some extent, has been aided and abetted by the prevailing corruption and the misuse of power by the Afghan government. Criticisms and disenchantment further drove Afghans to lose faith in post-2001 Afghanistan. Moreover, the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan is an offspring of Pakistan gratification to Islamist extremism and Afghan warlords’ bad administration in Afghanistan’s east sector.

The base for what went wide of the mark was placed beforehand. The re-emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan was mainly due to frivolous opportunities and the unawareness or lack of apathy of US-led forces for the brutalities commissioned by Afghan forces, the US military, and CIA units. Pakistan gave shelters undoubtedly helped to lay the way for the Taliban’s return. Nevertheless, then again, little attention has been paid to what the US did and failed to do since 2001 and how US decisions and strategies fundamentally established the stage for this utter failure.

What went wrong? All over, the US strategy was directed by numerous myths. One of them was that the Afghan strongmen, warlords and militia commanders the US picked up as associates in overthrowing the Taliban possibly would help to provide security and steadiness, notwithstanding their records of exploitations. The reverse was the case. Continuous human rights abuses by these warlords was a foundation of lack of confidence. They fueled extensive anger, weakened the efforts to foster good governance at the local and national levels, and assisted the Taliban in obtaining new backing.

Conclusion: There is a power fight going on in Afghanistan, the Taliban is looking to start itself once again, and the Afghan government is going all out to stop them. The situation in Afghanistan has worsened since the US started to pull out its troops last year. Over 2,70,000 Afghans have been displaced since January this year, and the number of civilian casualties has risen exponentially.

The present conflict in Afghanistan entered its 20th year and continues to claim vast numbers of casualties. Attacks by the Taliban and other terrorist groups consciously targeted civilians and civilian objects in violation of international humanitarian law. These attacks included hospitals, educational institutions, welfare stations, etc. There was no liability for these crimes as impunity continued. Women and children are continuing to face ferocity, nuisance and terrorisation. Savagery against children continued. Afghan refugees continued to be by force returned to Afghanistan, predominantly from Iran, where the Iranian security forces had attacked some.

Afghan security personnel are fighting hard to keep the territory under control, and the political leadership has thus far been able to unify against the common threat of the Taliban. However, many Afghans are searching for alternatives to both the Taliban and President Ashraf Ghani. Meanwhile, anti-Taliban militias are marshalling, and reports of Taliban killings and abuse are widespread. Several Afghans fear they have no hope but to flee the country. Anxiety is tangible, predominantly for Afghans who live in the cities, where many displaced Afghans have sought refuge.

Afghan society has changed. However, the Taliban remain committed to re-imposing something very close to the system they cruelly employed to control the country from 1996 to 2001. Democracy should be strengthened at any cost.

Whether one likes it or not, and the leadership of key countries such as India, Iran, Russia, and China are now exchanging with the Taliban to protect their interests and draw red lines.

Conclusion:

The decision of the US to withdraw US-led forces from Afghanistan without making any alternate arrangement is proving suicidal for Afghanistan as well as for the countries such as India, Iran, Russia, etc. There has been a rising humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan as thousands of people flee for safety. Taliban says it has controlled most of the Afghanistan borders but is not authenticated by the government.

Though Pakistan is cheering for the Taliban’s self-proclaimed success in the battles, some people in Pakistan are apprehensive about the rise of extremism and terrorism on their soil.

Russia and China are seeking to charm an unlikely partner called the Taliban. However, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, neighbours of Afghanistan in Central Asia, are taking adequate measures to thwart the security risk posed by the Taliban.

United Nations Organisation(UNO) must intervene and deploy peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan before it(Afghanistan) slips into another Civil War.

About the Author
Colonel Balwan Nagial retired from the Indian Army in 2019 after serving for thirty years. Managed administration, security, project mgt throughout his service. He loves writing and contributing in newspapers and magazines in India. He loves Israeli culture.
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