According to a United Nations Security Council latest report released on June 2, 2021, emboldened Taliban and other terror groups pose a grievous and intensified danger to Afghanistan’s people and government. Mostly these terror outfits are hand in gloves. Taliban expressed confidence that it can return to power by negotiation or by force if necessary. This posture of Taliban and al-Qaeda is an alarming trend. As the US troops leave Afghanistan in the coming months, the report collated by the UN Monitoring Team, which is responsible for monitoring security threats in Afghanistan, projects a dreary image of the security viewpoint. It will be a painful interpretation for the Biden administration as it inches forward to end the US military existence in Afghanistan. Joe Biden has promised to pull out all the left-over US forces by Sept11 2021, which coincidently coincide with the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
On June 15, 2021, the United Nations Security Council will hold its quarterly debate on Afghanistan. The mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) expires on September 17, and the mandate of the Monitoring Team assisting since 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee expires on December 17 this year.
On February 28, 2020, US officials and Taliban representatives signed an agreement after months of negotiations in Qatar’s capital to end the United States’s longest war, fought in Afghanistan since 2001. The two sides have long argued over the US demand for a ceasefire before the signing of the agreement, which has four points: a timeline of 14 months for the withdrawal of all US and NATO troops from Afghanistan; a Taliban guarantee that Afghan soil will not be used as a launchpad that would threaten the security of the US; the launch of intra-Afghan negotiations by March 10; and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.
The UN monitoring team added that although the Taliban has taken steps to restrict Al-Qaeda activities in Afghanistan, the two groups “remain closely aligned and show no indications of breaking ties”. The report notes that the monitoring team’s interlocutors have assessed that the Taliban is responsible for 85 per cent of the targeted assassinations of recent months and that many of the victims were outspoken critics of the group or had previously been threatened by it.
Brief on Afghan Crisis.
Tension was developing between the East and the West after Helsinki Summit in 1975. The area of tension was outside Europe. However, Cold War returned with the USSR intervention in Afghanistan. The West, especially the US, perceived this as the war on Afghanistan. There was a monarchy in Afghanistan till Mohammed Daud deposed King Zahir Shah in 1973 and abolished the monarchy, and he became president of the new republic. Daud sought military help from the USSR to strike a balance in the country. Initially, Daud was supported by the political outfit called the People’s Democratic Party(PDP), which soon split into two factions: Babrak Kamal led Parcham led by Mohammad Taraki & Hafizullah Amin called Khalq.
To keep both East and West busy, he sought help from the Shah of Iran. He persecuted both the factions of PDP and arrested and jailed most of their leaders in 1977. Meanwhile, both the factions penetrated the Afghan army and underhand made a truce with each other. Tables were turned, and Mohammed Daud was ousted in 1978. Hafizullah Amin became president in September 1979. In the meantime, in Iran, Shah was deposed, and Ayatollah Khomeini’s volunteers wrested the power. Even these volunteers seized the US embassy and took some people as hostages. The USSR perceived that the US would organise a coup in Iran, and Hafizullah Amir of Afghanistan would join the US. In a pre-emptive move, the USSR decided to intervene in Afghanistan and get rid of Hafizullah Amin. Hence entered Afghanistan in 1979, Amin was arrested and executed, and Babrak Karmal was named the president of Afghanistan. The Soviet Union described this intervention as a ‘painful intervention’.
The boundaries of modern Afghanistan were established in the late 19th century in a rivalry between imperial Britain and tsarist Russia. The famous English writer Rudyard Kipling termed the “Great Game.” Modern Afghanistan became a hostage in struggles over political ideology and commercial influence. In the last quarter of the 20th century, Afghanistan suffered the ruinous effects of civil war greatly intensified by a military incursion and occupation by the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) for a decade from 1979-89. In ensuing armed struggles, a surviving Afghan communist regime held out against Mujahideens (1989–92). Furthermore, following a brief rule by groups, an austere movement of religious students—the Taliban—rose against the country’s governing parties and warlords and established a theocratic regime (1996–2001) that soon fell under the influence of a group of well-funded Islamists led by an exiled Saudi Arabian, Osama Bin Laden. The Taliban regime collapsed in December 2001 in the wake of a sustained U.S.-dominated military campaign aimed at the Taliban and fighters of bin Laden’s al-Queda organisation.
The threat of terrorism.
The situation in Afghanistan remains difficult. A diplomatic push initiated in March to reinvigorate the intra-Afghan peace process appears to have slackened while civilians continue bearing the brunt of persistent violence. It is believed that the terrorist organisations which are active in Afghanistan are: Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Lashkar-e-Toiba(LeT), Taliban, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan(TTP), Haqqani Network(HN).
In the meantime, daily attacks, often targeting civilians, continue in the country. On April 30, a car bomb attack on a guesthouse in Pul-e-Alam in the eastern province of Logar killed at least 27 people and injured more than 100. High school students were reportedly among the casualties. On May 8, a car bomb attack on a high school in Kabul killed at least 90 people and injured more than 150, many of whom were teenage girls. The attack took place in a western district of the capital, home to many residents from the predominantly Shiite Hazara ethnic minority. To date, no organisation has claimed responsibility for the two attacks, but the Afghan government has blamed the Taliban.
The latest report by the 1988 Committee’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, covering the period between May 2020 to April, maintained that the Taliban’s pomposity shows its reluctance to cut violence to enable peace talks. The group intends to strengthen its military position because it trusts that it can achieve its aims either through discussions or, if required, by force. The report notes that the monitoring team’s interlocutors have assessed that the Taliban is responsible for 85 per cent of the targeted assassinations of recent months and that many of the victims were outspoken critics of the group or had previously been threatened by it. The monitoring team added that although the Taliban has taken steps to restrict Al-Qaeda activities in Afghanistan, the two groups “remain closely aligned and show no indications of breaking ties”.
Recent key developments.
On April 14, US President Joe Biden announced that the US would begin withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan from May 1 to complete the withdrawal by September 11. The recent media reports indicate that the withdrawal will be accelerated, with US and NATO troops expecting to leave Afghanistan by the first half of July 2021.
The US decision delayed the May 1 deadline for foreign troop withdrawal postulated in the February 2020 US-Taliban agreement. The US described the decision as “keeping with the agreement”, but the Taliban said it was a violation of that agreement. Moreover, Taliban officials stated that the group would not participate in any conference to determine Afghanistan’s future until foreign troops have departed from its soil.
On April 21, a high-level meeting on Afghanistan planned to occur in Istanbul from April 24 to May 4 with the Afghan government, the Taliban, and the international community was postponed. A joint statement by Turkey, Qatar and the UN noted that the meeting aimed to enhance the momentum of the Doha talks, which started in September 2020, but that they had agreed to postpone it to a “later date when conditions for making meaningful progress would be more favourable”.
The Doha peace progression remains, as the Taliban and the Afghan government continue talks in Qatar. The negotiations appear to be making little progress in light of demands by the Taliban for the release of an additional 7,000 Taliban prisoners and the removal of its members from UN sanctions designations.
Key issues and options
The Security Council prefer advocating the intra-Afghan talks to enable a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan. News of the enhanced withdrawal of US troops has added ambiguity to the process, and some analysts have stated their apprehension that the Taliban might abandon the ongoing peace talks and opt for a military adventure. There is also debate on whether the international community has non-military options to induce the Taliban to participate in the peace talks.
Some have suggested that removing Taliban members from the 1988 UN sanctions list can promote the group’s engagement in the peace process. However, it is felt that sanction for relief should not be used as a bargaining chip and underscore that delisting should be approached on a case-by-case basis in line with resolution 2513, which calls for considering the delisting of Taliban members based on their action, or lack thereof, to reduce violence or advance intra-Afghan negotiations.
The problem is not the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan but managing the oculi of such an exit. There is a requirement of an honourable interlude after the withdrawal of foreign troops. The government and institutions of Afghanistan should be reinforced to take on any eventuality arising out of such withdrawal. India-US-Russia officials have been working for years together to forge stability and peace in Afghanistan.
India undertook an extensive development programme covering humanitarian assistance, infrastructure development, reconstruction projects, and capacity-building measures. Since India has historical with Afghanistan, therefore, the main emphasis was on people to people contact. More than 60,000 students have returned to Afghanistan after finishing their education, and 16,000 students are still pursuing their courses in India. Indian assistance is roughly more than the US $ 3 to 4 billion spread across all districts in Afghanistan. Moreover, the Taliban do acknowledge this helping hand of India.
Perhaps no other country in the world has suffered as much as Afghanistan from ethnopolitical and ideological differences-which were unfortunately exploited by both Soviet Union( Russia) and the US. Unfortunately, the Mughals, British, Soviets and NATO all failed to subjugate Afghanistan, failures which offer valuable lessons for today. However, about 200 years ago, Maharajah Ranjit Singh (1799-1839), the Sikh ruler of Punjab(India), and his brilliant commander Hari Singh Nalwa defeated the Afghan tribes’ Khyber Pass areas and under control.
Afghanistan has undergone the ordeal of history, and people have suffered a lot. There is a requirement to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, but terrorism has to go. New geopolitical realities are reshaping global politics contours, with China behaving more aggressively and dominantly across South Asia, South-East Asia, and Africa. It is challenging the unilateral world the US has dominated for over two decades since the end of the Cold War. The world should also support an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, broad-based and inclusive process of peace and reconciliation.