Afghanistan, the mountainous landlocked country at the crossroads of Central and South Asia, is seeing a disastrous Taliban takeover. The Government of Afghanistan collapsed on August 15, 2021, as President Ashraf Ghani left the country after the Taliban sealed a nationwide military victory.

After the withdrawal of the troops by the United States from Afghanistan, the country witnessed a spike in violence as the Taliban intensified its efforts to gain control over the entire region in the wake of withdrawal. The final straw came when the militant group captured the capital city (Kabul) forcing thousands of people to flee the country along with various other nations worrying about the strong foothold of the Taliban in Afghanistan and how it may impact the international discussion to counter-terrorism.

But firstly, it is significant to understand how Afghanistan got here. What happened in one of the most strategic nations in South Asia and what is the four-phase journey which led the country here. Have a look.

Phase 1: What happened in Afghanistan in the post 9/11 world?

1. Al-Qaeda Challenged the United States

The events on September 11, 2001, changed the global political landscape forever. Two planes flew into the famous twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and turned the skylines that never sleeps into gloomy, wrapped with smoke and flames.

What unraveled between 2001 and 2021 is still continued. After 9/11, the former President of the United States George W Bush announced that the US army will launch an attack against Al-Qaeda and Taliban targets.

Since then, the world’s one of the mightiest superpowers, in terms of economy as well as weaponry, started hunting for the world’s most wanted man Osama Bin Laden. On May 2, 2011, Navy SEALs of US Special Warfare Development Group raided the Al-Qaeda compound in Pakistan and killed the Al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden.

However, the fight against the Islamist Militant groups did not end there. In February 2020, after more than 18 years of war in Afghanistan, former President of the US Donald Trump and the Taliban leadership signed a peace deal to withdraw the US troops.

2. People of Afghanistan must decide their own future: US President

To bring the US’s longest-running war to a close, the incumbent US President Joe Biden announced on April 14, 2021, that the US will withdraw the army forces by September 11.

To control the territory, the Islamist Militant group Taliban increased its violence over the last two weeks and the actions prompted the US and other countries to urge their citizens to leave the country immediately.

As the Taliban continued its advances in Afghanistan, the spokesperson of the US State Department commented that the US expects to draw down a core diplomatic presence in Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

Taliban, in its mission of acquiring the region, has claimed to capture Kandhar and other 12 provinces while the Afghan President claimed the worsening situation on the US pullout from Afghanistan.

3. Afghanistan crisis: How much does it cost the US?

Human cost- In the two-decades-long US combat mission in Afghanistan, the US forces have suffered more than 2,300 deaths.

Economic cost- As per the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, to date, the war by the US in Afghanistan has cost the country $2.261 trillion.

4. What the US planned on achieving in Afghanistan?

In 2001, when the United States entered Afghanistan, the country promised Afghans modernity, democracy, sovereignty, social justice and to bridge the ethnic divide.

5. Who is nurturing the Taliban?

The Islamist Fundamentalist Organisation (Taliban) has grown its strength and has survived 20 years of war.

•  Reportedly, Pakistan Army has a history of military support to different tribal factions within Afghanistan, however, Pakistan has repeatedly denied any form of military support to Afghanistan.

•  In order to reduce Pakistan’s own vulnerability, the Pakistani army trained Mujahideen had fought against the Soviet intervention during the 1970s and the 1980s.

•  Pakistani Army and ISI have provided logistical, financial, military as well as direct combat support to the Taliban.

6. Objective of Taliban-

The Islamist Militant Group wants to establish an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in accordance with the Hanafi School of Islamic Jurisprudence (one of the four traditional major Sunni schools of Islamic Jurisprudence).

7. What can happen next in Afghanistan?

•  Negotiated settlement– With the Taliban’s latest advances in the country, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani had said that the country’s situation will change in 6 months.

•  The collapse of the Afghanistan Government- It already happened as President Ghani left the country on August 15 amid the growing violence in Kabul. Also, the Taliban assured that there will be no peace in Afghanistan until Ghani is removed.

•  Taliban Takeover- Taliban’s forces are capable of isolating Afghanistan’s capital in 30 days and take it over soon.

•  Refugee Crisis- The ongoing war between the Taliban and the federal government will force the citizens to flee from the country.

•  Increase in Terrorism- As the Taliban gains momentum, the possibility of regional and international terrorism will increase.

•  Full-scale civil war- Even though currently, Afghans will not be able to clean their own mess, the possibility of civil war will continue.

8. Who will pay the price of the Afghanistan crisis?

The most vulnerable section and the most impacted one will be the –

•  Afghan Youths

•  Curbs on women’s human rights

•  Restrictions on freedom of the Press

•  Progress made in the fight against global terrorism

Phase 2: What happened in Afghanistan between 1989 to 2001?

Taliban had achieved its first success in 1994 under the patronage of Naseerullah Babar and Maulana Fazlur Rahman. When the ultraconservative political and religious factions consolidated their power in Afghanistan, they tried to impose their own versions of the Sharia and indoctrinated people.

1.Taliban in Afghanistan

The Taliban, during the five-year period, captured 80% of the areas. Between 1996 to 2001, only Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the USE recognized the government which had raised the legitimacy of the Taliban government in Kabul.

2. Rise of Taliban in Afghanistan between 1996 to 2001- Key events

•  Burhanuddin Rabbani had served as the President of Afghanistan from 1992 to 2001. Rabbani was in exile from 1996 to 2001.

•  Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was founded by Mohammed Omar in 1996.

•  Mohammed Najibullah became the President of Afghanistan from 1987 until his resignation in 1992.

•  Sibghatullah Mojaddedi started serving as the interim President after the fall of Najibullah’s government.

•  From 1992 to 2001, Burhanuddin Rabbani served as the President of Afghanistan

3. Curbs on basic civil rights under a fundamentalist regime

•  Sports for women were not allowed

•  Men were also required to wear a head covering

•  Girls were prevented from going to schools

•  Women were denied the right to work

•  Beard trimming for men were banned

•  Ban on TV

•  Legal executions took place in public

Phase 3- War between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan, 1979 to 1989

On December 24, 1979, the USSR (undivided Russia) entered Afghanistan and after that, nearly 1,00,000 soldiers of the Soviet Union took control of the major cities in the country.

1. Operation Cyclone by the US against Soviets in Afghanistan

The former President of the US Jimmy Carter started ‘Operation Cyclone’. It was the code name of the CIA Programme to arm and finance the Afghan Mujahideen in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. The move was against the Soviet Union amid the cold war.

Thousands of tons of weaponry worth billions of US dollars were delivered to Mujahideen to combat the Soviets. Reportedly, more than $20 billion in US funds was funneled into Afghanistan to finance Afghan rebels.

2. Soviet Union withdrawal from Afghanistan

In 1989, Soviet forces started the withdrawal from Afghanistan after a 9-year conflict. During the fight between the anti-communist Islamic guerrillas and the Afghan communist government, fifteen thousand Soviet soldiers were killed and the war leads to the collapse of the government in 1992.

Phase 4- Afghanistan before the 1979 invasion, its powerful tribes

In the last 300 years, Pashtun has run Afghanistan. The Pashtun community in Afghanistan is 42% of the Afghan population, Hazara 9%, Tajik 27%, and Uzbak 9%.

1. Saur Revolution: 1978 coup

•  Hafizullah Amin, Afghan Communist revolutionary, led the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan had toppled Afghan President Mohammed Daoud Khan’s government in the country in April 1978. Hafizullah was recognized as the architect of the Saur Revolution.

•  Daoud Khan was President of Afghanistan from 1973 to 1978.

•  After that, Nur Muhammad Taraki was a far-left People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan who had served as the President of the country from 1978 to 1979.

2. Afghanistan in 40 years

For a period of over 40 years, during the Cold war era, the fight between the eastern bloc and the western bloc (Communism vs Capitalism) was head to head.

The mountainous landlocked country, even 40 years later, is still in mess and is as divided as ever.

The Kingdom of Afghanistan was ruled by Mohammed Zahir Shah between 1933-1973, marking a unique phase for South Asia politics.

The next 40 years were very turbulent for Afghanistan. First, during the Soviet withdrawal, the United States took a different position.

Secondly, after 9/11, the US foreign policy took 360 degrees turn when former President GW Bush announced the war against terrorism.

Thirdly, after the announcement of US troops’ withdrawal, the future of Afghans remains as uncertain as ever.

What do the people of Afghanistan want?

Half of the Afghans prefer the Taliban and hope that the Islamist group will take over soon, while the other half do not want to live under the Taliban rule.

In September 1996, when the fundamentalist organisation rose to power, the Taliban government did not have recognition and support from many countries so it was pushed into the corner. However, this time, China, the US, Turkey, and other global players have different positions.

Is it possible to end 40 years of turmoil? Conclusion

With Afghanistan being riddled with conflict over the last 4 decades, peace talks are the only way out for the war-torn nation.

The country requires global forces to come together to announce their rejection of Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

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