Step away from the dust and turmoil created by the hasty evacuation efforts at Kabul airport and it appears that after 20 years in the shadows the Taliban are in total command of Afghanistan’s destiny.
Ignore the emotionally driven news coverage justifying or questioning the wisdom behind the US withdrawal, and we can see a smiling Taliban leadership happy to stand by and watch, offering vague statements about a future Afghanistan for all, under Shariah rule of course, and where the place of women will be determined by the extremist interpretation of religious texts.
For an observer who has covered Afghanistan before and after 9/11, there can be only one conclusion: Thank you, America, for arming the Taliban, and for making terrorist groups around the world look on in envy as their fellow “mujahideen” win the lottery.
According to some estimates, the US may have left more than $100 billion of military hardware, including armored vehicles, light combat aircraft and a fleet of helicopters, to the Taliban 2.0.
The talks in Doha that led to the withdrawal now look like a mere capitulation, with only one vague guarantee that Afghanistan will no longer be a haven for groups willing to attack the West. But why would these groups stay in Afghanistan when other sanctuaries are available in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, not to mention European and US suburbs that are able to produce their own type of Islamist extremists.
Those in government, it seems, fail to see the impact this rushed withdrawal will have on the West’s global standing. Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has criticized the West’s loss of “strategic will,” claiming that Russia, China and Iran will take advantage of the continued retreat.
Meanwhile, up to 80,000 Taliban fighters now can enjoy an armory fit for a modern, lethally equipped fighting machine of 300,000 troops, which the US and NATO had trained in the two decades before their surrender in a matter of days. Even more alarmingly, these light drones, high-tech communication systems and advanced weapons could also reach terror groups scattered around the globe.
Many claim now that they saw all this coming. But I recall many informal discussions with military and civilian officials working in Afghanistan and Western capitals who insisted they were rebuilding the Afghan political system along a Western model of “one man one vote” and the rule of law. A lot of effort was wasted transporting ballot boxes to remote villages instead of trying to understand that the dynamic of authority and loyalty in that society works differently.
Like Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and even Iraq, Afghanistan is a country whose people are a mix of ethnic, linguistic, tribal, religious and sectarian groups, all united by a competitive, yet conservative, outlook on life. The West hoped that liberal democracy would replace age-old patriarchal traditions, with tribal codes instead of police and laws.
Despite faint hopes that the neo-Taliban have become more mature operators, the early signs are not encouraging.
The national Afghan army rebuilt by the US and NATO consisted of members of various communities. Recruits and their local commanders must have noted that their government was sidelined in the Doha talks and that national reconciliation talks were going nowhere. These soldiers knew better than anyone else that fighting the Taliban without the help of their foreign mentors would be futile. Hence, the ground was set for them to lay down their weapons, encouraged by Taliban propaganda that reached deep into towns and villages.
The national army’s collapse in Afghanistan is not new. The previous Afghan army built by the former Soviet Union was routed by the mujahideen in the early 1990s. Today, though, the failure of the army and police force, as well as the departure of President Ashraf Ghani, leaves the country facing the unknown.
Despite faint hopes that the neo-Taliban have become more mature operators, able to preserve and build on what has been achieved over two decades of foreign-assisted rule, the early signs are not encouraging.
The rapid collapse of the army and the West’s chaotic evacuation have only emboldened the militants, which means it is business as usual for this vigilante group seeking to uphold its vision of righteousness against evil.
It will not be long before the Taliban reinstate their old rules, and resort to torture and brutal punishments, while truckloads of exported opium and now weapons ensure enough income for their survival.
- Mohamed Chebaro