Understanding the Swift Fall of Afghanistan

Recent developments in Afghanistan compel one to acknowledge the seldom reiterated wisdom of Vladimir Lenin, who once stated, “there are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” By all accounts, Lenin was a man of commendable farsightedness. As the old adage is revoked once again in the graveyard of the empires, Afghanistan, the situation is anything but a product of commendable farsightedness. In fact, most of it is a repetition of history, “first as tragedy and then as farce”.

In the last few weeks, the Taliban in Afghanistan has achieved and undone more than what the United States of America (US) was able to do in the previous two decades.  On Sunday, they took control of all major provincial capitals and districts of strategic importance before finally taking over the capital city, Kabul. Since their ouster in 2001 as a result of  Operation Enduring Freedom, they were struggling militarily to regain their lost status. While their journey, tactics, and strategies will forever be etched in manuals of successful insurgencies, one cannot deny multiple factors that contributed to their tremendous resurgence, despite the superior military muscle of the US and its NATO allies.

As the world saw Kabul fall, the then incumbent president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, left Kabul with his associates and advisors. For far too long, fingers have been pointed at Ghani and his administration’s abhorrent tales of corruption and systemic injustice along with rampant unaccountable nepotism, each of which proved essential in halting the process of institutional development in Afghanistan. Core institutions like Afghan National Defense Forces (ANDF) and the police force paid the highest price for this criminal negligence. Images of General Dostum’s seized palace in the heart of Afghanistan will keep haunting war hawks in Washington and other quarters, who spent approximately $83 billion on the Afghan military, which surrendered Kabul without putting up minimal resistance.

Another significant factor that left people shocked is less known but deeply problematic. A few months ago, the US President Joe Biden was asked to share his thoughts upon the astonishing rate of Taliban’s expansion. He categorically expressed his confidence in “300,000” Afghan troops and the US-trained special military units. However, contrary to these assumptions, Taliban fighters were knocking at the gates of Kabul in less than three months. Only an elaborative insight into intelligence failure can genuinely evaluate how disconnected the American establishment and Afghanistan’s (now former) power elite were from ground realities. That made them appear delusional in their approach and potentially unpragmatic in pursuit of particular interests.

The ousted Vice President Amrullah Saleh has been actively tweeting about raising an armed resistance against the Taliban. At the time of writing, Saleh and Ahmad Massoud – son of the slain Tajik warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud, are reassembling the Northern Alliance in the famous Panjshir valley as an attempt to counter the Taliban’s influence by force.

Only an elaborative insight into intelligence failure can genuinely evaluate how disconnected the American establishment and Afghanistan’s (now former) power elite were from ground realities.

However, despite such endeavors, the whole series of ANDF’s unconditional surrender and the Taliban’s reliance upon strategic and diplomatic maneuvers to win over provincial governors and other political actors are the hurdles standing in the way of the Northern Alliance’s legitimacy to resistance. Since the takeover, the Taliban’s political wing has held talks with prominent political actors in Afghanistan, including Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and former President Hamid Karzai. Although the formal shape and structure of government under their rule is yet to be witnessed, nonetheless apparent efforts so far advocate for a desirable political settlement in Afghanistan.

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about the Taliban’s rule, top among many is the group’s interpretation of human rights and comprehension of womanhood. For the last time when they were in power, their governing methodology violated Afghan people’s fundamental human rights and was also largely misogynistic. Nonetheless, a prominent Taliban leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, in his op-ed in the New York Times last year, stated that the group has evolved since the last time it ruled. Now, they are ready to accept the role of women in the state’s governing apparatus, although within limitations laid down by the Islamic law or Sharia.

Besides repeated reassurances and a revised approach to public relations, recent events such as the alleged killing of Afghan comedian Khasha Zawan in Kandahar province by a few Taliban fighters is also a worrisome affair for top and middle-tier Taliban leaders. Albeit, their respective authorities, currently in charge in Kabul, have said that they will try those responsible for this crime in Taliban courts and serve justice. But the entire fiasco subtly reflects the element of intolerance to dissent in lower-tier Taliban fighters and poor control of leadership in Doha over its ground troops in far-off areas.

Conclusively, an amalgamation of internal and external factors has added to Afghanistan’s socio-political turmoil. Although, enough has been said about Pakistan’s role in taking advantage of this chaos but for the sake of genuine introspection, can the international community and concerned actors hold Pakistan solely responsible for all the failures in the Afghan saga that snowballed into a perpetual mess? Why were the security and intelligence establishment in Washington and Kabul not aware of ANDF’s unpreparedness? Why was the corrupt power elite of Afghanistan allowed to rule for all this time? Indeed, when decades unfold in mere weeks, sweeping statements blinded by unreasonable sentiments attract more attention. However, one must not lose the sight of the North-star and ponder upon the right questions, for drawing conclusions rationally.

Mahnoor Saleem

Mahnoor Saleem is currently pursuing International Relations at the National Defence University, Islamabad. Her areas of interest include theories of international relations, psychological operations and information warfare.

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