Why in News?
Last week, on Friday, the United States handed over the Bagram airbase to the Afghan authorities, marking a symbolic end to its military presence, as U.S. forces complete their withdrawal well ahead of the September 11 deadline, announced by American President Joe Biden on April 14.
Syllabus— GS 2 International Relations
- A familiar air of uncertainty surrounds Kabul as the Afghans ponder over the future of their land, ravaged by conflict for nearly 50 years. Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours are now faced with a new challenge — how to persuade the Taliban against overplaying their military hand?
What goes wrong?
- Over 2,400 US soldiers (plus 1,144 coalition forces) and 388 private military contractors have died in the war effort, which has cost $980 billion.
- It also spent $143 billion on reconstruction, with roughly $90 billion going to the Afghan army, police, and other security forces, $36 billion going to governance and economic development, and the rest going to anti-narcotics and humanitarian relief efforts.
- The Afghans are the ones who have paid the true price.
- Approximately 50,000 Afghan civilians and nearly 70,000 Afghan security forces have died in the 20-year war (the majority in the last seven years); add another 60,000 Afghan Taliban, and the depth of the Afghan human loss becomes clear.
Positive impacts of the war –
- There were 9,00,000 boys in school in 2001. Eight million children attend school now, with a third of them being girls.
- Literacy has increased from 13% in 2002 to 35% today, while life expectancy has increased from 40 to 63 years.
- Urbanisation is at 26%, while 70% of the population watches television. Paved roads have grown from 320 kilometres in 2002 to 10,000 miles presently.
- From a high of 20%, infant mortality rates have dropped by more than half. A majority of Afghans have grown up in the post-Taliban era, with a median age of 18.5 years.
Legitimacy for Taliban –
- The goal, according to US President George W. Bush, was to “create a stable, robust, and successfully governed Afghanistan that would not devolve into chaos.”
- Shades of Vietnam began to emerge as the US turned from counter-terrorism to counter-insurgency.
- When Hamid Karzai denounced the night-raids and cautioned the Americans to “either take the fight to the safe havens and sanctuaries across the Durand Line or make peace with the Taliban,” he saw the writing on the wall, but it only strained his relationship with the US.
- Donald Trump, the president of the United States, saw himself as a dealmaker and began direct talks with the Taliban in 2018.
- Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad (US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation) began by laying out four elements: a ceasefire, severing ties with al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, intra-Afghan peace talks, and the withdrawal of all foreign military forces, with the caveat that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
- Within months, the Taliban had narrowed down the US demands until they achieved what they wanted: a pull-out schedule that was unrelated to the other considerations.
- The U.S. ended up legitimising the Taliban at the expense of the government in Kabul that they had worked to create and support.
- Over a third of Afghanistan’s 400 districts are controlled by the Taliban. Thirteen districts in Badakhshan, Takhar, Paktia, and Kandahar fell to the Taliban the day after the withdrawal from Bagram, bringing the total number of Taliban-controlled districts to 50 since May.
Future Prospects –
- As the reality of the US exit sets in, three elements will determine how events unfold by the end of 2021.
- First, have the Taliban’s doctrinal colours changed? The US has been pressing this line in recent years, and Pakistan has been pushing it for much longer, but the Taliban leadership has provided no indication. The issue of Taliban unity is linked to this.
- Second, is the Kabul regime capable of putting on a united front? The integrity of the Afghan security forces’ chain of command would be jeopardised if Kabul’s leaders and the government continue to snipe at each other.
- If opportunistic politicians are enticed to make their own deals with the Taliban, the collapse will be hastened, and even Western aid will be cut off.
Pakistan Factor –
- Third, Is Pakistan still seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan, or has it realised that a Taliban-controlled Kabul will serve as a magnet for both domestic and regional extremists?
- Can it persuade the Taliban that until it shares power, its credibility would be jeopardised?
Way Forward: –
- Austin S. Miller, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, indicated in a recent press conference, “Civil war is certainly a path that can be visualised if it continues on this trajectory.”Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, warned on June 30, “The truth is, today the survival, security and unity of Afghanistan is in danger….”
- Ironically, the most vocal critics of the U.S. overstaying in Afghanistan and hinting that the U.S. would never leave are the ones now blaming the U.S. for a hasty and irresponsible withdrawal.
- In coming months, as uncertainties mount, there will be increasing Taliban presence in the countryside as the Kabul government concentrates on ensuring security in urban areas and of the road networks.
- The Taliban military strategy has been to target districts that enable them to surround provincial capitals.
- The clutch in the northeast including Badakhshan, Takhar, Kunduz and Baghlan enable them to control the Afghanistan–Tajikistan border and the Wakhan corridor that links to China.
- In the east, they exert control in Ghazni, Zabul and Paktia while the Haqqani network is active in Khost and Paktika, and the IS-K in Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman. Further south, the Taliban control large parts of Kandahar, Helmand and Farah.
History tells us that in Afghanistan, there have only been winners and losers, seldom any lasting compromises.Illustrate the statement.