by Zia Sarhadi (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 50, No. 6, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1442)
Doom and gloom projections about the situation in Afghanistan create the impression as if the country is on the verge of “civil war”. This is based on the assumption of the Taliban take-over of Kabul, without explaining what civil war means. So let us provide a definition.
Civil war means fighting between identifiable groups for control of power. True, Afghanistan is a patchwork of tribes and ethnic groups but the Pashtuns, the support base of the Taliban, are the predominant group. The Pashtuns reside in the south and east of the country but it would be wrong to assume that their powerbase is confined only to this group.
Today the Taliban movement comprises both Tajiks and Hazaras. Perhaps as many as 30% of Taliban cadre are Tajiks. This explains their swift sweep across the Tajik-inhabited northern Afghanistan without much fighting. As Taliban spokesman Sohail Shaheen told Al Jazeera, capturing 150 districts in two weeks cannot be achieved through fighting.
The Taliban’s Tajik commanders appealed to their ethnic kinsmen convincing them that there was no point fighting each other to sustain a corrupt and unsustainable regime in Kabul imposed by foreign occupiers. There were no Pashtuns involved in operations in the north.
Looking at their mode of operations in recent weeks, it is evident that the Taliban have come a long way since the 1990s when they first appeared. They have matured both politically and diplomatically, not to mention their military prowess in defeating another superpower. Induction of other ethnic groups into their ranks clearly points to the fact that they recognize—and respect—the plurality of Afghan society.
Further, they have captured more than 85% of territory. They have also taken control of most highways that connect cities, although they have not stormed any, clearly indicating that they would like to avoid civilian casualties that would inevitably occur if they were to attack urban centres.
The Taliban’s approach to surrendering Afghan army soldiers gives hope that there would be no widespread bloodshed. Soldiers have been welcomed as brothers and told that once the Taliban take control, they would be given jobs to serve the country. This has helped spur more defections. Afghan army soldiers realize that their situation is hopeless. With Americans gone and their air cover no longer available, it is futile to fight against a resurgent Taliban that would soon be in control of the country’s affairs.
In their operations in 1994-1996, the Taliban had started from Qandahar in southern Afghanistan and moved north-east, thereby enabling the Northern Alliance to ensconce themselves in the Panjshir Valley, a Tajik stronghold. The Taliban were unable to dislodge them from there.
This time they have adopted a different strategy. They not only focused on the north but also western regions of Afghanistan capturing a number of strategic areas including Sher Khan Bandar, the transit point to Tajikistan, and Islam Qila on the border with Iran. They have also taken control of strategic border posts with Pakistan (Spin Boldak) and Uzbekistan. India, which had maintained six ‘consulates’ in Afghanistan without the population base to justify them, was forced to shut down five of them and evacuate its personnel. These were intelligence posts and used for instigating and financing terrorist operations against Pakistan. So, India has also suffered a blow although the Indians have opened back-channel communications with the Taliban, much to the chagrin of the US-installed puppets in Kabul, to minimize their losses.
The Taliban have shown remarkable diplomatic skills. Their delegations have visited Russia and Iran and held discussions with the Chinese. In all capitals, they have given assurances that they would not allow terrorist activities from their territory into neighbouring countries. They have also emphasized that they do not wish to see fighting continue and that shedding more Afghan blood is not part of their plan.
While defeated and driven out virtually from all of Afghanistan, the Americans have not given up on mischief. They have resurrected former warlords, financing them to fight against the Taliban. Such names as Ismail Khan in Herat and Abdul Rashid Dostum, a notorious mass murderer, from Mazar-e Sharif, have been resurrected. Will these aged warlords be able to stem the tide of Taliban’s victory? It is questionable whether most Tajik and Uzbek fighters would be able to withstand the Taliban’s campaign. One hopes these groups would see the futility of more fighting.
Those that talk of civil war—primarily the Americans—are the ones that are instigating it. It is only through mayhem that they want to divert attention from their humiliating defeat and the crimes they perpetrated over two decades. They are also talking about ‘over the horizon air campaign’. What this means is that they want to carry out military strikes from bases in Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates now that Pakistan has refused them bases on its soil.
The Taliban have also said they would present written proposals for a political settlement in the on-again, off-again talks in Doha, Qatar. Most observers believe that they want Ashraf Ghani to step aside and let an interim administration take over until there is a formal settlement. Given Ghani’s mindset, he is unlikely to see reason but his days in power are numbered. He has already sent his family and assets to Dubai.
Sources in Kabul say that he is quite isolated. He does not listen to advice. Why would Afghan soldiers fight to keep him in power? He does not get along even with his power-sharing partner, Abdullah Abdullah.
If Ghani really cares for the well-being of the Afghans, he should step aside and leave the country while he has an opportunity. If he refuses, what can be envisioned is the Taliban encircling Kabul and other major cities and starve them until they surrender.