by Zia Sarhadi (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 2, Sha'ban, 1441)
In 1996, Zalmay Khalilzad, who back then worked as a consultant for the oil company Unocal, wrote in The Washington Post that the “Taliban does (sic) not practice the anti-US style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran—it is closer to the Saudi model.” (Taliban is plural for the word Talib, which means madrassa student). Fast forward to 2001, the US and its surrogates were in full drive to paint the Taliban movement as a pariah entity.
The Taliban were presented as the anti-thesis of humanity and progress with whom no negotiations could take place nor treaties made. Then came the Taliban’s 18-year incredibly determined resistance which killed several thousand US soldiers. Washington was forced to negotiate with them to secure the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan. Nevertheless, it will be naïve to assume that NATO regimes will simply pack up and leave, without attempting to leave behind a country mired in internal conflicts.
The corporate media has already begun formulating a narrative which will justify NATO’s interference through proxies in Afghanistan for years to come. On March 23, the US funded propaganda outlet, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (RFERL) published a report claiming that “more than 85 percent of Afghans have no sympathy for the Taliban, according to the Asia Foundation’s 2019 survey.” According to the most conservative estimates, the Taliban control 70% of Afghanistan. It is highly unlikely that the propaganda method packaged as a survey was also conducted in Taliban controlled territories.
Through basic reasoning one can also deduce that a resistance movement fighting the world’s most powerful states for 19 years would not last without popular support. The reason the Taliban were able to maintain a sustainable resistance campaign for so many years is because they have significant popular support. Thus, the constant media propaganda by NATO regimes to downplay people’s support for the Taliban in Afghanistan is blatant deception peddled as reality for broader political and military goals.
This is just one example of the primary narratives the NATO regimes are already formulating in order to continue their covert meddling in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. The second popular narrative peddled by Western academics and media outlets is concentrated on the idea that if the Taliban come to power in Afghanistan, they will begin exporting their version of Islamic governance into Central Asian states.
This is highly unlikely. One of the disagreements the Taliban had with foreign fighters in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s was their outlook on keeping their influence confined within Afghan borders. Militias managed by foreign fighters which were set-up by the CIA, had an “internationalized” agenda, while the Taliban had a localized focus.
Why should it be assumed that once in power, the Taliban would pursue external politics that would mobilize additional external actors against them? After all, they have only now managed to secure the process of withdrawal of external forces from Afghanistan.
The narrative which focuses on hyping the Taliban’s danger to Central Asian states is aimed at justifying most probable future drone strikes in Afghanistan to back the pro-NATO militias which will be left behind as a destabilization leverage. It is also aimed at getting Russia and its Central Asian proxies to remain paranoid and provoke them to overact to the Taliban’s successful establishment of a government Afghanistan.
Once the US troops leave Afghanistan, the current Washington-propped regime in Kabul will share the same destiny that the South Vietnamese puppet regime faced after the humiliating American defeat in Vietnam. The primary difference between the two is that unlike Vietnam, a governing model to be established by the Taliban in Afghanistan will question the entire Western political narrative on a deeper philosophical level.
On a broader level, if “Shia” Iran and “Sunni” Afghanistan, both ruled by Islamic movements rooted in commitment to traditional Islamic scholarship and worldview, establish a reasonable working relationship, there will be a new geopolitical dynamic in Central Asia. It can contribute positively to durable peace in the region. This turn of events will be a strategic humiliation for NATO powers and their entire ideological narrative.
Thus, the overall strategy of NATO regimes after US military withdrawal from Afghanistan will be focused on undermining an Islamic movement so that it does not establish a governing system. This strategy will be pursued on multiple levels: through economic, political, intelligence and military fronts. The US tried this approach in Iran right after the success of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 by creating multiple hurdles for the new governing system, but due to Divine guidance and Imam Khomeini’s wisdom, Washington failed. In other locales, such as Algeria and Egypt, NATO regimes were more successful in making sure that an Islamic movement does not set up a working governing system.
It appears that after 18 years of resistance, the Taliban have matured into a more sophisticated socio-political movement than it was in the 1990s and can conduct politics outside of the narrow tribal mindset. This maturity is manifested by the Taliban’s rapprochement with Islamic Iran. In practical terms it means that the movement has significantly distanced itself from the Saudi regime’s primitive tribal ideology packaged as “orthodox Islam.”
The Taliban will most likely attempt to bring in the various Afghan factions into their government through carrots rather than sticks. In fact, this was the mode of operation of the Taliban when the movement first governed Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. The Taliban were ruthless to those who opposed them, but lenient, towards militias and tribal structures which agreed to cooperate with them to end the years of warlordism in Afghanistan after Soviet withdrawal.
After the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban’s economic policies and relations with Iran, Russia, Pakistan and China will be crucial in managing the establishment of a functioning government. The US and its allies will attempt to use corrupt elites they have nurtured since 2001 to economically destabilize the country in order to create an environment for unrest and perpetual internal conflict. However, if the Taliban secure relative economic stability by building bridges with non-Western regimes, their chances to govern Afghanistan will be significantly enhanced. Other states would be interested in Taliban retaining power in Afghanistan to advance their own economic interests in the country.