By Sankar Ray
The more the deadline (11 September 2021) for the complete withdrawal of the US troops from the Afghan soil draws, the more dreadful is the spectre of Taliban haunting rural areas in eastern, southern, northern, and western Afghanistan. A stark increase in deadly suicide bombings striking urban areas goes hand in hand with the nightmarish Taliban threat. During the last seven weeks and a half, Taliban fighters have seized three districts in Uruzgan including their once strongholds in the south along with Sar-e-Puln in the north and Groh, a remote and unstable province in the central highlands plus Ghazi, a strategic province in the main highway linking Kabul with Kandahar, the second-largest city of Afghanistan.
The Taliban recapturing momentum picked up symbiotically with the process of US troops withdrawal since 1 May this year. “The seizures appear to stem from a combination of the Taliban pushing to consolidate its control in some rural areas in which it was already in a strong position and Afghan forces repositioning some of their forces to more defensible locations”, stated Jonathan Schroder, a security expert with Virginia –based nonprofit research and analysis centre, CAN, in the USA.
A recently published book, ‘The Other Face of Battle: America’s Forgotten Wars and the Experience of Combat’, authored by Wayne E. Lee, David L. Preston, Anthony E. Carlson, and David Silbey identifies the lesson that the Pentagon should learn. It was the folly of engaging American soldiers in an ‘irregular’ warfare’, confronting an enemy entirely alien to them. The Taliban rejected the Western perception of warfare and defined success and failure — victory and defeat — in entirely different ways. ‘Symmetry of any kind is lost. Here was not ennobling engagement but atrocity, unanticipated insurgencies, and strategic stalemate’, authors infer..
The US military withdrawal will mean a reduction in aid, diminishing political and diplomatic interest; and intensification of a proxy war in Afghanistan by countries in the region. To put it elaborately, a heedless military withdrawal will heighten a regional proxy war in Afghanistan and impact. Pakistan, India, Iran, China, Russia, and the Arab Gulf states. But Washington is left with no alternative. According to independent research, the US Department of Defence and the State Department spent $978 billion on the Afghan war between October 2001 and the end of 2019. Only $36 billion of this has supported governance and development in Afghanistan.
But Afghanistan’s erstwhile President Hamid Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun and known for his hostile stance towards the USA for 13 years in an interview with AP once again lashed out at Washington. The 20-year ‘forever war’ left a legacy of ‘total disgrace and disaster’. The NATO-US combine failed in their mission to defeat extremism and bring instability. US/NATO military campaign, Karzai alleged, was not against extremism or terrorism but conspicuously Afghan villages, putting Afghan people in prisons, creating prisons and bombing villages.
Karzai restated his stand that Afghanistan would have been ‘better off without their military presence’ and should have defended and looked after itself. “We don’t want to continue with this misery and indignity that we are facing. It is better for Afghanistan that they leave,” he quipped.
The Talibans are penetrating cities too. This morning Taliban fighters took control of a key district in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province and encircled the provincial capital Waging a battle near Imam Sahib district for two days ended up with the Taliban overrunning of the district headquarters and gaining control of police headquarters, admitted provincial police spokesman Inamuddin Rahmani.
The Taliban asserted a couple of days back that they would adhere to a “genuine Islamic system” in Afghanistan while assuring rights — including for all including women. The Taliban co-founder and deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar stated, “A genuine Islamic system is the best means for the solution of all issues of the Afghans.” But the assurance or rights to women is vague. Rather, moderates among people with Islamic faith fear that the Taliban’s return to power will mean re-imposing of a harsh version of the Islamic law that does not permit girls to go to schools and arbitrary repression of women by accusing them of crimes such as adultery in order to kill them by stoning in stadiums.
From the very beginning of Taliban rule, the regime turned the clock back on women’s rights in Afghanistan and instituted a policy based on a mutated version of traditional Pushtunwali conceptions of a woman’s place and role in society. In traditional Pushtun areas, women were to reconcile themselves to a restricted life. Their virtue was considered ‘integral to family and clan honor. The tides of twentieth-century secularisation and modernisation in Afghanistan provided greater opportunities for women to participate in public life, especially in northern and urban areas.
During Karzai’s rule, women could breathe freely and re-emerged with girls attending school once again. Indeed, a vibrant, young civil society was born. High-rises were built anew in the capital Kabul with roads and infrastructure. (IPA Service)