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OP-ED: Will the Taliban change their fanatical outlook?

  • Published at 03:36 am August 18th, 2021
Anti-Taliban Afghan fighters watch the US bombings in 2001

If they want a globally recognized government in Kabul, Taliban leaders will need to make some changes

Historically, Afghanistan is a country known as the “graveyard of empires.” Records of the past say they were temporarily invaded, and warriors were captured, but unfortunately, all occupiers eventually had to flee the country. 

Everybody went to the country to teach them culture and civilize them, but Afghans remain unchanged and unable to accept liberal ideas. The British invaded Afghanistan in 1842 and occupied it, the Soviet Union entered Afghanistan in 1978 under the disguise of a friendship treaty, and the US attacked Afganistan in 2001 in the name of a “war on terror,” -- everyone had to face the same fate.

Those who are watching the news may think the Taliban suddenly took over Kabul on the afternoon of August 15, 2021. But that is not the case. The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan has been going on for years. The US also knew that their military operation and the nation-building process were failing in Afghanistan without the Taliban. The Washington Post reported in December, 2019, citing several internal US administration documents, that the administrations of three presidents, George W Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump, had been hiding this truth for two decades.

After a 20-year stay, the Americans left Bagram Air Base, 40-kilometres from Kabul, on July 2, 2021. On that day, Kabul’s fall started. Earlier, after a long negotiation with the Trump administration, the decision was made to pull out foreign troops by May this year, under an agreement signed between the Taliban and the US on February 29, 2020, which could be declared as a document of the defeat of Americans in the country. But after incumbent President Joe Biden came to power, he said the withdrawal would end within the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the day al-Qaeda attacked the US. 

According to the Taliban-US agreement, they have promised not to attack each other. The agreement stipulates that the Taliban will not harbour al-Qaeda or any other militant group in areas under their control, and that Afghan peace talks will continue. The Taliban has reportedly stopped attacking foreign troops, but has not stopped attacking Afghan government forces, government installations, and offices, as well as various people.

The Taliban have occupied one province after another almost peacefully since the withdrawal of US troops. After Herat, Ghazni, Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif, I was not surprised by the Taliban occupation of Kabul on August 15. I am also not surprised by people’s attempts to escape through the airport. 

During the American-Afghan war, I was captured by the Taliban in Kandahar on suspicion that I am an American spy. Again, I was detained in Kabul by their rival, the Northern Alliance, they thought I was a Pakistani -- it was during Hamid Karzai’s regime. The two groups consider each other not as opposition forces, but as formidable enemies -- I have seen it with my own eyes. There must be some remnants of the events that have been going on for 20 years.

The defeated power is more or less oppressed in all countries. But so far, despite the public’s anxiety and panic, the peaceful environment that the Taliban have been able to maintain in Kabul suggests that as a political force, they could play a role in bringing stability to Afghanistan in the future, although it will take some time to give a certain opinion.

What will happen to Afghan women?

Questions have been raised about women’s education and their attitudes towards women. Like in 1996-2001, if the Taliban deprive women of education, keep them confined to their homes, force men to grow beards, and ban sports, movies, and cultural activities, the Taliban will not be able to win the hearts of Afghans. The world community will also condemn them.

Since it is impossible to establish peace in Kabul without the Taliban, the Trump administration has held formal meetings with the Taliban in Qatar since 2016, where the Taliban opened an office in 2013. But there was little progress. 

In the last 20 years, at least 2,450 US troops have been killed and 21,000 wounded. And about 65,000 officials, including members of the Afghan government’s security forces, have been killed by the Taliban. At least 111,000 Afghan civilians have been killed. And the US has spent $2 trillion. For that, the fall of Kabul is now seen by many as similar to the US defeat in Vietnam.

The Taliban have not killed as many people in Afghanistan as the US have. In the Soviet-Afghan war, 56,000 people were killed, and 17,000 were wounded. If the US had invaded Afghanistan in retaliation for 9/11, they should have left 10 years ago after the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden. 

But now, the US is leaving Afghanistan when there is no democracy in Kabul, no peace for the people of Afghanistan. The US-led Nato offensive has not entirely wiped out the Taliban, but has made them more vital than ever. Biden’s 300,000 trained Afghan forces have disappeared for fear of 85,000 Taliban.

However, my observation says Taliban leadership may learn from their past, and try to change their fanatical outlook. For them, it would be hard to ignore international pressure if they want to stay in power for a long time, and want a globally recognized government in Kabul. Many of the prudent Taliban leaders, especially those who took part in the peace talks in Doha, were sensible, and they might not want to be isolated from the world.

It will also be challenging to separate al-Qaeda from the Taliban because they have many common cultural and political ties, the leaders of both parties cannot abandon each other, even if they want. They will contact the Pakistani Taliban across the border, as the Pakistani government has little control over them. 

Moreover, it is difficult to say whether a Taliban government will be able to suppress al-Qaeda in a vast, mountainous country like Afghanistan for geographical reasons. By avoiding the government’s vigilance, al-Qaeda can easily operate from remote valleys and villages.

Anis Alamgir is a journalist and columnist, with an interest in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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