August 15, 2021 was the day when according to Prime Minister Imran Khan, Afghans broke the ‘shackles of slavery’. It was a day when – in one of the retired Lt. Generals words – Kabul liberated itself and demonstrated the traditions which were adopted at the liberation of Mecca by the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
However, the fact is that no ‘shackles’ were broken. It was the day when a country was taken over by force by a group that imposed itself as the legitimate ruler of the country. Once again, no one asked the people of the country what their will was.
The perception about the ‘defeat’ of the US in Afghanistan which is being widely perpetuated by various quarters in Pakistan is misplaced, because what happened in Afghanistan cannot be considered ‘defeat’ of the US. The world history has several examples of military defeats in which thousands of soldiers surrendered, big armies ran away and the wounded were left in the hands of enemies.
In the case of the US military action in Afghanistan, the Obama administration had announced the pullout by 2014. Although that goal could not be achieved due to some unavoidable circumstances, the Trump administration picked the threads and began to hold a dialogue with the Taliban. The Taliban agreed not to open fire on Americans. The Biden administration then decided to implement and execute what Obama and Trump started after some understanding.
To understand how the imperial powers work, one example from history can prove to be useful.
During the Great Game of the 19th century, a competition of power over Central Asia between Russia and Britain began. Britain successfully intervened in the succession dispute between Dost Mohammed Barakzai and former amir Shah Shuja Durrani. They captured Kabul and installed Shah Shuja as their puppet in 1839. In 1842, an uprising started and the British Army was asked to leave the country. When thousands of British soldiers and camp followers were marching towards the east to their base in Jalalabad with their families, the army was attacked by the Ghilzai warriors and wiped out.
The same year, the British sent the ‘Army of Retribution’ to avenge the massacre. After they got their prisoners, who were captured during the retreat, released, the British destroyed parts of Kabul. After winning the war, the British launched Dost Mohammed Barakzai – whom they deposed in 1839 – after cutting some deals with him before retreating to India.
By this action, the British had made it clear that they are in the drivers’ seat and they can come any time at their will. Barakzai kept his promises, and in 1857 when the mutiny was going on in India against the British de facto rule, the Indian leaders requested help from Barakzai, but Barakzai refused and suggested to submit to the British.
If history is any witness, PM Khan, retired General, and all the media men and women in Pakistan who are glorifying the ‘liberation’ of Kabul by the Taliban should know that the big powers do not usually lose. They only change their strategies. If they mess up their initial plans, they move to plan B or C.
The US is not forced out from Afghanistan. But they left after the Taliban’s certain assurances, all their “charm offensive” is their reminder that they will stay on course so you should do your part of the deal to help Afghanistan financially.
The so-called ‘debacle’ after the pullout from the ‘forever war’ was imminent. However, the Biden administration is refusing to accept their miscalculation and unnecessary rush. President will gain his popularity back if he deals with the problem in a way that the American people would be largely satisfied. However, it’s somewhat hilarious what the Pakistani PM said about breaking the shackles of slavery, which even the Taliban so far did not boast about.
Lots of discussion in the media is about how it all happened. Let’s look into what will happen during the coming days, months, and years.
The first question is what kind of government will be formed in Afghanistan.
Dr. Kamran Bukhari, Director of Analytical Development at Newlines Institute, and political and security analyst, in his article written on September 23, 2020, very brilliantly gave the overall possible picture of the Taliban-run government. For the executive branch, Kamran wrote, “The Taliban may allow the presidency to remain in the hands of their opponents to manage day-to-day governance – as long as it has ‘religious’ oversight via an ’emir’ (analogous to Iran’s supreme leader)”.
Kamran sees the legislative branch is also somewhat similar to the Iranian system. He writes, “the Taliban could seek a clerical body to approve or reject laws – something akin to Iran’s Guardian Council.” Here is what Kamran predicted about the judicial system and the future security arrangements.
“The Taliban are most vulnerable here. They have no political party, much less experience competing in elections. It is therefore reasonable to assume that they will face a sizeable opposition in the parliament. Thus, the Taliban could seek a clerical body to approve or reject laws – something akin to Iran’s Guardian Council.”
Another question is if or when the West would accept and recognise the Taliban government.
The simple answer to this question is that it depends a lot on the developments on the ground. The Taliban, during their ‘charm offensive’, keep on emphasising the ‘inclusive government’. The question is, what is their definition of inclusive government? Are they referring to the same government where they will strongly be dominating the executive, judiciary, and military while the other partners will only be there to run a day-to-day business? Are they willing to have a full partnership with other political parties and have a system that will be brought to power through the elections? Of course, there is no room for democracy in the Taliban system of government. It is not that the West that does not tolerate at all the ultimate dictatorship and human rights abuses.
Americans paid billions of dollars to several dictators in Pakistan, just because they had interests. All the monarchs in the Middle East are supported by the West without any question to their abuses of women and other human rights. However, in the case of the Taliban so far there is not any interest as long as the Taliban assure the complete cap on Al Qaiea and other terrorist groups.
If in the future, the ISIS begins to assert itself against the Taliban government in Kabul, the West will once again come the Afghan government’s rescue. However, the Taliban must have something in their system of governance that is acceptable to the West. If Russia and China are able to help Afghanistan’s Taliban-dominated regime financially to run its economy, the Taliban would not need assistance from the West. In the event that China and Russia extend no support to the Taliban, it would be difficult for them to sustain the system.
The role of civil society in Afghanistan will also be important in the days to come. The reason why religious extremist groups in Pakistan cannot get a large number of seats in the parliamentary elections, is Pakistan’s vibrant civil society which keeps pushing for freedom and democracy. If the US presence did not do anything good for Afghanistan, at least, its presence protected the growth of civil society in Afghanistan. The people now know the benefits and dividends of freedom and democracy in the country.
If Taliban impose draconian restrictions on women and youth, the Afghan civil society will resist such attempts. To crush this defiance, the Taliban will have to use brute force, which will not be good for their image — which they are trying hard to improve. In any case, things may become clearer in the coming days and the Taliban may realise that taking over a country by force is easier than running it effectively.