The US started shifting its strategic interests from South Asia, and for that matter the Middle East, to Indo-Pacific under the newly made policy called Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA), which was legislated by the Trump Administration in 2018.
Owing largely to ARIA, Afghanistan and Iraq, arguably, rank low in American calculus. Little wonder, Washington marked kind of urgency to pull its troops back under Trump after the US signed the peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020.
After bargaining for more than a year, the Taliban received the following commitments from the US: reduction in American troops from 14,000 to 8,600 in 135 days, and it should be zero presence by April 2021; the United Nations (UN) to remove sanctions imposed on the Taliban by May 29, 2020, and the US would remove its set of sanctions by August 27, 2020; release of 5000 Taliban prisoners in return for 1000 Afghan government prisoners by March 10, 2020; the US to guarantee to not violate Afghanistan’s sovereignty, both internal and external.
On its part, the United States received two commitments from the Taliban: one, the Taliban would not threaten the US and its allies militarily and guarantee that Afghan soil is not used by any non-state actor against the US and its allies; two, the Taliban start intra-Afghan negotiations with the concerned stakeholder in order to find a suitable roadmap for their country.
In the post-agreement period, the Taliban carried interment attacks on the Afghan government to capture more territory for military purposes and, on the other, to politically and socially undermine Ghani-Abdullah duo in popular parlance.
Externally, the US under Trump focused more on China than Afghanistan after doing the deal with the Taliban. Internally, Trump had to face another electoral campaign vis-à-vis a democrat veteran, namely, Joe Biden, who won the presidential election, thus, putting Afghanistan again on the American foreign policy agenda in terms of pulling back the remaining troops home.
Arguably, Biden’s policy of withdrawal from Afghanistan ought to be seen with reference to ARIA where the US is occupied to contain China’s rise as a new global hegemon.
President Ghani blamed Pakistan for backing the Taliban logistically and morally. Pakistan refuted such allegations and, instead, referred to the Doha agreement for the ill-fate of the Ghani-Abdullah dispensation which was literally overtaken by the Taliban on August 15, 2021.
Whereas the US was busy with elections, the Taliban took due advantage of it in terms of increasing militancy across Afghanistan. The Ghani-Abdullah government, in the summer of 2021, seemed to have been confined to the capital, Kabul. Contextually, the former might have doubted the US-Taliban deal, which further emboldened the Taliban as a stakeholder in the Afghan polity and politics.
Moreover, President Ghani blamed Pakistan for backing the Taliban logistically and morally. Pakistan refuted such allegations and, instead, referred to the Doha agreement for the ill-fate of the Ghani-Abdullah dispensation which was literally overtaken by the Taliban on August 15, 2021. The deposed president, Ghani, had to secretly flee the country to save his skin. The Taliban led by their supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, have operationally staged their comeback, termed Taliban 2.0 ─ and will be analyzed in the next article ─ to Afghan politics, polity and economy after a lapse of some 20 years.
The US, which remained in this war-ravaged country for two decades one way or the other, opted to conduct a large-scale rescue operation to evacuate its nationals. Noticeably, the Taliban, while manifesting military restraint, logistically enabled the US to complete its withdrawal. But other militant organizations, such as Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), targeted civilian and security forces during and after the American pullout.
Having assumed administrative control of Kabul on August 15, 2021, the Taliban claimed victory over rest of the country in political terms. Though Ahmad Massoud, the leader of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan ─ and son of former anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban Afghan military commander, Ahmad Shah Massoud ─ put up resistance against the Taliban forces in Panjshir valley, the latter thwarted it with the threat of force to the effect that Ahmad left for Iran where he held talks with the Taliban over power-sharing in January 2022. Another warlord commander from Herat, Ismail Khan, also resisted initially but later preferred talks to use of force for political purposes.
In remaining parts of the country, the Taliban had already established administrative and military control for the past couple of years. The way the US-led western forces withdrew under the framework of the 2020 deal further exposed the political and security weaknesses of the Ghani-Abdullah government, which, with the arrival of the Taliban on August 15, fell like a house on cards.
Ghani fled not only the presidential palace but also the country in a dubious manner. Other members of the government dispersed hurriedly, literally placing the country at the hands of the Taliban who, while taking full advantage of power vacuum, filled it with its manpower and ideology.