The fall of the city of Kabul on August 15, 2021, to the Taliban and the resulting collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is unlikely to be the end state of Afghanistan. The peace plan that was supposed to end the war through an inclusive participatory political settlement was hijacked by the Taliban, just as the UN initiative was in 1992 by the then Masood-led mujahidin group. Former President Ghani’s failure to lead the political and military process and his unexpected escape from Kabul is considered one of the factors leading to the failure of the peace plan. The other responsible party was Khalilzad, who worked with certain prominent Kabul-based politicians and diplomats who were all concerned about President Ghani’s anger and ego.
The US-Taliban deal that excluded the Ghani-led Kabul government is considered by some circles as the key factor. The release of Taliban prisoners as a part of the US-Taliban Agreement certainly strengthened the Taliban’s military ranks. Meanwhile, both the US and Afghan stakeholders who were dealing with the peace process failed to read the Taliban’s real intentions, which were ultimately a full military takeover and an implementation of their interpretation of the Islamic Sharia through the establishment of an exclusive Taliban regime. Ultimately, it was Ghani’s inability to call for a successful national mobilization to protect the Republic that led to the rapid collapse of the Republic upon the US withdrawal. Since 2014, Ghani has broken multiple political deals with various political factions, leading to a perception that he is an unreliable partner and will offload partners once he achieves his objective. Thus, when he called for a national mobilization in August 2021, the political elites of Afghanistan did not respond.
It is difficult to digest the reality that twenty years of military presence of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan ended in an undeserving failure, leading to the end of the value-based state that was built with the blood and treasure of Afghans and their international partners. It could have ended differently had there been better management in Kabul and Washington over the past decade. The present situation is best described in the following sentence: The enemies of the people of Afghanistan are in power, and the enemies of other countries are sheltered among them. The Impact is likely to be coming in the front end in due course of time.
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and Daesh form the second layer of a likely re-escalation of violence in Afghanistan. This battle had already begun before NATO’s departure from Afghanistan. Daesh is growing in strength as the Taliban’s more radical factions refuse the concept of throwing up the battle. They want to fight on; hence they are defecting in big numbers to Daesh. Furthermore, many former ANDSF members are joining Daesh in order to spare their lives and exact revenge on the Taliban.
Foreign militants implanted in the Taliban who now wish to export Jihad to other nations are dissatisfied with the Taliban’s refusal to facilitate terrorist strikes in other countries. Many of these foreign fighters continue to desert to Daesh, giving the organization even more influence. Poverty is another chance for Daesh. If Daesh can feed and pay the starving youth, then thousands of them will join Daesh.
Taliban vs Ex-Mujahidin
If the Taliban’s internal divisions are deepened to the extent of internal armed confrontations, and if Daesh strengthens further and takes more geography from the Taliban, it will pave the ground for the Ex-Afghan mujahidin, including the NRF, to reestablish a credible anti-Taliban military force in Afghanistan and to reclaim geography. The Taliban’s Government is not inclusive of the diverse ethnicities, religious sects, and cultures of Afghanistan. The minorities of Afghanistan are feeling sidelined and discriminated against, leading to an increase in support for the NRF. The NRF has recently opened a large operational office in Mashhad, Iran, and they are evacuating former ANDSF fighters to Mashhad to facilitate their entry into the ranks of the NRF. Parts of them are also regrouping in Tajikistan while waiting to increase their presence inside Afghanistan in the coming spring.
The NRF continues to face major challenges, such as the lack of geography under its control and the inability of its young leader Ahmad Massoud to unite the older warlords of Jamiat e Islami under his leadership. Many of the warlords associated with the former Northern Alliance and the Jamiat-e-Islami Party served with the late Ahmad Shah Massoud (Father of Ahmad Massoud) and became senior political figures in the last 20 years. They are not willing to unite under the leadership of the young (32 years old) and inexperienced Ahmad Massoud. That is why the NRF was forced to appoint a relatively junior commander named Qadam Shah Shahim as their Military Chief. To add to its woes, another problem facing the NRF is its dependence on Tajikistan, Russia, and Iran, which creates mistrust about the group in the rest of the world.
In addition to the NRF, two other groups, called the Afghanistan Freedom Front (AFF) and the resistance group led by General Suleimankhel, are conducting armed attacks against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan across the country. The AFF is led by former Chief of Army Staff General Yasin Zia, and it consists of former ANDSF troops that evacuated to the mountains. This group is operating mostly in the Parwan and Andarab regions north of Kabul. Meanwhile, the resistance group led by General Suleimankhel is the only major Pashtun-led anti-Taliban armed group, which also consists mostly of former ANDSF troops.
The Direction of Regional Dynamics
In the context of Afghanistan, Pakistan is at the epicentre of regional dynamics. Since 1973, Pakistan has held the key to both war and peace in Afghanistan, harbouring, training, and supporting numerous Islamic dissident organizations against Kabul. Afghanistan has also attempted to retaliate by supporting Pashtun and Baluch nationalists within Pakistan. However, Afghanistan’s efforts to promote nationalists within Pakistan have met with scant success. However, for the first time in history, Afghanistan’s Taliban administration has obtained the power to finance religious dissidents in Pakistan led by the TTP. In other words, for the first time in recent history, Afghanistan has the ability to intervene in Pakistani politics through a religious setting.
Pakistan is the only country that openly and widely celebrated the Taliban on their win. The country’s military and religious organizations are thrilled to see the United States, particularly India, leave Afghanistan. The US intervention was critical for India since it gave them a significant chance to develop a broad and deep presence within Afghanistan, much to Pakistan’s chagrin. After August 15, 2021, India was no longer present in Afghanistan in the same way that it had been for the previous 20 years.
India must be extremely apprehensive in light of the 1999 airline hijacking incident. If the Taliban follows the policies of the 1990s, a new proxy war will be launched. According to reports, a faction inside the Taliban is already assisting the transit of weaponry left over from the US to Kashmiri rebels. Significant numbers of US-made weaponry have been discovered in Pakistani smuggling marketplaces. India, as a significant strategic player, may not be indifferent to this development. Their strategists might be attempting to face Pakistan abroad, including on Pakistani soil. India might try to bolster anti-Pakistani religious and separatist organizations that have suffered at the hands of Pakistan’s military establishment.
On the other hand, a sensible section of Pakistani policymakers or policy influencers may already be concerned about the Afghan Taliban flipping the script and utilizing Pakistan as Afghanistan’s (IEA’s) strategic influence area. Some Taliban officials have gone on public saying that they had unfinished business with Pakistan, referring to their arrests, torture, and the surrender of some Taliban leaders to the US. If the TTA decides to settle these scores, it has powerful powers at its disposal. The TTA’s effect over TTP is the most powerful instrument.
Some Taliban leaders are already considering that the expense of following Pakistan is far greater than the penalty of turning against it. If they turned against Pakistan, it might help TTA’s reputation with Afghans and others in the area. The latest clashes along the Durand-Line, when the Taliban damaged portions of the border walls that Pakistan has been building unilaterally since 2018, are a concerning development for Pakistan. If the Taliban receives better offers from Iran, Russia, or the West, it may not be long before they turn on Pakistan and settle some old scores.
Below the surface, there are speculations among South-Central Asian Deobandi intellectuals that the Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan is the first step toward establishing a new religious empire in the area. This mindset would exacerbate problems in neighbouring nations, particularly Pakistan, where the Deobandi School of thought dominates religious thought. Pakistani analysts are gradually coming to the conclusion that there is no distinction between the TTA and the TTP and that both organizations are intimately connected.
Although the Taliban’s connection with Pakistan’s military establishment is ambiguous, the Taliban-led ideological groupings have geo-religious elements that make Pakistan’s military establishment apprehensive. Pakistan is now monitoring the Afghan Taliban through the Pakistani religious establishment, but the long-term feasibility of this policy is questionable. The potential of the Taliban being divided along the lines of Pakistan’s friends and rivals is also high. A good example is the Afghan mujahidin, who split along this line in the 1990s.
Pakistan’s policy of diversifying the country’s strategic partnerships represents a larger changing trend. At the same time, the Government is attempting to remain a strategic partner with China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, and the European Union. The Government also wishes to maintain positive relations with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Iran. In a more fractured global system, Pakistan will find it impossible to maintain all of these key relationships. Under these conditions, Pakistan will find it difficult to unilaterally recognize the Islamic Emirate.
Economically, commerce between Afghanistan and Pakistan has plummeted since the Taliban’s control. This runs counter to Pakistan’s aspirations. It is becoming clear that Afghan businessmen prefer to trade with Central Asian republics rather than Pakistan. In 2012, commerce between Afghanistan and Pakistan reached $5 billion. In 2020, it will be $800 million. Since the Taliban’s control, it has dropped to historically low levels of less than $500 million.
The Taliban’s political office has been based in Doha, Qatar, for the last decade. During this time, many Taliban leaders moved their families outside Pakistan and into Qatar. They also moved their assets and businesses, and most of the Taliban’s cabinet is accused of taking a monthly salary from the Qatari Government. Qatar also played a key role in the US-Taliban Agreement and the failed Intra-Afghan dialogue. The influence of Qatar rapidly transitioned into the cabinet of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. This culminated in the Taliban’s decision to cancel the management and security contracts of four International Airports of Afghanistan with the UAE-based GAAC consortium and to sign the contracts with a Qatari-Turkish Consortium led by a Turkish company called Favori. However, in recent months, the Taliban-Qatar relationship has deteriorated. The Supreme Leader of the Taliban is suspicious of Qatar since most of his cabinets consistently praise Qatar to him in their meetings. The Supreme Leader is also unhappy that Qatar constantly pushes for the release of the two American hostages that are still in Afghanistan. The Supreme Leader has firmly informed Qatar that the two American hostages may be released if the US recognizes the IEA.
These developments have led the Supreme Leader of the Taliban to brand Qatar as “Little America” in his internal conversations. The Supreme leader is also unhappy to hear that many of the IEA cabinet members secretly meet with Qatari delegations in the Serena Hotel in Kabul. Thus, he has tasked his trusted official in Kabul, Rahmatullah Najib, the Deputy Director of GDI, to closely follow the movements of the IEA cabinet members and to report about their meetings with foreigners to the Supreme Leader. The deterioration of this relationship has stalled the negotiations of the handover of the four International Airports of Afghanistan to the Qatari-Turkish delegation, and both parties have reached a deadlock.
The deterioration of the relationship between Qatar and the IEA has created an opportunity for an improvement of the UAE-IEA relationship. In addition to their traditional contacts within the IEA, the UAE has now established contact with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Deputy Prime Minister of the IEA, who recently visited the UAE to express his condolences and congratulations to the UAE’s new President, His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed al Nahyan. The UAE-IEA partnership has also improved, allowing the IEA to finalize the administration and security of Afghanistan’s four international airports with the UAE-based consortium GAAC.