Afghanistan’s cities are falling like a pack of cards before the Taliban. This rampant capture of cities and districts takes our memories back to the late ’90s when the country was ‘Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’, recognised by only a few countries. The Taliban’s ultra-orthodox way of governance based on strict interpretation of Shariah according to Hanafi Deobandi jurisprudence and Pashtunwali cultural code had raised many questions, doubts, and condemnations all across the world.
No one can exactly figure out the future of this war-torn country, but largely the future seems bleak. As the intensity of clashes between Taliban and ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) has increased, Afghans fear they have no hope but to flee the country. Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and many other neighbours of Afghanistan have started to chalk out a strategy on war-footing for dealing with the eminent refugee crisis that is about to come. Unfortunately, most of these countries are about to close their doors to Afghans. Already, about half a million people have been displaced. Many more Afghans are fleeing the country. As per one estimate, around 2 million Afghans will flee westward in search of protection in the coming days.
What adds to the uncertainty is the fluid situation on the ground, as Taliban fighters move swiftly and Afghan forces reorganise with the help of many militias and old warlords. The government forces may recapture some of the lost territories while fierce fighting continues in several others.
The Taliban have captured a number of major border crossings like Boldak with Pakistan and Islam Qilla with Iran. As a result, supply chains across the country have been disrupted severely and Taliban are in the process of controlling the trade.
According to a United Nations report, more than three-thousand civilians have been killed or maimed in just the last two months. Now the only direct military support from America to Afghan forces is air support from US bases in Qatar and UAE. The deadly B-52 bombers and AC-130 Spectre gunships are in action in Kandhar and other cities and this type of offensive will have a devastating impact on civilians, especially in populated areas.
The scenario seems apt for a new civil war as Taliban, Afghan forces, old warlords with militias are in full action across the country. The situation seems reminiscent of 1990s following the downfall of the Najibullah government. The old warlord fiefdoms seem to be strengthening again. The discord and fracture along ethnic and regional lines is more evident.
It is obvious that no one group is going to rule entire Afghanistan and civil war may engulf the whole country, which can lead to fragmentation along ethnic lines, thus turning the country into a dangerous hotspot of conflict for the entire region. It won’t be easy for neighbouring countries to safeguard their interests and the spillover of the conflict would engulf the whole region and pose the biggest challenge to peace and stability in coming years.