What went wrong for the US in Afghanistan that it had to kneel before the Taliban militia, earlier thought to be a ragtag army in the West, wielding traditional weapons that could not have posed serious threat to the world’s most sophisticated army, let alone seizing all provincial capitals and ultimately Kabul quite swiftly, that too without any formidable resistance from a strong 0.35-million highly trained and well equipped Afghan national army in possession of mammoth US war arsenal, including choppers, drones and bomber aircrafts worth 85 billion dollars?
This question has bewildered the entire West, together with the questions as to why the US failed to destroy her weaponry, armed choppers and armoured vehicles and various airports when she had enough time from the day of fall of Kabul (15th of August) till her exit from Afghanistan (31st August)? Western media has failed to arrive at any credible conclusions and this has infuriated the US public at large, building domestic pressure on the Biden administration.
The US did freeze a huge Afghan reserve of 9 billion dollars and forced the IMF and World Bank to follow suit. Albeit important European nations like Germany, the UK and France have not ruled out the possibility of recognising the Taliban government in future, the US spy chief William Burns’ recent visit to Islamabad is thought to be a signal to recognising a new Afghan government on getting certain assurances from Islamabad and Kabul to create space for US interests.
This would suddenly change the meaning of terrorism in the political dictionary of America. The West as usual has best used its political pre-emptive strike on women’s rights, human rights and freedom to pressure the newly formed Taliban government into allowing its survival in post US-NATO Afghanistan. Tehran’s sectarian tirade launched against the new government in Kabul has spoiled the scenario. Although officially Tehran seems to be in harmony with Kabul, her non-state actors, like ex-president Ahmedinijad’s anti-Taliban rants, did not find buyers in the region. This inevitably enraged Taliban and they called upon Chinese intervention. Beijing through a backdoor channel is understood to have grilled Iran on its adopting an anti-Taliban stance and putting her weight behind the anti-Taliban forces in Panjshir. Since Iran’s economic rebuild depends on Chinese investment of 420 billion dollars package, Tehran cannot afford to ignore Beijing’s warning.
Russia and Central Asian states have their own stakes and concerns, although they have been continually trying to harmonise relations with the new Kabul regime. The Argus-eyed observers around the globe do not find the US coming out a winner in the Taliban regime, for they have already invited China to invest in and rebuild Afghanistan. The Taliban regime in Kabul has expressed willingness to join the Belt and Road initiative of China to reach Central Asian and Caucasus markets. This is exactly what the US would not be ready to accept. The news that China is all set to take charge of the Bagram air base that was built by the US, worth 10 billion dollars, would mark the end of US presence in that region and she would be left with no option other than to lick her wounds.
Earlier, political analysis of events behind the curtain suggested a possible secret deal between US and Taliban when they had been awfully busy in peace talks over the past two years in Doha and Moscow for a possible significant future role of Washington to keep China and Russia off the bay in Afghanistan, but that couldn’t come true. Understandably, Russia, China and even Pakistan have made efforts to see US withdrawal from this region and which made them throw their weight on the side of Taliban keeping in view their future stakes in that country.
In point of fact, the US-led NATO invasion of Afghanistan twenty years back was not aimed at hunting down Al-Qaida only but also containment of China. American presence in Afghanistan deterred Chinese economic expansion to Caucasus and Eastern Europe through Central Asia via Afghanistan. US presence in Afghanistan had given a tough time to many Chinese and Russian ambitions. The Chinese colossal economic progress has been the chief concern of the US that has spiralled into a great game particularly in this region. Moscow’s volition to connect herself to warm waters in Pakistan, opening up new avenues of world trade, might have been yet another vexation for Washington. Remember that Afghanistan is of late supposed to be the Saudi Arabia of Lithium and her rugged mountainous terrain is a hidden treasure of gold, silver, copper, cobalt and zinc. Experts believe that the future global energy source is Lithium that is gradually replacing polluting fuel. Future electrical cars, vehicles, electronic devices, and computer systems would not be functional without Lithium batteries. Chinese excavation and mining of large Lithium reserves in Afghanistan would not bother Washington much because ultimately this mineral would reach Western markets.
What the US would not like to see is Chinese expansion of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative taking wings in Afghanistan to further Chinese economic links into Eastern Europe. It remains highly likely that If Taliban joins Beijing and Moscow’s ambitious projects somewhere in the future, the region might experience a new tug of war between Washington, Beijing and Moscow, in which Islamabad might not find it easy to remain neutral. This is why observers say that the end of the battle of guns in Afghanistan perhaps would spiral into a beginning of battle of diplomacy. With China and Russia on one side, the US on the other side may diplomatically support and lure Taliban to gain ground to play its game of interests. Thus, governing a new Afghanistan would not be a cakewalk for Taliban. Today’s Afghanistan has inevitably landed at a cross-roads and its government needs to tread the path with utmost caution.
—The writer is Professor & Head, SKUAST-K. [email protected]