By MAJ GEN N K BHATIA
The Taliban have finally reached Kabul. Overtly, they appear in complete control of the city and country although pockets of resistance remain in some parts with the banner of revolt being raised in the Panjshir Valley, just 70 kms north of Kabul. The contours of a new dispensation, as yet, are unclear. Although its armed Taliban fighters appear to be manning the check posts in Kabul, pockets of resistance against the new regime and its policies continue to fester, although not overtly.
Beyond that the country has been thrown into a turmoil with no clear roadmap. Chaos is omnipresent and all players, political and military, have got down to counting their chips, for bargaining power and stakes, for their future survival and relevance in days ahead.
Taking a cue from Afghanistan’s past, Taliban had taken control of Afghanistan in almost similar dramatic conditions in 1996 seizing Kabul with much jubilation. It thereafter started implementing a severe interpretation of Islamic laws that unfolded the horrors of a primitive mind set and implementation of instant justice without any checks and balances. Banning of all women from all spheres of Afghan polity, public floggings and executions and cutting off of hands for petty crimes revealed horrors of their governance.
Then having been left out of a role in governance of Afghanistan, non Pustuns rallied under a United Front led by Ahmad Shah Masud, with most of the groups under the United Front maintaining an independent identity.
Various factions and the key leaders who formed the United Front came from diverse grouping composed of religiously persecuted Afghan minorities from Shia sects and ethnic minorities belonging to Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara communities. Some of the prominent leaders under the Front were BurhanuddinRabbani, Muhammad Mohaqiq, Karim Khalili, Abdul Rashid Dostum, Haji Abdul Qadeer, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, Atta Muhammad Nur, Mohammed Daud, Mohammed Fahim, Muhammad Mohaqiq, Ismail Khan and many more.
A good number of leaders to join the Front also came from Pustun outfits whose leaders were not in sync with Taliban ideology, ex-President Karzai, whose father was murdered by Taliban and Abdullah Abdullah being prominent amongst them.
Although coming from diverse groupings and ideologies the common factor between all the anti-Taliban groups was to oppose the Taliban and its brand of government being thrust down the throat of Afghans through fear and intimidation.They also considered Taliban as an alien outfit since it was funded by and promoting the interests of Pakistan and was alien to Afghan social order as others whom they had overthrown in a joint effort/
Having defeated the Taliban in 2001 with active help and support from the USA, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and India, most of the leaders of the Northern Alliance meshed themselves into various roles of governance and Afghan nation building. A good number of leaders of erstwhile Alliance such as Abdul Rashid Dostum, flexed their muscles to extract their pound of flesh by bagging lucrative posts in Afghan government for their own benefit and filling their coffers by lucrative contracts. Similarly a few others occupied governor’s positions in their respective provinces. They clashed with one another for dominance and control.
It became difficult for both ex-Presidents, Karzai and Ashraf Ghani to control activities of war lords due to intra group clashes, kidnappings, murders and other nuisance forcing them both to dissociate themselves from such factional leaders.A good number of cadres of erstwhile militias were disarmed and amalgamated into Afghan National Army. As a result most militias were forced to disband and influence of war lords dissipated over the years. Notwithstanding, a few like Dostum, Atta Nur and Ismail Khan did maintain their militia cadres.
In a move that surprised everyone, Taliban moved swiftly into most areas of Northern and Western Afghanistan including Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif where erstwhile warlords were the first targets of Taliban. They were either captured (like Ismail Khan) and put under house arrest or managed to escape to neighbouring countries (Abdul Rashid Dostum). Others were quick to shift their loyalties and align with Taliban for their survival.
With Afghanistan thrown back to a situation similar to 1996, resistance to the Taliban regime by a section opposed to their ideology is natural and expected. In the short term it is bound to be muted due to the fear and reprisal of Taliban but eventually it is bound to escalate against harsh medieval religious practices that would be the hallmark of the new regime.
The first salvo of protest against the new regime has been fired by none other than Amrullah Saleh who was the first Vice President in the ousted Ashraf Ghani government. For those unfamiliar with his background, Amrullah Saleh, then in his early twenties, cut his teeth under tutelage of Ahmed Shah Masud as a young resistance leader in the United Front that challenged Taliban. He is not only anti Taliban but has never shied away from calling out Pakistan and ISI as the root cause of troubles in Afghanistan. As erstwhile head of National Department of Security (NDS) he challenged Taliban in their stronghold and took them head on successfully in multiple operations. He is familiar with their modus operandi and strategy and most qualified to lead the battle with Taliban.
His escape to Panjshir Valley, a symbol of resistance to Taliban during 1990s, to announce setting up of a Resistance Front against Taliban in close association with Ahmed Masud, the son of legendary Ahmed Shah Masud and former defence minister Bismillah Mohammadi is just the first step in opening a front against Taliban.
As things stand today, the Resistance Front may appear shaky and devoid of much military strength. But it is a matter of days before all the erstwhile soldiers of Afghan National Army who escaped and melted away in the hinterland fearing Taliban reprisal, and all others persecuted by Taliban fall back under leadership of Resistance Front to fight Taliban. As on date the Resistance Front may lack a major protagonist like the USA, that had supported the United Front during the first Taliban regime with military and economic assistance, but it would be a matter of time when new contours of alignment of interests begin to emerge for the Resistance Front to shape as a formidable force.
Similarly the erstwhile warlords may appear to have switched their alliance to Taliban, but in the long run their survival would depend on rearming themselves and breaking free of Taliban. Switching loyalties in Afghanistan is not uncommon and depends on the premium placed for winning over such loyalties.
And most importantly, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and Aimeks form a little less than half the population of Afghanistan. Tajiks and Uzbeks dominate Kabul and areas to its North, including Panjshir valley.Tajiks are an educated lot and economically dominant. It is from this community that the Resistance Force would seek to draw its strength for immediate survival. Being opposed to the Taliban that would be natural.
The days ahead do not bode well for Afghanistan with the situation simmering. With a Resistance movement underway in the Panjshir Valley it is a matter of time when it spreads to other regions of the country.
(The author is an Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)