Contradictions galore in Afghanistan: Defunct militias only hope

Updated: August 13, 2021 3:23 PM

The US-Taliban Agreement signed in Doha on 29 February 2020 between USA and Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan with much fanfare is the root cause of the current problems that besiege Afghanistan. The so called “Peace Agreement” has failed to deliver any semblance of peace in Afghanistan.

afghanistanThe rapid advance of Taliban through North and North West Afghanistan has sent shivers down the spine of Afghan government. (Photo source: Reuters)

By Maj Gen NK Bhatia, 

The current situation in Afghanistan today is anything but a “mess” perpetuated by those who had set about to set things right.

The US-Taliban Agreement signed in Doha on 29 February 2020 between USA and Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan with much fanfare is the root cause of the current problems that besiege Afghanistan. The so called “Peace Agreement” has failed to deliver any semblance of peace in Afghanistan. To the contrary, the agreement emboldened Taliban to intensify violence, fully aware that Afghanistan forces after withdrawal of US support were simply ‘sacrificial lambs’ waiting to be slaughtered devoid of any aerial support. As a result the Afghan National Army troops only thought it prudent to abandon their positions rather than face a certain death at hands of Taliban.

As a result almost two third of rural Afghanistan and three major citiestoday are in control of Taliban within less than one month of US and its coalition partners withdrawing their support from Afghan government forces.

The Taliban started escalating the violence beginning March 2020 after a moral victory, having forced USA to negotiate with them and leave the Afghan government at the side lines, showing irrelevance of President Ashraf Ghani and his entire newly elected government.

Taliban at first escalated attacks in major cities by attacking minorities across Afghanistan. At first the attacks were attributed to Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). It remained silent on its annual Spring Offensive that it has been unleashing every year to show its relevance and challenge the authority of legitimate government. Its attacks on government forces continued with full intensity leaving very little room for any negotiations, except at terms that were acceptable to the Taliban.

The US had been entrapped in an Agreement with an uncompromising Taliban and it neither had any leverage or control left over actions of Taliban. The Taliban on the other hand started regaining its strength. It was courted by all the countries that had been too willing to see back of USA in Afghanistan. Resultantly during the last one year Taliban has gained its legitimacy and has been on the high table of round table conferences hosted by Russia, Iran and Turkey. However most significantly Taliban’s direct negotiations with China have drawn maximum attention, with Taliban showing a readiness to accommodate Chinese concerns of an expanding Uygur uprising.

Pakistan, as usual continues to play its double game of playing smug on any commitment to rein in Taliban or help reach a consensus for peace in Afghanistan. To the contrary, its Prime Minister has openly stated that Taliban would be unwilling to join any peace as long as President Ghani stays in power, reconfirming its continued mentoring of Taliban leadership. Pakistan has never shied away from admitting Taliban as its protégés and claiming that it considers Afghanistan as its backyard. It fails to see that once anointed in power and free of shackles, Taliban would be a difficult ally to please and control.

The rapid advance of Taliban through North and North West Afghanistan has sent shivers down the spine of Afghan government. It was this region that had stood against Taliban during the last time it had gained control over Afghanistan. As is well known, Taliban draws its strength from Pushtun dominated region of South Afghanistan that neighbours Pakistan, from where it draws its cadres, weapons and political guidance.

The fast paced capture of North and North West therefore seems to be a carefully crafted Taliban strategy to dominate and control non Pushtun regions dominated by Afghanistan’s major ethnic minorities, namely Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara’s who could possibly pose a threat to Taliban’s takeover of complete country due to their aligning with a number of parallel power centres controlled by war lords that once held complete sway over the region and now stand relatively weak due to their diminished strength over passage of time.

President Ashraf Ghanis who has been vocal to his opposition to the Afghan warlords seems to have suddenly realised the importance of warlords. Struck against the menace of advancing Taliban he opened negotiations with Abdul Rashid Dostum in Kabul, till last year one of his Vice President but currently out of favour, and thereafter rushed to Mazar e Sharief on 11 Aug 2021 to open negotiations with a battery of other warlords and formulate a joint strategy of taking on Taliban in conjunction with Afghan forces and set up a Joint Command Centre at Mazar-e-Sharif after meeting Atta Mohammad Noor and Dostum.

As things stand today Afghan government seems to have very limited options with Afghan National Army troops abandoning their positions in meek surrender to Taliban. The fresh negotiations with warlords and a combined strategy with Afghan government troops would be the only way to put up resistance. However most private militias of late 1990’s having been disarmed and their leadership having merged with Afghan society to take different roles in civil society, their revival is likely to be a challenging task.

A few noteworthy erstwhile regional strongmen who continue to command loyalty and armed backing are Abdul Rashid Dostum, Atta Mohammad Noor, Ismael Khan and Bismillah Khan. Others like Abdullah Abdullah, Ahmed Zia Massoud (brother of Ahmed Shah Massoud) and a few junior commanders have successfully moved to political roles.

Reviving old militias and setting up of joint command that is envisaged is a herculean task with need to find new recruits and equip them. The requirement of money for equipment and manpower is therefore immense. The militias have their loyalty to warlords with inter group rivalry amongst cadres for control of territory and areas of influence. And finally the warlords over a period of time have aged with no young leadership in sight. All these pose a formidable challenge for the current regime.

Afghan government faces challenges to its survival and the only way to take on Taliban appears to be consolidation of forces that have capacity to withstand the onslaught of Taliban. Reequipping and rearming of erstwhile militias and empowering old warlords is a strategy but with immense challenges and huge uncertainties. However the fact that Afghanistan is heading to a civil war is certain.

(The author is Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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