Fate of Afghanistan: Taliban juggernaut will lose steam soon

The battle will be over when it is over and there is some way to go yet before the Taliban can declare the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

A civil war in Afghanistan will almost certainly spill over into the large Pashtun-belt in Pakistan (Pashtunistan) – a veritable nightmare for Pakistan. (File photo: Reuters)

By Col Ronnie Rajkumar,

An earnest request – please let’s not go into overdrive about the fate of Afghanistan. Everybody but everybody is looking with morbid fascination at a nation that is supposedly crumbling under a Taliban onslaught and what a Taliban regime could mean for India. The battle will be over when it is over and there is some way to go yet before the Taliban can declare the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The Afghan people are resilient and this is but a rerun of a movie they have seen and lived through down the centuries. They are survivors and will continue to fight and they will survive and fight this war as a citizen’s war. The Taliban juggernaut will begin to lose steam and momentum as the battle now grinds down to a fight for urban centers and provincial capitals – and this is where 30 % of the Afghan population live and these are the core hubs of governance and commerce without which no victory is complete. The battle will transform from a mobile asymmetrical battle in open rural areas where the Taliban excel in small-unit warfare to a grinding static battle of Investment of urban centers that requires numbers and time – and this is where the ANDSF is strong, entrenched and enjoys public support. And now they have, once again, US air support – at least maybe till 11 September but the odds are maybe longer till the Taliban feel that the inflection point for a decisive military victory is slipping away and it may be better to now talk from a position of strength before even that is lost.

The Taliban may take one or two provincial capitals far removed from Kabul (Lashkar Gah or Kandahar) but taking urban centers and holding them are two diametrically differing aspects of a military operation. Holding means troops for defence and administration – all of which detracts from combat power that can applied to other more decisive points of the conflict.

So we may find this war coming to an uneasy truce with an Afghanistan fractured into Taliban-Held and Government-Held territories. This situation could provide the spark for a civil war that will be destructive and will be something Pakistan will seek to avoid at all cost. A civil war in Afghanistan will almost certainly spill over into the large Pashtun-belt in Pakistan (Pashtunistan) – a veritable nightmare for Pakistan. And what of Pakistan? They still have the volatile tribal belt of FATA that’s home to 20+ FTOs over which they have no control and one of which – the TTP – is on a resurgent rampage of anti- Pak violence.

In all this mix we have the IS (K) and AQ. They remain a potent unsubdued terrorist force in Afghanistan and will seek to capitalize on the ongoing Taliban – Government war where the heat is not focused on them. As they are bigger brand names in the international jihadist hierarchy, these groups may in time to come, with local recruitment and Afghanization, eclipse the Taliban as a power in Afghanistan. The significant Uyghur component in the IS, AQ and the Taliban will continue to pose an ever-present threat to China and the expansion of the CPEC into the Baluch Region and, if as planned, into Afghanistan.

Again, the effort here is not to downplay the significance of the recent Taliban-China handshake but to realistically assess what it means. It is the effort of a pariah terror outfit seeking to establish its credentials and relevance to a sceptical and hostile international audience. And in a bad neighbourhood where friends are nonexistent, China seems the best option for the moment. For the Chinese, the Taliban are but a tool to further their economic expansion and a convenient wedge for them to secure a toe-hold in Afghanistan and then expand to Central Asia and beyond as part of their ‘March West’ strategy.

And all that remains is, if things do go irretrievably south, will it be an option to a re-table the Trump- Erik Prince proposal in 2017 to induct trained combat-hardened ex-SEAL / ex-SOF contractors (Blackwater now Academi)? Something on the lines of the ‘Little Green Men’ during the Russian annexation of Ukraine. As it is the US had 16,000 civilian contractors in Afghanistan (now evacuated or in the process of) mainly on logistics and technical tasks so a precedent is provided …it is just a thought…

And why is India maintaining this ‘strategic silence’ on the Uyghur? Do we still seek to appease China and maintain that ‘let’s not ruffle their feathers’ diplomacy. And after all they have done to torpedo India’s effort in the UNSC to fight state-sponsored terrorism and all they have done to block, deride, sledge and body-slam India at every turn and opportunity. As we have learned to our detriment, China only respects strength as Galwan incident last June has proved. Now it’s time to take the gloves off and deal with China as they should have been dealt with from 1962. India should formally and officially recognize the Uyghur crisis and openly stand with other nations to condemn China’s policy of persecution – and India with the world’s third largest Muslim population has every justifiable reason to do so. This has its advantages – qualitatively improve India’s status as a democracy with a voice of morality, it would take the wind out of the sails of all those naysayers who condemn India as anti-Islam, it will give a cause and need to many VEOs that target or plan to target India on the Kashmir issue to take a serious rethink and it will strategically imbalance and neutralize Pakistan’s rhetoric.

(The author is Indian Army Veteran with 33 years of service. Post retirement in 2008, he has worked with an international consultancy in Afghanistan as the Divisional Security Advisor based in Kabul. Trained in Kabul in COIN (US) and Country Security Management (Netherland), he has extensive ground experience of 11 years in Afghanistan and the region. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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