ockets hitting Kabul during Eid prayers July 20 and landing near the presidential palace clearly indicate the shape of things to come in Afghanistan in the next few weeks when the pullout of US army is complete, save a handful of soldiers guarding the US consulate in the capital. The perpetrators remain unidentified, but there is no doubt about who they are. The Taliban have quickly taken control of nearly 85 per cent of the territory, menacingly advancing from one area to another in full battle preparedness. Videos show how the prayers went on despite the rockets landing with thuds, though fear was writ large on the devotees’ faces, with security men among them taking up positions with their weapons. It will be an understatement to say Afghanistan is now on the cusp of a drastic change. In fact, those Afghans who were hoping for some semblance of democracy and education, now know that an interminable dark night lies ahead. Women, as reports pour in, shudder at the prospect of being restricted to their homes and deprived of college and university education and jobs once the Taliban take over the country, as it had happened to a previous generation bearing the brunt of a brutal Taliban regime.
The US administration under President Joe Biden has, as former President George W Bush recently said, thrown the Afghan population “to be slaughtered by the Taliban.” He recalled how the USA had hounded out the Islamist fanatics made of ‘Talibs’ (students) who formed the Taliban and teamed up with terrorists outside the country to foist a medieval and warped ideology on the people. The Taliban leadership seems to be in overt and covert talks with both Afghan government representatives and foreign governments close to the country such as Russia, China and Pakistan. Their pledge to help a peaceful settlement post-US pullout is not taken seriously, given their history of reneging on their promises.
The death of Indian photojournalist Danish Siddiqui working for Reuters in Afghanistan recently has cast a pall of gloom over India’s journalist fraternity. Death and destruction have been a regular feature in Afghanistan since the Taliban were pushed out of the country and the US and NATO forces began to help the Afghanistan government manage affairs in the country. For, between 2006 and April 2021 nearly 70,000 Afghan security personnel were killed in various skirmishes, over 47,000 civilians perished, while 450 humanitarian aid workers and 72 journalists died in the conflict, as per data collated by The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. The war also took the lives of 2,442 US soldiers, 1,140 allied troops and 3,846 US contractors during this period.
Considering this background, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned of a looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan as the conflict escalates. According to the UN Refugee Agency, an estimated 2.7 lakh Afghans have been newly displaced inside the country since January 2021, mainly due to insecurity and violence, taking the total of displaced population to over 35 lakh.
With the USA withdrawing from the scene, the main task of ensuring peace in the region devolves to Pakistan, China and Russia. China probably won’t allow the Taliban to grow in strength and extend moral and material support to Uyghur Moslems in its Xinjiang province. Nor will it tolerate its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the region affected by the rise of the Taliban. Russia would also prevent the Taliban from extending their influence to the central Asian countries of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan – all three sharing borders with Afghanistan. A spillover of Taliban’s extremist ideology into these Moslem-dominated countries would threaten to destabilise the entire region. The three Central Asian neighbours are also important for China and Russia from the energy security point of view.
Pakistan is seen as one of the largest beneficiaries of the return of Taliban in Afghanistan. However, the civil society of Pakistan is apprehensive about the impact of a changed scenario in the neighbouring country. According to Pakistani media, the pro-Taliban elements within Pakistan may get bolstered to act in a manner that would threaten the stability of that country from within.
The Afghan government has hinted that, at some point in the future, it may seek India’s military assistance if talks with the Taliban fail, Farid Mamundzay, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India, told a news channel July 13. However, he made it clear that Afghanistan was not asking India to send troops. The assistance would instead be sought in areas like training and technical support.
India runs the risk of infrastructure worth billions of rupees built by it in Afghanistan being destroyed by the Taliban since all these were built with the intention of helping the Afghan government, which the Taliban considers its prime enemy. This shows the lack of thinking ahead by the Indian leadership, both political and bureaucratic, which invested huge amounts in a war-torn extremist country, which had been kept temporarily stable by the presence of western military.