The war that is upon us
It has been a while since the US departed from Afghanistan leaving behind a long trail of destruction that will take some time to fathom. The worst part is the legacy of unchecked corruption and dysfunctional institutions which failed at the first test they encountered. The most debilitating example was the 300,000 plus strong army equipped with the most sophisticated weaponry and trained in modern warfare by the Americans. When faced with the Taliban assault, they melted into the pervading darkness never to be seen again.
A much more daunting task is to grapple with the humanitarian crisis which is looming and which is being consciously orchestrated by depriving the Taliban government of the much-needed economic support to administer the country. The former government of Afghanistan was totally dependent on aid it received from the US and other countries as also from the international donor organizations to survive virtually on a month-to-month basis. All that is blocked and its provision has been made conditional on the delivery of a number of preconditions by the new rulers. In simple words, it is a stranglehold the west is tightening around the Taliban’s neck to make them falter. In the event this becomes a policy, a huge humanitarian catastrophe is likely to unfold in the not-too-distant future which could potentially lead to widespread disturbances in the country. Is that the crisis the western world wants to precipitate? This is a war which is virtually upon us as the world remains unconcerned to avert it.
What has transpired since the Taliban takeover may not be very elevating. But shades of improvement can certainly be deciphered in the steps which they have so far initiated in the war-ravaged country. Gradually, offices and businesses are opening and children, including girls, are going to schools. There has been no news of any extraordinary violence from any part of the country. This is diametrically different from the last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. The statements being made promise further improvement including the ultimate induction of an inclusive government encompassing all stakeholders. The question that arises is whether the world should wait till all these preconditions have been met, or whether it should proceed to engage with the Taliban government to incentivise it to take the remaining and necessary steps?
In spite of numerous issues, it appears that the Taliban government remains in full control of Afghanistan and life is gradually returning to normal. This government is a reality now.
While the US and the rest of the western world are, by and large, following the ‘wait and see’ policy before deciding on how to proceed further, regional countries have opted for continued engagement in their bid to help the Taliban move along the charted path. Representatives from a number of these countries have already visited Kabul for interaction. The Russian decision to extend an invitation to the Taliban delegation to participate in the forthcoming regional talks on Afghanistan scheduled for October 20 in Moscow, also involving China, Iran, India and Pakistan, is an encouraging step for further enhancing connectivity with the Afghan government. The talks are basically meant to help Afghanistan avert a humanitarian crisis in the wake of the Taliban takeover. It is understood that an Afghan delegation comprising senior members of the government will take part in the conference.
In a breakthrough move, a delegation from the UK has visited Kabul for talks. Taliban have also held face-to-face talks with representatives of the US government in Doha spread over two days. It is understood that some other countries are also deliberating doing likewise to get first hand input about the evolving developments in a cash-strapped country.
In spite of numerous issues, it appears that the Taliban government remains in full control of Afghanistan and life is gradually returning to normal. This government is a reality now. In such circumstances, it is imperative that the world focuses on increased engagement rather than abandonment of the fledgling regime: the former will encourage the Taliban to take further steps to return Afghanistan to normalcy, while the latter approach would cause human misery and deprivation. While engagement remains a preferred option, abandonment would be a cruel hand to administer.
The regional countries are focusing on a collective approach. The looming challenge in this context is a decision regarding when to accord formal recognition to the incumbent government. It is understood that recognition will come ultimately, but there is a growing feeling not to delay it further as that may adversely impact the development of bilateral and multilateral relations among countries. While an almost normal interaction has already commenced, linking countries of the region with Afghanistan, a decision about according formal recognition to the government will have to be taken soon. The timing remains a huge challenge.
I believe the traditional worldview about the Taliban has been appreciably nullified already. For the rest to happen, the world must opt to engage with the new government and make them move quickly toward the coveted goal of an inclusive dispensation that is mindful of human rights, women’s rights and inclusivity. A policy of abandonment will be a damning aberration.
- The writer is a political and security strategist and the founder and chief executive officer of the Regional Peace Institute, an independent think-tank based in Islamabad. Twitter: @RaoofHasan