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Part 2: The rise of the Taliban and today in Afghanistan10 min read

August 19, 2021 7 min read

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Part 2: The rise of the Taliban and today in Afghanistan10 min read

Reading Time: 7 minutes

What’s happened till now?

Have you read Part 1 of this two-part series? What we learnt till now:

  • The Taliban is back in power in Afghanistan after a 20-year battle that began in 2001 post the deadly 9/11 attacks.
  • President Ashraf Ghani has fled.
  • American soldiers and diplomats from other countries are rushing to leave the country as per the deal signed by former US President Donald Trump.

The Taliban rises again!

Taliban fighters in Afghanistan on August 16 this year. Image: Reuters

The Taliban, which was eager to get back into power, did not wait for the American soldiers to even exit before launching an attack in which they captured most of Afghanistan, finally taking the capital Kabul on August 15. The same day, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani fled to the United Arab Emirates, and the Taliban declared victory and the war over. On August 16, Biden confirmed the Taliban takeover.

Owliver’s Obscure Observations

According to the Costs of War project at Brown University, as of April 2021, the war has killed 1,71,000 to 1,74,000 people in Afghanistan — 47,245 Afghan civilians, 66,000 to 69,000 Afghan military and police, and at least 51,000 opposition fighters. However, the death toll is possibly higher due to unaccounted deaths by “disease, loss of access to food, water, infrastructure, and/or other indirect consequences of the war.”

Cut to current day

Afghanistan has fallen to Taliban, who took over the presidential palace and renamed the country as the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’.

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani. Image: Reuters

President Ashraf Ghani and Vice-President Amrullah Saleh fled to Tajikistan after the Taliban encircled Kabul. This happened while representatives from three sides — Afghan government, the Taliban and the US — were in Qatar to discuss the transfer of power.

What does the Taliban say?

Taliban have said they would not take revenge on those who were loyal to the Ghani government and issued a message telling the people of Kabul not to panic or fear.

Taliban also said that things would be different this time around — there would be peace and women would have rights. By claiming to have freed Afghanistan from foreign dominance, the Taliban is trying to win over the people.

How did the Afghan army lose to Taliban?

While there are reports of Afghan people saying the US left them in the lurch, the US has blamed the Taliban’s rise on the (lack of) political will of the Afghan government. By this, it means that even after 20-plus years of support, the Afghan leadership did not show enough will to finish off the Taliban.

The amount the US spent in its 20 years in Afghanistan. Image: Al Jazeera

The Afghan government had an army of 3.5 lakh, yet it lost to about 60,000-75,000 Taliban fighters.

The US, which was helping the people of Afghan fight the Taliban, was not able to train the Afghans well enough to fight on their own. Despite spending billions of dollars, reports from Afghanistan suggested the US-backed government was utterly corrupt at all levels defeating the very purpose for which the US said it stayed in the country. Reports also say that the weapons that the US brought to the Afghan military passed into the hands of the Taliban for money!

Where does the Taliban get its support?

Reports say that the Taliban was able to gain support from the rural and tribal population of the country. This is linked to corruption and inefficiency in the Afghan government. It is also said that the Taliban was able to control madrasas — an educational institute in Arabic — as the education system was outside the control of the government.

Boys study the Quran at the madrassa in Afghanistan.
Credit: Foreign Policy

Also, while many countries criticised the Taliban, none came out to support the Afghan government in its fight. Taliban, meanwhile, got support from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar.

Why are people fleeing?

Well, they are worried that Afghanistan could be in a state of chaos under the Taliban and that the extremist group could take revenge against those who worked with the Americans or the government.

Many also fear the Taliban will bring back the harsh laws that they relied on when they ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. While the Taliban have promised to respect women’s rights, forgive those who fought against them and prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for terror attacks, many Afghans are skeptical of those promises.

What lies ahead for Afghanistan?

The simple truth is – no one knows. What we do know is that the Afghans don’t trust the Taliban. The future of Afghanistan mainly depends on the policies and tactics used by the Taliban after taking power.

Ghani — making his first appearance since leaving Kabul over video — reiterated that he had left in order to spare the country more bloodshed and that he is planning his return.

The big question on America’s mind is also whether the Taliban would help the al-Qaeda return to Afghanistan. While the Taliban has denied this, the US is already holding talks to prepare for such a possibility.

A resistance builds

After two decades, the flag on the Northern Alliance waves in Panjshir — an area never conquered by the Taliban. Image: Twitter

The Panjshir province of Afghanistan is still free from the Taliban. Panjshir, which translates to ‘Five Lions from Persia’, has never been conquered, either by foreigners or the Afghans. A new resistance movement – under the leadership of Afghanistan’s Vice President Amrullah Saleh, and Ahmad Massoud, son of late military leader Ahmad Shah Massoud — is brewing in Panjshir valley against the Taliban regime. Several anti-Taliban leaders and fighters have gathered in the Panjshir valley and are open to negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban. 

What could all this mean for India?  

President Ashraf Ghani with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Image: Twitter

India has backed Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, like the rest of the world that opposes terrorism. However, unlike earlier, India now apparently has a channel of communication with the Taliban.

On the other hand, reports also point out to this period being tough for India, especially given its tense relations with Indian and China. Reports say there are concerns that the return of the Taliban may strengthen anti-India terrorist groups working from Pakistan like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (remember the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008?) and Jaish-e-Mohammed.

India has also invested a lot in Afghanistan, and its uncertain future could spell trouble for any country that has invested there.

Dry fruits get costlier!

The Taliban have stopped all imports and exports with India after entering Kabul and taking over the country. India, which has long-running trade relations with Afghanistan, exports sugar, tea, coffee, clothing, pharmaceuticals, transmission powers, cherry, watermelon, and medicinal herbs to the South Asian nation. The imports to India from Afghanistan primarily comprise dry fruits. Eighty-five percent of the country’s dry fruits come from Afghanistan. The price of dry fruits has already gone up in the market.

India helped Afghanistan in all aspects of nation-building over the past two decades when the US  forces provided a shield against the Taliban.

The country has invested more than $3 billion in Afghanistan. This includes investments in over 400 infrastructure projects across the country. Now, the future of these projects seems uncertain, as India has not established a relationship with the Taliban yet, say reports.

‘The Graveyard of Empires’

The land that is now Afghanistan has a long history of domination by foreign conquerors, and unfortunately for the latter, none of these foreigners have been particularly successful in their missions. It is no wonder then that the country is nicknamed the ‘Graveyard of Empires’.

Conquerors like Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan and the Arabs invaded the area centuries ago, they couldn’t gain control. More recently, the Soviet Union, the British Empire and the US — despite spending massive resources and time in the country — could not manage to accomplish their goals either, sending the country back into the hands of the Taliban.

To learn more about this interesting history of a nation that has constantly fought off invaders, Owliver recommends you watch this two-part documentary:

That was a LOT of information! How much have you been able to retain? Try this simple quiz to recap what you’ve learned in this two-part story.


Sources: BBC, New York Times, Indian Express, Britannica, AP, India Today, Al Jazeera

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