Taliban is not the end game but the beginning of a new game in Afghanistan

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After the collapse of Kabul like a house of cards in Afghanistan and the promise from the Taliban to end violence, it is argued that the new political order in Afghanistan will be better managed. Pakistan’s PM, Imran Khan openly claimed that the Taliban have broken ‘the shackles of slavery.’ It is being tried to show that Afghanistan was a colony and Afghanistan is getting freedom from the US with the “armed struggle of Taliban.” But it would not be correct to deem the Taliban in power as the end of history in Afghanistan rather it paves the road for the beginning of new history in Afghanistan.

Beginning of the Great Game in Afghanistan

The great game was started between the two powerful empires in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century – the Russian empire and the British empire – over Afghanistan and neighboring territories. Both were skeptical about each other and had a grave trust deficit. Russia thought that Britain may march north-west and reach near to the Russian empire. British was also fearful of the Russian empire. They thought that Russia may also march to capture British India. This Jugalbandi between Russia and British is popularly called as the ‘Great Game’. In this process, the British wanted to ensure that Russia must not reach to British India.

For this, the British attacked Afghanistan thrice (Anglo-Afghan Wars) so that it could establish a puppet regime in Afghanistan. The main objective of this puppet regime was to create a buffer zone between British India and Russia. In the first Anglo-Afghan wars (1838-42), the mighty British Empire was defeated. But in the second Anglo-Afghan wars (1878-80) British defeated Afghanistan to make it a protectorate state i.e. military and foreign affairs of Afghanistan were in the hand of the British. But in the third Anglo-Afghan war (1919), the British power was defeated and Afghanistan achieved independence.

The end game of the US and USSR in Afghanistan

Robert D. Kaplan in his book “The Revenge of Geography” explains that the then USSR and current Russia is suffering from revenge of geography. The US is secured by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Atlantic ocean on another side. At the top of it is blessed by fertile land due to the Mississippi River and the peaceful neighbor, Canada. It makes the US, an exception to Kautilya’s readings on the neighborhood. The USSR doesn’t even have all-weather ports. It was one of the objectives of the USSR advancing into Afghanistan along with the spread of communism in newly formed post-colonial states.

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The end game of the US in Afghanistan was to contain the domino effect of communism in post-colonial states through the ‘Doctrine of containment.‘ It was executed through the plan of capitalist encirclement in which an ally of the liberal world would be established surrounding the communist USSR. It would act as the buffer state in the process of containing the spread of communism. Pakistan was convinced by the US to work together in Afghanistan. The prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan openly confessed that Pakistan has been made a scapegoat in Afghanistan.

Pakistan-Saudi-India equation in Afghanistan

Pakistan entered Afghanistan for three reasons – First, Pakistan was convinced to the logic that communists (atheists) under the USSR are a threat to Islam. Wahabism ideology was chosen to create foot soldiers in the Pashtun region of Pakistan. Largely, the Taliban belongs to the Pashtun ethnicity. Centre of Islam, Saudi approved this project since Wahabism has been Saudi Arabia’s dominant faith for more than two centuries. In return, Saudi asked the US to protect its kingdom against the Arab Spring, a pro-democracy uprising in the middle east.

Second, since the India-Russia relation was good those days, Pakistan was afraid of increasing India’s influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan saw this as a security threat because of the opening of two fronts for India. Third, After the India-Pakistan war in 1971, Pakistan was convinced that direct confrontation with India is not affordable for Pakistan. Thus, creating a mass base for terrorists was the third reason that could probably be used in Kashmir to execute the doctrine of ‘Bleed India by thousand cuts.’

India’s interest in Afghanistan is multi-facet – First, India’s end game into Afghanistan has pivoted around Pakistan. Pakistan allows export from Afghanistan to India through Atari Border but not the other way round. Second, India aspires to become the leading actor in international politics and move away from the ‘Delhi dogma’ fallacy. Third, India wants to explore the central Asian region. For the same purpose, India invested heavily at Chahbahar port in Afghanistan so that it could further be connected with Zaranj Delaram highway and Garland road to bypass Pakistan to reach central Asia.

Unmasking Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan

The former head of Pakistan’s ISI agency, Hamid Gul, once said – “When Afghanistan’s history came to be written, it would record that the ISI, with the help of America, defeated the Soviet Union. Historians would also state that the ISI, with the help of America, defeated America.” It is true that Pakistan has played a double game in Afghanistan – First, On the one hand, whenever the US forces chased the Taliban, they get sanctuary in Pakistan. Second, some reports indicated that funds have been raised in Pakistan for the Taliban. Third, Even the enemy for which the US entered Afghanistan was found in Abbottabad in Pakistan.

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On the other hand, Pakistan received aid from the US in the name of containing terrorism. But a serious question is raised on the strategy of the US – Why did the US rely on Pakistan to get support against the Taliban in spite of knowing the fact that Pakistan was the open supporter of the Taliban during the 1990s? Even though the US was well aware of the fact that Pakistan is playing a double game.

TINA factor (There Is NO Alternative to Pakistan) forced the US to rely upon Pakistan – First, the US knew that they can’t get their works done with the help of India because of democracy in India would prevent the political class from doing such things. However, the military-bureaucratic oligarchy in Pakistan (Hamza Alvi) was the preferable choice for Washington. Second, The US-Iran rivalry stops the US to seek help from Iran. Third, the rest of the countries in the region either lack resources or lack fertile ground as compared to Pakistan which could produce Mujaheddins at cheaper or no cost. Fourth, Pakistan was also a part of the Soviet-Afghan peace accords of 1989 in Geneva.

Beginning of new game in Afghanistan

China is the winner of this game who was not even a major stakeholder earlier. In July 2021, Taliban leaders went to China before advancing toward Kabul including Taliban’s co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Chinese way has been different from the US’s way in a foreign land. Unlike the US that tries to align the nation to make like-minded, China chooses to fit itself in the existing system and get the work done in the national interest. China will continue to back the elites in the host nation in order to extract resources at a cheaper cost.

A leading analyst, C Raja Mohan pointed out that ‘it is Pakistan’s moment of triumph in Afghanistan and India needs to show its patience.’ But it doesn’t mean that it is the end of history in Afghanistan. After the withdrawal of Soviet forces, Pakistan and the Taliban celebrated the moment in a similar fashion but the 9/11 attack prevented Pakistan and the Taliban to translate their victory into long-term geopolitical gains. A few months ago, in July 2021, the Taliban hinted at their autonomy by stating – “Pakistan is welcome to support the Afghan peace process, but the country can’t dictate us or impose its views on us.”

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Also, it would be a hurry to see that Pakistan would be benefited in the long term because we should not forget that Afghanistan was the only country that opposed the UN membership of Pakistan in 1947. Taliban has almost the same stand as that of Kabul government on Pakistan with respect to Durand Line, Pashtun centric border disputed. Taliban needed Pakistan during the war and will need it, till it gets recognition from the world. Once the political order is established by the Taliban, they would need India to balance Pakistan because Kautilya has pointed out neighbor as a natural enemy.

The road for Taliban is not easy to construct a new political order in Afghanistan. Political challenges like intra-Taliban rivalries and rivalries among different ethnic groups would not be easy for the Taliban to accommodate. Taliban has been highly unpopular among the masses. Since the major aids have been stopped, it will suffer economically and may lead to high inflation in Afghanistan. Their medieval outlook, totalitarian attitude, and the gap between promises and practice suggest that the Taliban is not the end game but the beginning of a new game in Afghanistan.

References

  1. Decoding World Affairs | How did Kabul collapse like a house of cards?
  2. Decoding World Affairs | Why did the US fail in Afghanistan?
  3. Decoding World Affairs | US-Taliban deal 2020: ‘Unilateral retreat’ by Washington
  4. Times of India | ‘Don’t make us a scapegoat’: Imran
  5. Project Syndicate | Pakistan’s Taliban Monster, Shashi Tharoor
  6. Business Standard | Sanctuaries in Pakistan helped in the Taliban’s success, PTI
  7. Hindustan Times | Reports emerge of the surge in Taliban fund-raising in Pakistan
  8. Aljazeera | Chinese officials and Taliban meet
  9. Indian Express | It is Pakistan’s moment of triumph in Afghanistan, C. Raja Mohan
  10. ANI | Pakistan ‘cannot dictate to us’, says Taliban spokesperson
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