One may find it politically incorrect – or even unacceptable – to say that the Taliban are having the last word in Afghanistan. The ugliest yet the simplest of truths is that the alliance of the world’s mightiest military apparatuses have miserably failed to crush the Taliban after 20 long years of this brutal war. Do mind that this was their sole target; to punish the abettors of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 along with bringing the marvel of democracy to the ‘uncivilized, backwards’ Afghans. Well, the endgame is ominous as the Taliban continue their sweeping offensive after the U.S. announced its troops’ withdrawal, leaving the Afghan Armed Forces to take on the battle-hardened and street-smart Taliban. If the events of the past week are any evidence, Kabul may fall within a month or so.
U.S. President Joe Biden says that Washington does not regret the decision to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. He says it is up to the Afghan people to defend their democracy. However, the extraordinary advance of the supposedly ‘weakened’ Taliban has put the Afghan Forces on the backfoot. The abrupt withdrawal further highlights the flawed American strategy and the blatant incompetence of those ‘ruling’ the ravaged country from Kabul. It is pertinent to mention that the U.S. has spent about $100 billion yearly on its Afghan adventure. Add the Iraq War and the military intervention in Syria to the equation and the staggering cost of American escapades in the region seem like a disastrous waste of taxpayer money. Although the U.S. continues to provide aerial support to Kabul against the Taliban it seems that Washington is done with its Afghanistan after long last.
Pakistan remains a calming key player in this chaos as it was Islamabad who brokered the Doha Talks between the Taliban and Washington. However, Kabul keeps blaming Pakistan for its inability to tackle the harsh ground realities of Afghanistan. A couple of days ago, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that Islamabad is not to blame for the capitulation of the American-trained Afghan Armed Forces.
Despite the impending humiliation, Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib continues to spew venom against Pakistan. Mohib’s ludicrous hatred has blinded him to the fact that Afghan forces probably do not stand a chance against the Taliban given their rapid offensive in the past week and Kabul’s inability to deal with it. Earlier in July, 46 Afghan soldiers – including 5 officers – were ‘amicably returned’ to Afghan authorities after they crossed into Pakistan, seeking ‘refuge and safe passage’.
Then there is the long-standing matter of about 3 million Afghan refugees that Pakistan continues to shelter and feed decades now. Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani may blame Pakistan for its alleged “negative role” in the Afghan peace process but despite Kabul’s verbal fireworks, Pakistan remains Afghan people’s go-to neighbour and a potential friend in the region after India’s sudden departure from Afghanistan. Afghan President and NSA’s comments, at least in part, vindicates Islamabad’s decision to fence the 2,600 km long porous border.
There remains no question about the failure of Washington’s Afghan campaign and the incompetence of those calling the shots in Kabul. Taliban are back in the fray but then again, they had never really left. Afghanistan’s most obvious ground reality is here to stay. The best Islamabad can do is to remain neutral until the dust settles in Afghanistan after the bloody war that had rocked the region to its core.