Taliban | A strong Taliban offensive means a weak Afghan state

A strong Taliban offensive means a weak Afghan state

Salman Rafi October 19, 2016 5:11 PM (UTC+8)
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With fighting in area after area, district after district, province after province, tilting towards the Afghan Taliban, questions about the ability of the Afghan as well as foreign troops to prevent the ‘fall of Kabul’ have surfaced in a way that the 15 years of warfare had not seen.

As it stands today, from Lashkar Gah in the south to Kunduz in the north, and from Farah City in the west to a great deal of eastern Afghanistan, the country appears to be spiraling towards a slow collapse of the state. To be sure, the Afghan security forces are fighting fiercely, defending territory and quickly retaking fallen centers. Moreover, the US, though it now has a vastly diminished military presence in the country, is using its still formidable resources, particularly air power, to help the Afghan forces push back against the Taliban.

However, Afghanistan today is in a grim situation, made worse by the sheer geographical spread of the insurgency hot spots — the pattern of a spring fighting season followed by a winter lull has been broken and there is little semblance of stability in the months ahead.

The Afghan government’s inability to capitalize on the fragile legitimacy and authority conferred upon it in the last elections, a result of friction and political disagreement between Ghani and Abdullah, only added to this grim situation.

“This inability to maintain political stability has created a power-vacuum, allowing “butchers” like Hekmatyar to step in and fill the void”, said a Kabul based journalist, associated with Tolo TV.

Whereas this entry of a warlord is strong indication of the government’s powerless existence, it is equally likely to send ripples of “political, ethnic and factional tensions across Afghanistan,” he added further.

A number of people, mainly political activists, in Afghanistan can be seen expressing their grave concerns with regard to the “peace deal” with Hekmatyar, who is not only known for his hardline attitude but also for his tendency to use ethnicity to mobilize power and undermine his opponents.

“This is what his politics was all about back in the 1980s, and if he continues to play the same game, he will certainly aggravate ethnic—and possibly sectarian—tensions”, said the journalist.

The same political vacuum, largely in existence due to the government’s inability to implement reforms as we reported previously, has forced the Afghan government, which had only months ago declared the Taliban “foreign agents”, to re-open dialogue with them in Qatar.

While political dialogue seems to be the only practical way to end violence, the question, which many believe is of fundamental nature, is this: what role will the current government be playing by bringing the erstwhile “terrorists” and “insurgents” back in the system?

Were the dialogue with the Taliban to lead to a sort of deal and agreement, facilitating their political integration, what impact would it leave on the country’s future? Will it lead the country back to late 1990s when the Taliban were the most dominant political force in the country?

These are the sorts of questions that the Afghans, based in Pakistan waiting to return to their home, continue to ask.

It is quite clear, as reports from Afghanistan indicate, that the Taliban are much stronger than they were ever since 2001. And despite the widening of US air support, the White House believes that the war in Afghanistan is tipping in the Taliban’s favor. Given this, it is not so difficult to grasp that the Taliban would have—and they would likely want—a dominant position in any future political system.

However, while such an agreement may end the war with the Taliban, it is likely to cause another crisis: ethnic tensions.

Ghani’s deal with Hekmatyar has been described by his opponents from Abdullah Abdallah’s camp as the president’s political tactic to counterbalance Abdullah, who derives his power from Hekmatyar’s rival faction, Jamaat-e-Islami.

Hekmatyar’s influence among the eastern Ghilzai Pashtuns, a branch of Pashtun ethnic group to which Ghani himself belongs, will prove useful for Ghani in terms of standing up to the pressures of Abdullah and the Jamaat faction.

Is this agreement then worth the deal? With Afghanistan’s political leadership so frayed and seemingly at war with itself, which is undoubtedly the biggest reason for many of its problems, it surely is affecting the state’s ability to coordinate its fight against the Taliban.

Such a politically volatile situation directly benefits the latter, allows them to launch an unusual offensive, and enables them to exert pressure on the government to start dialogue.

With Hekmatyar already in the system and with Taliban seemingly looking for a deal, it a perverted order that Afghanistan is headed to as there is no guarantee that Hekmatyar or even the Taliban will accept Afghanistan’s current democracy or honour the peace deal.
Ghani’s peace deal, motivated by personal interests, may therefore prove to be self-destructive.

There is every chance that Hekmatyar, or the Taliban, will not be accepted as a reliable political partners by the rival ethnic factions, and therefore, will become liability to the Ghani administration, and poison the political environment rather than improve it, proving, as one analyst said, “a much graver danger from within to modern day pro-democracy Afghanistan than they had ever been from outside the political system”, leading to yet another implosion the kind of which had occurred in 1990s.

Salman Rafi
Salman Rafi Sheikh is a freelance journalist and research analyst of international relations and Pakistan affairs. His area of interest is South and West Asian politics, the foreign policies of major powers, and Pakistani politics. He can be reached at salmansheikh.ss11.sr@gmail.com
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