Taliban want to establish an Islamic Emirate ruled by Taliban rule and with Sharia imposed throughout Afghanistan. The peace talks are more of a game for Taliban concurrent to their offensive.
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
On July 15, 2021, Husamuddin Shams, Governor of Badghis Province in western Afghanistan told media that Taliban has agreed to a ceasefire mediated by tribal elders but after Taliban fighters secured complete control over “all districts” in the province. Concurrently on the same date referring to the intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha, capital of Qatar, Nader Nadery, spokesman for the Afghan Government’s negotiating team told reporters in Kabul, “The Taliban has offered a plan for a three-month ceasefire, but in exchange they have asked for the release of 7,000 of their prisoners and the removal of their leaders from the UN blacklist.”
The Taliban offensive in Afghanistan is raging on in wake of the US troop rapid withdrawal. Though US President Joe Biden has said that withdrawal will be completed by August 31, almost 90 per cent withdrawal is reportedly completed. When US troops withdrew from Bagram Base by night and switched off the electricity, it enabled the Taliban to loot the armament and wares left behind before the Afghan Base Commander discovered the Americans had left.
By July 13, Taliban was claiming control of almost 85 per cent territory of Afghanistan
By July 13, Taliban was claiming control of almost 85 percent territory of Afghanistan. In Badakshan and Takhar provinces, Taliban ordered tribal elders and mullahs to hand over all girls over the age of 15 and widows under the age of 45 to the ‘Emirates’ Cultural Commission to marry Taliban fighters. In another gruesome incident 22 Afghan Special Forces were shot in cold blood as they came out without weapons and hands raised in response to calls by the Taliban to surrender.
On July 15, Amrullah Saleh, Vice President of Afghanistan said that Pakistan Air Force is providing close air support to the Taliban in certain areas. He also tweeted,“If anyone doubts my tweet on Pak Air Force and Pak Army warning to Afghanistan not to retake Spin Boldak, I am ready to share evidence through DM. Afghan aircraft as far as 10 kilometers from Spin Boldak are warned to back off or face air to air missiles. Afghanistan is too big to be swallowed. Pakistan Air Force has issued an official warning to the Afghan Army and Air Force that any move to dislodge the Taliban from Spin Boldak area will be faced and repelled by the Pakistan Air Force. Pak Air Force is now providing close air support to Taliban in certain areas.” Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman had earlier stated, “They (Taliban) have taken control of the Spin Boldak border crossing.”
Pakistan Air Force has issued an official warning to the Afghan Army and Air Force that any move to dislodge the Taliban from Spin Boldak area will be faced and repelled by the Pakistan Air Force. Pak Air Force is now providing close air support to Taliban in certain areas.
Taliban want to establish an Islamic Emirate ruled by Taliban rule and with Sharia imposed throughout Afghanistan. Their statements issued in Badakshan and Takhar is proof how they will treat women. The peace talks are more of a game for Taliban concurrent to their offensive – similar to how China treats India-China boundary and disengagement talks while going about its aggressive moves. If Taliban does agree to ceasefire, it will be to regroup and consolidate or like in Badghis Province after its complete capture. But in the latter case also the ceasefire would prohibit Afghan forces from recapturing the border crossings with neighbouring countries now in the hands of Taliban. Hence any ceasefire will be a win-win situation for the Taliban.
The Taliban actually had captured only a part of Spin Bodak and not the Spin Boldak-Chaman border crossing on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border which the Afghan Army has retaken. However, they had already secured border crossing points from Afghanistan into Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan earlier. Their aim is to ensure no supplies or reinforcements reach Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) by road from any of the neighbouring countries. This puts the ANSF under more pressure and their capitulation is what the Taliban wants.
The Taliban offensive has also targeted the Afghanistan’s ITand power infrastructure. On July 5, Taliban fighters blew up fibre optic devices and system equipment in Islam Qala in Herat Province; a border city with Iran, an important trading port and a migrant crossing where a number of international NGOs operate, working with thousands of deported refugees daily. The Taliban attack has left the residents in the city without internet connectivity.
In June 2021, 28 telecommunication antennas were reported destroyed across Afghanistan in last three months while another 23 were partially damaged due to the ongoing conflict, seriously affecting digital and mobile communication services in the country. According to an Afghan government spokesman, “In the last six months, 39 electricity pylons that bring imported power into Afghanistan have been damaged. Some were completely destroyed while others were partially damaged, affecting power supply to Kunduz, Baghlan, Kabul, Nangarhar and Parwan provinces.” Power supply, even in the capital Kabul, is erratic.
The Taliban has already secured border crossing points from Afghanistan into Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan with the aim to ensure no supplies or reinforcements reach Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) from any of the neighbouring countries.
For Taliban, national reconciliation implies acceptance of Taliban rule in Afghanistan which would never be acceptable to non-Pashtuns. Anti-Taliban militias on lines of the erstwhile Northern Alliance have already become active and are assisting the ANSF to stave off the Taliban. However, how long the ANSF can fight and more importantly take back the territory lost to Taliban remains a question mark. According to General David Petraeus, former commander coalition forces in Afghanistan without the assurance of American support, Afghan forces will do what some of them have already done – desert their posts, flee the Taliban or surrender. Petraeus also said, “The American withdrawal, and the likely strife with Taliban/Haqqani network taking control of more areas, will make it difficult for India to carry out diplomatic activity, development and other assistance.”
With Taliban linked to Al Qaeda, Haqqani network and other terrorist organisations, Afghanistan can hardly be free of terrorism given the involvement of foreign fighters, and the fight over controlling the narcotics trade, minerals and oil reserves. How long the civil war will rage and will the Taliban come to rule Afghanistan as done earlier is anyone’s guess.
Finally, can the Taliban game plan be upset? News reports of late July 16 have indicated that the ANSF have recaptured Spin Boldak from the Taliban. Also, large-scale military exercises are to be held on the Afghan border from August to September 2021 with troops from Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan participating. Russian motorised rifle and mountain units, airmobile units, Special Forces, aviation and artillery, as well as air defence forces will take part in the maneuvers. Air groups of Russian bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and the S-300 air defence systems, which are part of the 201st military base, will also be involved. The focus mainly will be on eliminating illegal armed groups and countering destabilisation of the situation in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Could the ultimate aim of the above exercises be to free the border crossing from Afghanistan into Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan from Taliban control? The US has also promised over the horizon air support to the Afghan Government post withdrawal. But would the US do so to help the ANSF recapture all the border crossings and break the gridlock of Taliban to isolate Afghanistan from neighbouring countries?