EDITORIAL: Events in Afghanistan are moving at such speed that anything written or said runs the risk of being overtaken by fresh developments. However, the general trend that has emerged since the May 2021 start of the withdrawal of US/NATO troops, and which US President Joe Biden says will be accelerated to completion by August 31, 2021 instead of the earlier announced completion date of September 11, 2021, can by now be summed up. The Taliban have opted for a blistering military offensive on outlying posts, and particularly border crossing points into neighbouring countries. Having captured such posts in Farah and Kunduz provinces in the north (including the Shir Khan Bandar border crossing for Tajikistan), Herat in the west (thereby controlling the border crossing for Iran), they have now seized the Spin Boldak border crossing opposite Chaman in our Balochistan on July 14, 2021 and flown the Taliban flag over it. While all these conquests render the Taliban capable of controlling movement both ways and gathering revenue, the Spin Boldak crossing means they now also control the landlocked country’s main gateway to the sea. In response, Pakistan closed the border to both persons and goods, which was eased for only persons on July 15, 2021. Additional Pakistani forces have been moved into the area as a precaution. The speed of the Taliban advance is perhaps mirrored by the speed of the US withdrawal, in the case of the major Bagram air base secretly in the middle of the night, which offered looters a field day before the Afghan military woke up to take over. Biden’s haste to bring an end to the seemingly endless ‘forever’ war has been criticised by former US President George Bush, who ordered the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks and the refusal of the then Taliban government to surrender Osama bin Laden to the US. Bush thinks women, liberals, and those who helped the US and its installed Afghan governments of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani face slaughter at the hands of the Taliban. He also claims German Chancellor Angela Merkel agrees with him.
The debacle developing momentum every day in Afghanistan has produced a plethora of pie-in-the-sky thinking, which can only be seen as either self-delusionary, attempted face saving, or a hoped for triumph of hope over reality. That succinctly describes the policy statements since the Taliban juggernaut started rolling of the US, its permanent junior partner in all such adventures, the UK. Biden is whistling in the wind by positing some role ‘from afar’. What to speak of the difficulties attending any such effort, even the continued presence of the huge US embassy in Kabul is dependent on the Taliban being prevented from overrunning Kabul, a prospect as uncertain as it can be. The UK’s Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, is still shooting the breeze about ‘working’ with a power-sharing government including the Taliban so long as they respect human rights, which prospect is already being undermined by the strict edicts flowing from the Taliban in the areas they have recently taken. Even his own Prime Minister Boris Johnson seems to disagree with such wishful thinking by expressing his worries over the impending debacle in Afghanistan.
As for Pakistan, it perhaps stands to bear the brunt amongst Afghanistan’s neighbours, of the fallout of an unstable Afghanistan that includes a fresh influx of Afghan refugees, an uptick in the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s terrorism while ensconced in safe havens on Afghan soil, and the prospect of a likely unrecognised and isolated Taliban government in power, with at this point incalculable fallouts and problems. None of the closely involved parties in this mess comes out smelling of roses. But the brunt of its likely outcome is going to be felt first and foremost by the Afghan people, followed closely by the people of Pakistan and other neighbouring countries, in that order.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021