The Kabul airport attack was what so many feared would happen following the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. Before the USA invaded Afghanistan, the country was a haven for global terrorists under the Taliban and many feared that once US forces left, it will again turned into a rallying point for Global Jihad.
After the Taliban managed to capture Afghanistan on the 15th of August, it stands on the precipice of a new era, the dawn of a new chapter in its history. At such a juncture, there is much to fear for the future of the country and at this point in time, there is very little that gives hope.
Human rights and women empowerment is already receding in Afghanistan and in addition to that, there are grave implications of a Taliban regime in India’s neighbourhood. Thus, it is perhaps an appropriate time to discuss the primary areas for concern not only India but for the whole world.
Economic Crisis in Afghanistan
After the collapse of the Afghan Government, the US froze $9.5 billion of Afghan funds and has blocked its access for the Taliban. Moreover, ATMs are running out of cash and banks are closed. Furthermore, according to the World Bank, 40% of Afghan GDP came from international aid.
Under such an environment, a grave economic crisis looms over the country. The state of the job market is unlikely to improve, given the instability in the country. And a flailing economy is a recipe for further chaos. It is a self-perpetuating cycle. Poor economy fuels instability and instability destabilizes the economy.
Ahmal Ahmady, former head of the Central Bank in Afghanistan, said in an article for Financial Times, “I expect the economic impact to be felt in three main ways. First, the afghani currency will probably decline, increasing inflation. There are already reports that wheat prices have doubled in Kabul. Even those depositors with money will not be able to fully withdraw their savings.”
Due to the Taliban takeover, top donors have suspended aid to the country. At the same time, there is risk of widespread starvation. One-third of Afghans are estimated to be at risk of severe or acute hunger. According to the United Nations, half of its children under five are already malnourished.
All of this is likely to get worse within the next few months.
The End of Civil War?
The Kabul Airport Attack was a rude awakening to the obvious reality that the civil war in Afghanistan may be far from over. After 20 years of warfare against US forces, Taliban, it appears, might have to go to war against Islamic State of Khorasan Province next.
Taliban has condemned the attack, which it was expected to do given its penchant for international legitimacy. But the condemnation rings hollow as soon after their takeover, they had released hundreds of prisoners from Afghan jails, many of whom were affiliated to Al Qaeda or Islamic State of Khorasan Province, the very same group which has claimed responsibility for the terror attack.
The relationship between Taliban and ISKP are a bit complicated. Although they have collaborated in the past to commit terror attacks, there is significant infighting between the two as well. Omar Khorasani, aka Mawlawi Ziya ul-Haq, was reportedly executed by the Taliban. He was the head of ISIS-K.
Also, multiple clashes have been reported between the two groups in the past. Thus, while some have suggested that the Taliban was in cohorts with the ISIS-K with regards to the terror attack in Kabul, it appears more likely that the terror attack was committed without the ruling Jihadist group’s prior knowledge.
It also has to be conceded that it does not make sense for the Taliban to orchestrate or participate in a terror attack that could jeopardise their victory. It is not to say that they are not capable of such a thing, it is only an admission that conventional wisdom dictates that it is unlikely for the Taliban to have participated in the attack.
But even so, the possibility that Taliban did have some degree of culpability for the attack cannot be negated altogether. There are also speculations that they colluded with ISKP for the attack. For instance, it is a known fact that Taliban released ISKP prisoners after they took over the administration of the country. Were any of them involved in Thursday’s attack?
Surely, the Taliban was aware that some of them presented a legitimate threat to internal stability but they released them anyway. Why did they so if they were aware that some of them might go on to commit suicide attacks or aide them? But most importantly, did they permit the attack to happen because they wanted to humiliate the US further for two decades of warfare? These are tough questions the international community must ask of the Jihadist outfit.
Jeff Smith, research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, pointed out, “Folks (are) having trouble grasping that ISIS and Taliban can both have links to the Haqqani Network or ISI, and still dislike each other. Those two assertions are not incompatible. Unless US military commanders giving firsthand accounts of brutal ISIS/Taliban clashes are all lying.”
That, however, does not present a very rosy picture for them either. It means that they are not as much in control of the country as they would want to be and should they be unable to prevent such attacks in the future, it would be to the detriment of their own credibility.
A large section of Afghans did support them because they were viewed as means to stability, however warped their notion of laws and societal structure might be. If they are unable to deliver on that promise, it could prove to be catastrophic for them.
And this is entirely without taking into consideration the situation in Panjshir Province, which has still not fallen to the Taliban. Amrullah Saleh has declared himself the caretaker president of the country. The events of Thursday have certainly strengthened his position at the negotiations table as Taliban is unlikely to wish to fight a civil war on two fronts.
A strategic alliance between the United States and Taliban
While some may be shocked by the suggestion, there is sufficient indication that there is great collaboration underway already between the USA and Taliban. US officials have revealed that they are relying on the Taliban for security around the airport and according to reports in the media, US authorities have also handed over a list of Americans and their Afghan allies to the Jihadist group in order to felicitate their save evacuation.
Furthermore, US forces had left billions of dollars of military equipment for the Afghan forces, which are now in the hands of Taliban. While the US would obviously deny there is a strategic understanding between the two but there are far too many coincidences to deny the possibility. The first time is chance, second is coincidence and the third is a pattern.
And a pattern is what we see here. Too much weight should not be placed on boastful claims made by the US that “we do not negotiate with terrorists” or that negotiating with “terrorists” and “terrorist outfits” are beyond what the US is capable of.
It is a known fact that the US armed Jihadists against Basshar al-Assad in Syria, groups which were associated with Al Nusra and Al Qaeda. It is also widely known that the rise of ISIS was directly fueled by US policies in the Middle East. Furthermore, the US also arms neo-Nazis in Ukraine against Russia.
Therefore, it is certainly not beyond the realm of possibilities for USA to form a strategic partnership with the Taliban. If they can form a tactical alliance with Al Qaeda, responsible the most devastating terror attack on US soil, they can certainly partner with Taliban, even though they have spent two decades at war against them.
The alliance between USA and Pakistan is the greatest evidence of it. The USA is fully aware that Pakistan aided the Taliban against them and yet, it has not soured relations between the two countries to any significant degree.
The partnership would make sense for the Taliban as well, which would aid them in securing international legitimacy and access to international aid and funds from abroad. For the US, it could mean an assurance that Afghan soil will not be used to plot attacks against them.
In turn, the Taliban would wipe out terrorist outfits such as ISKP for Americans. It is not an unrealistic stretch to assume that the military equipment left by the US could be used by Talibs against ISKP. The distinct possibility arises that USA had to choose between the government it had backed in Afghanistan, which was unpopular, and the outfit opposing the said government.
Thus, the US came to the conclusion that its objective or preventing Afghan soil from being used against them would be better served by opting to back Taliban over the latter. And everything that has happened in recent weeks is a logical conclusion of the decision made by USA.
But there are downsides to such an arrangement. The Afghan Government was unpopular among significant sections of Afghans because it was perceived to be allying with ‘foreign invaders’. Now, if Taliban is seen to be doing the same, it might lead to disenchantment with them as well.
Subsequently, it might inadvertently strengthen support for the ISKP. Nonetheless, the situation in Afghanistan as of this moment remains tense and only the future would reveal what is in store for the nation.