In order to examine the potential ramifications of the re-establishing of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, one must first address the speed of the reconquest. While US intelligence reports up until only a few days ago were suggesting that the Afghan government could hold up for another 3 months or so, the Taliban rampaged to the Presidential Palace in Kabul in about a week.
The second coming of the Taliban has similarities to its rapid conquest in the mid-1990s, marked by Mullah Omar donning the rarely seen cloak of Prophet Muhammed that is housed in a Kandahar mosque. The fact that the Taliban could conquer the country in a week’s time shows that it cemented its position during its 20 years out of power, and had broad support within large sections of the population.
There are a few key lessons for various stakeholders.
For the US, the lesson is that no amount of physical and intellectual development (education) assistance in building up state capacities is capable of overpowering an armed force that has wide support within the population. The US poured trillions into Afghanistan to help build the State but paid no serious attention to reforming the mindsets that helped bring the Taliban to the forefront. ‘Nation building’ is an idea that should firmly be cast to the dustbin.
The takeaway for Indian liberals (the true liberals, not the anti-Modi, anti-Hindu bigots) should be that Muslims in the region see no boundary between religion and state. According to a Pew survey from 2017, 99% of Afghanis support making Sharia the official law in their country. This support is not unique to Afghanistan, as an overwhelming majority of Muslims within Pakistan (84%), Bangladesh (82%), and India (74%) support this position. For India to progress as one nation, critical work needs to be done to forge the Muslim identity into the Indian one. Madrassa reform, removal of special ‘rights’ that minorities enjoy over the majority, and an iron hand when dealing with violence regardless of the originator are just some of the priority areas.
The takeaway for Indian defence and foreign affairs thinkers is that contrary to popular belief, the re-establishment of Taliban rule can lead to positive outcomes for India. Many commentators are lamenting the surge in support for jihadi terror including the setting up of training camps within Afghanistan that will accompany the new Taliban. However, Pakistan is a fully functioning terror factory with state sponsorship for an alphabet soup of terror groups. A much poorer country such as Afghanistan will not add much weight to the support already in place.
Pakistan’s glee at the return of the Taliban will be short-lived, as the Pashtun nationalism sentiment will be reinvigorated and demands for a fully Sharia-compliant Pakistani government will become louder. Look for a resurgence of the ‘bad Taliban’, Tehrik-I-Taliban on the Pakistan side. India would be well served to overtly and covertly support the demands of an independent Pashtun state (along with a Baloch, Sindhi, and other carved-out nations) while breaking off all formal relationships with Pakistan.
For the Hindu ‘right’ in India, the return of the Taliban should be seen within the broader landscape of losses of dharmic lands and peoples for several centuries now. While there have been sparks of resurgence, the demographic tide, and with it, the geographical losses continue. There needs to be a recalibration of both offensive and defensive strategies to bring more people to the Hindu fold, while more directly countering the rhetoric and conversion push of the Abhramic religions.
The US was able to keep a lid on the Taliban over the past 20 years due to its overwhelming military superiority. The Taliban’s resurgence should drive introspection on how to counter an ideology that makes people prefer the Taliban’s brutality over a US-backed, semi-functioning state. It is this ideology that needs to be countered, and urgently, by all stakeholders.