By Sankar Ray
The 20-year US war in Afghanistan, hand in hand with the Afghan National Security force against the Taliban is over. General Austin “Scott” Miller – the highest-ranked officer on the ground – handed down command to US-based four-star General Kenneth McKenzie, bringing the longest US war nearer to its end at a time by the end of August. Seizing the power vacuum, the Taliban are making sweeping advances across the country. Cashing in on the gradual reduction of NATO (mostly American) forces, the Taliban army is out to capture the whole of land-locked country. The Taliban propaganda is on through YouTube claiming that it occupies 85 per cent of 652,864 square kilometers of Afghanistan, but that appears exaggerated. Nonetheless, one-fourth of the hilly country is under the Taliban.
The Taliban seem speaking from high horses with powerful assault arms, aimed at people who tend to speak out, but unlike in the past, the common masses, even in the rugged rural terrain are against the Taliban rule and its nightmarish dramatization. All this hints that a civil war awaits Afghanistan and it may be a protracted one.
The question is whether the westernmost SAARC country will be under Taliban control and by when? Or is it that the opponents of Taliban regime will combat the Taliban juggernaut, no matter even if the ANSF, hypothetically, collapses completely? Almost half of 37.5 million people are women and Taliban are against woman empowerment despite their recent pretension to allow social development of women. Little wonder, hundreds of women in the streets of the northern and central Afghanistan were seen marching with assault rifles. waving their arms and chanting anti-Taliban slogans. The ruling government in Kabul, headed by President, Dr Ashraf Ghani, backs the defiant ‘Second Sex’, albeit secretly. “There were some women who just wanted to inspire security forces, just symbolic, but many more were ready to go to the battlefields,” stated Halima Parastish, head of women’s directorate in Ghor and one of the marchers. ‘We’re ready to go and fight’, she assured.
Afghanistan Analysts Network in a study ‘Between Hope and Fear: Rural Afghan women talk about peace and war’ narrates the happenings in large parts of the country on how Afghan women activists and their unrelenting and articulate push for greater and more meaningful representation in the peace process. In their campaigns and advocacy they made it clear that their struggle was not ‘just’ for the protection of women’s rights, but rather for a sustainable peace.
Women are desperate to be assured of their social, economic and cultural rights. Peace is what they crave for, but the option to take up arms is a compulsion, forced by ‘political Islam’, to quote a frontline woman functionary whose parents were brutally killed when she was a toddler.
Given this situation, the Afghan authorities informed that they have installed an anti-missile system at Kabul airport to counter incoming rockets and Taliban’s a blistering offensive across the country. Over the years, the US military installed several C-RAMs (Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar Systems) across its bases, including at Bagram, to destroy incoming rockets targeting the facilities. But the operations are no easy as they are of a complicated technology. But necessity imposes an imperative for invention, expectedly, the problem will be successfully tackled. The system is already operational.
The external situation is not favourable for the Taliban. Even Pakistan is treading a path which may not make the ultra-Islamic leadership happy. Apparently sympathising with the Taliban, the Pak army brass are for moderation of their Afghan policy. Recently, the Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, head of the intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence at an off-the-record meeting with the members of National Assembly and Senate of Pakistan briefed about the post-US security situation in Pakistan. More than the grapevine had it, the law-makers army were told that any crackdown against militants of the Afghan Taliban group inside Pakistan might generate a blowback. The two military biggies reportedly said the Afghan Taliban and the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan – the Pakistani Taliban have all along been “two faces of the same coin.” The Pak army and the executive are professedly antagonistic towards the TTP.
There are clear signs of a policy shift of the China which in the 1990s had bonhomie with the Taliban purely for commercial reasons. In end -2000 the Chinese envoy called on the Taliban supremo Mullah Omar in Kandahar in late 2000 in order to convince the Taliban to stop harbouring ethnic Uyghur militants who were sheltered operating in Afghanistan with the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement and in return, the Taliban wanted China to accord diplomatic recognition to the Taliban government and veto further UN sanctions. They agreed. Chinese companies set up and spread their activities in Afghanistan. A strange coincidence was inking of an MoU for augmenting economic ties on 11 September 2001. Things had turned upside down immediately thereafter.
Volte face in international diplomacy is not very uncommon. The recently released Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East report, a new report by Dr. Jonathan Fulton, ‘China’s Changing Role in the Middle East.’ Speaks of a perceptible shift in geopolitics with East Asia and the Middle East drawing closer together. ‘Energy trade explains part of this, as Japan, South Korea, and China are consistently among the largest export markets for Middle East oil and gas. In the case of China, the relationships have moved beyond economic interests to incorporate strategic concerns as well’, the report observed.
Russian unpredictability apart, Turkey, Qatar and several Islamic countries are very unlikely to back the posture of Taliban which is in no mood to walk collinearly with the international peace process. Women are desperate The Taliban obstinacy to force unwilling to bow down to guns may cause their isolation. The civil war ahead is due to thoughtless Taliban leadership. (IPA Service)