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War on Terror ( 13 March 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Return of the Taliban Will Strengthen the Ultra-Conservative Forces in the Region

By Dr Moonis Ahmar

March 13, 2020

On February 29, when the US and the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” i.e. the Taliban signed an agreement for peace in the war-torn country, serious reservations were expressed by those who predicted that Afghanistan will plunge into another bloody phase of civil war after the withdrawal of foreign forces, including those of the US. While the US committed to withdrawing its 12,000 forces from Afghanistan over the next 14 months and the Taliban pledged not to allow the country to be used against Americans and the allied forces, the ceasefire collapsed a few days after the signing of the deal in Doha. Violence surged in Afghanistan when around 30 people were killed in a Hizb-e-Wahdat gathering of Hazara Shias in Kabul, on March 6.

President Donald Trump, while talking to reporters at the White House, raised alarm bells by saying that the Taliban could “possibly overrun the Afghan government after the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan”. He made it clear that “countries have to take care of themselves. You can only hold someone’s hand for so long. We can’t be there for the next 20 years. Eventually, they are going to have to protect themselves.” Simultaneously, the US and Russia released a joint statement in which they maintained that they neither recognise the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan nor do they allow its restoration.

It is not the first time that the US will leave Afghans in the lurch. It abandoned Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in February 1989, which resulted in the outbreak of a bloody civil war; the rise of the Taliban; and the transformation of Afghanistan into a hub of global terrorism. If the Doha deal is implemented and the US forces are withdrawn, the vacuum created will result in a fresh outbreak of civil war and another spell of refugees who will cross into Pakistan.

While the Doha deal called for an intra-Afghan dialogue, there is little likelihood of the opponents of the Taliban providing space to the group hated for its harsh mode of governance. An initial non-compliance with the clause regarding the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners by the Kabul regime led to fresh attacks by the Taliban on the Afghan forces. The Taliban, who tried to project their benign face during the Afghan peace process, are restless because they expected a win-win situation after signing the Doha deal. They did assure the US that they would honour their commitment to not attack American and foreign forces; but for how long they will tolerate Kabul’s refusal to release their men needs to be contemplated.

One can figure three reasons as to why the Taliban are still haunting their Afghan counterparts. First is the primitive and ultra-conservative mind-set of the Taliban who still want to establish an Islamic emirate without passing through the due political process. The US efforts to get rid of Afghanistan and leave the country to those who can seize power by force will be counter-productive. After spending several trillion dollars of its taxpayers’ money since 9/11, the US is withdrawing from Afghanistan without any success. The same had happened in case of Vietnam and Iraq where more than one trillion dollars failed to yield positive results for the US.

One can suspect the transparency of the Afghan elections, but all those part of the Afghan government today, including the President, have been elected. Unless the Taliban partake in the political process by registering as a political party and contesting elections, their legitimacy will be fiercely questioned.

Second, the Taliban are trying to show that they have transformed in 18 years’ time, but there exists deep-rooted suspicion and mistrust against them, particularly when it comes to their stance on women and minorities. Critics argue that the Taliban remain unchanged and if they return to power, they will behave the way they did from 1996-2001.

Finally, the return of the Taliban will strengthen the ultra-conservative forces in the region. Due to the fear the Taliban have instilled due to their rigid stance on social, political and religious issues, their opponents are not willing to give them another chance. In its writeup, “The War in Afghanistan: America and the Taliban have Struck a Deal”, published on February 27, 2020, The Economist stated that “elements of liberal democracy that America attempted to build in Afghanistan are bound to be dismantled. By making peace with the Taliban on such woolly terms, America is in effect conceding that it cannot win the war, and that the very group that sheltered Osama bin Laden and repressed Afghans with a brutal form of Islamic government should once again have a big say in how the country is run.”

Therefore, “many fear that the Taliban are feigning interest in peace, and intend to seize control of the government by gun or guile as soon as the GIs are gone. That would not just be the crowing humiliation for America. It would consign Afghanistan to even greater misery. The civil war would intensify… And the Taliban could revert to their old ways, barring girls from school, banning music, stoning adulterers and so on.”

The heart of the problem of Afghanistan is the Afghans themselves who are unable to unite in order to rebuild their war-devastated country and establish peace. Perhaps Afghans are thirsty for peace but their leaders are least interested in providing the people a break from more than four decades of violence and civil war. Afghanistan also made history when on March 9, two presidential oath-taking ceremonies were held in Kabul. Such an event is bound to further polarise Afghanistan.

Till the time the Taliban are not able to better their image and show responsibility in dealing with issues like the absence of peace, underdevelopment, poverty, economic crisis and the lack of access of people to the basic necessities of life, one cannot expect things to move in the right direction. So long as the Afghan stakeholders — including the Taliban and others — don’t take the ownership of Afghanistan, the people of the war-torn country will continue to face foreign intervention, violence and war. Unless there is consensus among the various Afghan groups regarding the rule of law, justice system, tolerance and political pluralism in the form of workable democracy, there can be no light at the end of the tunnel and Afghanistan will continue to face domestic chaos and instability.

Dr Moonis Ahmar is former Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi

Original Headline: Why are the Afghan Taliban still haunting their opponents?

Source: The Express Tribune, Pakistan