Afghanistan has faced a tragic fall of government and reemergence of radical Taliban insurgents. This has brought back the horror the country witnessed two decades ago. While the Taliban assures the world that they have changed, their activities are proving just the opposite. The Taliban 2.0 regime could become even more dangerous than the previous regime.
August 15, 2021, will remain as a dark day in the history of American military campaigns and for the international community as well that tried to revive war-torn Afghanistan for the last two decades from the ruins. Not only that, it will remain a dark day as humanity showed a flat face to the plight of Afghan people in distress. The country that was slowly but steadily reviving itself from the ruins of decades of conflicts, suddenly found itself alone in the dark, as the world powers literally ditched it in the middle of a crisis. The day will certainly remain in infamy.
The events after that unfolded utter horrors. The world witnessed the desperation of people cornered by poverty, fear of oppression and what not? What we saw in the last few days are unthinkable. People desperate to leave the country falling from planes, mothers trying to save their babies by throwing them into the safe zone inside the airport, women being stabbed to death for not covering their head or not being able to cook food for Taliban insurgents, advertisements with women in western clothes being covered in white paint, men in jeans and t-shirts rushing to change into traditional Afghan clothes.
Overall, one thing is evidently clear. Taliban is swiftly spreading their reign of terror across Afghanistan, despite promising to change their way of governance from their previous rule 20 years ago. It is evidently becoming clear that the promise of a changed and better Taliban is nothing but a hallucination.
Also, most importantly, the Taliban have failed to spell out a specific vision for the future of Afghanistan capturing power at a lightning pace. They are once again unable to present any specific program for governance, service delivery, or maintenance of rule of law. They are not being able or willing to clearly talk about their views on education, women rights, equality, health, reconstruction of the economy and beyond.
Despite the vague promise they made, the actions and atrocities of the Taliban are clearly indicating that the insurgents are still the same, as they were two decades ago during their reign of terror. It is becoming very much clear with every passing day that the Indian subcontinent has to deal with the newly emerged and rapidly worsening situation in Afghanistan with great caution. Because the Taliban 2.0 regime is going to be even more vile than the previous version we saw in the late 1990s’. Why? let’s take a look.
Power comes from the barrel of a gun
The Taliban’s military victory against the government forces and other factions in the country has made them more confident of their radical cause and ideology. The extremist group currently sees itself as unique within the jihadist universe, as it believes to have defeated the United States and forced the mighty superpower to negotiate an exit. These events have made the Taliban quite popular and gave a centre of gravity within the jihadi groups.
On the back of its military victory and the recent success it achieved, the Taliban do not believe there is any change necessary in their ideology. Naturally, they have no intention to acknowledge the realities of the new Afghanistan. The US and NATO forces are eventually responsible for leaving the Taliban an open ground. Their lack of anticipation and analysis about the Taliban’s intention, Afghanistan’s fate, Ashraf Ghani’s cowardice have further made the Taliban believe in their own supremacy.
Vengeance is forever bloodthirsty and never filled
Taliban believes in oppression and muscle power to make people believe in the group’s ideology. If there are different opinions, the Taliban has or had no intention to recognise that, let alone acceptance and approval. Besides imposing harsh religious rule, the insurgent group doesn’t have any other clear agenda that can improve the situation of the country. But, this has been always the case with them. This time, what’s additional is the sense of vengeance against those who helped their opposition during the last two decades.
The majority of these people include government employees, members of Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) among others. Demographically, women are a major target for the Taliban as they do not believe in women’s equality, education, employment etc. Despite their soft and misguiding words right after capturing Kabul, the Taliban have started showing their true colours at many places. Besides imposing their well-known intimidating tactics, they are hunting down the targets very systematically and killing them as well.
American and Afghan war equipment in the wrong hand
American and Afghan war equipment are certainly helping the Taliban in increasing their firepower and military strength. Besides the Soviet-era arms and weapons, this time Taliban have a wide range of war equipment in their hands. These include small arms to heavy weapons, hi-tech armed mobility equipment, aircraft etc. Besides that, the wide range of technologies that were used by the Afghan, US and NATO forces too are now in the Taliban hand. These will certainly help the insurgents to unleash hell upon the civilians in the country.
The US alone has supplied a huge stock of small and light arms, heavy weapons, armoured personnel carriers, grenades among other fighting equipment. Among the arms and weapons, the US has provided to the Afghan defence forces are – six lakh M4 and M16 rifles, 20,000 grenades, 80,000 anti-mine vehicles and 4,700 Hummers, countless numbers of night vision goggles, manpacks etc.
These are just a small number of arms and weapons and other equipment provided by the US to Afghanistan government forces. A majority of these have been captured by the Taliban. Not only that, but they have also captured several fighter aircraft of the Afghan government forces that were provided by the US, NATO forces, India etc. Clearly, these huge numbers of war equipment are strengthening the Taliban insurgents.
Badri 313 Battalion
Gone are the days, when the Taliban fighters meant wearing traditional Afghan clothes, faces full of untrimmed beards. The new age Taliban fighters have been seen in designer dresses, clean shaved, Taliban flag printed baseball hats, goggles, combat boots, equipped with bulletproof vests and the new-age US-made weapons etc. These are just the tactics to show the world that the Taliban of 2021 is different and progressive from the Taliban of 1996. The garments and get up might have changed, but not the mindset and ideology.
Taliban has even formed a new commando force. Taking inspiration from the Battle of Badr, the Taliban has named the commando force Badri 313 Battalion. This special commando force is claimed to be specially trained for close-quarters combat, desert warfare, direct action, guerrilla warfare, mountain warfare, raiding and special operations. These Taliban commandos are well trained and equipped with new-age weapons. It was reported on August 21 that the Badri 313 Battalion will be deployed to secure the Arg presidential palace in Kabul and other important sites in the city. They are reportedly well-trained in the English language.
It is claimed that the Badri 313 Battalion is the brainchild of ISI and the Pakistan Army. Claims are that Pakistan Army has provided the required commando training, weapons and other equipment to this commando force. Such a well-trained commando force of insurgents with radical ideology and merciless mindset is surely a deadly combination for Afghan civilians but for other countries as well.
Pakistan is well known for being the source of terrorism in the India and subcontinent. The country has been accused of state-sponsored terrorism several times. Even it was among the first countries alongside China to recognise the Taliban right after the fall of Kabul on August 15, 2021. The Prime Minister of Pakistan and its other ministers have openly voiced their support for the Taliban. The comments like “The Taliban have broken the shackles of slavery,” came from the Pakistan Prime Minister. China too has taken a similar stance on the Taliban.
Commenting like that and praising the Taliban even after knowing the danger from such a radical insurgent organisation is equal to terror funding. The world knows how the Taliban ruled Afghanistan became the hotbed of the terrorist organisations in the late 90s’. This time as well, several reports have started pouring in about how the several different Islamist terrorist organisations have become reenergized by the emergence of the Taliban. Nobody knows if Afghanistan is going to become the terrorist hotbed again.
ISIS gaining ground
While the US and its allies have been able to reduce the insurgency of ISIS drastically in Syria, the reemergence of the Taliban certainly encouraged the terrorist outfit to rethink its strategy in Afghanistan. The recent bombing outside Kabul airport is the burning example of that, how ISIS is regaining its strength in Afghanistan, using the chaos as an opportunity. IS Khorasan is known as a wing of ISIS.
IS Khorasan or ISIS might have differences with the Taliban and both the parties have been involved in fights against each other before. But, according to Amrullah Saleh, IS Khorasan has its roots in the Taliban only. “Every evidence we have in hand shows that IS-K cells have their roots in Talibs & Haqqani network particularly the ones operating in Kabul. Talibs denying links with ISIS is identical/similar to the denial of Pakistan on Quetta Shura. Talibs have learned very well from the master,” Saleh said in a tweet.
With the NATO forces being withdrawn from Afghanistan and a complete political and administrative chaos thee, it is evidently clear that ISIS will now try to regain its lost ground in the country, which will eventually become a headache for the entire world.
Growing opium through forced labour and drug business was a very lucrative money-making avenue for the Taliban during their previous rule. This time Taliban has promised the world that it will not indulge in the drug business. However, with the other promises being broken within a week of capturing the Afghan national capital, does the world have any reason to believe the Taliban in this case? If like other promises, this too is broken, South Asia will again see the rise of the drug trade.
Controls of mineral mines
With its takeover of Afghanistan, the Taliban also took the control of a vast trove of metals and minerals that are vital for clean energy development. The war-torn mountainous country sits atop piles of rare earth and other strategic metals such as lithium, copper, gold, cobalt and iron. According to US experts, the rare earth in Afghanistan is valued at more than $1 trillion and is expected to grow more valuable as the major world economies are shifting their focus to renewable energy and electric mobility.
The extensive deposit of copper, cobalt, gold and iron are enough to transform the war-ravaged country’s economy. Pentagon even dubbed Afghanistan as the “Saudi Arabia of lithium”. The value of lithium is already pretty high and increasing fast due to its scarcity and demand for manufacturing electric vehicles’ batteries. This critical metal deposit in the country will now be controlled by the Taliban.
With China already voicing its support to the Taliban, the superpower might strengthen its grip further on the rare-earth. It has already set a monopoly on the EV battery business, which is going to be further increased in the coming days due to the newly evolved situation in Afghanistan. Besides electric vehicles, rare earth is also used in advanced weaponry. It is not rocket science to understand that the Taliban and China will try to take this opportunity to blackmail the world. Russia and Iran too have their eyes on these resources.
Considering the above factors, it can be said that Afghanistan is facing grave danger. Not only Afghanistan but several other countries too are facing imminent danger from the Taliban, directly or indirectly. India is one of them.
India has not recognised the Taliban’s way of capturing the power of the country. Also, the Haqqani network that is known for its strict anti-India stance is a powerful faction among the Taliban. The faction has close ties with Pakistan, India’s arch-rival. The faction is taking a key role in Taliban government formation in Afghanistan. Besides that, China and Pakistan’s growing and active involvement with the Taliban is enough to raise the eyebrows of the Indian government.
For the rest of the world, there is perhaps the perfect quote from Martin Niemöller.
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”