In the 250 years of the expansion of the British Empire in Asia, the British have not been able to conquer Afghanistan. Alexander the Great came here in 327 BC and tasted the bitter taste of failure. The current superpower America also followed the same path. The White House has announced the withdrawal of troops from the Afghan war. How much America has met its expectations in this 20-years war is now at the center of the discussion. Because, twenty years later, the Taliban’s path to statehood is almost clear now.
Twenty-two years after 1979, in 2001, the United States made the same mistake to control Afghanistan, the mistake that was made in the recent past by the then Soviet Union. The Soviets knelt down at the nine years of conflict and withdrew its troops from Afghanistan. Similarly, America has also taken 20 years to retrace. In the face of US President Joe Biden, therefore, US failure in the Afghanistan campaign has become clear. Because 20 years ago, the Americans dropped bombs over Afghan soil with great expectations of its own interest, but they did not achieve any of them. The Americans are completely defeated by the Taliban in terms of influence. Just as the United States helped the anti-Soviet mujahideen after 1979, today the Taliban is being supported by more than one country.
Geographically, Afghanistan is one of the most important parts of Asia. The country is also called the gateway to Asia. It is easy for any superpower to exert influence in Greater Asia if it can establish dominance in Afghanistan. And that is why Afghans have to face the wrath of repeated external enemy attacks. History has shown that it is difficult for any power to survive in the climate of this high mountain country. The Soviets could not survive fighting the guerrilla mujahideen. And they also failed to keep the Barbak Karmal’s government in power.
Many people belief that the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan is the main goal of the United States. But in reality, Afghanistan is very important considering the geographical importance of America. It is true that stability is needed to protect American interests in Afghanistan. But behind the US anti-terrorism campaign, they have their own ambition to achieve. Afghanistan is one of the top lithium reserves in the world. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), Afghanistan has 60 million metric tons of copper, 2.2 billion tons of iron, and 1.4 million tons of rare earths (such as lanthanum, cerium, neodymium, aluminum). There are rich reserves of gold, silver, zinc and mercury. The country is estimated to have more than 1,400 different mineral deposits. The estimated value of these minerals is 1 to 3 trillion US dollars.
These valuable mineral resources have turned Afghanistan into a land of gold in the modern world. Just as keeping Afghanistan under control can ensure the availability of these minerals, it is also possible to monitor the Middle East, Russia and China through military agreements. In addition, the possibility of a single partnership in infrastructure development has been created if the war-torn country is able to restore peace. Note that the war has been going on in Afghanistan since 1973. And since then, the United States has been making its presence known on the Afghanistan issue. After the overthrow of king Zahir Shah in 1973, communist ideology continued in the country. Developing democracy in Afghanistan by resisting Soviet influence then became America’s main goal. Afghanistan became important in American interests to defeat the Soviets in the Cold War.
Biden says he does not want to extend America’s war on terror in Afghanistan to a fifth president. That is why he wants to withdraw his troops before the 20th anniversary of the war. Biden’s decision was also taken by his predecessor Trump. But Trump eventually backtracked on his decision. US influence in Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan, has diminished. In 2011, Osama bin Laden was assassinated inside Pakistan. Bin Laden is thought to have been in Pakistan for five years under state auspices. Since then, Pak-US relations have come to a standstill. It is known that just as Pakistan has a role to play in the activities of the current Taliban, Russia and China are cooperating with them in various ways.
According to the ‘Browns Watson Institute’, The war cost the lives of 2,442 US troops, six DoD civilians, 3,936 US contractors, and 1,144 allied troops, the report states. Between 66,000 and 69,000 Afghan national military members and police, as well as another 9,314 Pakistani troops and police, also died. The report estimates that up to 241,000 people died in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a direct result of the war.
This war has written the most horrific chapter in the history of Afghanistan. The war has thwarted Afghanistan’s bright prospects. The economic structure has collapsed. The country’s social system is weak today due to poverty. Young people are going astray. Afghanistan’s present and future are on the path to endless conflict.
Several initiatives were taken to protect the Afghans from the devastation of the war. Since 2018, there have been peace talks between the Taliban and the pro-US Ashraf Ghani government. From the beginning, the Taliban have been calling the Afghan government barkers of the United States. America is spreading the message of peace but neither side can trust the other. As a result, no one is able to clear the last path of conflict. Although several points have already been discussed. However, it seems to be limited to imposing conditions on each other. The pro-US Afghan government’s trained National Army is also unable to fight the Taliban. On the contrary, along with the Taliban, extremist groups such as Al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network and IS are becoming active in the region.
Political analysts say a full-blown civil war will break out in Afghanistan as soon as the United States withdraws its troops. The peace talks in Doha, Qatar, called for the formation of a government based on national unity. But neither the Ashraf Ghani government nor the Taliban leadership are willing to make concessions. As a result, the opposition has accepted the war as the only recourse. The Taliban have already left the Kabul government in a state of disarray, and continue to take control of almost all districts around the capital. They are counting down the days until the withdrawal of US troops for the final blow.
The polarization of global politics has influenced the Taliban’s survival in this two-decade-long war. The US took advantage of the Afghan issue in the Soviet Cold War. In today’s world, countries like China, Russia and Iran are benefiting in the same way through the Taliban. In addition, the Taliban are financially self-sufficient as they control Afghanistan’s natural resources. Although religious extremism is an ideological issue, the Taliban also has the support of a large Afghan population.
The question is, if the Taliban seize power in Afghanistan, how independent will they be in shaping the future?
The Taliban have to face the challenge of exerting influence in countries like Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran and India, which will not be easy at all for the Taliban’s new leadership. Compromise on ideological issues will also be important. Because the radical Taliban regime was one of the reasons for their isolation in 2001. Even in the way the Taliban are trying to seize power, they need to think about recognition. And the main reins of recognition will be in the hands of the United States.
The strategy that the Taliban or the Afghan government is pursuing is by no means conducive to peace. It is also certain that peace will not return to the country even if the Taliban return to power. The absence of a universally recognized government could plunge the country into a aim less civil war. According to diplomats, the only way to restore internal stability in Afghanistan is through national unity. Two decades of bloodshed have blocked that path. Taliban’s hostility to the American has clouded the situation. If the Taliban comes to the state’s power, the Taliban leadership will be influenced by China or Russia to deal with America.
Having lost so much money, labor, time and troops in the Afghan war the United States will not easily accept the presence of China and Russia in Afghanistan. That’s why Biden withdrew his troops but decides to keep some troops in Afghanistan in the interest of diplomatic security. The United States will continue to try to maintain its influence in Afghanistan even if it withdraws its troops.
Biden has almost done what Trump was afraid to do. Biden knows the United States still has some Trump cards on the Afghanistan issue, with which it is possible to pull the reins of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Although there is no US armed presence, the diplomatic presence in Afghanistan will remain strong.
After all, while the Taliban are close to victory on the battlefield in Afghanistan, Afghans are still far from the shadow of peace. In fact, without the Taliban’s lust for power, no moral interest or motive can be seen in the Afghan war. So, even if the Taliban wins the war, the Afghan people won’t be benefited from it.
The writer is a Student of Department of History, University of Chittagong.