by Fatima Malik

The Taliban Advances in Afghanistan:

The Taliban is a Sunni Islamic military organization that refers to itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Multiple members of the Taliban are those who fought along the Mujahideen against the Soviets in the 90’s. The Mujahideen were supplied with money and weapons from the US, who was eager to defeat the Russians. Initially, the Taliban was seen as a positive change from the former commanders, since they managed to end some corruption and promised to end lawlessness. But the Taliban, even after taking over, did not ease on the restrictions placed to tackle war, and quickly began imposing more and more limitations, essentially telling people what to wear, where to go, and how to live their lives. They also began abusing ethnic and religious minorities.

In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban refused to immediately hand over Osama Bin Laden — the leader of Al-Qaeda and the mind behind the attacks on US soil. The US soon invaded and defeated the Taliban, swiftly re-establishing a new Afghan government under Hamid Karzai. After the Taliban was overthrown, it remained working in the shadows and recruiting soldiers.

In as little as a few weeks after the US announced the departure of their troops, the Taliban began taking over districts in the country. By August 13th, the Taliban had captured 18 provinces out of Afghanistan’s 34, including Kandahar and Herat, the second and third-largest cities in the country. On Sunday, 15th August, Taliban forces stormed the capital, Kabul, and succeeded in capturing it by the end of the day. This capture officially commenced the return of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. 

The now-former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has fled the country — relocating in the UAE. He has been denounced in his home country, especially as the Russian government has released reports announcing that Ghani escaped with four cars full of cash. Ghani denies these claims.

Although the Taliban claims to bring about Islam in Afghanistan, it is much more likely to enforce a severe, militant regime; using Islamic laws only when they align with the organization’s personal interests, and blatantly disregarding them in other areas, for example, in female education. As the US Department of State’s archive put it, ‘The Taliban is out of step with the Muslim world and with Islam.’

However, it is reported that schoolgirls in Herat have resumed going to school, a few days after the Taliban’s rapid-fire takeover. It is uncertain whether this is to continue, as is hoped, or whether this is just a ploy to improve the Taliban’s international image and current reassurances that they are ‘committed to letting women work in accordance with the principles of Islam’. Women have also been encouraged to join the government. But many remain disbelieving of this change in the Taliban’s ideology.

Another problem Afghanistan now faces is a severe drought, one leading to a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’, as the UN has warned. Many Afghans now have to add food shortages to the list of their current problems.

The US and its Decisions:

In April 2021, US president Biden released a plan for the departure of all US troops by September 11, 2021- ironically commemorating 9/11.

This marks the end of the two-decade war in Afghanistan, one initiated during the presidency of George Bush, which now is set to end during Biden’s rule.

 A war which, according to the Costs of War Project conducted by Brown University, the US has spent a total of 2.26 trillion dollars on. Yet, the situation in Afghanistan at the moment is almost no better than before all this money was spent — raising questions about the path of the cash. The training of the Afghan army sucked up a total of a little over 88 billion dollars, but the army succumbed to the Taliban astonishingly fast.

Critics question Biden’s seemingly comfort-lacking and indifferent speech and response to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, as the President stated that it was never the US’ responsibility (or aim) to establish a liberal democracy in Afghanistan; rather, their goal was to ensure that all terrorist activities occurring in Afghanistan come to an end.

“Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building. It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy. Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what it has always been: preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland”, said Biden on Monday, adding that, “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”

The US is also allegedly hosting talks with various countries, for them to temporarily accommodate Afghanis that have worked with the US military.

Pakistan’s Stance:

The US retreat from Afghanistan also put a lot of strain on the US-Pakistan relationship, since the US wanted Pakistan to put more pressure on the Taliban. On the other hand, Pakistani PM Imran Khan stated that Pakistan is only found ‘useful’ to the US when it needs to settle the military mess it has left behind. Pakistan has already stated that it will not provide any of its military bases for use against the Taliban. 

The country has loosened up on previous visa requirements for certain Afghans. Pakistan has recently declared that all journalists working for foreign media outlets in Afghanistan can apply for Pakistani visas, a measure put into place for the welfare of journalists. 

By now; 13,000 Afghan refugees have crossed into Pakistan through the Chaman border crossing, adding to the 3 million already present in Pakistan. Only around a million of these refugees are registered. The refugees now entering are to be relocated near the Afghan border, as opposed to their accommodation during General Zia’s rule in the 1980’s, when they were readily allowed, usually undocumented, all over the country.

Pakistan has also said that this time around it will not make an ‘isolated decision’ regarding the acceptance of the Taliban government, contrary to the last time the Taliban took power, when Pakistan was one of the three countries to accept the Taliban’s government.

 Responses from all over the Globe:

India, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany and Finland are among those evacuating staff from and/or shutting down embassies in Kabul. To add to this, the UK and US are rapidly evacuating their citizens from the warring country, as well as the former promising to resettle 20,000 refugees. The US is yet to announce and implement a strategy for the protection of refugees, although President Biden has often talked about such a policy.

The embassies of Russia, Iran, and China are the only exceptions to the closures.

Meanwhile, France has offered visas to Afghan “artists, journalists, human right activists who risk their lives because of their commitment to freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and human rights.” Canada has also pledged to resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees, with an emphasis on those who have worked with officials, such as interpreters; and minorities, female leaders, activists, and journalists. German Chancellor Merkel has also insisted that Germany is to evacuate up to 10,000 people from Afghanistan.

Contrastingly, Austria, Australia, and Switzerland are refusing to take in large numbers of refugees, keeping the influx to the minimum.

The US response to the situation is the most troubling, for it is one of the world’s most powerful nations, and had the ability to ensure the progress in Afghanistan would be permanent. It is true that when the time arrived, neither the Afghan military nor the Afghan government took responsibility, the former surrendering and the latter, instead of negotiating with the Taliban, taking off. It, however, should not mean that the Afghan people are to pay for the selfishness of their leaders.

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