The pandemic remains the predominant issue and concerning factor in the majority of the countries in the world at this moment. However, in Afghanistan there's something much more worrisome than a virus that has killed over 4 million people worldwide - it's a volatile "party" of 200,000 fighters capable of wiping out hundreds of thousands within minutes. All 200,000 of whom have now seized power of the country. So what really is happening in Afghanistan? And who are the Taliban? What will be the fate of this country?
Who are the Taliban?
“All Taliban are moderates. There are two things: extremism ('ifraat,' or doing something in excess) and conservatism ('tafreet,' doing something insufficiently). So in that sense we are all moderates - taking the middle path.”
That's who the Taliban are according to Afghan mujahid commander and founder of the Taliban Movement, Mullah Mohammed Omar. But to put it bluntly - they are terrorists. Following the withdrawal of Soviet soldiers from Afghanistan in the early 1990s, the Taliban, or "students" in Pashto, formed in northern Pakistan. The primarily Pashtun movement, funded mostly by Saudi Arabia, is thought to have begun at religious seminaries, where they preached an extreme version of Sunni Islam. Once in power, the Taliban promised to restore peace and security in Pashtun territories bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as to apply their own austere form of Sharia, or Islamic law. (Oh, the irony!)
Afghans, weary of the mujahideen's excesses and infighting after the Soviets left, greeted the Taliban with open arms when they initially arrived. They rose to prominence quickly as a result of their success in combating corruption, reducing lawlessness, and making the roads and places under their jurisdiction safe for business to thrive. But with all good comes some bad. And in this case, a lot of bad...
The Taliban enacted or supported punishments that conformed to their rigid interpretation of Sharia law, carrying out public executions for convicted murderers and adulterers, and amputations for those guilty of theft. Men were obliged to grow beards, and women were required to wear the burka, which covered their entire body.
They also prohibited television, music, and movies, as well as the attendance of girls aged 10 and up at school. In addition to this, they were also accused of various human rights and cultural violations. A famous example is the Taliban's desecration the world-famous Bamiyan statues in central Afghanistan in 2001, sparking international outrage.
Following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11, 2001, the world's eyes were drawn to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Among others, the Taliban have been accused of providing a safe haven for the main suspects, Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation. A US-led military coalition commenced attacks in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, and the Taliban regime fell apart by the first week of December. Despite one of the world's greatest manhunts, the group's then-leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, and other key individuals, including Bin Laden, escaped capture, not for long though. And an era of political stability was temporarily reestablished in Afghanistan, until May 4, 2021...
What's happening in Afghanistan?
This isn't the first time the Taliban have terrorised Afghanistan. Several pieces of historical literature demonstrate that Afghans continue to tell stories of the Taliban's aftermath in 1996, when they conquered Kabul and overthrew President Burhanuddin Rabbani's authority. More than two decades later, history repeating itself as the Taliban conquer wide swaths of territory, successfully toppling a government in the wake of the US's retreat. Are the US to blame for the resurgence of the Taliban?
As the Taliban stormed through the country effortlessly, they left behind them a trail of chaos and fear. Afghan provinces fell under their power as seamlessly as dominoes, as the world looked on in awe. Deaths and gunshots have been reported at Kabul Airport as Afghans escape, fearful that their country would devolve into chaos or that the Taliban will retaliate against individuals who had worked against them with the US or the government. But how did a country as big as Afghanistan fall into the cruel hands of a roughly 200,000 or so troop of rogue fighters within the startling span of a week?
The United States' withdrawal from Afghanistan made way for the Taliban to attack and defeat Afghan security forces. The country is now facing the Taliban's return to power, which, if history repeats itself, will result in a decline of civil liberties, notably for women and girls, whose freedoms improved under the civilian government. Over the last two decades, the United States and its NATO allies have spent billions of dollars training and equipping Afghan security personnel. The Western-backed regime, on the other hand, was riddled with corruption. As Taliban forces approached Kabul, Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani abandoned the country on Sunday. He later claimed in a Facebook post that he left to "prevent further bloodshed". “The Taliban have won with the judgement of their swords and guns, and are now responsible for the honour, property and self-preservation of their countrymen," he stated. On Sunday, hours after President Ashraf Ghani fled the nation, Taliban forces stormed Afghanistan's Presidential Palace, marking a pivotal moment in the insurgent group's occupation of Kabul and their assumption of control.
The predominant fear the people of Afghanistan have is the increasingly probable theory that the Taliban will reimpose the harsh interpretation of Islamic law that they relied on when they ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Women were not allowed to go to school or work outside the home at the time, and they were required to wear the all-encompassing burqa and be accompanied by a male relative whenever they ventured outdoors. Despite the fact that they have tried to portray themselves as a more moderate party in recent years and have stated that they will not exact revenge, many Afghans are distrustful of those pledges. Many Afghans worry that the Taliban rule will be brutal and oppressive. One sign that people are concerned about is that the Taliban want to rename the country the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, conjuring cold and horrific flashbacks.
In terms of what is to happen next, the Taliban has been in conversation with Afghanistan's government on who would govern the country after the militant group's stunningly rapid advance across the country, seizing power in dozens of key cities with little to no resistance. However, President Ghani's abrupt departure is likely to have upended those talks. The Taliban now appear to have little motive to compromise given that they control so much territory. According to Al Jazeera, the Taliban claimed the palace in an apparent "handover" ceremony with three Afghan government officials present, which they broadcasted live.
In the Facebook post following his departure from the country, Ghani wrote that the Taliban now face "a new historical test," he added: "Either they will protect the name and honour of Afghanistan or they will prioritise other places and networks.""In order to win legitimacy and hearts of the people, it is necessary for Taliban to give assurance to all the people, tribes, different segments, sisters and women of Afghanistan and to make clear plans and share them with the public," he wrote.
On the other hand, in a brief tweet on Sunday, Afghanistan's current defence minister, General Bismillah Mohammadi, chastised the fleeing president, writing: "They tied our hands behind our backs and sold the homeland, damn the rich man and his gang."
Timeline of Events
April 14 - President Joe Biden declares that US soldiers will be leaving Afghanistan from May 1 to September 1, concluding America's longest war.
May 4 - In the southern Helmand province, Taliban insurgents stage a massive onslaught against Afghan soldiers. At least six more provinces are also under siege.
May 11 - As unrest spreads across the country, the Taliban take control of the Nerkh area, just outside of Kabul.
June 7 - As the fighting worsens, senior government officials estimate more than 150 Afghan soldiers to have been killed in just 24 hours.. They add that the fights increase in 26 of the country's 34 provinces.
June 22 - As the violence increases, senior government officials estimate more than 150 Afghan soldiers have been killed in just the last 24 hours. According to the report, fighting has worsened in 26 of the country's 34 provinces.
July 2 - American forces discreetly evacuate their main military base in Afghanistan - Bagram Air Base, an hour's drive from Kabul. It effectively ends the United States' participation in the war.
July 5 - According to the Taliban, a written peace accord might be presented to the Afghan government as early as August.
July 21 - According to a top US general, Taliban insurgents hold over half of the country's districts, highlighting the deadly scope and pace of their advance.
July 25 - The US says it would continue to back Afghan troops with increased airstrikes "in the coming weeks" to help them combat Taliban attacks.
July 26 - According to the United Nations, approximately 2,400 Afghan civilians were killed or injured in the growing violence of May and June, the highest total for those months since records began in 2009.
August 6 - Zaranj, in the south of the country, becomes the Taliban's first provincial capital in years. In the coming days, there will be many more, including the coveted city of Kunduz in the north.
August 13 - In a single day, four more provincial capitals have fallen, including Kandahar - the country's second largest city and the Taliban's spiritual home. Another crucial city in the west, Herat, is conquered, and veteran commander Mohammad Ismail Khan, one of the Taliban's leading warriors, is arrested.
August 14 - The Taliban capture the key cities of Mazar-i-Sharif and Pul-e-Alam with little resistance. As Afghan President Ashraf Ghani consults with local and international allies on the what the next move is to be, the US sends more troops to help evacuate civilians from Kabul.
August 15 - The Taliban conquer Jalalabad, a vital eastern city, without a struggle, essentially encircling Kabul.
August 15 - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani resigns and escapes the country, only hours after Taliban militants gathered on the outskirts of Kabul, demanding that leadership be transferred to avoid violence.
August 15 - Kabul, the supreme prize in every Afghan conflict, falls to the Taliban on Sunday, completing their control of the country in a lightning offensive that saw provinces and warlords surrender without a fight, just days after US soldiers were hastily withdrawn.
The Taliban have effectively seized completed control of Afghanistan and will declare the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from the presidential palace in Kabul, an anonymous Taliban official announced on Sunday.
With the inevitable fall of the country to the Taliban, it is now time to look into what the future will be, though unsure, for the people of Afghanistan and for international relations.
As the US pull out of Afghanistan, China enters the fray, claiming to be ready for "friendly relations" with the Taliban and recognising their authority. Foreign Minister Wang Yi described the Taliban as a pivotal military and political force in Afghanistan that is expected to play an important role in the country's reconstruction during a meeting with Taliban co-founder and political office chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in the northeastern Chinese city of Tianjin on Wednesday. Mr. Wang urged all Afghan factions to work toward reconciliation and the creation of a broad and inclusive political structure, without detailing what that might look like, leaving the Taliban free to interpret it however they saw fit. Beijing has had countless meetings with the Taliban over the years, but the need for assurances has increased as the Taliban effectively now rule all of Afghanistan. China is seen by the Taliban as a source of international legitimacy, a potential economic benefactor, and a way to exert influence over Pakistan, a Chinese ally that has assisted the Taliban.
Pakistan, a long-time "ally" of the Taliban, also praised the Taliban's conquest of Afghan land. They celebrated, according to Prime Minister Imran Khan, the Afghans having "broken the shackles of slavery". Pakistan has long played a controversial role in Afghanistan, where it has been accused of providing clandestine support to the Taliban in order for them to withstand the NATO-backed military efforts. The militants' return to power has been largely lauded as a repudiation of American adventurism and a step toward Pakistan's primary national security agenda. Despite the fact that Pakistan's accommodation of the Taliban could have serious security consequences and has already strained relations with many major countries, including the United States and India, the country is willing to take that risk and follow in the footsteps of their Chinese allies. Whereas for other neighbouring countries and leading nations, what approach - hostile, friendly or ignorant - they plan on taking still remains undecided and unclear as the world looks on shellshocked.
And finally, when it comes to what the future beholds for the people of Afghanistan, it could go one of two ways. Either a reformed Taliban stick to their word and present themselves as more "moderate forces" or will, god forbid, reimpose their harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Though the latter seems most foreseeable at the present moment, no one is to say what may happen in the days to come...
Desperate scenes at Kabul Airport as Afghans rushed across the tarmac in an apparent attempt to prevent a U.S. military plane from taking off without them.
Inside Reach 871, a US military cargo plane packed with 640 Afghans refugees who were evacuated from Afghanistan.
2. The Wall Street Journal - https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-meets-with-taliban-stepping-up-as-u-s-exits-afghanistan-11627492777
7. The New York Times - https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/08/15/world/taliban-afghanistan-news
9. Twitter (full Biden speech) - https://twitter.com/i/events/1427325700445392925
10. Financial Times - https://www.ft.com/content/fa2d08a3-6e5e-4d3d-b742-db4145809f8d