Almost two decades after being ousted from power by the USA, the Taliban on August 15th triumphantly stormed Kabul, to mark its ascension back to power in Afghanistan. The effortless retaking of their homeland came at the backdrop of peace talks between the group and the U.S in Doha, Qatar. The peace deal was geared towards the US withdrawing all its forces by September 11th, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. With the Taliban’s recapturing eliciting attention and concern across the world, we thought it necessary to provide some background.
How Did the Taliban Emerge?
In 1979 when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan to prop up their allied Marxist-communist government, the Mujahedeen, predecessors of the Taliban put up fierce resistance. The Soviet invasion was interpreted with narratives based on predictions in Islamic history traced back to the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh). The Soviets were also communist, communism being an atheist political philosophy, the Mujahedeen weaponized these to amass popular support in the Muslim world.
Hence, Muslims trooped in from all over the Middle East and Euro-Asia in jihadi fervor to confront the Soviets. The Soviet-Afghan war lasted for 10 years and in-between, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, UAE, and America expended considerable money and weapons in favor of the Mujahedeen. For the USA especially, the war was ongoing during the twilight of the cold war. In furtherance of its foreign policy, it was only shrewd that it propped up the enemy of its enemy. But the question is How?
Operation Cyclone— an initiative for CIA aid to the Mujahedeen. A key actor in the implementation of this operation was Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter. The operation was geared towards arming the Mujahedeen with weapons to make the military campaign a “Vietnam” for the Soviets. Thereby aiding the Mujahedeen to put up a stiffer resistance through asymmetric warfare and weaken the Soviets.
President Carter on 3 July 1979 authorized $500,000 worth of medical supplies and non-military equipment. At the time the Mujahedeen were fighting the government of Nur Muhammed Taraki an Afghan Communist and KGB ally. Following the invasion of the Soviets on December 24, 1979, the U.S upped the ante and President Carter lifted restrictions on military shipments and increased the allocation to tens of millions of dollars.President Reagan hosted Mujahideen leaders in 1983
At the climax of the CIA aid to the Mujahideen in 1987, the CIA was working with an annual budget of $700 million to procure logistical support for the Mujahideen. It was around this period it delivered the momentous US-made FIM-92 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.
During the war, Madrassas (Schools) established in Pakistan served as a breeding ground for Mujahideen. These Madrassas were funded by the government of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and charities from all over the Muslim world. It was from these Madrassas that the Taliban sprouted.
The CIA achieved its aim, and the Soviets withdrew after a decade with a lot of casualties on their side. The monies and weapons disbursed by the CIA were still in the hands of factional Mujahideen leaders including Mullah Omar (First Taliban Leader) and the byword for terrorism, Osama bin Laden (Founder of Al-Qaeda). After the Soviets withdrew and due to the proliferation of weapons, a Civil war emerged. The Mujahideen leaders turned on themselves jostling for power and territory.
Who are the Taliban?
The Taliban was founded by Mullah Omar in 1994. Its initial members were Omar’s faction of the Mujahideen who fought in the Soviet-Afghan war. The Taliban has evolved from a flexible insurgent group in its nascent years to an organized political movement with shadow governance. Its policies are influenced by a touch of ideology and the pragmatism of waging an insurgency. Since 2001 they’ve detailed their ideology, fortified military presence, established administrative presence through posturing by shadow governance and continue to exact rigid penalties from their interpretation of Islamic Shari’ah.
The “Layha”, sort of a pseudo-constitution, outlines practical operational guidance, code of conduct for fighters, and details governance structures for justice dispensation and administering of schools at provincial and district levels for territories they control. Taliban Judges adjudicate disputes frequently because Afghans are disappointed by the sluggish and corrupt government judiciary.
Their education policy regulates schools and the curriculum in areas they control. Their stance on education has undoubtedly evolved, from bombing schools and assassinating teachers because of their discomfort over government’s curriculum prioritizing secular over religious education, to a Taliban policy on education which now emphasizes promoting religious dictates and tenets and discarding content that undermines Taliban ideology.
There’s palpable concern worldwide over the fate of girls and religious minorities. Historical antecedents of the Taliban reveal that they brutally deny the duo the most basic of rights. It has made promises not to discontinue female education (like it did in the past) but due to its penchant for not respecting agreements, the promises are at best watery.
The Taliban sanction policies based on religious, political and security expediency. In certain provinces it controlled (prior to its takeover) accepting foreign aid was pronounced as Haram (forbidden) or Halal (permissible) depending on whether it would undermine Taliban efficacy. It continues to use terrorism to settle scores even for the most seemingly trivial of reasons.
The Taliban reconciles its revenue base through Opium trade, Drug dealing, Kidnap for ransom, Extortion and Smuggling; inexplicably interpreting it with Islamic Shari’ah.
Why is the Taliban back in Power?
In 2016, Donald Trump campaigned with an “America First” slogan and vowed to end US troop involvement in Afghanistan (which had become widely unpopular with the American populace). In 2020, while standing for reelection, he sought to fulfill that promise by signing a peace deal with the Taliban. The peace deal was a culmination of negotiations that began in 2018. The talks held in Doha, Qatar and were dubbed the “Doha Agreements”. Certain conditions were tabled in line with withdrawal of US forces by September 11, 2021. United States government released Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, and the Taliban entered into several agreements:
- The Taliban agreed to pursue National Peace Talks.
- They agreed not to persecute Afghanis who worked with US forces.
- They also agreed to prevent “any group or individual in Afghanistan from threatening the security of the United States and its allies, and will prevent them from recruiting, training, and fundraising and will not host them in accordance with the commitments in this agreement”.
The Taliban aware of the fact that the deal had no enforcement mechanisms and that the country was geared towards an inevitable US troop withdrawal, openly flouted most of the agreements. Despite their promise of amnesty for individuals who worked with the now deposed Afghani government and encouragement for women to join their government, the Taliban is already engaging in a manhunt for individuals who worked for US and NATO forces.
The U.S Troop Withdrawal
President Biden’s administration has been accused of conducting the troop withdrawal in a shabby and hasty manner. Thousands of Afghans who worked with the US forces have been left behind and vulnerable to the Taliban manhunts.
The Afghanistan government under Ashraf Ghani was corrupt and ineffective. Ghani, co-author of the book “Fixing Failed States” attempted to run a style of government that built national institutions that would relegate the influence of tribal and religious warlords. But the reform minded stance was only a mirage. For years his administration was funneling cash amongst a privileged few to the detriment of numerous services for the Afghan populace at large. Despite being propped up by US dollars and effort, it withered away disgracefully, a testament to its feeble groundwork.
The hierarchy of the Military was also inherently corrupt. Troops are being owed salaries for months. The Afghan military relied on US contractors for a wide range of services that gave them a fighting edge against the Taliban, the departure of these people made the battlefield even between them and a more resilient foe.
The demotivated and hungry Afghan troops felt sold out by the ” Doha Agreements”, the Taliban capitalized on this by enticing them with hundreds of dollars for weapons. The feeble political will and groundwork of the government was no match for the Taliban’s grassroots mobilization. Making their recapturing of Afghanistan inevitable upon withdrawal by US and NATO forces.
What does the Taliban Takeover portend for Africa and the Global Community?
The U.S-Afghanistan foreign policy is partly responsible for the milieu that saw the Taliban flourish. The Taliban inherited a country with some new critical infrastructure, along with thousands of arms and ammunitions courtesy of the U.S and Coalition Forces. On one hand, Afghanistan’s infrastructure is slightly better than it was 20 years ago. But on the other hand, the economy would be bedeviled by millions of displaced people, the loss of foreign aid and the absence of local spending by foreign troops. Thus, the country is poised to double-down on opium production, as Drugs is the second of Afghanistan’s bicultural economy.
Afghanistan is also bordered by countries facing uprisings and Islamist insurgencies, of which the Taliban is an offshoot. Russia, China, Iran, and Pakistan have all been made promises that Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban wouldn’t be a sanctuary that harbors militia and insurgent groups. Even with the best of intentions, which can’t be deciphered now, it would be a pipe-dream for these promises to be kept.
Given the avalanche of arms ammunition left behind by Coalition Forces and private defense contractors, there’s bound to be a proliferation of weapons across the Middle East, which is highly likely to make its way into Africa’s insurgency hotspots.
The Taliban have no equivalent in Nigeria. Although, there are jihadist groups such as Boko Haram and ISWAP whose interpretations of religion are extremely violent. None of them have witnessed a similar milieu that afforded the Taliban legitimacy. The reach of these groups in Nigeria’s hinterland is undoubtedly alarming but even in communities they seamlessly terrorize, they’re perceived as a pariah. Though the resilience and doggedness of the Taliban might serve as a source of inspiration.
What Lies Ahead?
America’s hasty withdrawal has brought into question its geopolitical reliability. Gen. Mohammed Zia-Ul-Haq, Ex-military leader of Pakistan once stated that “being an ally of the United States is like living on the banks of an enormous river. The soil is wonderfully fertile, but every four or eight years the river changes course, and you may find yourself alone in a desert”.
With the Taliban’s swift assent to power, the international community can only sit back, watch, and attempt to capitalize on the Taliban’s quest for legitimacy by encouraging their government to soft-pedal on some of their hardline stances especially as it pertains to women, education and human rights.
- Steve Coll, (2005) Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. Penguin Books. https://books.google.com/books/about/Ghost_Wars.html?id=ToYxFL5wmBIC
- Image Sources: Google Images