History repeats itself, and with more glory and victory. The Taliban, after twenty years of war, have come back to power in Afghanistan again. Who are the Taliban? What happened in the last twenty years? What is the current situation in Afghanistan? Let us learn more about it.
Past accounts of the Taliban in Afghanistan
Former Afghan resistance soldiers, known collectively as mujahedeen, resisted invading Soviet forces in the 1980s. They formed the Taliban in 1994. They intended to impose their vision of Islamic law on the country and eliminate any Western influence.
Following the Taliban’s conquest of Kabul in 1996, the Sunni Islamist group imposed harsh laws. Women must cover themselves from head to toe. They were not permitted to study or work, and were prohibited from travelling alone. Television, music, and non-Islamic holidays were all outlawed as well.
After 19 men hijacked four commercial planes in the United States on September 11, 2001, two crashed into the World Trade Center towers. One of the planes crashed into the Pentagon, and another, bound for Washington, crashed into Pennsylvania. And then, everything changed for the Taliban. The attacks claimed the lives of around 2700 individuals. Osama bin Laden, the commander of al Qaeda, organized the attack from inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
Less than a month after the Twin Tower attacks, U.S. and allied forces invaded Afghanistan. It was to prevent the Taliban from providing al Qaeda with a haven. Additionally, it was to prevent al Qaeda from taking up Afghanistan as a base for terrorist activities. Since they were ousted from power two decades ago, the Taliban have waged an insurgency against coalition forces. They also acted against the US-backed Afghan government.
The new Taliban leader Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada is a bigger threat. It is because he aimed to recruit more of the younger and militant generation born in Afghanistan. He aims to do this with a rather nationalist feeling instilled in them from the very beginning. With this, the violence in the last twenty years increased manifold. As a result, the insurgency went out of control. It resulted in the U.S. deciding to back out its troops from this war-trodden country and everything falling apart henceforth.
Role of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan
It all began with the 9/11 attacks and President George Bush deciding to sign into law a bipartisan resolution. It would authorize force against those responsible for the 9/11 US terrorist attacks. The war began with bombings and operations by U.S. troops against al Qaeda and Taliban forces. The Taliban administration came to an end on December 9, 2001. It was when the Taliban surrendered Kandahar and Taliban commander Mullah Omar fled. This put the city under tribal law controlled by Pashtun leaders.
American Forces and NATO
In 2002, President Bush called for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. His speech entailed how the Marshall Plan was to be attributed to the revival of Afghanistan as a peaceful country. The country would be free from evil, and with a better standard of living. The U.S. military then established a civil affairs framework. It coordinated redevelopment with the U.N. and non-governmental organizations while expanding the Kabul government’s authority. NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) states finally took command of specific provincial reconstruction teams. With NATO taking control of the international security forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan, many foreign forces aided the reconstruction activities. ISAF forces increase from five thousand to roughly sixty-five thousand, representing forty-two countries, including all twenty-eight NATO member states.
Steps of a Long War
The first step was to create a constitution for Afghanistan and later elect a democratic leader. It would be Afghanistan’s first democratic election. Hamid Karzai was the first elected president since 1969 of the new Afghanistan. With this, freedom became essential for the women of Afghanistan. Denied education, fundamental rights to live, women of Afghanistan faced tremendous ill-treatment under Taliban rule. Women were finally able to vote, study, dress as they would, leave their houses without a male member accompanying them. The patriarchal and conservationist society broke down while achieving political freedom in the country.
The U.S. troops were responsible for training the Afghan soldiers to fight the war. In addition, the Afghan soldiers received U.S. ammunition. But poverty being a huge factor, it is believed that the Afghan soldiers joined hands with the Taliban for money. It led to colossal havoc in the country.
What sparked the Taliban takeover?
The U.S. deciding to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan in early May is what mostly sparked the takeover. For several years, the United States has been attempting to leave Afghanistan, its longest war. When American troops invaded to root out al-Qaida, they did it in a couple of months. Holding land and rebuilding a nation devastated by wars proved more challenging. As the United States’ focus went to Iraq, the Taliban regrouped. Over recent years, the Taliban have taken control of much of Afghanistan’s countryside.
Last year, former U.S. President Donald Trump stated his intention to withdraw US forces. It signed an agreement with the Taliban that limited U.S. military operations against them. President Joe Biden decided that the final troops would leave by the end of August. As the deadline approached, the Taliban launched a rapid onslaught, capturing city after city.
The Taliban had a stronghold in the southern part of the country. However, what led to a domino-like collapse of power that saw city after city fall in a matter of a few days. And, prominently, the fall of the provincial town Khost. The Taliban took some areas from the government by force. In others, the Afghan National Army withdrew without firing a shot. While the American forces focused their energies on evacuation flights for embassy staff, panic gripped the Afghan capital, Kabul. Even more daunting was how inmates escaped the central prison, Pul-I-Charkhi, most of them being ex-al Qaedis. Again, it saw the American-backed government crumbling down.
What happened after the Taliban takeover?
Intelligence reports suggested that the Taliban would take days to enter Kabul, but this did not sound very convincing. It hardly took less than a month to do so! In an attempt to save themselves, the residents are now trying to flee the country with only one option: the Kabul airport. The Taliban took over all other borders of Afghanistan. They are concerned that the country would devolve into disorder or that the Taliban will retaliate against individuals who cooperated with the Americans or the government.
An Uncertain Dread
Many people are also concerned that the Taliban would reintroduce the strict interpretation of Islamic law used when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. For example, women were not allowed to go to school or work outside the home at the time. When they went outside, they had to wear the all-encompassing burqa, and a male relative would always accompany them when they move outside. In addition, the Taliban outlawed music, amputated thieves’ hands, and stoned adulterers. In recent years, the Taliban has attempted to portray themselves as a more moderate force, promising not to take revenge, but many Afghans are wary of such claims.
Thousands of Afghans raced to the airport, trying to flee the nation and avoid the consequences of the Taliban’s control. Some others were so desperate that they clung to the side of a military plane as it took off, only to perish. To disperse the masses, U.S. troops utilized helicopters and fired warning rounds into the air. According to U.S. officials, at least seven people died as a result of the turmoil.
In the last two decades, the United States and 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. To siphon off resources, commanders inflated the number of soldiers, and troops in the field frequently lacked ammunition, supplies, and even food. When it became obvious that the United States was leaving, their morale dropped even more. In recent days, as the Taliban advanced fast, entire units surrendered after brief clashes, and Kabul and some adjacent provinces fell to the Taliban without a fight.
Flee of the President
With President Ashraf Ghani fleeing out of the scene, questions about his integrity rise manifold. As the Taliban surged throughout the country, President Ashraf Ghani dug down and made few public pronouncements. He departed Afghanistan on August 15 as they approached the city of Kabul, claiming that he chose to leave to avoid further violence with no clear answers as to where he went. However, former president Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, and vice president Amrullah Saleh did not surrender despite the Taliban terror.
Some people are also comparing the state of affairs of Afghanistan to that of the fall of Saigon. The end of the Vietnam War was commemorated with the fall of Saigon to North Vietnamese forces in 1975. However, after thousands of Americans and their Vietnamese allies evacuated out of the city on helicopters, it became a lasting symbol of defeat.
What does the future entail for Afghanistan?
Even for so many Afghans, the way the United States has walked away remains shocking. The United States has yet to meet the goals set forward by George W. Bush’s government in 2001. The action has resulted in tens of thousands of people’s deaths and the displacement of millions more. To be sure, many Afghans realized their dreams under the American-backed Afghan government that emerged after 2001. Despite corruption, poverty, and insecurity, a lively civil society evolved, despite its flaws. Everything is now on a knife’s edge. Afghanistan‘s society has evolved. However, the Taliban are determined to re-impose a regime quite similar to the one they used to violently dominate the country from 1996.
The Taliban have stated their desire to build an “inclusive, Islamic government” with other groups. They are negotiating with top politicians, including former government officials. They have promised to impose Islamic law while also encouraging women to join their government and claim to return to regular life after decades of war.
Taliban in Afghanistan
Many Afghans are wary of the Taliban, fearing that their reign will be brutal and authoritarian. One clue that people are concerned about is their desire to rename the country the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as they did the last time they governed. Many people are concerned that it will result in a significant reduction in civil rights. Since the Taliban’s downfall, Afghan women have achieved significant progress. Many people are concerned that they will be confined to their homes once more. The Taliban have stated that they are no longer opposed to women going to school, but they have yet to establish a clear policy on women’s rights. Even under Taliban leadership, Afghanistan is an immensely conservative country, especially outside of big towns, with women’s status varying wildly.
The biggest concern arising due to the Taliban takeover is for women. There is no new information about the atrocities of the Taliban on women- confining them to homes, taking the burqa at all times, no freedom to work or go out. But what more shocking is the fact the Taliban is also forcing women and girls as young as 12 to marry off to Taliban soldiers or become their ‘sex slaves’! This is highly a concern for women in Afghanistan.
Suspect of Al-Qaeda Formation
There’s also massive dismay over the rise of al Qaeda again. The Taliban committed to fight terrorism and to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a base for attacks in a peace accord agreed with the U.S. last year. However, the United States has limited power to implement this. Because of technological advancements in the last 20 years, the U.S. can now target suspected extremists in countries with no permanent troop presence, such as Yemen and Somalia. The Taliban paid a high price for their role in the 9/11 attacks, and they are likely hoping to avoid repeating the mistake as they move to consolidate their control. However, top Pentagon officials have already stated that an extremist group such as al-Qaida might regenerate in Afghanistan, and authorities are now warning that such groups could grow far quicker than projected.
Countries such as Albania, Canada, Iran, Qatar have sought to help set up temporary refugee camps for thousands of Afghan residents who are at a greater risk of staying there. Deciding who to prioritize will be a task, though. Even then, selected individuals will have to go through various formalities to be considered refugees.
In the blink of an eye, the Afghan turmoil has made drastic changes. Many blame the U.S., and many are disappointed with the lack of support from the global community. But what remains the most problematic factor of this whole takeover is the role of women and children in the 21st century in a country like Afghanistan. In its truest sense, there is no essence of a future for the women and children there. It is precisely like diving back to the same pit you were rescued from. And that is what should make our bodies shudder.