Afghanistan On A Very Sticky Wicket

The Afghan-Taliban and the US sponsored Ashraf Ghani government seem to be heading towards a deadlock, as very soon US, after its disastrous war with Afghan-Taliban , is slated to move out in 14-months, after its agreement with the Afghan-Taliban on February 29, 2020 1 , thus, leaving it in-between Ashraf Ghani and Afghan-Taliban to decide their future for themselves.

India has been backing non Taliban governments in Afghanistan in the last two decades. However, the two factions i.e. Afghan Taliban and Ashraf Ghani, could not decide over the swapping of prisoners, and finally, after many turns and twists Ashraf Ghani relented to set free the 400 Taliban prisoners on August 14, 2020 2, comes the report from, (the move) which was considered as the final hurdle before the long-delayed peace-talks between the two warring sides could make to a start. According to the same report, ’the prisoners include some 44 insurgents of particular concern to the US and other countries for their role in high-profile attacks. Ghani warned that their release was a “danger” to the world’. After the prisoners deal the talks started at Doha, the capital of Qatar.

For the future of Afghanistan and with the world looking precariously at it, what therefore would be the core issues to be ironed-out between the two rivals are ought to be of great importance. An elaborate article on it came in TheConversation.Com on September 8, 2020 3, which throws light about the stakes involved. The article suggests that the talks have a rocky-road to success, as there hasn’t been any consensus whether Afghan-Taliban would snap their ties with Al-Qaida in the post-US-free Afghanistan and that the country would not become the safe haven for fighters after the final withdrawal of US ‘apart from differences on women’s rights, the challenge will be whether any agreement on a lasting ceasefire can be reached until political progress is made’, particularly, when US president Donald Trump is bent upon to force the agreement before his November 2020 elections. ‘It’s likely the negotiators will agree on all these broad principles – except the idea of Afghanistan as a republic. That’s because the Taliban still presents itself as an Islamic emirate forced into exile by the US invasion’ in 2001. ‘In 2020, little is known about the specifics of what the Taliban wants the future Afghan state to look like. However, the group does appear to want an inclusive, Islamic political system in which Shariah laws are enforced’ and this is where Ashraf-Ghani finds himself reluctant to give-in. There are also a three women member delegates involved in talks at Doha 4.

What however has blown the lid is the confidential-report by NATO which says that now Taliban are no more to be the rag-tag army, but on the contrary, will be full of prospects of their own financial power, hence, will not be at the mercy of US or Europe at all. An extremely important article published in RadioFreeEuropeRadioLiberty on September 16, 2020 5 has given an extensive coverage as to what all are the disclosures from inside the NATO report tell . The opening paragraph is all by itself setting the pitch for the times to come for Afghan-Taliban.

‘The Taliban’s burgeoning financial might could make the militant group immune to pressure from the international community as it negotiates a role in postwar Afghanistan, according to a confidential report commissioned by NATO and obtained by RFERL. The Taliban “has achieved, or is close to achieving, financial and military independence,” a scenario that could allow the group to renege on key commitments it has made under a U.S.-brokered peace plan aimed at ending the war, the report warns. The Taliban has expanded its financial power in recent years through increased profits from mining and exports, the report says, estimating that the group earned a staggering $1.6 billion in its last financial year (ending in March 2020). “That financial independence enables the Afghan Taliban to self-fund its insurgency without the need for support from governments or citizens of other countries,” says the report. “Unless global action is taken, the Taliban will remain a hugely wealthy organization, with a self-sustaining funding stream and outside support from regional countries,” it warns. The report was completed before the start of formal peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government that began in the Gulf state of Qatar on September 12. The article in more than 2000 words has appeared to make the world realise that perhaps a very dangerous scenario is what ‘awaits to happen’ as this time it would be the self-sufficient and self-reliant Afghan-Taliban in control of their own destiny and future.

It is learnt that both the factions have hit the stumbling block as a consensus on the implementation of Shariah, on the lines of the ‘first-four-rightful Caliphs’ or for the republic i.e. rule through democracy, has to be decided, as after all Afghan-Taliban who had raged a war for the sake of Shariah are not expected to relent on what may be called as the most essential question to them. Hence, Afghan-Taliban withdrawing on their cardinal principal does not seem to be a likely scenario. But, then the idea of going-ahead with the establishment of Islamic Emirate is also what the world is scourged about too. The on-going Qatar dialogue is the plan A, as Afghan-Taliban have made it clear that forming ‘the government’ had never been their goal but for the establishment of Islamic Emirate, and the plan B would then be an open-field i.e. a war between Afghan-Taliban and Ashraf Ghani in which Afghan-Taliban would be bludgeoning to topple the Ashraf-Ghani government. It has also come to be known that Afghan-Taliban have almost reached the outskirts of the Afghanistan capital Kabul which means almost the whole of Afghanistan is now under their control.

Ironically, the NATO report has also given a message to the Arab nations, who are all-out now to embrace Israel, that the new Afghanistan would not be a ‘remote-controlled devise’ of the outside forces, whether they be US, European nations or the Gulf-states as well as Pakistan. Afghan-Taliban have already started to expertise into extracting ‘minerals’ and putting them to export which has made them earn a living for themselves, unlike what the non-Afghan-Taliban governments had engaged into; opium harvesting and trading! Russia is already in the backdrop of Afghan-Taliban as it supported their struggle against US 6 and now China too has come forward to invest in Afghanistan in exchange of peace 7 . China will also help Afghan-Taliban extract Afghanistan minerals too apart from building the infrastructure.

It is here where India has also chipped-in as India’s concern is Kashmir. India’s external affairs minister Jaishankar attended the inaugural session of the ‘Doha talks’ on September 15, 2020, in a clear signal to have shed reluctance and engage with the emerging new dispensation in Afghanistan. ‘(While ) addressing, Jaishankar advocated for a ceasefire between warring parties in Afghanistan and sought commitment from both Afghan government and the Taliban representative that Afghan soil would not be used for anti-India activities’, towards which, on Feb 29, 2020, the peace deal-which is available in PDF form 8 , had already made clear that Afghanistan land will not be used against any other country. Afghan-Taliban are against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which are against Pakistan 9 , hence, even if there may be compromise between Ashraf-Ghani or an emergence of a unity-government at the most, there is a likelihood that TTP and Afghan-Taliban are to be at loggerheads. A proxy-war or a civil-war would then make Afghanistan descent further into chaos.

The situation to be precise is that Afghanistan is on a very sticky wicket. If two proverbs might come to help; let’s see which way the camel sits or which way the wind blows.