Two decades after the United States ousted the Taliban from power, the group are back in control of Afghanistan. On August 15, 2021, the movement announced it has taken over the country and its combatants have entered the Afghan capital, Kabul.
This suggests that Afghanistan might become a Taliban Emirate or witness a wave of civil war that would pose many risks to the future of Afghanistan and its regional environment, in addition to the repercussions of the presence and spread of terrorist groups.
Taliban return to “Kabul”
The Afghan scene has recently witnessed several rapid and dangerous developments as to the advance of the Taliban into Afghan territories. These developments are as follows:
– The Fall of the capital Kabul: In conjunction with the announcement of the United States President Joe Biden, in April 2021, the beginning of the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, the Afghan provinces and capitals began to fall, one by one, into the hands of Taliban militants, until they have controlled the capitals of 30 out of the 34 Afghan provinces. The provinces include Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-i-Sharif Province, which are the major strategic cities that had the last stronghold of government forces in the north of the state. However, the victories of the Taliban were crowned by controlling the capital Kabul mid-August 2021 and the border crossings.
The fall of the Afghan capital Kabul into the hands of the Taliban was no surprise to those who follow the developments of the Afghan file. Since President Biden’s administration announced the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan by September 2021, many intelligence reports from the United States Central Intelligence Service (CIA) have predicted that the Taliban are “close” to gaining control over the Afghan people and state administration.
However, the surprise is that the armed movement has succeeded in achieving this easily, with little resistance and in a very short time, to the extent that the movement actions preceded the United States intelligence reports that foresaw the endurance limit of the capital, Kabul, 90 days or more in the face of the advance of Taliban forces.
– Retreat of the national army before the advance of Taliban: After the Taliban had entered the capital Kabul, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, accompanied by the National Security Adviser and senior officials, fled the country to an unknown place. Later, thousand of Afghan army troops fled to the countries neighboring Afghanistan, leaving behind many weapons and materiel that have become under the control of Taliban militias.
It is worth noting that this is not the first time the Afghani forces had a retreat to Taliban advance, where at other places the troops have easily surrendered and fled to the neighboring countries. Perhaps the fact that more than 1,000 Afghan soldiers fled to Tajikistan after fighting with the Taliban on July 5, 2021, is a telling example. However, the retreat of the Afghan troops to Taliban advance can be explained in light of several factors; some related to the low morale of the forces after successive defeats to Taliban, and others related to the inefficiency and corruption in Afghan Interior and Defense ministries.
– Varied international responses: Successive varied international responses were made to the fall of Kabul in the hands of the Taliban. The United States of America declared its shock from the very rapid retreat of government forces in front of Taliban militants. Thus, it accelerated the evacuation of its soldiers and staff from Afghanistan. Whereas China expressed its willingness to develop friendly relations with the Movement, and the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that her country respects the right of the Afghan people to self-determination.
For his part, Russia’s special presidential representative for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, announced that Moscow was ready to work with the to-be-formed transitional government in Afghanistan. In a related context, some States, including France, Germany, New Zealand, Spain, and Australia, have begun to evacuate their nationals and some Afghan personnel from the country.
Possible scenarios in Afghanistan
In light of these developments, Afghanistan is probably before two scenarios:
The establishment of a second Taliban emirate: This scenario is based on the hypothesis that the situation for the Taliban is stable and they take control over the Afghan territories and then will establish a “second Taliban emirate.”
This hypothesis is supported by the fact that Afghanistan is currently facing a new version of the Movement. The Taliban have evolved over the past two decades and have much more powerful elements than before. Especially as the movement has gone from being a mere terrorist group in the eyes of the United States of America to a key partner sitting at the same negotiating table and receiving the attention of some other major powers, such as China and Russia, that now treat the movement as the main actor in the Afghan scene.
In addition, the Movement has succeeded in achieving a significant field advance that has enabled it to win over the Washington-backed Afghan Government, which some have described as “the worst foreign policy failure of the United States in decades.”
The realization of this scenario raises many concerns. On the one hand, Afghanistan could become a new terrorist hotbed for groups such as the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda. On the other hand, the Taliban could return to its first-version extremist approach and the humanitarian suffering of the Afghan people will become worse.
Besides, the people already live in panic and fear since the Taliban has declared its control over Afghanistan. This is evident in some shared videos showing hundreds of Afghan citizens scrambling to catch the plane leaving from Kabul airport to escape death at the hands of the Taliban, and dropping dead from the planes they are hanging down from.
Civil war: The Taliban’s field control over Afghan territories may not necessarily mean that it is political control. Some international powers and many Afghan warlords, along with many community sectors, particularly those stationed in northern Afghanistan, reject the Movement’s control over the country. Therefore, it is suggested that Afghanistan may be on the threshold of a new civil war, meaning that the state is slipping into chaos, and terrorist groups find the most vulnerable areas to extend their activity.
In case this scenario is realized, it is not expected to last long, because the Taliban has the upper hand in terms of organization, power, possession of materiel, weapons, and material means. Besides, the Movement seeks to change its dark image in the minds of the Afghan people and the international community by showing a more moderate and human rights-sensitive image, and by seeking good relations with neighboring States.
To conclude, the Afghan scene has become a significantly complex area, where several factors will govern its future. The determinants are topped by the new network of regional and international alliances and its stance from the recent developments, which will put the country before new scenarios the features of which will be seen in the near future.