The Taliban, apparently with the support of Pakistan, embarked on completely exaggerated claims about their “successes” after the Americans finally withdrew from Afghanistan, at Bagram Air Base, near Kabul. His strategy is quite clear, to overly and always inaccurately claim his “conquests” across Afghanistan.
The reality is that the Taliban can attack and occupy cities in the south of the country, near the border with Pakistan. However, it does not have the ability to maintain control over cities that are far from the country’s southern borders. Even Kandahar, which is close to the disputed Durand line, which separates Pakistan and Afghanistan, can only be threatened if some areas, even temporarily, are taken over. The areas occupied by the Taliban, at the moment, they cannot hold any time.
Using harsh propaganda, Pakistan and its Taliban allies are pushing the line that the Taliban control 85 percent of Afghanistan’s territory. The reality is that the Taliban are currently capable of occupying only certain towns and villages.
Moreover, the Taliban did not take complete control of any major urban center. Although India withdrew its Indian staff from its consulate in Kandahar, the consulate was not closed. In a recent drama staged by the Taliban and their Pakistani fans, it was claimed that they captured the border town of Qalai-Naw, on the border of Afghanistan and Iran, on July 9.
As the Afghan government immediately deployed troops to successfully “completely occupy” the city, it was determined that there are now even local militias, ready to challenge the Taliban. Moreover, the reality is that Iran has made it clear that it will respond strongly to any attack on the Shiite population, the Khazars, who inhabit areas of western Afghanistan.
Although the Taliban surprised security forces on Afghanistan’s western borders, the area’s strongest leader, Ata Mohammad Noor, made it clear that he would respond strongly to Taliban efforts in his province of Balkh. Noor sought Indian support when he visited India last year. He is considered one of the most respected commanders in Afghanistan, although he, like some other regional leaders, has serious differences with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
The Taliban have close ties with several Pakistani terrorist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, who are reportedly reinforcing Taliban forces in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Noor clearly expected this Taliban offensive, even last year. He joined Uzbek leader Rashid Dostum last June, due to the unification of the communities of Tajikistan, Khazars and Uzbekistan in the new “Coalition for the Salvation of Afghanistan”.
The Iranians have made it clear that they will not tolerate any attempted attack or harm to their Shia-Khazar brothers in Afghanistan. This is equally applicable to the Taliban as well as to their Pakistani supporters. What we are seeing now is the armed Pashtun Taliban, which supports Pakistan, which is trying to take over ethnic communities, which make up 55 percent of Afghanistan’s population. These Taliban fighters enjoy little support, even from their Pashtun counterparts, who make up 45 percent of the country’s population.
These are realities that Pakistanis and their Taliban protégés certainly understand. Moreover, the Afghan Taliban are fully aware that within Pakistan, and especially within the Pashtun tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, there is enormous anger towards the Pakistani military. In its operations against Pashtun towns and villages just over ten years ago, this army reduced several areas where Pashtuns lived to ruins. Moreover, the medieval orthodoxy practiced by the Taliban is hardly acceptable throughout Afghanistan, where millions have acquired modern education and enjoyed democratic freedoms in the last two decades.
Interestingly, the Taliban publicly share the beliefs of their Pakistani mentors when it comes to relations with China, where a million Uighur Muslims are in custody in the neighboring Chinese province of Xinjiang. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen recently described China as a “friend” of Afghanistan from whom the Taliban expected investment in reconstruction.
A Taliban spokesman added: “We have been to China many times and we have good relations with them.” The Taliban also made no effort to attack the capital, Kabul, because it was well defended.
There are now a number of conferences held by regional organizations, such as the Shanghai Cooperation (SCO) on Afghanistan, in which India and Pakistan are participating. These conferences mark the pious statements of the participants. It follows from such meetings a precious, constructive dialogue. Although most members have contacts and negotiations with the Taliban, little progress has been made in moves for peace and economic growth in Afghanistan.
A UK-based Pakistani journalist, Ayesha Siddiqa, notes: “As far as China’s long-term planning is concerned, it seems to have gotten what it wanted – to pull US forces out of Afghanistan.” She adds that Russia feels similarly satisfied and notes: “The Afghan army may not be the strongest, but it certainly has a certain capacity to fight.” While Imran Khan and his Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureishi may argue for great successes, pulling Americans out of Afghanistan, the consequences of their actions, will result in a long-term internal conflict in Afghanistan.
The Taliban will seek control of northern Afghanistan, establishing close ties with its Pashtun brothers in neighboring tribal areas of Pakistan.
The actions of the Pakistani army in these tribal areas left deep scars in the heads of their Pashtuns. The Taliban also never recognized the Durand line as an international border.
The rise of Pashtun nationalism in Afghanistan, after launching military operations against Pashtuns in Pakistan, will leave Pakistan with serious problems. Although Imran Khan grumbles that US President Joe Biden has never spoken to him, he seems to be forgetting that Americans will not forget his role or the role of his country in losing to the Russians and Chinese in Afghanistan.
The writer is a former High Commissioner of Pakistan