The US is finding it hard to project its retreat from Afghanistan as a ‘considered’ act, rather than a failed mission. President Biden has denied that it was an attempt to ‘nation build’ and asserted that the limited goal was to get Osama bin Laden. There were no answers available as to why the US did not leave when Laden had been exterminated. He did make the claim that ‘terrorism would not be emanating from that part of the world’, which is clearly wishful thinking. However, it is clear from other indications that, while the US will no longer spend the billions of dollars it costs to station troops in Afghanistan, it would very much remain a player in the region. What that implies will become known in the future.
Biden has expressed confidence, however, that the Afghan Government forces are better trained and equipped to hold off the Taliban which, if it proves to be true, will mean even more bloodshed in the days to come. In the meanwhile, civil society spokespersons in that country expressed dissatisfaction at the withdrawal without peace having been ensured first.
These developments are, naturally, causing concern to Afghanistan’s neighbours, particularly Iran and Pakistan, as the first consequence of bloodshed will be movement of refugees into these countries. Pakistan is aware that the Taliban presence on its land has been one of the major reasons for increased radicalisation and founding of terrorist groups that have been hard to deal with.
Iran has been trying to mediate between the Taliban and the Afghan Government in the hope of bringing about an agreement. The truth is that, even the Taliban is not a homogenous force – there are those that want a free nation with an Islamic government, but also those who are fighting for ‘world domination’. The latter will be hard to contain.
It is easier for a rebel force to fight while hiding in caves or from within civilian populations. It is quite another thing to come overground and run the institutions of government. The Taliban would be sitting ducks in Kabul – if they manage to overthrow the present government – for the very kind of attacks they have carried out against others. Also, without international aid, it would be very difficult to run the country. The old sponsors are no longer willing, while a new ‘friend’ like China will exact very heavy concessions. There are some attempts being made to build bridges with India as it has made the most positive interventions in the past many years. What everybody dreads, however, is a prolonged civil war that will destroy the lives of an already devastated population.