Giovanni Giacalone has an MA in Islamic Studies from Trinity Saint David University of Wales and a further specialization in Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism from the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism-IICT. He is currently a senior analyst at the Europe desk for the UK-based think-tank Islamic Theology of Counter-Terrorism and for the Italian Team for Security, Terroristic Issues and Managing Emergencies-Itstime at the Catholic Universityof Milan. He was country-coordinator for the Globsec European project “From criminals to terrorists and back”, with the objective of analyzing the crime-terror nexus among jihadist foreign fighters. He is the author of several books and chapters on jihadism. He has lectured security managers, and law enforcers on Italian soil, and has testified in audition on security to the Italian parliament.
In this interview, Giovanni talks about the death of Al-Baghdadi, whether and how the death of Al-Qurayshi will affect ISIS operational capabilities, possibilities of defeating terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, the ISIS and Taliban threat on Europe.
Interviewers: Adelaide Martelli and Francesco Bruno.
Today, I have returned to Afghanistan after 4 years.
In 2018, I left a country that was a constant victim of Taliban attacks; In Kabul, this happened around twice a week, but the rest of the country suffered much more frequently. I left a country at war, where roads were closed due to the sever risk of kidnapping and murder. Today in Kabul I find myself in a surreal situation. The Taliban are wandering around the city with American semi-automatic weapons and items of US Military uniform. What used to be official army checkpoints are now manned by the Taliban. The Afghan tricolor has been removed and replaced by a white flag with Arabic scripture scrawled across it. It reads:
“I am a witness that no one deserves worship but Allah. I am a witness that Mohammed is his only prophet.”
Taliban representatives keep telling me at each encounter: “Now, everything is safer. We have defeated evil; The Americans were evil. We fixed the corruption and restored order. We won this war and expelled those who occupied us.”
However, it only takes a little bit of time to understand that things are not exactly as they are presented. In the capital alone, more than half of the shops, cafes and tearooms are closed; in the provinces, it is even worse. The streets, which were once a bustling scene of life, are now crowded by dozens of women and children begging to scrape together a few coins, people running clinging to taxis or simply sitting in the middle of a busy main road.
It is true that the attacks have decreased (since they were mainly carried out by the once-opposing Taliban who have now forced themselves into power), but they have not stopped. The men of DAESH, better known as ISIS-K, are now the opponents of the Taliban regime and the former Taliban insurgents are finding themselves dealing with their own insurgency. Suicide attacks occur in the most crowded places and "sticky bombs" are planted near the checkpoints. Under the Taliban the conflict has not ceased – the position of its players have simply changed.
In a country where conflict is still raging, where cash flow has frozen, where you have to wait months to withdraw only 200 dollars, where more and more people are starving, and where no viable plan has been announced, what kind of future is possible? We asked Noor Mohammad Ahmadzai, Professor of Research, Assessment, and Language Education at Kabul University.
Mohammad, every day you go to your office at the university, but without students. How are you feeling these days?
"It is very difficult; we are all very worried. I used to earn 1000 dollars per month, now I just got 500 for 4 months and I have to support my family too. I keep coming here because I have to, but in reality, all we do is wait, it has been months now.
We Professors have also tried to have a dialogue with the Taliban, also proposing to divide the classes between men and women, even on different days in order to be able to give more education. However, the answer never came; they keep postponing the meetings or not responding at all.”
Many people, especially the young, fled immediately after the arrival of the Taliban. What do you think? Are you trying to escape too?
It is very sad for me that all those people ran away, but I cannot blame them. People try to build a better future for themselves and their loved ones, and as you can see, we know nothing here except that the Taliban are in charge and that there is no money. Furthermore, Afghanistan imports almost everything, so we are forced to always rely on the dollar. In short, our currency has no purchasing power.
About me, I would never go away. First, I love this country, I am in love with it and anyway, I am not that young to start a new life elsewhere.
Other than that, I would never leave my students. They are already having a terrible time. Generations here know nothing but attacks, bombs, occupation and wars. I couldn't leave them without even a teacher's lead".
I would like to ask you two possible solutions: an idealistic one, which you dream of, even if it may never happen, and a more realistic one, a solution that could be a real possibility
“The ideal solution would be place without the Taliban and with a democratic force. However, it is not realistic now. Of course, there would be the Tajiks: “The Lions of Panshir’, now the only group that could oppose the Taliban regime (even they are economically too weak now). Nevertheless, this perhaps means another war. Afghanistan will not survive another conflict.
This country has already suffered too much.
I think the best scenario now would be the diplomatic pressure from the international communities. Trying to convince the Taliban, perhaps through economic agreements, to integrate ethnic minorities such as Hazaras, Shiites, Tajiks and Uzbeks into the government. Above all, reopen schools and universities.
Many of the Taliban are boys who have been training and fighting since they were children. They know only weapons and hatred. I am sure that they too, connected with civilization, with more educated people, can change. Even if at the moment, this change seems so far away.”
While there are people like Mohammed still holding out hope for their country, many Afghans are now only focusing on how to escape the place they once called home. Every day, hundreds of people queue outside the embassies of neighboring countries, Iran and Pakistan, trying desperately to get an exit visa. Thousands more try to cross the borders illegally through the mountains.
Every time I interview someone or listen to a story, I am told a prayer:
“Don't turn your back on us. Please continue to follow what is happening in Afghanistan, it is the only thing keeping the Taliban from doing the same things they did 20 years ago. Being at the center of media attention is keeping us alive.”
In this two-part series interview, Raziya Masumi, Lawyer and Women's Right Activist, discusses the current situation in Afghanistan facing women and the country as a whole by providing her own insights. Raziya also accounts her own experiences growing up and working as lawyer in Afghanistan.
In this two-part series interview, Raziya Masumi, Lawyer and Women's Right Activist, discusses the current situation in Afghanistan facing women and the country as a whole by providing her own insights. Raziya also accounts her own experiences growing up and working as lawyer in Afghanistan.
Today, with our guest Andrej Movchan, we had the chance to probe today's geopolitical situation, so that we can understand as best as possible what our future holds. We discussed the contrasts between Russia and Japan, its relations with Ukraine and Afghanistan, the northern development and how the Federation is facing the large demand for gas from European states.
Andrej Movchan is a Russian economist and a nonresident scholar in the Economic Policy Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center. His research focuses on Russia's economy, the Eurasian Economic Union, and the future of Russia's economic relations with the EU. Movchan has been a top executive for Russian and international financial institutions since 1993. He was an executive director of Troika Dialog for six years. From 2003 to 2009, Movchan headed Renaissance Investment Management Group, which he founded, and from 2006 to 2008, he was the CEO of Renaissance Credit Bank. He also founded the Third Rome investment company, and was its CEO and managing partner from 2009 until the end of 2013. Movchan has also authored numerous publications on economics and finance. His op-eds and commentary regularly appear in the media. He won two PRESSzvaniebusiness journalism awards in 2011 and 2013.
Interviewers: Alessio Calzetti and Igor Shchebetun.
An interview with H.E. Ambassador Khaled Ahmad Zekriya, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in Rome, Italy; regarding the recent events in Afghanistan and the importance of the international community's cooperation to avoid Taliban's violence and terrorism.
By Adelaide Martelli, Francesco Bruno, and Zachariah Parcels
Proceeding the culmination of the Taliban’s 20-year insurgency, complete withdrawal of NATO forces, and reinstatement of the Taliban’s repressive policies reminiscent of their harsh rule in the late 1990s, domestic actors have emerged to question the Taliban’s renewed governance. Amidst the frantic evacuations of foreigners and vulnerable Afghans, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP; aka ISIS-K) or Wilayat Khorasan emerged in our public consciousness with their horrific attack on 26 August at Kabul’s International Airport. This attack seemingly inaugurated ISKP’s ongoing suicide bombing campaign currently inflicting Afghanistan. ISKP appears to represent the most significant threat to the Taliban’s already teetering“domestic sovereignty” and internal integrity. Thus, to understand the potential security threats emanating to and from the new Afghanistan, it is essential to understand ISKP’s history, operational capabilities, and radical ideology.
The Beginning of the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP)
ISKP was formed in 2014 by defecting Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP; Pakistani Taliban), Afghan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Islam, and disenfranchised al Qaedafighters active in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These defections were welcomed later by representatives from Iraq and Syria of the Islamic State (IS), corresponding with IS 2015 announcement of a “Khorasan” province. Among the TTP defectors were high ranked commanders previously active in Pakistan and its Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), including ISKP’s first wali (governor), Hafez Sayed Khan.
Under Sayed Khan, ISKP successfully infiltrated Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar Province in 2015, conquering eight Taliban districts and displacing thousands who did not conform to the group’s apocalyptic ideology. According to Lushenko et al. (2019), contradicting the Taliban’s aspirations to “Talibanize” Afghanistan and effectively counteracting the latter’s opposition to government and coalition forces, acute disagreements between the two groups has resulted in increasing violence plaguing Afghanistan and bogging of Taliban forces. The looming expansionist threat of IS, at that time, caused coalition forces and Kabul to redirect resources to eradicate ISKP from Afghanistan. This campaignseemingly alleviated and unintentionally strengthened Afghan Taliban forces.
Under Khan, ISKP rapidly consolidated territory – predominantly from the Taliban. Albeit thousands of ground and air operations against ISKP by coalition and Afghan forces – including the deployment of the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) munition – fighting with the Taliban, and the death of Khan in 2016, ISKP continued to make gains. This includes ISKP nearly capturing the infamous Tora Bora cave complex from the Taliban in June 2017.
However, by 2017, Wilayat Khorasan (ISKP) had suffered heavy casualties, including the loss of three walis, half its fighters, and two-thirds of its territory. Notwithstanding, ISKP still maintained the capability to launch consecutive terrorist attacks in Kabul in 2017, predominantly against Shi’a mosques and cultural sites to spark sectarian divisions. Nevertheless, after a sustained campaign, ISKP surrendered to the Taliban in the summer of 2018. Though, Taliban-IS relations reportedly have not been fully hostile, as parts of the Haqqani Network have coordinated with ISKP. ISKP faced further setbacks in 2019 when more than 600 fighters surrendered to Afghan forces.
These setbacks drove the Islamic State (IS) Core to make internal transformations. IS founded new provinces in India and Pakistan in May 2019, territory formerly under ISKP’s purview; and, in June 2020, appointed the zealous Shahab al-Muhajir – who was previously associated with the Haqqani Network and planned urban attacks in Kabul for ISKP – as ISKP’s new wali, as the incumbent Aslam Farooqi was captured.
ISKP’s Contemporary Operational Capabilities
Contemporarily, the organisation can count on a number of foreign fighters who have been smuggled into the country. The organisation has a strength of between 2000 and 4000 fighters spread across the provinces of Kabul, Nangahar, Kunar, Jowzjan, Paktia, Kunduz, and Herat, areas in which the organisation has claimed attacks.
Though when analysing ISKP’s current capabilities and operational organisation, it is possible to argue that ISKP is going towards a period development and readjustment due to Afghanistan’s changing landscape amidst the withdrawal of the US-led coalition. These changes can be both an opportunity and a risk for the organisation. Until 2020 (and illustrated above), ISKP was threatened by the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the US-led coalition, and the now-defunct Afghan government. By a tacit consensus, the three were able to repress the group and dislodge it from their main areas of influence which worked as a catalytic for fundraising.
Since the US withdrawal and the Taliban takeover, the landscape has profoundly changed. There are two key elements to consider. First, Afghanistan remains one of the most prominent theatres of jihad, disproportionately increasing the number of foreign fighters moving to the country. For instance, al-Qaeda has encouraged its members to relocate to Afghanistan from Syria and Iraq, while IS has smuggled key leaders into the country. Secondly, the power and security vacuum left will consequently cause instability that ISKP aims to capitalise on. This has resulted in an increased number of attacks since the beginning of 2021. ISKP conducted 77 attacks only in the first 4 months of the year, with the most known being the attack at the airport in Kabul, which killed 170 civilians and 13 US Marines. Similarly, it is unclear if the Taliban will be able to stabilise the country and provide basic necessities to the population. This instability provides ISKP with an opportunity to gain more traction among the population, gain more recruits in their fight against the Taliban, and plan new international attacks from Afghanistan – as they have done until recently.
ISKP’s Ideological Threat
Islamic State Khorasan Province’s (ISKP’s) security threat – both to the Taliban’s governance and internal integrity and to the international community – is not only manifested in their capabilities but also their ideology. ISKP is a Salafi-jihadistmovement whose goal is to establish a global Caliphate through armed struggle. With this purpose, ISKP follows the teaching of two Salafi scholars, Ibn Taymiyyah and Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahab, who supported purist visions of Islam and the necessity of Sharialaw. Takfiri strategy is their modus operandi that, similarly to other jihadist groups, allows them to kill all those Muslims declared as kafir, meaning “apostate”. Not accepting their same extremist ideology is enough to be labelled as such. Considering this, ISKP rejects the Taliban government and its rules.
ISKP has a transnational and all-encompassing goal, unlike the Taliban which they consider as a “nationalist movement” with an “impure” ideology. The latter is a pivotal factor when considering its success over the larger audience. This group does not only focus on the region – the “Near Enemy” – but adopts a global jihad mentality in which the West is seen as an urgent target to destroy. Another difference with the Taliban, which is consequential to the first, relies on its relationship with the United States (US). ISKP has always condemned the presence of this foreign power on Afghan territory while the 2020 US-Taliban peace deal represented a huge occasion for this faction to delegitimise its counterpart.
ISKP is a threat not only to the Taliban’s renewed governance in Afghanistan but its internal integrity. ISKP is very effective in winning the “hearts and minds” of its followers because of a variety factors. Furthermore, it takes advantage of the fractures inside other jihadist groups, awards compensations to its followers, and employs several platforms to spread its propaganda, such as through Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, and its radio channel, “The Voice of the Khilafat”. These virtual channels are fundamental when waging global jihad, they are the main, and sometimes also the only means to incite and attract recruiters abroad.
Authors: Esther Brito Ruiz, Arslan Sheikh and Ludovica Brambilla
The last two years have been the site of unexpected human security crises - ranging from a global pandemic to the collapse of states. South Asia particularly has been subjected to important crises that have echoed across the region and had global consequences. Maybe the two most significant of these crises have been the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the enduring crises in Kashmir. Both these situations have seen human security determine the broader trajectory of national security, and can serve as examples of why to promote any kind of stability, the wellbeing of the people must come first.
Afghanistan: the consequences of setting human security aside
The Afghanistan crisis clearly represents the consequence of failing to centralize and protect human security. In the wake of the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan, which was originally deployed under the justification of anti-terrorist efforts – seeking the capture of Bin Laden and the countering of Al Qaeda – little good has remained after the end to two decades of occupation and trillions of dollars of investment. With the Taliban back in power and a looming humanitarian catastrophe – in the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres – this crisis is one of the most severe threats to human security today.
But the real impact we can expect on the lives of Afghans remains multifaceted. Firstly, we have seen the weeks since the US withdrawal marked by a resurgence of terrorism in the state - as evidenced by the Daesh-K August 26 attack on the Kabul airport. Secondly, as a result of the war and widespread violence, the country now has over four million Internally Displaced People (IDPs), contending not only with overcrowded camps and a lack of access to basic services - like clean water - but also with the increase of COVID-19 cases. Afghans are facing a possible famine, collapsing health services, and a paralyzed economy in the wake of the seizing of most of the country’s reserves. In fact, the country’s Central Bank has been expelled from the international banking system and refused access to both the states’ foreign reserves and any international credit and assets assistance – including that which it had been previously granted to combat the rise of COVID. As a result of this economic paralysis, prices of food and essential goods have experienced an exponential rise and most financial services and banks have been left unable to operate or provide money to residents. This compromises the survival of local populations – especially those already most vulnerable. As this situation worsens, over 40% of the Afghan population faces acute food insecurity. Beyond these circumstances, the behaviour itself from Taliban authorities is a core threat to the rights and security of its citizens – especially for women and minorities. Massacres of ethnic and religious minorities – specifically of Hazara men in recent weeks – and retribution killings to collaborators of the US army set a worrying precedent to what opposition groups will experience in coming months, as the Taliban secure their rule and repress revolts. Indeed, Deborah Lyons, the Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), has affirmed that “the lives of millions of Afghans will depend on how the Taliban choose to govern”. With little response from recent UN Human Rights Council sessions and assistance on the ground from United Nations agencies and aid organizations being scaled back due to security concerns, prospects are not positive.
The severe human crisis in Afghanistan we see today is aconsequence of an erroneous and militaristic view of what national security and peace requires. Peace begins with the security not of broad governments or the promotion of abstract values, but with the security of the people – established and maintained through access to the basic tenants of a dignified life; including education, food, healthcare, and jobs. By choosing not to center human security, the US acted more as an empire than as an ally for the Afghan people - and in their retreat, little care has been given to the wellbeing of locals and the crises left behind for them to endure. We can wonder what the situation would be today if the focus of the international community’s involvement in this state was for its communities to thrive – rather than the imposition of strategic goals for external parties. In the words ofIbrahim Al Marashi, “America’s failure to address human security ended up harming its national security”.
With the world facing one of the worst humanitarian crises of the last decades, Afghanistan’s people have been left to contend with the human crisis of a pandemic and a state collapse simultaneously. While proposals toextend the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) have been put forth, the likelihood of this engagement in the long term is minimal. Afghanistan now faces a human security crisis in almost every of its expressions - combining a political and economic crisis, a compromised food and healthcare system, and personal and communal threats to life. The way this crisis develops over the next few months will profoundly impact not only Afghans and their future, but the trajectory of all of South Asia.
Kashmir: the forgotten crisis of water security
Water Security is sometimes considered the most important component of human security - since the very basic survival of life is dependent on it. Additionally, water insecurity effectively compromises all other expressions of human security; thus putting the very continued existence of human communities at grave risk. Despite this, it has often become sidelined in conversations regarding international security and humanitarian crises. Specifically, thewater-security nexus over transboundary river basins among riparian countries is a growing concern, which will need to be dealt with increased urgency in the wake of the escalating consequences of climate change.
Among such various transboundary river basins, theIndus River Basin (IRB) in South Asia represents a peculiar case. The IRB flows through the erstwhile princely State of Jammu and Kashmir, which is now divided through aLine-of-Control - a de facto border between India and Pakistan. While this area has a relatively successful water management framework - in the form ofIndus Water Treaty - there is no institutional and legal framework which addresses the effects of climate change on water availability in the IRB. This is a delicate situation, as the IRB has become the second ‘most overstressed aquifer’ in the world because of the area’s growing population and the developmentpressures of both shoreline countries.
The issue of water security in the region is a potential future source of state conflict and a prime human security issue. The territorial conflict over the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir has led India and Pakistan into three conventional wars in 1947, 1965 and 1999 respectively. Both these countries have built major dam infrastructures on the IRB for irrigation and hydroelectricity. In India, it is one of the two main river systems supporting the country’s water deficient areas of the north-west. In fact, according to NITI Aayog, a public policy think-tank of the Government of India, “India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history, with around six-hundred million people facing high to extreme water stress and about two-hundred thousand people dying every year due to inadequate access to safe water’’. However, even this report mentions no data on water management and composition of the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir - still a delicately trodden political issue. In turn, Pakistan is exclusively dependent on IRB for irrigation and hydropower. Thus, this basin represents a vital source for their national food, water, and energy security. This dependency is worsened by the severe water shortages and declining water per capita availability that Pakistan has been facing in recent years. As such, hydro-politics over the IRB have put the growing population of both countries at an extreme risk - both in terms of human security and with regards to broader state conflict. With the perennial tensions between India and Pakistan, and the frequent indication of IRB being used as a geopolitical weapon, the water security of South Asia’s most populated region remains an imminent threat.
Both the cases presented evidence a simple truth - security, at any level, lays its foundations on the wellbeing of the people. In the absence of this, there can be no sense of stability or continuity. Afghanistan and Kashmir serve to remind us that even with vested national security interests, state and military involvement, and capital investment, those endeavours that forgo human security will eventually face violence, conflict, and possible internal collapse.
America’s longest war is worth analysing when in possession of an accurate chronology ofevents, from the very start to the newest events.
Tracing the beginning of US involvement in Afghanistan in 2001 might not be the right starting point. Going all the way back to the 1950s would help understanding much more of the conflict. At that time, Afghanistan was invested with many modernizing projects financed from the West in order to rebuild the country into a modern nation state.
Throughout the Cold War period, the US and the Soviet Union, being sworn enemies, would fight over any share of territories that might be useful for their cause. Afghanistan was one of them, representing a strategic area for the Soviets and having been the main actor during the Great Game between UK and Russian forces once century before.
The Cold War fight for Afghanistan initially began with soft war measures, such as investments from both parties, only to result much later in an actual military conflict.
The US and the Soviet both got involved in the modernizing of the country through infrastructure building.
In the 70s, Daoud Khan, then President of Afghanistan, began to establish closer alliances with the URSS. In 1978, the Saur Revolution, a marxists-leninist coup overthrows Khan and gives birth to the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The newly-established government engaged in some progressive policies, such as land redistribution, enhancing gender equality and expanding education. Regardless of their efforts though, they ended up upsetting autonomous leaders. At this point, the U.S. started to fuel some revolutionary groups who did not approve of the communist switch occurring in the country. By deploying money to put a stop to the spreading of communism, engaged in massive fundings of both tribalist and islamic groups well before the Soviet invasion in December 1979.
The period of time that goes from 1979 to 1992 is characterized by massive involvement of US forces in the region resulting in America investing 3 billion dollars, channeled into various mujahideen groups fighting the Afghan regime.
The Reagan administration managed to increase US spending in the country by using lobbies as a couverture (e.g. Afghan American Educational Fund).
In 1999, the United Nations Security Council, in light of the recent events, decided to proceed with the adoption of Resolution 1267. By making this move, the Council aimed at creating the Taliban Sanctions and the al-Qaeda Committee, containing more than 300 names, all identified as suspects.
After the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers in the financial district of New York City, the US response was going to fuel the longest ever war fought by the United States of America.
U.S. forces entered Afghanistan in order to proceed with their War on Terror policy, ideated by then-President Bush. Following the Tora Bora cave bombing, in December 2001, where Osama Bin Laden was thought to be hiding, on December 6th the Taliban government was defeated and left Kabul.
Operation Anaconda, a major ground assault launched from the US against al-Qaeda and Talibans, results in a failure. The Pentagon begins to convey US resources (both intelligence and military) in Iraq.
In 2003, the US’s attention completly switches to Iraq, in order to overthrown former President Saddam Hussein, invading the country and leaving the Taliban and other islamist groups the time to regroup in the southern regions of Afghanistan, on the border with Pakistan.
The 2004 elections after the fall of Kabul are considered to be part of the “Reconstructing Afghanistan” project, consisting in various efforts brought alive by countries, ONG and OIG after the U.S. invasion.
Intensive investments in the country were made after the fall of Kabul. World Bank statistics show huge investments made in the country, with 0,5 billion dollars in 2001 to more than 4,2 billion in 2015.
In the 20 years since 9/11, the US has invested more than 2 trillion on Reconstructing Afghanistan and Nation-Building in the area. That makes it 290$ everyday, for 7.300 days.
Eventually, the money invested in the country went on to fuel a number of projects which in most cases remained incomplete. As for the rest of the money, according to Ryan Crocker, US ambassador in Afghanistan, it has gone into a vortex of endemic corruption.
After Afghanistan’s elections in 2004 and Taliban’s insurgency in the south, the area witnessed an increase in the presence of NATO troops, given the fact that US troops were still deployed in Iraq. This leads to various more insurgencies from the Talibans and to the deployment of British forces.
In 2009, newly-elected President Obama proceeded with the doubling of US troops, bringing the number to 68.000 only to reach 100.000 a year later.
Washington’s intelligence errors regarding Afghanistan, with an eye on Beijing
In the assessments of US intelligence agencies, the scenarios regarding Afghanistan posed a worrying scenario. In the months leading up to August 2021, most intelligence reports analyzed that the Afghan government and its government forces would not be able to offer adequate resistance to the Taliban forces, which in those months were advancing rapidly, without the air or ground support by US or NATO forces.
The report, however, will be denied when between 14 and 15 August the Taliban forces surround and enter Kabul, after the Afghan government, President Ghani himself flees the capital to take refuge in the Arab Emirates, capitulates to the Taliban forces occupying Kabul without any resistance from the government armed and security forces.
The errors of assessment, however, were accompanied by the willingness of President Joe Biden to want to withdraw his forces from Kabul, to end the twenty-year war that began in 2001, without considering the consequences of a speeded up withdrawal, which began in early 2021, but confirmed by the Doha agreements of February 2020 ratified by the previous administration led by President Donald J. Trump.
In the plans of the Biden administration, the scenario of the immediate collapse of the government forces in Kabul had been excluded from the beginning, as they assessed that they would be able to counter effective resistance to the Taliban militias, an assessment that the US intelligence itself had not analyzed in depth, given that the forces of Kabul, it appears some units of the Afghan special forces, withdrew from the urban centers, without resisting the advance of the Taliban.
In Washington's assessments of the strategic interests of the new administration, Afghanistan was no longer part of the plans. Washington is now looking to reinforce its forces (economic and politico-military) in the Indo-Pacific area to contain the rise of the People's Republic of China and its aggression, especially in the South China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait area.
On the Afghan events the same Global Times, the English edition of the main Chinese Communist Party newspaper, stated that Taipei must now reflect on the ability of the United States to protect its allies, both in Europe and in Asia. Even if Washington, on Taiwan, both on the part of the White House and on the part of the Congressional leadership, the ideas are clear and precise.
United States’ longest war in Afghanistan has finally come to a haphazard end. The Taliban remain undefeated and now control Afghanistan. How does the United States intend to utilise its alliance with Pakistan to preserve peace and security in the country without having boots on the ground?
United States’ (US) longest war came at an astronomical cost with 66,000 to 69,000 Afghan troops and 2,500 US troops killed, and over $2 trillion spent since the war began in 2001. In addition, 2.7 million Afghans were forced to migrate and another 4 million were internally displaced. Despite this, the US-backed Afghan military rapidly collapsed, and the Taliban spared no time in taking over and establishing an interim government. Taliban-controlled Afghanistan has increased the fear of terrorism and the return of Al-Qaeda to the region. The shrinking economy and curtailed women and human rights have further worsened the socio-economic situation in Afghanistan.
However, the Pakistan-US relationship is at a low. Blinken asserted the need for Washington to reassess its relationship with Pakistan. Whilst acknowledging Pakistan’s contribution to the US endeavour in Afghanistan, Blinken also stated that at times Pakistan acted against US interests. “This is one of the things we're going to be looking at in the days, and weeks ahead — the role that Pakistan has played over the last 20 years. But also, the role we would want to see it play in the coming years and what it will take for it to do that,” he said. Blinken also stated that Pakistan must ‘line up’ with the broader international community in denying the legitimacy of the Afghan Taliban, unless they ensure free travel, the protection of women and children’s rights, and guarantee no safe haven for terrorism again.
In an interview in June, Journalist Jonathan Swan asked PM Imran Khan if he would allow CIA presence in Pakistan to conduct cross-border counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan against Al-Qaeda, ISIS and Taliban. PM Khan replied with a stern ‘absolutely not’. Later, Pakistan Foreign Office officially denied any reports claiming the presence of US bases in Pakistan. In a recent speech at the National Assembly of Pakistan, PM Khan clarified that Pakistan could be ‘partners with the United States in peace but never in conflict’. PM Khan lamented that past decisions to join the US in its war against terrorism which jeopardized the security of Pakistan and came at a heavy price for Pakistani civilians and soldiers. This suggests a policy divergence from the longstanding Pak-US cooperation.
PM Khan has reiterated his position in several interviews that he believes in a political solution to the Afghanistan problem. In a recent interview with CNN, he emphasized the need for an inclusive government and the assurance of women and human rights in Afghanistan. PM Khan clarified that he wants the international community to find a diplomatic solution to pressure the Taliban government into protecting women and human rights, exercising inclusive governance, and ensuring there's no safe haven for terrorism on Afghan soil, in exchange for international recognition and desperately needed aid. He elaborated that the conclusion of the two-decade-long war has proven that Afghanistan and its’ people cannot be controlled by outside forces and that a puppet government cannot survive in Afghanistan.
Pakistan, under PM Imran Khan, desires a stable and peaceful Afghanistan and is not interested in negotiating with the US on future military endeavours. Moving forward, this will have implications on the Pak-US relationship, which will, by extension, also reconfigure the security situation in the region. If the Pak-US alliance is in jeopardy and the US looks towards India for a potential alliance, Pakistan might increasingly look to China for support. All key states have a stake in Afghanistan, which seems dangerously close to collapse. Only time will reveal how the alliances are reconfigured in a post-war scenario in the region.