According to troubling reports coming from Afghanistan, the Taliban – an Islamic fundamentalist political movement which rose in reaction to the Soviet Union’s military occupation in the 1980s – conducted a series of brazen attacks in and around Kabul, the capital, putting Afghanistan’s central government in great jeopardy.
Experts have already warned that should Kabul fall within the grasp of Taliban insurgents, a decade of peace-building and democratic efforts would have been all for nothing.
Speaking to the Washington Post this Sunday, Sudarsan Raghavan explained, “Taliban insurgents have intensified their attacks on this besieged capital with a flurry of brazen bombings and afternoon raids targeting foreigners and Afghans, bringing the war into this city in a way not seen in any other year since the radical Islamists were ousted from power.”
Just as Afghanistan appeared set to transition away from political instability with a new president, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, at his helm; the country has once more been plunged into the throes of war and civil unrest now that the Taliban has vowed to reconquer all of Afghan territories.
While state and foreign officials have been completely blind-sided by the Taliban sudden activities surge, Prince Ali Seraj – the very man who advised former US President Reagan on Afghanistan by acting a bridge in between Washington and Afghan tribal leaders – has long warned that Afghanistan’s inabilities to jump-start its economy and manifest social cohesion by bringing the tribes back into the fold had left the state open to radicals.
The writing on the wall
Moreover, Prince Ali, a long-standing advocate of the Arbaki system – tribal militia – has regularly cautioned the state against the mercenary-type structure of its military, arguing that such financial strain on the state had essentially left Afghanistan open to disaster.
As Prince Ali emphasized in a report for Al Jazeera this November, “for the vast majority of Afghans, security above all remains the top priority – followed by food, employment, fuel and the price of basic necessities. Without security, none of the other needs can be met.”
To which he added, “It is clear that Afghanistan’s security woes cannot be addressed by the Afghan National Army. Unlike the conscript military of yesteryear, when the forces were well equipped with all the necessary hardware, such as tanks, helicopters, jets, armoured personnel vehicles, rockets, etc, today’s national army is barely equipped to meet the threat posed by the enemy, widely reported to be supported and financed by neighbouring countries.”
In hindsight, state officials should have heeded such warnings.
But if Prince Ali has been most vocal in his “tribal advocacy” urging Kabul to consider leaning on its traditions rather than abide by western designs and thus upset a system which for centuries proved successful in defeating all wannabe invaders, other analyst have too highlighted the inherent policy flaws which enabled groups such as the Taliban to stage a comeback.
Mohsen Kia, an Iranian expert stated that “Washington has debilitated Afghanistan to the point where the state stood but an institutional shell with no real bite or power to its name.”
He added in exclusive comments, “Rather than import democracy as it so pompously claim in 2001, the United States have destroyed everything which made Afghanistan whole: its tribal make-up, its economy, its industries, its military, its institutions. Washington essentially worked to make Afghanistan so dependent on foreign aids that Kabul would forever remain a US vassal.”
Another analyst, Mojtada Mousawi also emphasized that Afghanistan’s Taliban problem is but an attempt by the US to justify a military comeback in Central Asia. “Washington knew perfectly well that by withdrawing its troops the Taliban would ultimately attempt to seize control of Kabul. By allowing such a security crisis to unfold Washington is manipulated Afghan officials into recalling US troops.”
Dramatic increase in violence
The latest series of assault took place on Saturday, when three militants clutching guns and grenades, including one who wore an explosives-packed vest, stormed a compound inhabited by foreigners in the middle-class Karte-e-Saay enclave. “In a frenzy of explosions and gunfire, two foreigners were killed and seven were taken prisoner,” said Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Ayub Salangi.
Although the security forces managed to neutralize all Taliban militants, the group’ sheer boldness send shockwaves across the country; reminding all that terror remained an ever-dangling sword of Damocles over the nation.
On Sunday, authorities raised the death toll to three foreigners — a South African aid worker and his two children — and an Afghan. And Kabul’s police chief, Gen. Mohammed Zahir, abruptly resigned amid the rising insecurity.
Speaking from Tehran, Mousawi predicted that similar attacks would likely shake Afghanistan over the coming days and weeks as the Taliban would continue to test the self-defence capability of the state. “This is a fight the military cannot possibly fight alone. The whole of Afghanistan needs to throw its weight behind the state, and that includes all tribal entities and religious leaders. Afghanistan needs to find its axis again. Without cohesion and a common cause, the Afghan nation will stand divided to the four winds.”
Mousawi added that since clearly both the United Nations and the United States had thoroughly underestimated the Taliban’s ability to reorganize itself, Kabul would have to review its counter-terror policy. “As the annual fighting season nears an end in rugged, increasingly snow-covered mountain areas, the capital has become the new focal point of the conflict.”
Afghan journalist, Esmatullah Kohsar sent a chilling warning this weekend when he wrote in a tweet, “The city [Kabul] is now the front line of the war.”
If so far Afghan state of officials have been keen to play down the Taliban threat, arguing that Kabul was home to thousands of foreign troops and Western-trained Afghan security forces, tribal leaders have advised the central government to advance with caution on what they have warned will turn out to be the burial ground of Afghan’s democratic aspirations.
Mirwais Jan Balkhi a retired general expressed concerned over the Taliban’s seemingly newfound boldness, theorizing that the group aimed to cripple the armed forces by bringing war to Kabul, where most of Afghanistan firepower is concentrated. He explained, “Even if the Taliban cannot outnumber of even outfire the armed forces it can certainly erode at its structure. This will weaken the state and mean that more territories will fall outside the control of the state.”
Balkhi pointed to the recent increase in violence against Afghanistan’s symbols of influence, including Kabul’s police chief, an outspoken women’s rights activist, and foreigners working at aid agencies and embassies.
As fear has gripped the capital, Kabul, hundreds have already chosen to desert the city, keen to escape what they understand as the new Taliban frontline.
By some estimates, the total number of attacks in Kabul is already more than double that of last year. According to figures compiled by Matthew Henman, manager of London-based IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center, a military analysis group, there were 80 attacks this year in Kabul as of mid-November.
By any account, Afghanistan’s fight against the Taliban seems to only have begun.
Catherine Shakdam is the Associate Director of the Beirut Center for Middle Eastern Studies and a political analyst specializing in radical movements, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.