President Joe Biden finally swallowed the bitter pill as he spoke from the East Room of the White House on 8 July 2021. Announcing that the withdrawal of the American forces from Afghanistan will be completed by 31 August 2021, he virtually admitted the defeat in the 20-year war.
After 20 years of war, the ideal conditions that the U.S. had once hoped to bring about before it withdrew troops had never materialized, he said.
The speed of withdrawal of the foreign forces in Afghanistan since May this year is matched by the speed at which the Taliban are fanning out across the country.
There is the need to interpret correctly the strategy and tactics of the Taliban. To do this, just envision them without their beards and turbans. Imagine most of them in proper military uniforms and some of them in dark suits and power neckties. – This will suddenly help appreciate the sophistication of their strategy and tactics.
These are the same Taliban that ruled 90% of the territory of Afghanistan, including Kabul, in the last decade of 20th century and yet they are different. In contract to the last time, the bulk of them have better and more rounded education. Their worldview is also quite contemporary, attributable greatly to their smartphones and the access to the Internet.
Their dominance in the battlefield is undisputed. For anyone still harbouring doubts on this account, the latest piece of evidence is the inglorious departure of the American forces from the Bagram base in the deep of night without even informing their Afghan partners.
Their prowess at the negotiation table was evident in the peace deal struck at Doha where they did not budge a single inch from any of their demands.
To understand their current strategy and tactics, two things must be kept in mind: 1. The Taliban don’t recognize the sitting government in Afghanistan; 2. In the Doha accord they promised not to attack the foreign forces but did not make any such promise about the Afghan forces.
During the past few weeks the Taliban have fanned out swiftly. Now they are in control of some 200 districts which amounts to more than half the territory of Afghanistan. In almost all the cases, the populations have ceded peacefully and voluntarily.
Taking control of a large number of districts but not the provincial capitals except in two cases suggests some specific objectives:
- The Taliban are dividing the country into small, manageable pockets.
- They are putting their own check posts on the entry and exit points, which will allow them to regulate the movement of cargo and people. They can prevent the grouping of large number of people in any area.
- In the districts they take under their control, they are setting up summary courts where they are dispensing raw but honest justice. Availability of quick and free justice is one of the things that makes the Taliban acceptable to the majority of the population, at least in the semi-urban and rural areas.
- By dividing the country into district-sized cells, the Taliban are ensuring that the Afghan forces will not be able to move freely from one point of conflict to another and simultaneously enable the Taliban fighters to move in and out of the hot spots without much resistance.
The Taliban have taken control of the vicinity of three border points with Central Asia, one with Iran and two with Pakistan. This has been done to prevent the entry of the arms and ammunitions and/or reinforcements for the opposing forces.
They have promised that they will not try to take over the Bagram base, at least not yet.
They have promised that they will not only avoid attacking any proposed or present infrastructure objects but will actually safeguard them. The only exception has been one case where they clearly sent a political message.
The current structure of the Taliban allows for more autonomy to the local commanders. The local units follow the guidelines but make their own decisions. This is based on the lessons learned during their last time in power. It also resonates well with the egalitarian nature of the Afghans.
A Taliban delegation met with the representatives of the Afghan government in Tehran last week. Both sides agreed that bloodshed and conflict cannot lead to any solution.
Concurrently, the Taliban have announced that they will announce their own proposals for the future of Afghanistan within one month. We need to wait and see.
Treating the Taliban on the basis of past perceptions will lead to costly errors of judgment. /// nCa, 9 July 2021