The recent power shift in Afghanistan has surprised several countries. Despite a significant investment of time and money to upgrade Afghanistan’s military capabilities, the forces’ incompetence to fight off the Taliban has been disappointing. The US is said to have spent $88 billion on training and modern equipment for Afghanistan’s cops and military personnel, accounting for roughly two-thirds of all foreign aid to the country since 2002, yet the Taliban took over Kabul in less than ten days.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg blamed the Afghan national government for the stunning and swift Taliban takeover. Meanwhile, The White House released a statement defending its position stating that US military presence would not have made any difference in the outcome since the Afghan army was not capable enough to hold its own country. Although, these statements are true to an extent but cannot be described as justification for the US and NATO allies to shrug off their responsibility.
Key reasons for the failure
Afghan government corruption and military weakness
There was rampant corruption within the Afghan government which weakened the capabilities of the military. For instance, soldiers complained about substandard equipment, shoddy basic items like army boots, insufficient helmets, and jammed weapons. In addition, many army units sold their weaponry to the Taliban for money, and desertions became a common phenomenon within the army. U.S. military trainers criticized the Afghan security forces as inept, uninspired, and incompetent in the Lessons Learned interviews. They also accused Afghan commanders of pocketing tens of thousands of “ghost soldiers” wages provided by US taxpayers.
Struggling with significant structural deficiencies from the very beginning, Afghan soldiers were labelled as “systemically corrupt,” with no effective command and control. Sarah Chayes wrote about an unhappy Afghan civilian who was sick of paying bribes to post-2001 security personnel and yearned for the Taliban to come and rid him of this nuisance. These examples demonstrate how corruption robbed Afghanistan’s security forces of legitimacy and public support before their dramatic defeat.
Taliban was driven ideologically
Taliban had an agenda to bring back the sharia law in Afghanistan and therefore they were psychologically more driven and committed to their cause. Whereas, Afghan forces were motivated to have a job rather than a committed stance to serve the country. Taliban became far more capable overall in achieving their goal of establishing an Islamic state.
The Afghan soldiers’ ability to fight the ideologically driven Taliban was further suppressed by the atmosphere of self-doubt and instability because of the continuous reshuffling of office holders and defence ministers, governors, and police chiefs in the Afghan military. This demonstrated that the Afghan forces lacked unity and dedication to a common cause in the fight against the Taliban.
Inadequate knowledge of the country’s history and culture
The US-made no attempt to learn about the country’s history or culture. If it had been done, Afghanistan would never had beenin the current crisis. Former US intelligence officials believed that it was foolish for the US to even think of establishing a democratic institution.
The US was dead set on constructing a nation from the ground up in Kabul, with a democratic government based like their own in Washington. However, Afghans were used to tribalism, monarchism, communism, and Islamic law, therefore democratic institutions were new to them. They could have been more experimental, and should have invited Afghans to offer suggestions on how to improve democracy. In Afghanistan, tribal connections frequently trump national ones, or loyalties are dictated by money and power. Part of the Taliban’s strength came from the fact that they were Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group.
The Federal Reserve of the United States has frozen all of Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves, totaling $7 billion. While this measure is designed to prevent the Taliban from misusing these money, it also means that Afghanistan’s central bank will be unable to regulate the exchange rate. In addition, The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also blocked the Afghan government’s access to IMF resources (its so-called Special Drawing Rights, or SDR) and the World Bank has also stopped all disbursements.
To this, Mr. Khan has urged foreign nations to keep a check on the war-ravaged Afghanistan economy. Pakistan is most likely seeking economic support from the United States and other European countries as they themselves are in no position to give economic assistance to the Taliban directly. However, they are not wary of the fact that if the Taliban achieves economic stability and other favorable outcomes, their commanders will leave Pakistan and acquire more freedom to operate freely. This would debunk the popular belief among Afghans that the Taliban can’t function without Pakistan’s help. Furthermore, many Taliban leaders detest Pakistan’s collaboration with US-led operations, as well as the undue influence they try to exercise on Taliban leaders.
The Taliban’s recently formed interim government is dominated by men and is made up of the movement’s top officials. There are no women in it, and minorities are underrepresented. This demonstrates the Taliban’s success in legitimizing and upgrading leadership council’s wartime insurgent positions to the rank of sovereign government departments. Moreover, as per the unconfirmed reports, the new government’s inauguration event was scheduled for September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. However, The US and its NATO partners pressurized the Qatar’s authorities to convince the Taliban not to celebrate. Whatever the reason, the Taliban’s choice not to have a celebration was motivated by their desire to gain international legitimacy for their authority.
Future Course of Action
Forty years of war, persistent poverty, climate-related natural disasters, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic have proved a lethal combination for Afghanistan. The US should not shrug off its responsibility and must admit far more Afghan refugees in the country than its European counterparts. Given the population and economic development in the US, they have the capacity to admit Afghan refugees. A target to admit at least 1 million displaced Afghans should be set for the next ten years. Research indicates that over time refugees tend to contribute more to the US economically than they take.
The US should also continuously be in touch with Afghanistan to ensure that the country is brought back to stability along the lines of the welfare of the people and in accordance with internationally recognized human rights. In these early days, the Taliban appear to be following a calculated strategy to improve its image globally. Nobody can take the Taliban’s assurances at face value, as evidenced by occurrences like women’s advertising banners being painted over and death threats against female doctors. Therefore, it is important that the United States continues to nudge and encourage the Taliban to respect basic women’s rights.
Furthermore, Afghanistan has a considerable probability of economic collapse, causing it to become even more destitute. In the current context, much depends on the Taliban’s next move; however, the US and its allies must avoid worsening the situation by imposing economic limitations and sanctions on Afghanistan. Innocent Afghans should not be punished as a result of a conflict between the Taliban and the United States.
Last, resettlement programs for Afghans in other developed countries should be opened up. Annual contributions to the UN refugee program should be increased so that resources and efforts for Afghan refugees can be expanded. Although Joe Biden argued that the United States had no moral or legal commitments to the countless Afghans, the truth is that the United States was an occupying power, and thus its obligations go beyond moral or legal requirements to assist the Afghans who are currently in need. The current state of affairs came to such a conclusion after following twenty long years of American-led policy, which has now displaced countless Afghans as refugees.
About the Author: Pradyumn Singh Mephawat is pursuing LLB at Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat. He is fascinated with International Relations and the Medieval Indian History.