Know all about Taliban and US tussle: History and present

deepak mehto
By deepak mehto September 21, 2019 16:48

Context: 

President Trump calling off the talks with Taliban insurgents on Sept. 7. Mr. Trump cited the death of an American soldier as evidence that the Taliban were not negotiating in good faith.

American diplomats have pressed for a cease-fire during talks. But Taliban leaders reject the idea, reluctant to jeopardize their military capability, which they see as their main source of leverage in reaching a deal with the United States.

Airstrikes and offensives by the American and Afghan government forces on one hand, and Taliban offensives and attacks on the other, have increased at the same rate as progress in the negotiations. In Afghanistan, violence is often used to gain negotiating leverage ahead of peace talks.

Why is there a war in Afghanistan?

On 11 September 2001, attacks in America killed nearly 3,000 people. Osama Bin Laden, the head of Islamist terror group al-Qaeda, was quickly identified as the man responsible.

The Taliban, radical Islamists who ran Afghanistan and protected Bin Laden, refused to hand him over. So, a month after 9/11, the US launched air strikes against Afghanistan.

And because the Taliban gave shelter to militants from the al-Qaeda group, it made them an immediate target of an attack by US, Afghan and international forces in the wake of 9/11.

Where did the Taliban come from?

Afghanistan had been in a state of almost constant war for 20 years, even before the US invasion. We have to go back to the Anglo-Afghan Wars to trace the roots of Taliban.

1878-80 – Second Anglo-Afghan War: This war ended with a treaty which gives Britain control of Afghan foreign affairs.

Anglo-Afghan Wars, also called Afghan Wars, three conflicts (1839–42; 1878–80; 1919) in which Great Britain, from its base in India, sought to extend its control over neighbouring Afghanistan and to oppose Russian influence there.

Third Anglo-Afghan War, 1919: A peace treaty recognizing the independence of Afghanistan was signed at Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan) on August 8, 1919, and was amended in 1921.

The Afghans also concluded a treaty of friendship with the new Bolshevik regime in the Soviet Union. Afghanistan thereby became one of the first states to recognize the Soviet government.

The Soviet Union had its origins in the Russian Revolution of 1917. Radical leftist revolutionaries overthrew Russia’s czar Nicholas II, ending centuries of Romanov rule. The Bolsheviks established a socialist state in the territory that was once the Russian Empire.

Russia emerged from a civil war in 1921 as the newly formed Soviet Union- the world’s first Marxist-Communist state.

A 1922 treaty between Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Transcaucasia (modern Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The newly established Communist Party, led by Marxist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, took control of the government.

In the 1980s, the United States isolated the Soviet economy from the rest of the world and helped drive oil prices to their lowest levels in decades. When the Soviet Union’s oil and gas revenue dropped dramatically, the USSR began to lose its hold on Eastern Europe. A loosening of controls over the Soviet people emboldened independence movements in the Soviet satellites of Eastern Europe. The Soviet War in Afghanistan helped to hasten the end of USSR. The Soviet Union ceased to exist on December 31, 1991.

1933 – Zahir Shah becomes king and Afghanistan remains a monarchy for the next four decades.

1953 – General Mohammed Daud becomes prime minister. Turns to Soviet Union for economic and military assistance. Introduces social reforms, such as abolition of purdah (practice of secluding women from public view).

 1978 – Daud resisted Soviet attempts to direct his foreign policy as “interference in Afghanistan’s affairs.” Daoud moved Afghanistan toward the non-allied bloc, which included India, Egypt, and Yugoslavia.

 The Soviets were concerned about the Islamist insurgents taking power since many of the USSR’s Muslim Central Asian republics bordered on Afghanistan. In addition, the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran seemed to shift the balance of power in the region toward Muslim theocracy. General Daud is overthrown and killed in a pro-Soviet coup.

The Soviet intervention

1979-80 – Soviet Army invades and props up communist government by Babrak Karmal. The Islamic insurgents of Afghanistan, called the mujahideen, declared a jihad against the Soviet invaders.

Various mujahideen groups start fighting Soviet forces. US, Pakistan, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia supply money and arms to the mujahideen.

1988 – Afghanistan, USSR, the US and Pakistan sign peace accords and Soviet Union begins pulling out troops but civil war continues.

India’s refusal to publicly criticise the Soviet invasion of 1979, ended up doing India great harm in the eyes of its traditional friends in Afghanistan, the Pashtuns.

But India’s stance was understandable in that particular geopolitical context and a consequence of India’s gratitude for Soviet support during the Bangladesh war.

Note: The Pashtun people are Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group​, and are also the second-largest ethnicity in Pakistan. They are also known as “Pathans.” Pashtuns are united by the Pashto language, which is a member of the Indo-Iranian language family, although many also speak Dari (Persian) or Urdu. Most Pashtuns today are Sunni Muslims, although a small minority are Shia.

 Emergence of Taliban

1996 – Taliban seize control of Kabul and introduce hard-line version of Islam, banning women from work, and introducing Islamic punishments, which include stoning to death and amputations. Taliban (which means “students” in the Pashto language) is thought to have first appeared in religious schools, mostly funded by Saudi Arabia, which preached a hardline form of Islam.

Taliban recognised as legitimate rulers by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. They now control about two-thirds of country. The Taliban initially were welcomed for neutralizing and disbanding many of the violent, mercenary militias.

Mullah Mohammad Omar was the founder and leader of the Taliban until his death in 2013.

An Al-Qaeda and Taliban Nexus

1998 – US launches missile strikes at suspected bases of militant Osama bin Laden, accused of bombing US embassies in Africa.

October 15, 1999 – The United Nations Security Council adopts Resolution 1267, creating the so-called al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee, which links the two groups as terrorist entities and imposes sanctions on their funding, travel, and arms shipments.

2001 – Ahmad Shah Masood, leader of the main opposition to the Taliban – the Northern Alliance – was assassinated.

Note: India earlier provided  secret military assistance to Ahmad Shah Massoud as India wanted to counter Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan. India’s logic- When Massoud fights the Taliban, he fights Pakistan indirectly.

What was the Northern Alliance?

The Taliban targeted several ethnic groups including the Tajik, Uzbek and Shiaite Hazara minorities and nearly two million refugees fled the fighting and repression.

The Pashtun-dominated Taliban gained more power and seized control of more territory,

During the 1990s, the Northern Alliance formed of various religious and ethnic groups that together shared in the desire to oust the Taliban.

The Northern Alliance fought a defensive war against the Taliban government.They received support from Iran, Russia, Turkey, India, Tajikistan and others while the Taliban were backed by Pakistan.

The US invaded Afghanistan, providing support to Northern Alliance troops on the ground in a two-month war against the Taliban, which they won in December 2001.

With the Taliban forced from control of the country, the Northern Alliance was dissolved as members and parties joined the new establishment of the Karzai administration.

September 11, 2001: Terrorists Strike the United States. Al-Qaeda operatives hijack four commercial airliners, crashing them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC.

2001 October – US-led bombing of Afghanistan begins following the September 11 attacks on the United States. Anti-Taliban Northern Alliance forces enter Kabul shortly afterwards.

December 2001: Bin Laden Escapes

The US  tracked al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to the well-equipped Tora Bora cave complex southeast of Kabul. But he reportedly escaped to Pakistan on horseback.

How the US War progressed?

2002 January – Deployment of first contingent of foreign peacekeepers – the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) – marking the start of a protracted fight against the Taliban.

NATO is an international alliance that consists of 30 member states from North America and Europe.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 by the United States, Canada, and several Western European nations to provide collective security against the Soviet Union.

The collective defense arrangements in NATO served to place the whole of Western Europe under the American “nuclear umbrella.” The idea was that if any member was attacked, the United States would respond with a large-scale nuclear attack.

NATO Headquarters is located  in Brussels, Belgium.

Recently, Macedonia became NATO’s 30th member.

 

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was a NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan, established by the United Nations Security Council in December 2001 as envisaged by the Bonn Agreement.

Its main purpose was to train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and assist Afghanistan in rebuilding key government institutions, but was also engaged in the war with the Taliban insurgency.

Troop contributors included the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and other NATO member states as well as a number of other countries.

ISAF ceased combat operations and was disbanded in December 2014, with some troops remaining behind in an advisory role as part of ISAF’s successor organization, the Resolute Support Mission.

About Bonn  Agreement

The Bonn Agreement was signed on December 5, 2001, by representatives of several different anti-Taliban factions and political groups.

It established a roadmap and timetable for establishing peace and security, reconstructing the country, reestablishing some key institutions, and protecting human rights.

The agreement contains provisions addressing military demobilization and integration, international peacekeeping, and human rights monitoring.

2002 June – Loya Jirga, or grand council, elects Hamid Karzai as interim head of state.

What is a Loya Jirga?

A Loya Jirga, or grand council” in Pashto, is a mass national gathering that brings together representatives from the various ethnic, religious, and tribal communities in Afghanistan.

The Loya Jirga is a centuries-old institution that has been convened at times of national crisis or to settle national issues. Historically, it has been used to approve a new constitution, declare war, choose a new king, or to make sweeping social or political reforms.

How much power does it have?

According to the Afghan Constitution, a Loya Jirga is considered the “highest expression” of the Afghan people.

But it is not an official decision-making body. Its decisions are not legally binding and any verdict it hands out must be approved by the two houses of the Afghan parliament and the president in order for it to be made official.

Unofficially, however, the Loya Jirga’s decision is seen as final, with the president and parliament expected to respect the ruling.

Elections

 2005 September – Afghans vote in first parliamentary elections in more than 30 years.

2008 July – Suicide bomb attack on Indian embassy in Kabul kills more than 50.

New US approach

2009 March – US President Barack Obama unveils new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. An extra 4,000 US personnel will train and bolster the Afghan army and police and there will be support for civilian development.

2010 August – Dutch troops quit.

May 1, 2011 – Osama bin Laden Killed: The death of America’s primary target for a war puts pressure on the United States to stop the war.

2011 September – Ex-president Burhanuddin Rabbani – a go-between in talks with the Taliban – is assassinated.

2011 October – Afghanistan and India sign a strategic partnership to expand co-operation in security and development.

Pakistan and the Taliban boycott the scheduled Bonn Conference on Afghanistan. Pakistan refuses to attend after a Nato airstrike killed Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border.

The Bonn conference, which was attended by 85 states, 15 international organizations and the United Nations, focused on three main issues involving the conclusion of the Afghan War and the transition of security responsibility to the Afghan Government, scheduled to occur in 2014. Progress was hindered by Pakistan’s boycott of the conference following the 2011 NATO attack in Pakistan.

2012 January – Taliban agree to open office in Dubai as a move towards peace talks with the US and the Afghan government.

2012 April – Taliban announce “spring offensive” with audacious attack on the diplomatic quarter of Kabul. The government blamed the Haqqani Network. Security forces kill 38 militants.

The Haqqani network, which has the backing of elements within the Pakistani security establishment, is one of Afghanistan’s most experienced and sophisticated insurgent organizations.

Although the Haqqani network is officially subsumed under the larger Taliban umbrella organization led by Mullah Omar and his Quetta Shura Taliban, the Haqqanis maintain distinct command and control, and lines of operations.

Nato withdrawal plan

2013 June – Afghan army takes command of all military and security operations from Nato forces.

2014 December – NATO formally ends its 13-year combat mission in Afghanistan, handing over to Afghan forces. Despite the official end to Isaf’s combat role, violence persists across much of the country.

2015 December – NATO extends its “Resolute Support” follow-on mission by 12 months to the end of 2016.

Washington announces it plans to hold direct talks with the Taliban. Afghanistan insists on conducting the talks with the Taliban in Qatar itself.

NATO is leading a non-combat mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces and institutions. The Resolute Support Mission (RSM) was launched in January 2015, following the completion of the mission of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in December 2014, when responsibility for security in Afghanistan was transferred to the Afghan national defence and security forces.

 Election deal

2014 September – Ashraf Ghani is sworn in as president.

2016 May – New Taliban leader Mullah Mansour is killed in a US drone attack in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.

Since 2004, the United States government has attacked thousands of targets in Northwest Pakistan using unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) operated by the United States Air Force under the operational control of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Division.

Most of these attacks are on targets in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border in Northwest Pakistan.

In December 2013, the National Assembly of Pakistan unanimously approved a resolution against US drone strikes in Pakistan.

In February 2019, a two-day conference was held in Moscow (Russia) to lay down a plan for ending the war in Afghanistan. Taliban and prominent Afghan politicians participated in this conference. It was the first public meeting in the years between the Taliban and prominent Afghans politicians.

 Progress of Peace Talks

On 12 August 2019, the eighth round of negotiations between the United States and the Taliban began on 4 August and ended on 12 August 2019 in the Qatari capital, Doha.

Khalilzad, an Afghan-US diplomat is representing Washington in the Doha talks. The chief of the Taliban’s political office Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai and co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradarare representing the Taliban in the Doha talks.

A sticking point in the meetings between the two sides in Doha is the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

The U.S. is negotiating from a position of weakness:

Now, the goal of America is to stop the Taliban, not to defeat them. Despite the massive deployment of troops, the U.S. had not been able to stabilize the country.

The U.S. is handling the case of Afghanistan from a position of weakness and the allies of America in Afghanistan are more united.

How have the Taliban managed to stay so strong?

The group could be making as much as $1.5bn a year, a huge increase even within the past decade. Some of this is through drugs – Afghanistan is the world’s largest opium producer, and most opium poppies – used for heroin – are grown in Taliban-held areas.

But the Taliban also make money by taxing people who travel through their territory, and through businesses like telecommunications, electricity and minerals.

Foreign countries, including Pakistan and Iran, have denied funding them, but private citizens from the region are thought to have done so.

 Two big compromises by the U.S. for an exit deal

  1. The U.S. has accepted the Taliban demand that the Afghan government should not involve in the peace process.
  2. The U.S. continued to hold talks even in the absence of a ceasefire. Taliban is on the winning side.

The four key issues highlighted in the discussions over a potential agreement, these are as follows:

  1. Taliban would give a guarantee that it will not allow foreign fighters to use Afghanistan as a launchpad to conduct attacks outside the country;
  2. US and NATO forces withdrawal;
  3. an intra-Afghan dialogue;
  4. and a permanent ceasefire.

In order to “end the occupation” in Afghanistan, the Taliban has long demanded a complete withdrawal of foreign troops.

Taliban refused to negotiate with the Afghan government

 The Afghan government has repeatedly invited the Taliban for talks but the group has long refused to negotiate with the Afghan government and that why the US was left with no option but to enter into talks with it.

Since 2001, the Taliban considers Afghanistan has been controlled by foreign forces and it is a “puppet regime” as the Kabul government does not exercise real power.

The group says that any engagement with the government would grant it legitimacy.

September 7, 2019: President Trump calls off the talks with Taliban.

Consequences of the talks collapse

  • The highest number of civilians killed in Afghanistan’s war in 2018 according to a report of the UN. Civilian deaths jumped by 11 percent in 2018 compared in 2017.
  • The most affected party would be the ordinary Afghans.
  • Now the Taliban would try to control the Afghan government and capture the cities.

Why is India opposed to the deal?

  • India has refused to be a part of talks with the Taliban directly, sending only retired officials in a “non-official” capacity for one round of talks in Moscow last year.
  • “Four-party” talks between the U.S., Russia, China and Pakistan appeared to cut India out of the talks on Afghanistan’s future.
  • Representatives of China, Russia, and the US held their 3rd consultation on the Afghan peace process in Beijing following which they also requested Pakistan to join for a surprise quadrilateral meeting.India has not been brought into the loop so far by Washington.
  • India has long batted for an “inclusive peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan which is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled.
  • This includes preservation of the constitutional order and women’s rights. This is important as the Taliban remain reluctant to commit themselves to broader democratic processes and key aspects such as women’s rights even as they remain committed to their own interpretation of the Sharia law.
  • New Delhi is concerned that anti-India terrorist groups could find a safe haven in Afghanistan, and seeks to insulate itself from groups such as the Islamic State. New Delhi is already fighting terrorists trained in Pakistan who are infiltrating into Kashmir and would not like to see other groups join the fight.

Efforts of Pakistan to link Kashmir issue with Afghan peace process:

  • Pakistan has been the driving factor to convince the Taliban for peace talks. By helping in striking a peace deal, Pakistan hopes to mend its ties with the USA. In the past, the USA had cut off aid to Pakistan citing that Pakistan is not doing enough to stop Taliban.
  • Both countries (India and Pakistan) have considerable influence over Afghanistan but Pakistan military has long been accused of supporting the extremism.
  • India continues to be the fifth largest donor of reconstruction aid to the country. It is therefore necessary for Afghanistan to maintain good relations with both the countries which is increasingly proving to be difficult in view of the developments in Kashmir.
  • Pakistani government officials have allegedly cautioned that any violence in Kashmir might jeopardise the Afghan peace process.
  • Taliban has criticised Pakistan for connecting the heightened tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir issue with the situation in Afghanistan.Taliban now wants to adopt a more balanced approach in the region.
  • If the Taliban stance is indeed changed, India must utilise this opportunity to improve ties with the group considering that the group is likely to have a strong presence in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the peace process.

The Chinese angle:

Afghanistan is in desperate need of infrastructural development and uplifting its economy by access to Chinese investors.

On the economic front, China is the biggest foreign investor in Afghanistan. China eyes Afghanistan’s mineral resources including lapis lazuli. Other deposits include gold, copper and chromite, which are still untapped.

China fears that the chronic instability in Afghanistan may derail the progress of Beijing’s transcontinental infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to connect China with the countries of Southeast, South, and Central Asia; the Gulf region; North and East Africa; and Europe.

CPEC is part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative (BRI). CPEC is a $54 billion infrastructure development project that aims to connect China’s Xinjiang region to Pakistan’s Gwadar port. India has protested to China over CPEC, which is being built through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). But Afghanistan has expressed a strong desire to join CPEC.

Also China is wary of the geographical proximity between Afghanistan, home to the Taliban and a number of other transnational terrorist outfits, and its Uyghur Muslim-predominated Xinjiang region.

China’s growing involvement in Afghan issues exemplifies the Chinese aspiration to alter the global perception in favor of China as a powerful regional, and perhaps even a global, player.

The Russian angle:

  • Russia is in a sort of competition with USA in chalking out a peace deal with Afghanistan.
  • Russia had even offered to act as a guarantor for any future U.S.-Taliban peace agreement.
  • Russia overruled objections from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and invited a Taliban delegation to Moscow in November 2018. A Taliban delegation met a group of senior Afghan politicians in Moscow, the third time such an event happened in the Russian capital.
  • Russia is stepping up efforts to strengthen its diplomatic partnership with the Taliban.
  • Also Afghanistan peace talks are an opportunity for Russia to mend its ties with the USA. 

The Iran angle:

  • Shi’ite Muslim Iran was an adversary of the Taliban for most of the time it ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Tehran subsequently armed Shi’ite factions that helped US-led forces dislodge the Taliban.
  • But recently Iran held talks with a delegation from Afghanistan’s Taliban.
  • Afghan government officials accused Tehran, which the US has said is attempting to increase its influence in western Afghanistan, of supplying the Taliban with money, weapons and explosives. Iran has denied it.
  • Iran is trying to gain extra leverage in Afghanistan that would be a threat to US armed forces deployed in the country in the event of Tehran’s nuclear deal standoff with the Trump administration worsening.

Conclusion:

There can be no peace unless the Taliban and Afghan security forces de-escalate, and this will require talks between the Taliban and the government.

Indian influence needs to go up sharply for the democracy of Afghanistan. If Kabul needs help to hold presidential polls on schedule then New Delhi should offer logistical and other support to the Afghan presidential polls (held on 28 September).

India clearly has a lot more to provide modern education and women’s rights. A key role in such domains has already played by India there. New Delhi has much at stake.

Also a peace agreement dictated by the Taliban won’t sustain. The Taliban can’t be allowed to have a free terror run either.

A permanently unstable Afghanistan and an insurgent group growing further in strength is not good news for any nation, including Afghanistan’s neighbours.

Afghanistan needs a comprehensive peace push in which all stakeholders, including the government, the U.S., the Taliban and regional players will have a say.

The U.S. should continue to back the Kabul government, put pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the Afghan Taliban, double down its counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan and invite regional players such as Pakistan, Iran, Russia, India and China to take part in the diplomatic efforts.

The U.S.-Taliban peace talks may have collapsed. But it need not be the end of the road for finding a settlement for the Afghan crisis.

deepak mehto
By deepak mehto September 21, 2019 16:48