By Rafiullah Khan
It is widely believed that US/NATO forces have almost exhausted all of the conventional efforts in combating Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan. It seems that not only in military terms but the US government has a phobia of failure at political front by the Afghan Taliban. Earlier, the renowned Senator John McCain during August 2017 had said that, “we are losing in Afghanistan and time is of the essence if we intend to turn the tide.” He was not the only one who had argued that the Taliban are on the march and Taliban are getting stronger, the government is on the retreat, they are losing ground to the Taliban day by day.
Same are the feelings of Afghan government ex military officials like Abdul Jabbar Qahraman, a retired Afghan general. He was the Afghan government’s military envoy to Helmand Province until 2016, had the same view about their failure against the Afghan Taliban. International as well as regional media, who are monitoring the Afghan situation also likewise proclaimed that “The Taliban do look a lot like they are winning” and that this is “The war America can’t win.” Although the Taliban has demonstrated a surprising ability to survive and conduct high-profile attacks in cities like Kabul, it is weaker today than most recognize. Experts opine that the Afghan Taliban has maintained an ideology that is too extreme for most Afghans, a leadership structure that is too closely linked to the Pashtun; ethnic group. Besides, an over-reliance on brutal tactics that have killed tens of thousands of innocent Afghan civilians and alienated many more.
There are reports of a widespread involvement in corruption of Afghan Taliban. Many observers point to corruption in the Afghan government also; fewer understand that the Taliban is implicated too, especially in the drug trade. Drug revenue accounts for over half of the Taliban’s total financing and is the single most important source of revenue for local commanders. Local Taliban commanders fund their networks by taxing the trade, including farmers. The Taliban once exported drugs from Afghanistan in the form of opium syrup, but reportedly the group is increasingly building labs in the country that process opium into morphine or heroin. These actions have helped to ensure that Afghanistan remains the world’s largest opium producer and exporter, producing an estimated 80 percent of the world’s opium. Taliban drug money is used to pay everyone from foot soldiers to Afghan government officials, and the Taliban’s involvement in virtually all aspects of the opium trade; suggests that it is akin to a drug cartel.
Experts believe that most senior Taliban leaders still hope that they will one day be able to re-take Kabul, overthrow the Afghan government, and establish an extreme Islamic emirate in the country. But given the group’s weaknesses and the United States’ decision to keep troops in Afghanistan, that is unlikely to happen. The Taliban is a different organization today than it was in the 1990s, when it ruled Afghanistan. It is run by Haibatullah Akhunzada, a former chief justice and head of the Taliban Ulema Council, the group’s highest religious authority. Akhunzada and other Taliban leaders have attempted to win Afghan hearts and minds by funding some development projects and promising to reform the education system. Today’s Taliban leaders are also more technically savvy than those of the 1990s; they proudly advertise their websites, Twitter feeds, and glossy magazines. Although, they often crack down on civilians using some of the same technology.
The Taliban has resiliently held on to rural terrain and has managed to conduct repeated high-profile attacks in Kabul and other major cities of Afghanistan. Its leaders have created an organizational structure in which the top echelons provide strategic guidance and oversight while military and political officials in the field make operational and tactical decisions. The Taliban has also managed to retain some organizational cohesion, despite the loss of two leaders in the past few years, a significant blow for any organization.
In fact, the weaknesses of both the Taliban and the current Afghan government suggest that a stalemate is the most likely outcome for the anticipated future. Territory may vary hands, although probably not enough to slant the balance in support of either side.
As such, the Taliban’s best option now is to pursue a negotiated settlement, since it is unlikely to defeat the Afghan government and its international backers on the battlefield. For their parts, Kabul and Washington should likewise support a settlement because they will also not likely be able to secure an outright military victory, either.
Hence for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, it would need certain compromises and indulgence of the regional powers like Russia and China to collectively carve out practical steps for achieving the regional and global peace.