By JHANVI MEHTA
Predictably, the rapid unravelling of Afghanistan has created reverberations regarding American credibility, as they and allied forces desire to give up on what they perceive is a failed project. This may define Biden’s presidency, as achievements in Afghanistan are rapidly evaporating under his radar. The Taliban's recent advance has reinforced the sense that American support is no longer boundless, and that the notion that the US cannot be relied on in the long-run is starting to become astoundingly evident.
The 20 year-old US war is ending as it began, with the Taliban seizing control and rule of Afghanistan, as Biden is determined to withdraw troops at the expense of Afghans. As the nation’s government collapsed and the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, fled the nation, US and allied nations rushed to evacuate civilians, and their diplomatic and military personnel. Kabul is an increasingly panic-stricken city, with fear and confusion taking a foothold as the capital falls to the Taliban, and its airport is marred with chaos amidst evacuation.
The Afghan government collapsed following the Taliban’s occupation of the presidential palace in Kabul on 15th August, and evacuations have been underway in the city’s airport. Tens of thousands of Afghans have sought to escape by rushing to Kabul to leave the country. This marked a key turning point for the Taliban, as they effectively took control of Afghanistan.
Two decades following the suppression and ousting of insurgents, the insurgents have bounced back, despite years and hundreds of billions of dollars expended by the US to bolster up the Afghan government and set up its defence apparatus. Taliban control of the nation was sealed in a precipitous offensive by overwhelming dozens of cities and provinces in a matter of days, only to leave Kabul as the remaining chief fortress of government control. With the American-backed government crumbling as the US began their military withdrawal in Afghanistan, the US has chosen to blatantly provide a leadership handover to a terrorist organisation.
Once it became apparent that Taliban fighters were about to sweep Kabul, many who sought refuge in the capital were alarmed as local police began to disappear from their normal checkpoints after they fled from the ruthless military offensive. US-backed President Ghani released a statement saying he departed Afghanistan to save Kabul from further bloodshed, and is reported to have fled to Uzbekistan. This was followed by the US embassy warning Americans to avoid Kabul airport after reports the facility took fire and the situation was changing drastically. Later that day, the US State Department reported that the evacuation of all embassy personnel took place.
This rapid offensive came at a moment when many in Europe and Asia were optimistic that Biden would re-establish the US’ strong presence in international relations, particularly as China and Russia seek to extend their influence and have announced their support for the Taliban government.
The Taliban’s occupation has immediate implications for the complex cluster of three regional powers that are near Afghanistan: China, Pakistan, and India. For China, US withdrawal has raised anxieties concerning an expanding network of militant groups targeting the large-scale infrastructure projects it is expanding across Eurasia. For Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban’s rebound provides a tactical setback to Pakistan’s foe, India, but also possibly an enhancement to its association of the Pakistani Taliban that poses a threat to Pakistan itself. This heightens worries for India regarding militancy in Kashmir, at a point when it is struggling to manage flammable border clashes with Pakistan and China.
However, the burning question is: what will Afghanistan be like under the Taliban? The main goal for the Taliban is to impose their ultra-conservative interpretation of Islamic law and eradicate foreign influences from the country. Their return to power is a frightening prospect for women, as their last period of rule in the 1990s saw women forbidden from attending school, instead forced to spend their lives at home and perceived to be mere male possessions. Women particularly are victims of this political war, denied the freedoms to live their lives normally and strive for achievements. Afghans fear that the freedoms gained since 2001 are about to be trampled as the US exits without extensive planning for the future, and with a severe blunder in estimating the capabilities of the Taliban.
Afghans are being deprived of their basic rights and are transported back to 20 years ago. After two decades of fighting for freedom, people are now hunting for burqas and safety. Innocent girls and women will again be deprived of an education, face harsh restrictions on movements, face execution for failing to wear a burqa or hijab, and are in danger of being raped and forcefully married to Taliban militants as a means of subjecting females to sexual servitude. Meanwhile, young boys will be forced into training with the Taliban, or face prison or death.
By leaving, the US has undone any progress that has been made in Afghanistan, making the last twenty years wasted. Afghanistan has now fallen to ruin as a result of the US selfishly pulling out troops and its own people as the rest of the nation burns.
Comparisons have been drawn between images of the panicked retreat in Kabul at present and the evacuation of Saigon in 1975, with veterans coming forward to express frustration towards the fact that their sacrifices have been meaningless.
Biden’s blame shifting towards Trump, Afghanistan’s former president, and forces currently trapped in a dramatic situation displays unpresidential behaviour by failing to take significant responsibility for how the course of events have unravelled and defending the pull-out. His predecessor may have set this plan in motion, but Biden carried it out and will have to deal with the fallout.
Biden could have stopped the Taliban; he decided not to. The US has all but abandoned the country. Afghan defence forces have been left helpless, as they are cut off from US air support. Twenty years wouldn’t have been squandered if additional troops were deployed in the short term to make a significant difference, as this would have allowed Gen. Austin S. Miller, a former US commander in the country, to carry on simultaneously training Afghan security forces alongside preparing for withdrawal. Critics, among many, maintain that Biden could have preserved the status quo in Afghanistan with a small commitment of troops, however he chose not to proceed in this manner.
Joe Biden and leaders of other western nations, including the UK, were warned that the retreat of forces from Afghanistan would lead to a disintegrated government. Twenty years of foreign military presence has culminated in western nations running and evacuating when the Afghan people needed them the most.
Biden’s decision to pull forces from Afghanistan could plague his presidency into disdain. This abandonment of Afghanistan to Taliban rule, following years of American commitment, is a mockery and embarrassment to Biden’s claim that “America is back”. Biden has stated that his presidency will be judged on whether Afghanistan poses an emergent threat of terrorism to America, and with the way things are looking now, the judgement will be brutal.
A hasty withdrawal as the Taliban entered its strongest phase has created an uncertain future for the safety of Afghans and risks denting America’s moral authority. How far America can support Afghanistan is unclear, and it may be too late to save the cities already under attack, as they failed to secure Kabul international airport, an element significant to retaining US diplomatic presence.
The US can expect to pay for its actions in Afghanistan, as there is a genuine danger that militant groups will reconstruct themselves and yet again present a threat to the West. With American allies stuck in the midst of this, potential supporters will rethink offering their support.
Image: Flickr (Eupalinos Ugajin)