The racial profiling of Taliban by US/Western dominated media, their local affiliates and the analyst community, with hardly any voice calling for justice of speech and truth of expression, is ironic. In over 51,200 results googled recently for “Afghans, Afghanistan and Taliban”, there is hardly any article, commentary or news that portrays the Taliban point of view. Recent archives are full of notions like Taliban barbarism and cruelty; that they have not changed; that they cannot be trusted and that they would usurp power and along with it the rights of minorities and women. Although, factual position and data point differently.
First, Taliban barbarism and cruelty. In “Taliban strategy: what is different?” (15 July 21), I quoted from Taliban spokesperson, Sohail Shaheen’s interview with Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT). He talked of inclusivity, civility, learning from the past and avoiding single-party solutions. Taliban leadership’s recent instructions to the field commanders in the captured area augment this position. They profess to fight only those who fight them and are tainted with anti-Afghan crimes. They wow to respect the right to life and peace for those surrendered through tasleem.
Contrarily, ANSF succumb to anti-Taliban atrocities, as clippings show ANA troops firing at dead Taliban fighters to the point of mutilating their faces, reliving the memories of Sheberghan massacre (2001). And it is the US, not the Taliban, resorting to daily carpet-bombing, causing massive civilian casualties (as in Lashkargah), violating the Doha Accords.
Taliban control of over 270 out of 421 Afghan districts and 85-90% of Afghan territory and surrender of thousands of ANSF troops (almost entirely peacefully), especially in the northern non-Pashtun provinces, attest to their greater acceptability by the Afghan people and the mistrust that public and ANA troops hold for the Afghan government.
Second, Taliban.21 are not Taliban.96 as covered in the cited article. In the captured areas, Taliban are under orders to keep schools, offices, markets and even media outlets open. They have wowed to protect “civil liberties, and women’s right to education and work” adding only hijab to their attire (as in many Islamic countries), remaining sensitive to Islamic/Afghan values. Excesses, if any, by their field commanders are viewed seriously by the Taliban chain of command.
Third, the trust matrices. Media conscience seems to be deeply asleep to point out who is not trust-worthy in this conflict. Taliban or the sole superpower that signed the deal with its erstwhile nemesis out of compulsion; then reneged, first by ‘reviewing’ it once the government changed in Washington and then by unilaterally delaying the agreed deadline for complete pullout. And it is the US that continues to undertake combat operations and bombing of Taliban while Taliban are steadfastly sticking to their side of the deal by not attacking withdrawing US/Nato troops.
Or was it the Taliban — unable and unwilling to influence its protégé Afghan government to release Taliban prisoners — the root cause of stalling the intra-Afghan dialogue, hence the present impasse. And it is the pervasive US/Western/allied media in all forms that consistently paints Taliban in bad light, fanning division, hatred and scare. But then in the hindsight, it all seems orchestrated by ‘spoilers’ of peace, with an enduring interest in creating Af-Pak ‘arc of instability’.
Fourth, about Taliban usurping power. Don’t we all know “the winner takes it all” … however, heeding lessons from the past, Mr Shaheen unequivocally supported inclusivity, minority and women rights when the fundamental right to life and peace — an existential priority — is served. “Dialogue and peaceful outcomes” remain the Taliban’s stated and ‘unchanged’ policy preferences.
Expecting Taliban/Islamic Emirate (IEA) to surrender on the negotiating table what they won on the battlefield, shedding tears, blood and sweat would be wishfully naive. Power-sharing is their professed goal, but they will not share the table with those who colluded with the enemy. A little change of perspective would reveal the rationality of Taliban viewpoint. Power-sharing within the ‘Ashraf Ghani framework’ is not possible; power-sharing within the IEA context is possible and the only pragmatic alternative to potential strife.
So, is there any method to the present madness of ‘over the horizon capacity that can be value-added’, as President Biden calls the bombing campaign of up to five sorties daily till end of August 2021, using B-52 bombers, C-130 gunships and armed Reaper drones? Most analyses see it as a “rear guard” operation to allow complete pullout and/or extricate the diplomatic corps from Kabul (if security deteriorates). The US Embassy alone is 4,000 strong. The method seems to be inspired by the US “Saigon Moment”.
Or will the bombing retard ‘the Taliban momentum’ (as touted) till the time the shocked ANA is able to give a good account of itself, defending the remaining urban centres (and probably a last stand at Kabul) …justifying the effort, treasure and the US/Nato pride that went into its raising, training and sustaining? Having failed militarily themselves, it is painful to see this child of the West do so poorly. But expecting ANA (or ANSF including Air Force and Police, etc) to do what over 50 advanced armies for more than 20 years could not do, is asking too much.
And that brings us to the assessment of situation from the US/Western perspective. They — rightly — seem to have concluded that the Taliban deluge will drown Afghanistan sooner or later. So, expecting ANSF to stand and fight is a feeble hope against hope, to salvage some ‘training/mentoring’ pride, ‘hoping’ to impose a military stalemate by trading space for time, leading to ‘some’ political solution. For the involved generals and statesmen, gulping down this defeat — that will rewrite military pamphlets, forcing a rethink — will be hard.
And they know that there will be no ‘civil war’ if they do not start and support it; and that has to be seen. A destabilised Afghanistan, geo-strategically speaking, resonates with CIA, Pentagon and the Western bloc, for it saps the positive potential of China, Iran, Russia/Central Asia and Pakistan. And killing hapless Afghans is inconsequential in this game of thrones and egos.
So, stopping the raging torrents of the rag-tag through skilful media manipulation is the US/Nato’s last gambit. Hence the stories of ‘intense fighting’ (killing a handful only), population displacement, summary executions, and other Taliban excesses, are churned out regularly — in obituary of truth.