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US created ‘political, security vacuum’ leading to Taliban takeover: Think tank

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Taliban’s nearly complete takeover of Afghanistan came after the US-backed Afghan military collapsed with shocking speed creating a “political and security vacuum,” analysts have said.

As the world watched stunning scenes of Taliban fighters standing in the Afghan president’s office and crowds of citizens and foreigners frantically trying to board planes to escape the country, Champa Patel, director of the Asia-Pacific program at think tank Chatham House, said the fallout was inevitable after American military’s withdrawal from the country.

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“What is frustrating is the analysis and commentary that wants to focus on what this means for China and Russia’s influence in Afghanistan,” she said. “Yet again, Afghanistan has been instrumentalized for other countries’ agendas.”

She added, “Why are we talking about what this means for great power competition? The US, through its decision to expedite troop withdrawal, created this political and security vacuum.”

What is urgently needed now is to ensure the protection of everyday Afghan people, Patel said.

“States should focus their minds on facilitating visas, helping people to safety, humanitarian assistance in the country, and seeking a peaceful political resolution,” she added.

Hameed Hakimi, a research associate for the Asia-Pacific program and Europe program at the think tank said Afghanistan has suffered “multiple waves of a brain drain” as regimes have changed in the last 43 years of conflict starting.

“This began with the communist coup in April 1978. The last time Taliban consolidated power in 1996, they suffered harsh international sanctions. Taliban leadership are aware of the implications of the sanctions for a country that’s vastly different to the one in 2001.”

“For the Western donors, regional countries and the United Nations, there is an urgent task of re-familiarizing themselves with a Taliban government whose leaders they have known for some years in the context of ‘peace talks,’” Hakimi said.

“For the Taliban, the biggest challenge lying ahead is to transition from an insurgency to a government; that acceptance among the Afghan populations will materialize only when they see positive changes in their lives.”

Five killed at Kabul airport as Afghans try to flee Taliban takeover. (File photo)
Five killed at Kabul airport as Afghans try to flee Taliban takeover. (File photo)

Dr Patricia Lewis, the director of the International Security program at Chatham House said, from the international security perspective, recent events in Afghanistan demonstrate the “significance of strategic patience.”

“The Taliban correctly assumed that, over time, western enthusiasm would wane, and democratically elected politicians would decide to abandon their efforts in the country – they just had to wait them out and be prepared,” Lewis added.

“NATO and other western countries had developed an approach of building capacity in the Afghanistan military and developing democratic institutions in the country.”

According to Lewis, “such a process takes generations, not mere decades, especially in a country where the underlying culture is very different. What must be understood in western countries is that, along with development aid, military support is a long-term, cost-effective investment in security for all.”

She also said: “The complete failure of the Afghan government and armed forces to hold the line and defend against Taliban forces will make it harder to convince the leaders of other countries that defense engagement, as a form of capacity-building and conflict prevention, is worthwhile. The UK has been at the forefront of developing this approach but as witnessed from the events in Afghanistan, none of this capacity-building matters if political determination and national leadership is absent.”

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