It is quite expected to see an abundance of analyses on the recent developments in Afghanistan. However, I would like to focus on two points before relaying the background story and the possible future scenarios. The first point is how the extremist entities in our region are being euphoric that the recent Afghan story might recur in other places; and this is a pure illusion where the defect should be realized. Afghanistan is a very peculiar country in several aspects, and its peculiarities, which led to the current results, are not present in other countries. Thus, such dreamers should stop promoting this illusion. The second point is that we still have not witnessed the final outcome of the developments in Kabul, which might take a long time to unfold.
Afghanistan was and will always be a historically very difficult and hazardous geographical and societal environment. It witnessed a bloody power struggle in recent history, where first the Afghan monarchical system was transformed by a group from the Royal Family itself in 1973, toppling Mohammad Zahir Shah, and letting Mohammad Daoud Khan take over instead. The latter attempted to implement reforms that urged him to cooperate with the then nearest and strongest political entity, the Soviet Union. However, the Soviets developed their own ambition of making Afghanistan a part of the Soviet satellite states. Hence, the communists in Kabul toppled Mohammad Daoud Khan in April 1978, and less than a year later the Soviet Army invaded the country “to aid the friendly government” there in facing the mounting armed resistance. The rest of the story is well known, as a group of world countries and entities decided to stand by the so-called warlords out of spite of the Soviet presence during the peak of the Cold War. The Afghan warriors consisted of various and rival ethnic and tribal groupings that fought against each other following the Soviet withdrawal, and then the conditions in the country became turbulent, leading to the expansion of the Taliban Movement based on establishing security through a concept the Afghans know and generally accept, namely, that of the Islamic Sharia law. The Taliban succeeded partially in its endeavor, and a large segment of the Afghan people accepted their authority.
Meanwhile, some Arab and non-Arab groups joined the Taliban, not for the purpose of forming an ‘Islamic State’ in Afghanistan, but rather to establish a cross-national Islamic empire. Hence, the country became an open attraction point to all extremist groups and individuals in the Middle East, including al-Qaeda, oppositionists, and a number of entities that rejected the conditions in their countries. Afghanistan was neglected by the international community and was left to face its own destiny, and then there were the 9/11 attacks in 2001 which sparked the war against the Taliban and led to a US-led international occupation of the country. Some 20 years later the coalition forces withdrew from the country, revealing a difficulty in political development that was clearly manifested in the Afghan people’s incapability to build a modern political system, as the country is still dominated by excessive tribal affiliations, and by religious concepts so deep-rooted in the Afghan societal fabric in a manner that hinders keeping up with modern times, and antagonizes any foreign country. Hence, the Afghan political sides that joined the US project are now in a struggle against each other, which is hard to resolve, and everyone lost faith in the civil state project, including the security apparatuses that were established under US supervision, and which found it hard, even with their modern arsenal, to thwart the advance of the Taliban.
As for the next day, there are at least four possible scenarios.
The first scenario: The Taliban might take over most Afghan territories, leading the other forces, especially the ethnicities other than the Pashtuns (who comprise 42% of the Afghan people) such as the Tajik (27%) and the Hazara (9%), beside other minorities to indulge into a conflict that might necessitate particular regional or international interventions, especially as that Taliban’s takeover has not yet been complete or final. Such a conflict may also suspend developmental aid provided by some countries, leaving the country torn by a bloody struggle that consumes the power of its people for a long period, thus expanding poverty – and enabling any sides that wish to intervene to continue the struggle and invest in it to recruit young people with their money.
The second scenario: The Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan might become a model for extremist groups, inspiring them to attempt to repeat it.
The third scenario: The Taliban might fulfill the pledges it made to the US, as published, and which entail that it will rule in a manner consistent with international law, will generally respect human rights, women’s dignity, minority rights, will cooperate in preventing all internationally-designated terrorist organizations from having presence on Afghan soil, and will prevent the cultivation or export of internationally banned crops. However, the indications of that scenario are still vague.
The fourth scenario: During the previous stage of the Taliban’s rule between 1969 and 2001, a few countries acknowledged it, while most world countries chose not to - due to its social policies. The near future will reveal how the world will respond to the developments there and which countries will or will not recognize the Taliban’s authority, and whether recognition will be used as a tool to control the behavior of the new state.
All in all, there is a deep sense of anticipation, which is justified because it is a huge mistake to underestimate or ignore the developments in Afghanistan. Rather, caution and evaluation of probabilities is a priority for the security of our region.
To sum up, amid the various and numerous analyses attempting to reveal the motivations for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and which each side interprets from their own point of view, there is an important element that should be considered; namely, that of the effect of democracy mechanisms in the Western society, as these mechanisms might change and have a deep impact on world events.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.