Isolated Taliban disarrayed
The Taliban are facing twin crisis of identity and existence as several of its leaders have surrendered in the face of extreme unpopularity
Killing of 30 security jawans in an ambush at two checkpoints in the western province of Badghis of Afghanistan within three days of bilateral ceasefire a short while back, preceded by the death of over 50 civilians and security forces through blasts in the Nangarhar province and elsewhere in the last fortnight of June this year during ceasefire reflect the utter frustration of the Taliban, now under the diktat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS). The latter claimed the responsibility for those bloody acts.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has now an upper-hand and he told the media promptly, "It is now the Taliban's decision, whether they want to keep killing or join the peace process. No one has the right to monopolise the peace process." Pro-US in his style and moves, Ghani has cashed in on the growing unpopularity of the Taliban in both Afghanistan and in their once strongholds in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Federally Administered Territorial Areas. Desertions of rank and file and local leaders through surrenders to security forces, although in scattered patterns, have further increased their isolation.
The trend is manifest explicitly in several areas in the aforesaid provinces and FATA. Take the east of Kunduz which is abuzz with word 'welcome' in Pashto and Farsi to those giving in, an indication of the retreat of 'Political Islam'. "We gave up to the Northern Alliance. They are our brothers, and this is our country. The foreigners will never surrender, I think," a Taliban fighter, Shah Mahmoud, told the Associated Press. By foreigners, he did mean Arabs, Chechens, and Pakistanis, who have genuine apprehensions that they might be killed. Significantly, Fred Eckhard, a UN spokesman associated with the peace process, expressed his concern that because of barely a half-dozen humanitarian workers in Mazar-e-Sharif, "It'd be unrealistic to think they can take custody of hundreds of prisoners of war." He disclosed that the UN began consultations with the Red Cross that takes care of prisoner-of-war exchanges although not in the business of holding prisoners of war, and as victors. The responsibility is with the Northern Alliance, according to international law.
The top functionary among guerrillas who surrendered to the Northern Alliance forces in Kunduz, Mullah Mohammed Khaqzar, a former Taliban deputy interior minister when the Taliban were in power in Kabul, however, hinted that the split might escalate and transcend beyond an apparent divide between foreigners and Afghans in Kunduz, and all the way to the top. He claims to have forewarned Taliban supreme leader Mohammed Omar that the foreigners who were professionals should be advised to quit Afghanistan. "They have plans of their own and are destroying our country," Khaqzar told the Associated Press in Kabul.
The Pakistani Taliban are in the back foot too after the killing of the most-wanted militant among them, Fazlullah Khorasani, accused of several deadly campaigns including the 'cowardly' killing of 132 school children in 2014 and the shooting of Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl, whose brave combat fetched her the Nobel Peace Prize.
The role of US military forces towards the Taliban is not free from suspicion, especially in Afghanistan. In May-end, those Islamic terrorists reportedly had a top-level secret meeting with the Afghan military high command. The US commander in Afghanistan, Gen John Nicholson, disclosed that the talks also involved foreign governments and international organisations, but the Taliban promptly shot this down as a "false claim" and reiterated that the Taliban policy continued to be one of refusal to negotiate with the Afghan government, but had no such reservations towards the US officials. The civil society activities whose unflinching endeavour for a democratic Pakistan is temperamentally uncompromising with the neo-liberal-US imperialism are a determined force. They are increasingly anti-Taliban.
However, Washington today has no bonhomie with the Taliban, at least going by their policy statements in the post-9/11 years. In fact, the US administration tries to establish that Russia is at work to destabilise Afghanistan by supporting the Taliban. Senior US officials keep up a campaign that the Putin regime is supplying the militants with weapons. In an interview to BBC in late-March, Gen John Nicholson accused Russia of exaggerating the number of IS combatants in Afghanistan "to legitimise the actions of the Taliban and provide some degree of support to them. We've had weapons brought to this headquarters and given to us by Afghan leaders and [they] said this was given by the Russians to the Taliban. Some strategic experts (even in the North American academia) apprehend that the Trump reign is trying to trigger a 'new cold war'.
The US rulers' intentions are suspect, especially in West Asia and North Africa in their new belligerence in foreign relations. So, they also assert that the Afghan Taliban receive military training in Iran and, in support of these, some 'documents' are in circulation. The Iran government termed these as "fake and undocumented" allegations in order to wage "a psychological war" and damage friendly relations between the Iranian and Afghan governments.
The Taliban are facing a twin crisis of identity and existence. Nonetheless, it's not yet the appropriate moment to predict anything.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)