The Afghanistan Loop (Part II)
The real factor behind the "Taleban phenomenon" is the "ethnic problem" in Afghanistan and in the region (Pakistan and Central Asian states up to Russia and China), which has been instrumentalized by geopolitical interests.
For Part I, click here
After the Taleban took power, almost all the notables who had held high and important positions in the state organs and almost all the professionals in the land fled the country. Among them were the former leaders of the "other ethnic" groups who had fought in the 1970s and 1980s either against the Soviets and the Soviet-supported government or alongside that government against the Mujahedeen. All those leaders who became famous and infamous as "warlords", whether Mujahed or "pro-communist", have some things in common: they all fought, either together or separately, against the Taleban in the 1990s; they mostly belong to the non-Pashtun population (Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and Turkmen) who have all suffered under Pashtun domination since the 19th century; they cooperated with the USA and NATO in the 2001 invasion against the Taleban; they were initially given important posts in the new government (but not at the leadership level – those were given exclusively to the Pashtuns); they were corrupt in the beginning or became corrupted; they were gradually removed from important posts by Karzai and later by Ghani, some of them physically (falling victim to assassinations that were never resolved); and they lost their reputation as "heroes of the resistance" (be it against the Soviets or the Taleban).
After that, their influence rested on the wealth they acquired through corruption and their weak opposition to the Pashtun central government. And when the Taleban took power in August 2021, these "notables" simply departed, despite the fact they had grandly vowed to put up fierce resistance against the Taleban. According to recent reports, some of them have now convened in Ankara and formed a "resistance council". They are demanding that the Taleban come and engage with them. However, many believe that their primary concern is to safeguard their vast real estate assets in Afghanistan.
After the Taleban take-over, small individual groups formed in the valleys and mountains of the Hindu Kush and other non-Pashtun areas to resist the Taleban. The leaders and members of these groups came from the ranks of the defeated military and police forces and from sections of the local population. Apparently, they receive no support from foreign states or organisations, with the exception of Tajikistan, where the activists of the "National Resistance Front" headed by the young Ahmad Massoud – son of Ahmadshah Massoud, commander of the Mujaheddin in Panjshir and later Minister of Defence (assassinated by Al-Qa'eda on 9 September 2001) – are able to run an office in Dushanbe.
These groups are unconsolidated and do not yet form a network. They have no clear political demands, no profile and no politically strong organisation and leadership. The presence of some old cadres in these groups tends to work to their disadvantage, as they do not enjoy a good reputation amongst the population.
They also try to pass themselves off as "better Muslims" than the Taleban, which creates even more confusion amongst the locals. Their only advantage is geographic, because their areas of operation are the narrow valleys and rugged mountains of Panjshir and Andarâb in the Hindu Kush, which are impossible or almost impossible to conquer. They recently announced the resumption and expansion of their combat operations for the spring after the snow thaw, which they now seem to have put into action. For several weeks, heavy fighting has been reported in Panjshir and Andarâb, with high Taleban casualties.
In their fight against this "resistance", the Taleban apply the traditional methods of the Pashtun rulers of the past, as they recruit fighters from the Pashtun tribes of Afghanistan and Pakistan by claiming to fight for "God and country" while expecting lavish spoils and rewards in the event of victory. But these Taleban fighters, are sustaining heavy casualties without any advancement, and thus end up venting their rage on the civilian populations. Recently the Taleban government ordered the local populations of several districts in Panjshir, Andarâb and Badakhschan to abandon their villages. The forced displacement officially began on 22 May.
Eyewitnesses have reported the looting, burning of houses and gardens, and the beatings and shootings of young men. Plenty of pictures and videos of such violence and bloodshed are circulating on social media. Unfortunately, there is currently no way to ascertain the veracity of these reports.
Some influential Tajiks working with the Taleban are sending audio messages to the resistance fighters asking them to lay down their weapons and recognise the Taleban. They belong to the class of landlords and affluent feudal lords who see the Taleban as allies and the resistance fighters as threats to their interests – just like those former Mujaheddin commanders who acquired great wealth during the 20 years of NATO/US rule. In addition, there are those who see in the Taleban the heralds and representatives of the "true Islam", for which they themselves have been fighting.
The USA had never intended to crush the Taleban or to weaken them to the point that they would no longer be a threat to the security of the "state". Nor have they ever clearly claimed such an intention. Since the beginning of the their invasion and occupation of the country in 2001 and the subsequent "expulsion" of the Taleban from power to their actual home in Pakistan, they have always justified their actions with their vague and nebulous slogan of their "War on Terror". The formation and activities of the brutal special forces founded and run by the CIA (the so-called "death squads" that are based on the South American model) and the almost daily drone killings actually helped strengthen the Taleban, as the large number of civilian casualties of such operations was higher than those of the Taleban and thus ensured more support for the Taleban.
The so-called Taleban movement, which mushroomed in the 1990s, was (and still is) the formal extension of the Mujaheddin jihadist factions. All the Taleban leaders and their cadres had been part of the large-scale jihad of the Islamist mujahedin groups, whose leaders were ideologically directly or indirectly affiliated with the "Muslim Brotherhood" even before the war (with the exception of the Shiite Hazaras, who were and remain under the influence of Iranian Shiism).
The real factor behind the "Taleban phenomenon" is the "ethnic problem" in Afghanistan and in the region (Pakistan and Central Asian states up to Russia and China), which has been instrumentalised by geopolitical interests.
In April 1992, a coalition of Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras had taken power in Kabul. It was the first time since the existence of an entity called "Afghanistan" that a broad-based coalition of non-Pashtuns took complete control of the state (disregarding the nine-month rule of the Tajik Habibollah Kalakâni from January to September 1920). And this was unacceptable to both the Pashtun tribal leaders and to Pakistan as the colonial heir and unofficial protectorate of Britain. The Pashtuns have always regarded themselves as the conquerors and "owners" of Afghanistan, as the so-called "constitutive people" of the land. This identity was bestowed upon them by the British colonial power and was continuously nurtured over the years (the Russians and Iranians also have their share of accountability in this matter).
Pakistan, as a legacy of British colonialism, has ambitions of its own and plays a special role here. Afghanistan as a non-Pashtun state would run counter to Pakistani and British interests in the region. Such a state would, by nature and tradition, be more closely aligned with other Central Asian states and, further afield, with Russia (and, more recently, with China) than a Pashtun state, which has always been connected to Pakistan and British colonial power. Of course, the USA, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, Iran, India and many other Western states are players in this convoluted game, whereby the USA is obviously the key player. (A more comprehensive account of all those involved in this "game" is beyond the scope of this article).
When the non-Pashtun coalition, led by the "Jami'ate Eslami" (Rabbani and Massoud), the "Jonbeshe Shamal" (Dostam) and the Hazara "Hezbe Wahdat", came to power, Pakistan and the Pashtun elites sent Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to fight them. He failed at the cost of destroying Kabul. But, had Hekmatyar succeeded, there would most likely have been no need for the Taleban. In 1994, the ISI founded the "Tahrike Taleban" (the Taleban Movement). The raw material and resources for it were already in place: with the Pashtun mujahedeen as leaders and cadres, with the children of the first generation of Pashtun mujahedeen trained in Wahhabi-Deobandi schools as foot soldiers, with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states as financiers and ideologues, with MI6 and the CIA as advisers and with the ISI and the Pakistani army as executing agencies.
In the 200 years of Pashtun domination, the non-Pashtun forces have never been able (and to some extent have never been willing) to formulate and develop a unity amongst themselves, to create a strong countervailing force, to devise a political concept and programme and to even entertain a vision, despite their perpetual discontent under the Pashtuns. To understand why this is so would require a large-scale and detailed study and investigation. The fact is: their leaders have always submitted to the dictates of the Pashtuns and lost out.
As long as this aspect of the Afghan dilemma is not analysed properly and seriously addressed by the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and other smaller ethnic groups, no positive development and change will be forthcoming in Afghanistan.
The Pashtuns were never prepared to give up their claim to rule over the whole of Afghanistan or to share their power with others. Therefore, the call for an inclusive government, as expressed by the "international community", is just empty talk.