In what can only be described as the worst outcome of the Afghanistan war, the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist organisation, has claimed total victory over the Western powers that have spent 20 years fighting the “War on Terror”. On Sunday, 15th of August, President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan. This action is being viewed as an indicator of capitulation as fears grow that, despite all the human and financial costs of the last two decades, Afghanistan has fallen to the evils of Islamic extremism.
By Aidan Lomas – Editor
Over the weekend, it has been confirmed that the Taliban have taken control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, and that President Ghani had fled the country; reports are clashing over whether he has sought exile in Tajikistan or Uzbekistan. In a statement, President Ghani stated his exile was in the interests of avoiding further bloodshed. The fall of Kabul and the exile of Ghani means that after twenty years of conflict, Afghanistan is once again under the totalitarian control of the Taliban.
Who are the Taliban?
Emerging in Northern Afghanistan in the 1990s, the Taliban are an Islamic fundamentalist group. They have claimed since their formation that their mission is the enforcement of their own fascistic version of Sharia law; they claim to do this in the interest of peace, security, and law & order.
The organisation was formed as a result of US intervention in the Middle East during the Cold War. Between 1979 and 1989, the USSR attempted to invade the semi-nomadic nation and implement a puppet government. In response, the US granted military and financial aid to the mujahideen – a group of guerrilla fighters who fought against the Soviet Union. Following the end of the Soviet-Afghan war, the Afghan people became restless and disconcerted by the mujahideen; following the Soviet retreat, these communities began tribally battling one another for control of various territories in northern Afghanistan. Serving as the only alternative at the time, the Taliban – which means “student” in the Pashto language – were welcomed as peace-makers. The Taliban initially garnered great support due to their re-stabilisation of the region, however, brought with them a strict interpretation of Sharia law. This strict interpretation allowed for public executions, and amputations as punishments for crimes, as well as implementing the banning of television, music, and cinema.
The Taliban also practice a vile degree of misogyny. Upon their revolutionary accession to government, women were forced – irrespective of their own interpretations of the Quran – to wear all-covering clothing; the most well known variant of this is the Burka. Additionally, women were also heavily discouraged and later banned from seeking any form of education; similar ideologies led to Malala Yousafzai’s assassination attempt in 2012 in Pakistan. As well as this, the Taliban have been justifiably accused of violating innumerable human rights and cultural abuses; in 2001 they desecrated and destroyed non-islamic religious sites across Afghanistan.
Why was there a war in Afghanistan?
The Taliban’s actions didn’t go unnoticed but were, however, also met with lip-service by the international community for many years. This was until September 11th 2001. As many of us know, on 9/11, two hijacked passenger planes were flown into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Centre, whilst another was flown into the Pentagon. Another plane was intended for the U.S Capitol, however, was brought down by passengers. This attack was carried out by a terror organisation named Al-Qaeda; this organisation was headed by the infamous Osama Bin Laden. Nearly 3,000 people died from a multitude of nations on that bleak Tuesday morning.
The Taliban acted as a safe heaven for Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan. Because of this, in 2001, the US, UK, and all other NATO members engaged in a military intervention in Afghanistan seeking to apprehend Al Qaeda, whilst also removing the Taliban from power. The war in Afghanistan would continue until 2020, when the US and Taliban representatives negotiated a peace deal in Qatar.
How have we got to where we are now?
After the February 2020 peace deal between the US and the Taliban, which most notably promised the withdrawal of US and allied troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban changed their tactics. Previously, the militia had engaged in military attacks. In the months following the 2020 peace deal, the Taliban engaged in targeted assassinations of anyone who could be perceived as a threat to them. Amongst the targets were journalists, non-Taliban judges, peace activists, and women in positions of power.
These assassinations demonstrated to anyone who cared that the Taliban had most definitely not shifted even a nanometre to a more moderate ideological standing as was hoped by the international community. It can be understood that those who sought the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan had expected that the Taliban’s incredulous fascism would be more moderated; this expectation comes from the Western powers’ recognition that the war in Afghanistan was caused by the Taliban’s nonchalant exercises of evil.
However, despite the Afghan government’s calls for the international coalition to remain in place, President Biden announced that US forces would be leaving Afghanistan. In the wake of this weekend, the President has been receiving intense backlash from the American people, the international community, and the Western media; regardless what was supposed to be the US’s latest recreation of VE Day, it’s likely the Taliban’s rapid recapturing of the country will be heavily associated with the American President’s decision to withdraw. It is important to confirm that US Intelligence had already reported that the Afghan Government would collapse within six months of America’s withdrawal.
What has the International and local response been?
In the wake of the Taliban’s capture, refugees have begun fleeing the country for fear of the organisation’s regime. Among those trying to flee Afghanistan are diplomats, interpreters, and British nationals who are present in the collapsing nation-state’s territory. Meanwhile, the remaining Afghan Military has stated that it is attempting to recapture some control of the lost cities, but that Kabul is most definitely lost. Despite commitments to withdraw, the US has been launching airstrikes against the Taliban in response to their conquest.
The international community has also released a joint declaration confirming the right of Afghan nationals to “live in safety, security, and dignity”. Following a COBRA meeting – which we can confirm the Prime Minister has attended – Boris Johnson stated that “no one wants Afghanistan to become a breeding ground for terror” and that the situation in the region “continues to be extremely difficult”. The Prime Minister has also stated that:
“Our priority is to make sure we deliver on our obligations to UK nationals, to all those who have helped the British effort in Afghanistan over 20 years, and to get them out as fast as we can.”
The British Ambassador to Afghanistan, Alison Blake, has been confirmed as being present at the local Kabul airport processing applications. The UK is committed to working with the UN Security Council and the rest of the international community to prevent a relapse of terrorism and conflict being sprouted in the country.
What happens now?
I’d love to be able to say something joyful here, but I’m afraid that’s simply not going to be possible. It’s incredibly likely that there will be grave knock on effects from the recent collapse of Afghanistan both in the country, but also back in the US and UK.
For the people of Afghanistan, the return to Taliban rule spells danger, fear, and uncertainty. One can imagine that an organisation which requires terrorist action in order to claim control of government is hardly one which has found popular consensus amongst its supposed citizens. The Taliban represents a pure, now-uninhibited evil. The totalitarian oppression set to take power in Afghanistan may see many thousands if not millions murdered over the next decade. These deaths won’t be military deaths, they’ll be civilian deaths. They will be innocent people put to death because of a religious fanaticism – and this is a religious fanaticism – which seeks only to control. The Taliban truly represents everything liberal democratic principles oppose, and now the claimed ‘greatest democracy on earth’ and its allies have retreated.
In the Middle East, the return of an islamic extremist government will introduce greater destabilisation to a region which is already immensely unstable. Just months after the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a new Islamist nation has taken up next door. In addition to this, the Taliban’s supporters in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other nations will likely result in a resurrection of Islamic extremism abroad; what was supposed to be a closing chapter may have gained itself a sequel.
For the UK and US, the withdrawal of troops and the underestimation of the Taliban’s force will represent a hard political loss. Whilst President Biden will now live out the rest of his Presidency as the President who lost Afghanistan, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be heavily criticised for not taking the right action. What is the right action? We can’t be sure. But one thing we can be sure of is that withdrawal was not it.
The Gown will continue to report on and monitor events in Afghanistan.