The US military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on 31st of August. “The drawdown is proceeding in a secure and orderly way, prioritizing the safety of our troops as they depart”, President Joe Biden said Thursday at a news conference. In the meantime White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki made a confession, “We’re not going to have a mission accomplished moment in this regard. It’s a 20-year war that has not been won militarily,” said Psaki.
On the other hand, Shahabuddin Delawar, the head of the Taliban delegation in Moscow claimed that they brought up to 85% of the Afghan territory under the Taliban’s control. He also pledged that the territories under Taliban control would be safe for international freight and international humanitarian organizations’ work.
We spoke about the current developments in Afghanistan with Prof. Dr. Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, faculty member of Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli University/AHBVÜ Department of International Relations and President of Ankara Crisis and Political Research Center (ANKASAM).
Critical phase of the Afghan problem
When the US and NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan, it is said that the Taliban will take complete control of the country. On the other hand, there is a prevailing opinion that a new civil war awaits the country. At what stage do you think the Afghanistan crisis is?
The “Afghan problem” quite simply is in a critical phase and stands in front of us as a great mystery. What makes the problem so critical is that a possible civil war in the country has the potential to turn into a regional intervention and war; especially with extending to Central and South Asia.
This leads us directly to a regional power struggle and competition over Afghanistan, and frankly, the insolubility of the problem emerges mostly at this point. Because at the current situation, we are witnessing a process, where the cards are redistributed between the powers in the region over Afghanistan. This issue also reveals the background of the US withdrawal decision to a large extent.
As a matter of fact, in 2021, we see that nothing has changed in Afghanistan and that there is no trace of the peace, stability, prosperity and security that was promised to the country. In fact, the ground has been laid for an even bloodier civil war. Therefore, the Taliban and all groups in Afghanistan have lost a huge 20 years. We wouldn’t be wrong if we say that, including the USSR invasion, more than 30 years have been lost; I do not want to enter the lost years between 1919-1979 at all. Therefore, the Afghan people must draw lessons from these “Great Games”.
The role of the Taliban
How do you evaluate the role of the Taliban in this process?
Although the Taliban declares victory, they have been struggling to strike the balance between the field and the negotiation table since February 2020. Therefore, although the Taliban seem to dominate the Afghanistan geography to a large extent, the reach of this dominance is also visible. Moreover, the military power of the Taliban is being used as a weapon against Taliban itself. It is as if the Taliban are trying to be worn out on the field and to be completely taken over or if they are tried to be persuaded into a divided Afghanistan as a result of a devastating struggle. This is without doubt the main reason why the discourse of a civil war is currently so widespread.
In this context, the propaganda that the Taliban’s power is destructive rather than constructive in the construction process of the “New Afghanistan” is kept on the agenda by some regional powers. This fact is obviously connected to the search for the dominant power in the “New Afghanistan” via the Taliban. In other words, while excuses of an intervention to Afghanistan over the threat of the Taliban are being created, on the other hand, the efforts to present themselves as the address of salvation from the Taliban and other groups has been increased.
Brotherhood deal among the Afghan powers
How can Afghanistan avoid becoming a “failed state”?
In fact, the answer is hidden in the history of the region, especially in Afghanistan, and can be summed up in only one word: “brotherhood”. So how will this be realized? Let’s list the items:
First of all, we should not make the mistake from 20/30 years ago. It is not possible for any ethno-sectarian or ideological power to dominate the country alone and completely. All parties must accept this situation. At this point, a brotherhood agreement between the Taliban and other Afghan forces/groups is essential.
A tribal structuring including the Taliban that strengthens the center will accelerate the political solution.
A new approach to the Taliban as part of the national-international system is inevitable. It should be provided not as a blessing of external dynamics, but by the agreement between internal dynamics. Otherwise, reconciliations built on different interest groups-power centers do not last long.
The Taliban is aware of the limitations of their own power. Their approach to different ethnic groups in Afghanistan and their diplomacy with regional-international powers, especially the USA, reflect this position. Therefore, the Taliban seem to have realized this fact, even if only in a tactical sense.
It is significant for the integrity of the country that the Taliban take part in these negotiation processes with other groups in order to represent the whole of Afghanistan in the diplomacy carried out with foreign powers. If the Taliban do that, it will break the game. For this, it is necessary to establish a joint diplomatic mission aiming to create the “New Afghanistan”.
In this process, it seems inevitable that the Taliban will choose at least one country that they consider close to them. Otherwise, Afghanistan’s unity and solidarity, nation-state building and integration into the international system will fail. Preferably, it is suggested that the Taliban cooperate with more than one state in this transition period.
Regional integration process
What role can regional countries play in this process?
The “New Afghanistan” project can also form the core of a regional integration process. The “New Afghanistan” thesis can be brought to the fore as the address of regional cooperation instead of regional competition.
In this context, the contribution of the regional states to build an economic-political basis is of great importance. To put it more concretely, a regional transition fund should be established for the “New Afghanistan” and the country should be quickly included in regional cooperation formats and projects.
In this context, the “6+1 Platform”, consisting of Kazakhstan – Uzbekistan – Tajikistan – Turkmenistan – Pakistan – Iran – Turkey, can also be discussed as a group of guarantor countries in the “New Afghanistan” process.