The first major Afghan city fell to the Taliban on August 9. The latter, Kabul, surrendered only six days later. The attack that brought the Taliban back to Afghanistan 20 years after being ousted by a US-led coalition seemed to have happened at breakneck speed.
In reality, the Taliban paved the way for victory for many years.
During the war, the organization built on mistakes made by the Western Coalition and its Afghan partners in recruiting fighters. They raged popular outrage over human rights violations, civilian deaths and corruption in order to incite the Afghan people against the central government and its Western supporters.
And as the rebels expanded their control of the area, so did shadow governments set up in different districts, resolving local conflicts, collecting taxes, providing social services and building a broad base for recruitment. By the time they launched their final offensive, morale among security forces and local officials was so sparse that the rebels could turn them over one after another and capture the major cities in the country at times without any resistance at all.
In a speech on Monday, US President Joe Biden accused Afghan political and military leaders of giving up without a fight. The failure of the coalition’s long and costly war, however, had more long and complex reasons.
Taliban sit in presidential palace in Kabul after Afghan president flees / Photo: Associated Press, Zabi Karimi
“The Taliban’s progress has happened very quickly, but has been prepared for years,” said Ibrahim Behis, a Taliban expert in the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based research institute for conflict resolution.
In Razani province, after asking the government in Kabul for long days to send reinforcements and air support, last week Governor-General David Dawman surrendered to the Taliban.
He asked the rebels to allow him to leave the province safely, but when he reached Maidan Shaar, close to Kabul, he was arrested by government forces for abandoning his post.
“Do not arrest me,” General Wang Paisan told the governor of Aidan, according to a man present at the meeting between the two men. “This government will not support you. In two or three days, you too will surrender.” And so it happened.
Whether or not the Taliban can control the country depends in part on its ability to maintain adequate support among the population and unite the opposing forces in the country to prevent rebellions of the kind that have become a regular feature of modern life in Afghanistan.
The first signs of opposition to the Taliban rule came on Wednesday as hundreds of residents in the eastern provinces of Jalalabad, Kunar and Khust took to the streets waving the flags of the Afghan republic. Eyewitnesses said the Taliban fired into the air to disperse the protesters and two people were killed.
When the Taliban took over Kabul in 1996, they promised the Afghan people that they would rid the country of the violent fighters who ruled it and maintain peace through pious Islamic rule. Even today they promise a similar promise, but after 20 years of international assistance to the country, they are now facing a new generation of ordinary Afghans to a different level of services, education and freedoms.
Taliban leaders will also be forced to establish working relations with foreign countries, something they did not succeed in when they ruled the country in the 1990s. At the time, the country was boycotted by the rest of the world, and its economy was collapsing.
Taliban militants near Kabul airport / Photo: Associated Press, Rahmat Gul
In the meantime, at least, the Taliban seem to recognize the need for a different kind of government. In order to maintain a reasonable level of services, allow Mayor Kabul and the National Health Minister to retain their duties. For the first time in several weeks, Kabul residents enjoyed a regular power supply. In the past, Taliban attacks on the power grid have resulted in frequent power outages.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Taliban spokesman Zabiola Mujahid said the group had appointed security personnel to protect foreign diplomats and embassies, and that Afghanistan would not pose a threat to the world, including the United States.
“We will take very serious steps to improve our economy,” he said. “We have talked to many countries and we want them to help us improve our economy.” He said women should enjoy all the rights granted to them within the limits of Islamic law, without elaborating, and promised immunity to Afghans who worked with the military.
Given the organization’s past behavior, many Afghans fear that the new rulers will impose severe restrictions on women’s rights and violently enforce Islamic religious laws. In recent months, Afghans have recounted Taliban fighters committing random acts of violence against civilians in the territories they took over, forcibly marrying women with their fighters and marching them with rifle threats to leave workplaces. Once in control, the Taliban searched the homes of private individuals and government employees, set up roadblocks across the city and beat people in the streets, residents said.
Afghans watch smoke over Kandahar southwest of Kabul capital, weekend / Photo: Associated Press, Sidiqullah Khan
The financial challenge may prove to be significant. Last week, the U.S. canceled a multi-dollar shipment to Afghanistan, blocking Taliban access to government accounts held by the Federal Reserve and other U.S. banks. Former Afghan central bank governor Ajmal Ahmadi, who fled the country on Sunday, said that The country is dependent on weekly shipments of cash. “The funds available to the Taliban make up perhaps 0.1% or 0.2% of Afghanistan’s total international reserves. Not much, “Ahmadi wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
For years, popular dissatisfaction with the corrupt Afghan government and regional leaders who were sometimes involved in organized crime and drug smuggling will fuel the Taliban’s recruitment efforts. The organization presented itself as more reliable, efficient, and religiously devout.
“The Taliban have a lot of patience,” said Faiz Muhammad Zaland, a professor in the Faculty of Political Science at Kabul University. “They knew how to build on popular resistance.” In the Taliban, Islam has been used as a basis for policy decisions. In many conservative parts of Afghanistan, Zaland said, Islamic law has more weight than government law.
Zeland recalls that years ago in the province from which he comes, the eastern district of Factica, members of a local tribe were in conflict with the nomads called Kochi over territory where the nomads settled. After the nomads traveled to the provincial capital and received permission from the government to settle on the land, a group of tribal elders crossed the border into Pakistan to discuss a case with Taliban leaders. They came back with a religious order that actually gave them the rights to the land, and the Kochi honored the order, Zeland said. The government, which could not send representatives to the region because of the Taliban presence, did not intervene.
Shadow governments “are legitimizing the Taliban’s opposition, delegitimizing the Afghan government and forming ties with people who have helped the organization recruit,” Zaland said.
The central government in Afghanistan, led by President Ashraf Rani, who spent most of his adult life outside Afghanistan and came to power in 2014, is made up mainly of professionals trained in foreign countries, and many Afghans saw it as detached from the population.
The Taliban ruled over large rural areas. They provided services funded by international organizations or the central government, which preferred this arrangement over disconnecting large sections of the population.
In Sangin, Helmand province, which until last week was the de facto capital of the Taliban in the country, a young pro-organization teacher said he set up a private boys’ school where he teaches the same subjects taught in government schools, using teaching materials from public schools in Kabul and Shakar Ga district capital.
People in government-controlled areas, he said, are afraid to send children to school because of the endless fighting, and the government is lagging behind in paying teachers. “In public schools, there are no classes and no teachers,” he said.
In other cases, the Taliban has used violence to seize government infrastructure. In 2017, Taliban militants in Helmand abducted eight IEC workers and held them captive until the government promised not to cut power supplies to areas under their control.
“This is what the Taliban is doing now, only on a national scale,” said Behis of the International Crisis Group. “They are taking over and using government institutions and infrastructure to provide services, and asking public sector workers to stay in their positions.”
Over the years, several American operations, including drone strikes, night raids and false civilian bombings, have played in favor of the rebels by creating new enemies for the United States and the West.
As their governments grew, the Taliban created an accessible legal and governance system in the various provinces. They set up local offices to spread kindness and prevent sins in order to abide by Islamic law, as they did in the late 1990s. Women do not enjoy the protections they have in government courts. The Taliban have also used social media to criticize the government and foreign forces and spread news of alleged wrongdoing.
One resident of a city in the Lugar province not far from Kabul, which has long been controlled by the Taliban, recalled last year that he saw Taliban fighters punish a man accused of stealing a motorcycle in the market. After being held in jail for two months, he said, the Taliban dragged the thief in front of 2,000 people, and eventually a religious priest whipped him until he fainted.
In areas controlled by the Taliban, it raised money in villages and highways by collecting taxes. The organization profited from drug trafficking in Afghanistan through smuggling, protection and taxation of farmers, and it also levied a tax on legal and illegal fuel trade with Iran.
Although the Taliban were internationally isolated in the 1990s, in the last two decades they have also cultivated international relations, especially through the Kani network, a violent branch of the organization that has ties to non-political armed groups and foreign countries, Afghan and American officials say.
Twenty years ago, the Taliban relied mainly on Pakistan for safe haven, training and weapons. Today, they are attracting more diverse support and funding, according to senior U.S. officials. Iran, a historic enemy of the Taliban, cultivated ties with the organization while it was officially an ally of the government in Kabul. Both Russia and China hosted Taliban leaders for talks. Peace.
Taliban flag hoisted at governor’s house in Gazani, Afghanistan / Photo: Associated Press, Gulabuddin Amiri
While no country has yet recognized the Taliban as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan, China has said it expects to continue its friendly ties with the country, and Russia has said it has no plans to close the embassy in Kabul. Iran has said it supports a comprehensive government in Afghanistan and has accused the US of rampant violence in the country.
The Taliban have launched their latest offensive this month after President Biden announced he would remove all U.S. troops from the country unconditionally. After spending time besieging provincial capitals and cutting supply lines for government forces, the Taliban began plucking cities one after the other, with military and police defenses melting as if by themselves, often surrendering or fleeing and barely fighting.
In small rural communities, where Taliban fighters and Afghan soldiers often knew each other, the two sides set up communication lines to cut off local ceasefires, without the knowledge of the central government in Kabul, Bahis said.
For years, Afghan soldiers have complained about Kabul’s inability to pay their salaries. In recent months, soldiers have reported that Taliban fighters have given Afghan army soldiers who defected a $ 150 reward equivalent to a monthly salary.
In Jalalabad, the local Taliban commander gave the governor 24 hours to surrender in exchange for a pardon – and so he did.
“Our commanders fled from us without prior notice,” said Rapola Bashari, a 28-year-old soldier who served in Nangarhar until the governor surrendered. “We were 25 soldiers and we all decided to surrender. They gave me a pardon letter, so I gave them my rifle.”
In Harat province, Qamran provincial council leader Alizai surrendered to the Taliban on Friday, followed by Ismail Khan, an Afghan mercenary who has been fighting the Taliban all his life.
“Without a doubt, America has a role to play in everything,” Elizai said. “We are their toy, and they do to us what they want.”