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Haunted memories of the Taliban’s return

"The worst crisis has come in the shape of the surge in radical waves in Pakistan. The Taliban version of our side takes inspiration from their Afghan brethren"

I was invited to a few gatherings in connection with Independence Day celebrations. The day was humid, but the roads were clear and driving-friendly. In the evening, the whole scenario changed and roads were occupied by unruly mobs.

That is not the way to celebrate the 75th Independence Day. Period. At one gathering, friends were discussing the anniversary of the Taliban’s return to Kabul exactly a year ago. A stream of memories flashed across my mind. For several days and reasons, I was following the Taliban’s moves those days and it had become apparent that the Taliban were facilitated a walkover to capture city after city, and province after province amid the pullout of the troops of the US and allied forces from Afghanistan.

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I was stunned when days after capturing the heavily guarded city of Kandahar after a well-contested fight from the Afghan security forces, the Islamist militants captured Kabul without any resistance. Their march was formidable: first, Jalalabad, the only major city left with the Ghani government after Kandahar and Ghazni, fell to the Taliban. In the ensuing days, the Ghani government had shrunk territorially, giving an edge to the Taliban to cut off the capital from the rest of the war-torn country.

What appalled me now and then was the assessment of the American intelligence, which predicted the fall of Kabul by November 2021. The Taliban, however, were fierce in their pursuits. In a matter of weeks, they seized 17 provincial capitals, making the war a one-sided affair. The western countries were even not prepared to evacuate their citizens and diplomatic missions.  We remember the iconic images of the US airlifting its citizens from Jalalabad and later on from Kabul.

The image of then-president Ghani getting on a helicopter empty hand has not faded in my memory. With his flight, officially the Taliban militia was declared the new ruler of the country, writing off the Ashraf Ghani government. Only a day before the fall of Kabul, the Ghani government offered a power-sharing formula to the Taliban. But that was late. Too late. Since August 14, 2021, the Taliban regime has been facing isolation internationally, not regionally. In the beginning, they hinted at offering a power-sharing formula, but later on, they stepped back and declared Afghanistan a ‘pure Islamic state’.

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Pakistan has been facing the consequences after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, and a grave consequence is the rise of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. Pakistan’s efforts to convince the Taliban not to give havens to the TTP have received fruitless responses. Pakistan will have to fight its war on terror on its own.

Even though the present-day Taliban have the luxury of enjoying legitimacy in the wake of the Doha agreement-2020, their actions show they have not changed their government style. Recently, they cracked down on a women’s rally in Kabul. They have not opened schools for girls. Several hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced while hundreds have been killed in cold blood. Pakistan and Iran, learning lessons from the past, have already announced they would not let refugees into their boundaries, urging the international community to help the Afghan government handle the crisis on its own.

The worst crisis, however, has come in the shape of the surge in radical waves in Pakistan. The Taliban version of our side takes inspiration from their Afghan brethren. Also, both sides have several layers of mutual working relationships. Recent incidents of attacks on paramilitary forces in areas along the Afghan border show that the sleeper cells are awakening.

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