The Taliban have neither the capacity nor the capabilities to hold onto the territories they have conquered. However, Afghanistan could be heading for a military impasse that either forces the parties to a political solution or draws them into civil war.
Despite the Taliban’s rapid territorial gains amid the US withdrawal and a stalled peace process, the Taliban’s military takeover of Afghanistan is neither imminent nor inevitable.
A new balance of power is developing in Afghanistan amid a fluid and volatile strategic environment that will take shape over the next few months. Trendlines currently emerging in Afghanistan are prone to reversals and should be carefully monitored without jumping to conclusions.
While the meltdown of the Afghan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF) is worrying in several counties, they have held their positions in the urban areas of Afghanistan, where the focus of the country’s future after the US lies.
The Taliban’s gains are more the natural result of the massive security vacuum created by the US exit and the weakness of the ANDSF, rather than the strength of the former.
The Taliban took power in May 150 districts, mainly in the north and west, giving them control of a third of Afghanistan. The territorial gains of the Taliban include control over important ones Border crossings like Islam Qala near Iran, Spin Boldak with Pakistan, the dry port Sher Khan Bandar next to Tajikistan and the Wakhan Corridor near China.
This has sparked a tremendous amount of propaganda on social media giving the insurgent group an edge in psychological warfare.
At the same time, well-orchestrated videos of a handful of people greeting the Taliban in conquered districts – produced for consumption on social media – create an image that may not really reflect the complex realities of Afghanistan on the ground.
Namely, that the Taliban have neither the operational strength nor the conventional military force to take and hold territories.
According to a UN report, the Taliban have between 58,000 and 100,000 fighters. Although the Taliban are good at insurgency and guerrilla warfare, which has enabled them to force the US to negotiate the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, they lack the conventional means to maintain control of the territory they own take in different parts of Afghanistan.
For example, the Taliban briefly captured the capital of Badghis Province, Qala-e-Naw, but it was pushed out the region in two to three days. Also in 2015, the Taliban made two failed attempts to take the city of Kunduz.
Hence, the Taliban’s ability to retain territory is dubious at best.
At this point, the ANDSF is strategically prioritizing the defendable rather than the desirable – protecting the entire territoriality of Afghanistan. They retreat to more formidable positions to strengthen the defenses of the provincial capitals, population centers, and major cities. So far, they have successfully guarded the city front lines and thwarted and repulsed the territorial advances of the Taliban.
In view of Afghanistan’s unstable security environment, the ANDSF has taken a pragmatic approach. From a military strategic point of view, it makes sense to reduce military losses by relinquishing vulnerable districts and to strengthen the security of strategically important population centers.
At the political and strategic level, however, the ANDSF withdrawals not only fuel the Taliban’s propaganda war for territorial gains, but also create a false sense of the imminent Taliban victory.
Likewise, the territorial gains also narrow the power imbalance between Kabul and the ANDSF by giving the former control of the abandoned US Humvees, weapons and thinning the latter through surrender and defector.
In the late 1980s, Dr. Najibullah in office for three years despite the impressive military victories of the Afghan mujahideen groups. If Kabul can defend urban Afghanistan and US and Western aid does not stop, the Taliban will soon exhaust themselves militarily and recognize the limits of their military power.
The Taliban’s military exhaustion could well lead to a escalating standstill in the next two to three months and impress both sides that they cannot impose a military solution on the other. The impasse will either force both sides to speak to each other to find a political solution or they will be on their heels by prolonging the conflict and forcing Afghanistan into civil war.
A prolonged civil war will have no winners or losers. Instead, it will plunge Afghanistan into a Syrian situation in which the deadlock between the Bashar al-Assad regime and the opposition allowed regional countries and non-state armed forces to take advantage of the never-ending stalemate. The presence of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Khorasan (Daesh) exposes Afghanistan to a similar development in an ongoing civil war scenario.
With the US withdrawal, Afghanistan is once again at a crossroads, where peace and conflict are equidistant. A calibrated and mature political approach can pave the way for peace with proactive diplomacy from regional and international actors. On the contrary, a rigid and selfish approach will drive Afghanistan into endless conflict.
Due to its location at the intersection of the South and Central Asian regions, Afghanistan can become a stumbling block for regional connectivity and its instability negatively impacts other regional countries.
Alternatively, it could be a merchanting hub and an energy corridor for megaprojects such as. become CASA-1000 and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline.
Around 67 percent of the population of Afghanistan is under 25 years old. Most of them were born after the fall of the self-proclaimed theocratic regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Hence, they are alien to the idea of â€‹â€‹Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
On the contrary, this generation has faced democracy, formal education and professional careers over the past two decades. They will oppose anything that is forced upon them against their democratic will. A government formed at gunpoint will neither bring peace and stability nor survive long in office.
Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, positions, or editorial guidelines of TRT World.
We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please email them to [email protected]
Source: TRT World