SRINAGAR: Dramatic developments in Afghanistan suggest the Taliban have taken over the Ghazni province, tenth of the 34 provinces, cutting off Kabul from most of the country. A video viral on social media shows the Taliban having celebratory meals in the Governor’s Palace explained the fall.
If the fast advancing Taliban continues with the prevailing momentum, experts believe Kabul will fall within 30 to 90 days. This has led the influential nations to get into serious thinking about the fate of their mission in the war-ravaged country.
Right now Herat and Kandahar are witnessing massive fighting and its fall would mean a complete disconnect of Kabul with Western Afghanistan, now mostly under Taliban control. Ghazni is located on Kabul-Kandahar Highway, barely 130 km from Kabul.
“While Kabul itself isn’t directly under threat yet, the loss of Ghazni and the battles elsewhere further tighten the grip of a resurgent Taliban estimated to now hold some two-thirds of the nation,” American news gatherer, Associated Press reported. “The latest US military intelligence assessment suggests Kabul could come under insurgent pressure within 30 days and that, if current trends hold, the Taliban could gain full control of the country within a few months.”
The “stunning collapse”, the AP said has renewed questions about where the over US $830 billion spent by the US Defense Department on fighting, training the Afghan security forces, and reconstruction efforts went, especially as “Taliban fighters ride on American-made Humvees and pickup trucks with M-16s slung across their shoulders”.
The fall was the outcome of a deal envisaging the Taliban permitting provincial governor and police chief to flee post surrender. One report said the governor Dawood Laghmani was later arrested along with his deputy and chief of staff, in Maidan Wardak, according to American broadcasterm CNN, as video evidence suggested the Taliban escorting him out of his lost territory. Taliban gains are taking place despite US B2 bombers and drones are attacking in select areas.
The rapid advances by the Taliban have led an unnerved Kabul administration to replace its army chief, General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai by Hibatullah Alizai, the commander of the Special Operations Corps, according to Afghan media outlet Tolo News.
This situation has led the US and other western military planners have begun laying the groundwork for the emergency evacuation of embassies in Afghanistan in the event of Kabul being threatened by the Taliban’s accelerating campaign, according to the British newspaper, The Guardian.
“Some countries have already begun to withdraw staff, and the US and Turkey are negotiating a security plan for the airport in the capital that would be essential for any evacuation,” The Guardian reported. “The developments follows a US intelligence assessment that Kabul could be overrun in 30 to 90 days and a warning for US citizens to leave the country immediately in whatever way they can.”
The newspaper said that the countries would decide on basis of the security of the airport. Turkey had already offered to operate and guard it if they get “financial, logistical and diplomatic guarantees”. NATO nations have already reduced their staff in locations outside Kabul and have been evacuating the local staff by offering them residency in their countries.
Islamabad, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has said, will use its influence on the Taliban for holding direct talks with Turkey to secure the Kabul International Airport.
“We will be trying the best thing for Turkey and Taliban to have a face-to-face dialogue, so that both could talk about the reasons to secure the Kabul airport,” Khan was quoted saying by official Pakistan news agency, APP. He admitted having met Turkish defence minister retired General Hulusi Akar. This they will do despite diminishing influences. “Now, our leverage on the Taliban is minuscule as they think that they have won against the Americans.”
The US has urged American citizens to leave Afghanistan immediately using available commercial flight options. “Given the security conditions and reduced staffing, the Embassy’s ability to assist US citizens in Afghanistan is extremely limited even within Kabul,” a notice on the website of the US Embassy in Kabul said. It offered its citizens “a repatriation loan” if they cannot afford a commercial ticket.
Germany followed the suit. “German nationals on the ground are strongly urged to take opportunities to leave the country on scheduled flights as soon as possible,” the Foreign Ministry said on its website.
Taliban gains have impacted the region severely to the extent that Moscow has offered a grant of US $1.1 million to its ally Tajikistan $1.1m to build a new outpost on the Tajik-Afghan border. This became inevitable after the Taliban chased hundreds of Afghan servicemen in July while taking over Kunduz, according to The Guardian.
In Delhi, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi has said that India was in touch with all the stakeholders in Afghanistan and is closely monitoring the ground situation. India was part of the regional conference on Afghanistan in Doha.
“The situation in Afghanistan is of concern,” Bagchi was quoted saying. “It is a rapidly evolving situation. We continue to hope that there will be a comprehensive ceasefire in Afghanistan.”
Meanwhile, India Today reported that the Taliban have that it had taken control of a Mi-24 attack helicopter donated by India to the Afghanistan forces. “Photographs and videos emerged from Kunduz in Afghanistan showing Taliban fighters standing beside the helicopter,” The India Today reported. “However, the rotor blades of the attack helicopter were missing and reports have suggested that the Afghan forces may have removed them earlier in order to prevent the Taliban from using the chopper.”
In 2019, India had gifted some Mi-24 attack helicopters to the Afghan Air Force along with three Cheetah light utility helicopters. In 2015, the Mi-24 helicopters were given to the Afghans as a replacement for four attack helicopters.
Some NATO countries have decided not to support Kabul if it witnesses a regime change in wake of fast advances. German broadcaster ZDF, quoted Foreign Minister Heiko Maas saying that the Taliban takeover will leave Afghanistan without international aid. “We will not send another cent to this country if the Taliban take complete control, introduce Sharia law and turn it into a caliphate,” Maas was quoted saying. Germany is giving Kabul 430 million euros a year.
Earlier, US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad had previously said any Taliban government that comes to power by force will not be recognised by Western powers.
Khalilzad, according to The New York Times is busy trying to extract assurances from the Taliban that they will not attack the US Embassy in Kabul. “Biden administration officials insist that there are no immediate plans to significantly draw down the embassy’s staff of 4,000 employees, including about 1,400 Americans, as US troops formally complete their withdrawal from the country,” the newspaper reported. “Five current and former officials described the mood inside the embassy as increasingly tense and worried, and diplomats at the State Department’s headquarters in Washington noted a sense of tangible depression at the specter of closing it, nearly 20 years after US Marines reclaimed the burned-out building in December 2001”. The newspaper reported prevelance of a situation that brought back the memories of the fall of Saigon in 1975 when Americans were evacuated from the embassy from a rooftop by helicopter.
Meanwhile, global news gatherer, AFP reported that Afghan government negotiators in Qatar have offered the Taliban a power-sharing deal in return for an end to the fighting. The offer comes a fortnight before the NATO forces leave the war-raved country completely.
This, however, may not happen given the revelations made by Imran Khan. Speaking to foreign journalists, he has said a political settlement was looking difficult under the current circumstances.
“The condition is that as long as Ashraf Ghani is there, we (Taliban) are not going to talk to the Afghan government,” Khan was quoted saying by The Daily Times, adding that this is what the Taliban delegation told him, a few months back. Kabul, he said, was now trying to ensure the US government intervenes on its behalf. “They’ve been here for 20 years… what will they do now that they did not do for 20 years?” he asked.
In the presser, he has accused Washington of seeing Pakistan useful only in the context of the “mess” that the US is leaving behind in Afghanistan after 20 years of fighting. “Pakistan is just considered only to be useful in the context of somehow settling this mess which has been left behind after 20 years of trying to find a military solution when there was not one,” Khan was quoted saying by al-Jazeera. “I think that the Americans have decided that India is their strategic partner now, and I think that’s why there’s a different way of treating Pakistan now.”