By: Saleem Payenda
The intensity of the war against the Taliban and its spread to all parts of Afghanistan caused the withdrawal of the Afghan national security forces from a district in the north, while thousands of civilians have fled their homes in the southern part of the country to escape violent attacks by the hardline Sunni Islamist group after the withdrawal of US forces from military bases in the mountainous country.
The Afghan forces retreated for two reasons: first, the Taliban routinely build a human shield with locals during their attacks on cities and villages to prevent airstrikes. Afghan forces’ airstrikes inflict heavy losses to the Taliban, which is why the Taliban have always been terrified of air attacks. “The recent (air) operations were very effective for suppressing the Taliban,” then Afghan Army Chief of Staff General Sharif Yaftali had told TOLO News in 2018.
Secondly, the government wanted the people to experience the Taliban from close range as well because the commoners’ idea about the hardline group has become largely anecdotal over the past two decades after it was ousted from power in late 2001.
Countering Taliban propaganda
Some believe the Taliban have changed from the past and that they were no longer the Taliban of the 1990s. This mentality has been created by Taliban-linked propaganda networks.
There were even videos showing girls’ schools operating in Taliban-controlled areas. On the contrary, the Taliban do not allow girls’ schools to run in any area under their control, nor do they allow women to leave their homes. Their behavior is the same as it was in the mid-1990s when they ruled most parts of the country.
Today the Afghan people need to know that the Taliban kill journalists and religious scholars, and wherever they go they destroy bridges, schools and clinics. That is why the government wanted to make the Taliban’s intentions and actions clear to the people once again. Consequently, there has been a strong public reaction against the Taliban. Popular uprisings in northern as well as central Afghanistan have led to the recapture of Taliban-held areas.
Local movements against Taliban
Local movements were also deployed in parts of the country to resist possible Taliban attacks.
The people’s movements against the Taliban also have their advantages and challenges. The most vital advantage of local mobilization against the Taliban is the creation of a new front against this group. People’s fronts can greatly enhance the ability of the Afghan national security forces to strengthen other areas that the Taliban are seeking to capture so that the fundamentalist group cannot seize them. On the other hand, local movements also prevent the Taliban from recruiting men and generating revenue.
The Taliban’s income derives from far more than just the drugs business, they constantly extort money and local products from the people as tithe (one-tenth of annual produce or earnings taken as a tax) and zakat (Islamic finance term referring to the obligation that an individual has to donate a certain proportion of wealth each year to charitable causes) and so on. They are collecting money by imposing a strict version of Sharia law. The group’s annual income from 2011 onwards was estimated to be USD 400 million. But it is believed to have significantly increased in recent years and could be as high as USD 1.5 billion. They even get the food they need from the people.
In addition, the Taliban are recruiting young people to fight against the government by propagating their faith in the villages and remote areas of Afghanistan. Many of the young men who are fighting for the Taliban do not have a fixed mindset about the group’s performance. The Taliban are rapidly influencing their ideas through propaganda. A local movement against the Taliban ensures the group can no longer recruit from among the people.
Fear or warlords’ return
However, popular uprisings also have challenges. The most important challenge is the return of some of the warlords that the present government has marginalized over the years. Of course, people outside the cities still maintain contact with their local warlords. The return of these warlords could once again call into question the authority of the government in the long run. For this reason, while the government welcomes the spontaneous uprising of the people against the Taliban, it also has its own concerns about the return of the old warlords to the formation of new nuclei of warlords.
Prospects for a lasting, comprehensive agreement to end the Afghan conflict, never very bright, seem increasingly dim. The Taliban, showing no seriousness in participating in the talks and failing to agree to a ceasefire, bear most of the responsibility for the continuation of the current bloody situation.
In the wake of failed peace negotiations, the Afghanistan government can be expected to express its confidence in the country’s ability to soldier on. It would insist that the Afghan national security and defense forces are capable of defending the state, even in the face of what appears to be more intensified and expansive Taliban attacks.
From another angle it seems that a large population is coming together against the Taliban, “If the central government does not concentrate, we will witness a human tragedy and human catastrophe, thus we decided to stand with the Afghan national forces against Taliban,” said Lotfullah, a resident in Takhar province.
If the government can accurately manage the spontaneous movements of the people and prevent them from becoming mere tools for the warlords, not only can it create a new front against the Taliban, but also mobilize public opinion to a large extent, as it is already doing to some extent. Although many people are less satisfied with the government’s performance and subject it too much criticism, the majority of the population still prefers this Afghan Republic government over the fundamentalist Taliban.
The writer is a Research Fellow in International Relations at the University of Mysore, India. This article was published by South Asia Monitor.