As the Taliban appear to be on the verge of storming into Kabul, consigning possibly into the dustbin of history the two-decade-old United States-constructed governance and security structure, there is an inevitable sense of history coming full circle.
It is unfortunate that the situation has come to this. It reflects a failure at many levels. Clearly, the US has failed to create an enduring institutional and security structure in Afghanistan, despite an overwhelming presence for two decades. There is also a failure of the Afghan leadership in not being able to consolidate, come together and create mass support for their leadership.
But most of all, it is a failure of the US’ Pakistan policy. Because of its dependence on Pakistan for the movement of supplies for its military into Afghanistan, the US was never able to generate sufficient pressure on Pakistan to stop providing a safe haven and support to the Taliban.
Taliban in Kabul previously
On 13 November 2001, the Taliban fled Kabul, in the face of a massive air onslaught and US ground action from the North, coordinated with the largely Tajik, but also Uzbek and Hazara fighters of the Northern Alliance, which had held out in ten per cent of terrain, preventing a Taliban takeover of the entire country. They were, then, the only effective Aghan partners of the US on the ground.
However, US’ dilemmas and hesitations were evident from the start. Even while moving physically towards Kabul with the Northern Alliance, their aim was to prevent them from taking over the government. It ostensibly went along with the British argument that a Pashtun leadership was needed for Kabul, given the overall ethnic composition of the country.
It was also attempting to accommodate Pakistan’s demands, in return for receiving airspace access and later ground lines of communication for the movement of men and materials, that its security interests be protected by preventing a Northern Alliance takeover.