The Afghan Taliban have announced their interim-government, formed of group loyalists, throwing away the idea of an inclusive government in Afghanistan. If the country again plummets into chaos as a result the US government may again transition to a more hands on approach.
The September 11 US troop withdrawal deadline is now here, with many mainstream news outlets focusing in on the 2001 attacks and the memory of those killed. Since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, in August, there has been non-stop coverage of how awful the country is becoming for Afghan women, children and LGBTQ people, in a bid to argue for the US remaining in what President Biden calls the “forever wars”.
Throughout the withdrawal, not only have the US gravely miscalculated and caused the collapse of their puppet regime, but have also continued to commit horrific drone-strike attacks, massacring civilians. One such attack occurred just last week, when a US drone strike targeted a reportedly stationary sedan, close to the Kabul airport, resulting in the murder of at least 10 civilians, 7 of which were said to have been children.
On the issue, the New York Times wrote an article quoting a military analysis of the deadly attack, raising questions on whether the drone operators had taken the right precautions before committing their strike. However, this analysis, whether useful or not, largely ignores the fact that routine US airstrikes have consistently been a leading cause of civilian casualties throughout the entirety of the 20+ year war in the country.
The Afghan Taliban, however bad they may be, do not absolve the NATO coalition of their crimes against humanity inside of Afghanistan. The fact also remains that with those NATO forces present, women in many areas of the country were unable to attend school or leave their homes without the permission of a male guardian. The crime rate in the capital of Kabul was also extremely high and the presence of the Taliban there was immediately celebrated by many of the city’s residents who saw their entry as a path to stability.
Despite previous attempts by the Taliban to ensure the country and international community that they would run an inclusive government, it now seems they have rescinded this promise. Due to suspected internal disputes, the groups seemingly have put their own survival above that of the nation, which may now lead to chaos across the country.
The international community, despite their voiced concerns over human rights abuses, in reality seek insurances of calm and unity over all. This comes naturally as Afghanistan’s immense resource wealth is the true drive behind most world power’s considerations, along with regional security.
China, as an example, have voiced their concerns over the recent human rights abuses by the Taliban, as well as their non-inclusive interim government, but are sitting by and waiting to see how the situation evolves before denouncing the Taliban.
China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said “We noticed that some terrorist groups have gathered and developed in Afghanistan….posing a serious threat to international and regional peace and security,” the number one concern of which, for them, is the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). But even with reports of 500 fighters, joined by Tajik, Uzbeks, Hazara and Chechen fighters, having congregated in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province, along the Chinese border, Beijing are yet to denounce the Taliban.
The above example of how China is dealing with the current crisis, proves that the strategic worth of Afghanistan’s geography and its resources are to be valued above potential security threats. If the Taliban are to spark a civil war in Afghanistan, it would at this point be their own fault for not forming an inclusive government, and the immense poverty that the country would plummet into would also be on their hands.
The US government maintains sanctions on the Taliban and also holds the frozen wealth of the former Afghan government, this means that the noose is already around the newly formed Islamic governments neck. The US also seems to be holding its usual hardline policy of not aiding anyone unless they bow to their demands, which means that the Taliban know that they will have a tough time coordinating with foreign powers.
Now that the Taliban are also demonstrating their lack of ability to change, if they cannot maintain stability this leaves the country open for various attack options from the outside. As we can see in the case of Yemen, it is not far fetched to assume that the US can operate offensively through its drone-warfare program, whilst maintaining denial of its direct involvement in the war.
It is unlikely that the US will take a hands off approach in Afghanistan if it cannot secure any strategic objective there. Redeployment looks to be off the table for the moment, yet running CIA operations is a very realistic possibility and probably already ongoing. If the US cannot capitalize on securing the construction of the Turkmenistan TAPI pipeline project or work to establish the infrastructure to extract resources, then at the very least they may seek to back militant groups inside of Afghanistan which could work to undermine China. Regardless of how things play out in the coming months, US involvement, one way or another, should not be assumed to be over.