After taking over the entire province of Logar, the insurgents are now almost on Kabul’s doorsteps. When reports last came in, they had reached Char Asyab district, 11 km south of Kabul.
Footage from Paktika’s capital, Sharana, and Asadabad, the capital of Kunar, showed people waving the Taliban flag and walking through the streets of the two cities. Provincial lawmakers in the twin cities confirmed that the intelligence departments, offices of the governors, police headquarters and local jails are now controlled by the insurgents. There was some fighting in Sharana earlier but local tribal leaders intervened and negotiated a pullout of government forces. The Paktika governor was en route to Kabul after Sharana was taken.
In Mazar-e-Sharif, the stronghold of warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, there was heavy fighting on the outskirts, government officials said.
In a pre-recorded message to the nation, beleaguered Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said remobilisation of Afghan forces was his top priority and vowed to prevent further bloodshed in his country. “I will not allow the imposed war to bring more devastation and death to the people. Under the current situation, remobilising of the security and defence forces is our top priority and required measures are underway for this purpose,” Ghani said.
“I know that you are concerned about your present and future, but I assure you as your president that my focus is to prevent further instability, violence and displacement of my people,” the Afghan president said. “To do this, I have started widespread consultations within and outside the government, with political leaders and international partners, and I will soon share the results with the people,” Ghani added.
Afghan analysts, however, believe that Ghani is no longer in control. “It’s not about President Ghani anymore, it’s about making the transition as bloodlessly, as orderly and as swiftly as possible,” Haroon Rahimi, a law professor at the American University of Afghanistan, told media. “If Kabul falls under pressure, all hopes for a political settlement will be lost,” he said, suggesting that the Kabul administration should hand over authority to a transitional body to negotiate a power-sharing agreement with the Taliban.
The Taliban now control more than half of the country’s provincial capitals after capturing much of northern, western and southern Afghanistan in less than three weeks before the US is set to withdraw its final troops, raising fears of a full takeover by the insurgent group or another Afghan civil war.
With their sweeping territorial gains, the insurgents and their supporters have been messaging that normalcy has returned to the provinces under their control.
“The militants do not harm security personnel if they voluntarily surrender and the group works for all people irrespective of their ethnicity,” one of the messages, probably aimed at encouraging soldiers to surrender ahead of a Taliban assault, read.
It also appears to be an attempt to dispel reports that the group has executed government civil and military officials in districts they have captured and forced the girls to marry Taliban fighters.
Top security and intelligence officials that TOI has interacted with said that the division of Afghan society on ethnicity basis has been one of the key factors responsible for the rapid retreat of Afghan forces and the apparent crumbling of the system that was in place in the war-ravaged country for 20 years.
“Except President Ashraf Ghani and former ruler Hamid Karzai, the majority of Afghan military and civil officers are non-Pashtuns. Urban non-Pashtuns were already ahead in education, so the majority of teachers, doctors and engineers benefited from American intervention. In two decades foreign and local scholarships were granted to Afghan students and teachers,” observed Zafarullah Khan, a former police and intelligence official form Pakistan’s northwestern region along the Afghan border.
In the past 20 years, the official said, the war against Taliban was fought by the Afghan National Army along with US and Nato troops in mostly Pashtun-majority districts. “The Americans could not trust the Pashtuns for recruitment in the army as in many incidents the Pashtun soldiers had killed their officers or Americans and decamped with M16s, suggesting that many Pashtuns had joined the army for this very purpose,” Khan added.
During the peak time of the war on terror, the Taliban were running shadow governments in most of the Pashtun-majority provinces in a tribal way that has been practised in Afghanistan for generations.
Confident about their victories in the Pashtun belt, the Taliban had organised themselves in the northern provinces during the last two decades and started their victory trail from Kunduz, the only Pashtun-dominant province in the north.
“Anyone having knowledge of Afghanistan and Afghans would know that, as predicted a decade ago, a non-Pashtun army would just melt away in the Pashtun provinces. The Afghan forces had no public acceptance in Pashtun areas. Their defeat was inevitable,” revealed a conversation with Afghan tribal elders and politicians.