Muhammad Tahir Khan is one of the most seasoned analysts on Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is a resource on Afghan issues and understands the social, political and military dynamics of Afghanistan. He is a journalist associated with News Network International-NNI as its Editor for over 15 years. Moreover, he contributes regularly in national and international media about the situation of Afghanistan.
TNF Spoke to Mr. Khan on the Talban takeover of Afghanistan, the current situation and the strength of Taliban. We have discussed issues of American withdrawal, the role of different countries and how does he see the current transition. The responses are shared below:
TNF: Can you explain the history of Taliban movement to our readers?
Tahir Khan: In 1994, Taliban started from Kandahar, from South of Afghanistan. Mullah Omer launched the movement and initially the Taliban movement was only for Kandahar because some people of Helmand and nearby areas, especially the warlords, were creating problems for the locals. It was not a national movement. However, they were able to move to Spin Boldak, then to Herat moving towards the East and finally to the North with the support of local people in every region. They were controlling the major parts of country until the American War on Terror in 2001.
TNF: How would you define what is happening currently in Afghanistan?
Tahir Khan: What is happening is unimaginable and I think no one was expecting this situation. The people were not very hopeful but they had some expectations that intra Afghan dialogue will pave the way for continuity of Afghan government. There were some concerns that the agreement between the Taliban and the US will not solve the problem. Yet, what happened was quite unimaginable.
TNF: What is Doha Agreement in simple terms?
Tahir Khan: Doha Agreement was based on four major points, two were related to the Taliban and the Americans and one was for the withdrawal and the last one was the Taliban guarantee that they will not allow the Afghan soil to be used against Americans, its allies and any other country.
In the first two points, one was the ceasefire and the 2nd was the intra Afghan dialogue which started five months later of the date mentioned in Doha agreement. And the terms and conditions for the intra Afghan negotiations also took almost five or six months where they agreed on terms and conditions only.
TNF: What is the reason that Taliban took over Afghanistan so easily?
Tahir Khan: Taliban won because the Afghan security forces left several districts without any fight. I think this encouraged the Taliban and they were able to take control of entire country very easily. Everyone expected that Afghan National Army will be able to defend their nation. However, the situation was totally opposite.
Taliban are getting stronger by every passing day because you have to see the economic challenges that were there even during the days of former government. The joblessness, increasing prices, economic downturn was forcing the people to look for some other options. And Taliban are now providing that opportunity to them.
TNF: What do you think is the current position of Taliban in terms of strength and power in Afghanistan?
Tahir Khan: A United Nations report from the last year claimed that the number of Taliban fighters range from fifty five thousand to Eighty five thousands. The report also adds that if supporters and facilitators are also counted, there are almost one hundred thousand Taliban fighters. This is natural when you are in power. You can see this trend in our areas, in the villages in Pakistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa even, that if there is a powerful or a rich man; the jobless people want to join him because they will be carrying a gun and opportunity. So, it’s understandable that if you are in power and you are strong, so you are winning many people in terms of coming to join you. Taliban were so strong and when they were taking more areas, definitely more people were encouraged to join them.
TNF: What is the current number of Taliban fighters?
Tahir Khan: It is very difficult to mention the exact number of any group. The United Nation’s report is the only real number as their information is based on local sources. The current strength cannot be specifically stated as the Taliban are taking over different state institutions and it may be clear after sometime only.
TNF: What are your view on Kabul’s takeover by Taliban?
Tahir Khan: Honestly, no one could think of Taliban capturing Kabul a few days before the actual takeover took place.
We thought that now they (Afghan Forces) were very strong and that Afghanistan’s people are changed. There is a new generation which had seen education, been to universities and the majority of people were not happy with the Taliban conduct and their policies. Moreover, the political and religious parties and former Mujahideen were also supporting the former government in majority.
TNF: Are there any subgroups within Taliban which can hamper the decisions of national leadership? Is it a governance crises?
Tahir Khan: There aren’t any groups within Taliban but I would say the local commanders sometimes don’t listen and the chief cannot monitor every individual or local commander in different areas or districts. However, I would not call it a governance crises because this was fighting, this was a guerrilla war. Taliban was not a political group after they were ousted from the government in 2001. Yet, they are organizing the different levels of the leadership. Therefore, we need to understand the human element. There are some problems within the Taliban but doesn’t mean there are any divisions.
TNF: What is the role of countries like Russia, China, Qatar, Turkey or Pakistan and is Afghan issue becoming new crisis in this region?
Tahir Khan: You see everyone in the region is shocked. The world is seeing it closely. If there is a problem in Afghanistan, it would be definitely having a direct impact on the other regional countries. This is the reason that senior political and intelligence envoys of these countries have met for consultations and look for indigenous solution.
There were some concerns with regards to Afghanistan that it may end up in another civil war. The regional countries are now concerned that’s why they are meeting to find solutions but I don’t think any big change is possible. It is because Taliban are not listening to any country now. The Taliban are in power on their own and they don’t find a reason to listen to anyone, even Pakistan.
TNF: What do you think about the influence of Pakistan on Taliban?
Tahir Khan: There are misperceptions. Sometimes Pakistani leaders are very irresponsible in making statements. This is unfortunate Pakistani leaders try to take credit. I think what the prime minister or the foreign minister are saying is not totally correct. Even, the Taliban don’t like such kind of statements. So, I think they should be careful because they may be the reason of false hopes or giving out a wrong impression. Although, there was some influence but it doesn’t mean that what they (Pakistan) will tell Taliban and they (Taliban) will accept.
In fact, whenever Taliban had some problems, they went to Russia, they went to Iran and they went to China because they think that those countries also listen to Taliban.
TNF: Did Pakistan play any role between US and Taliban?
Tahir Khan: Yes, it did because Pakistan was under pressure from the world, because Pakistan had made some promises with US and may be other countries. Pakistan had promised with the world that it will do what it can with Taliban.
TNF: Was the American withdrawal a correct decision?
Tahir Khan: The Americans didn’t have another option because they said that they had already achieved their goals. This is Joe Biden’s statement that they did not go into Afghanistan to kill or punish anyone. So, when Osama bin Laden is killed and Mullah Umar is no more and the Taliban now say that they are only limited to their own country so why the Americans should stay when they cannot defeat the Taliban. The Americans themselves knew Taliban controlled half of the country by first week of August 2021. So, why would Americans spend more money or kill their own people as this was a very long war in the American war history.
TNF: How do you see the role of USA in strengthening Taliban politically?
Tahir Khan: The Taliban were strong enough inside of Afghanistan. President Trump had even invited them (Taliban) when they finalized the agreement. He (President Trump) was expecting that this could be signed in Qatar and in the US and also in Kabul. The Taliban’s Qatar office had agreed but the Shura (Central Leadership) had stopped them. And most importantly, there were around 26 people from every US department including Pentagon, CIA, State and Law departments when agreement was finalized in August 2019. So, the Taliban had direct interaction and relationship with second tier American leadership and thus, they had made the US recognize them as a strong political force.
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I think Taliban had already established contacts with the American administrations because the Taliban agreement of 2020 was not with Trump; it was with the United States of America.