The World Today for August 16, 2021

NEED TO KNOW

AFGHANISTAN

The Fall

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country Sunday as Taliban fighters entered Kabul, leading to the collapse of Afghanistan’s democratically elected government and the takeover of the country.

For anyone watching the country over the past few weeks, it was no surprise.

In early August, commentators and news reports such as National Public Radio elaborated on how the ultra-orthodox Islamic group’s lightning advance evoked the run-up to the group’s takeover of the capital in 1996. Some have compared it to the fall of Saigon.

Regardless, more than a dozen provincial capitals fell to the Taliban over the past week with little or no resistance from demoralized Afghan forces. By Saturday, the group had taken most of the country. And pretty easily at that.

And so it was for the capital.

Early Sunday morning, the government-held city of Jalalabad surrendered to the militants without a shot fired. Security forces in the districts ringing Kabul melted away, the Washington Post reported. Within hours, Taliban forces entered the city and took over the Presidential Palace, CNN said.

How did this happen so quickly? Some including US officials say it was inevitable the Taliban would take over but believed it would take a few months. However, as the Taliban began its advance after a May announcement by the US saying it would withdraw its troops by fall, thousands of government soldiers deserted, sometimes crossing borders into neighboring countries. At the same time, sources told the Post and other news outlets that the surrender of towns and provinces was brought about by Taliban representatives who convinced local leaders that if they gave up, there would be a peaceful transition to power and amnesty for the opposition, Vice reported. The deals often included the Taliban paying local officials or elders for the surrender.

And while a peace deal was still being hammered out between the government and the Taliban – it was initiated last year by former President Donald Trump – a European diplomatic consultant told Vice that there was likely a backdoor agreement to avoid bloodshed in Kabul.

“(Ghani’s) going to claim he was betrayed but it’s clear he was dumped by the rest of Afghanistan,” said the consultant. “The estimates that the government could hold out for 90 days before the Taliban won were probably accurate but everyone decided to try and skip that bloodshed by dumping Ghani.”

The Taliban had initially said they would not enter the city until a transitional government was formed but later reversed their decision to “prevent chaos and looting.” But those scenes were omnipresent over the weekend via photos and videos on social media as Afghans swarmed Kabul’s airport to flee the country. Banks were deluged as people tried to withdraw money before the government fell – the ATMs ran out of cash. Meanwhile, Afghans flocked to passport offices to obtain travel documents to leave.

“We have no idea what will happen from one moment to the next in this situation,” Mohammad, a worker at a non-governmental organization, told the Wall Street Journal, as fear of the new order under the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate – Afghanistan’s former official name before the US ousted the armed group in 2001 – grew. “But what can we do? There is nowhere for us to go.”

Thousands, however, have fled to displacement camps around the country, some offering very little shelter or food, with aid officials predicting a dangerous humanitarian crisis. The International Organization for Migration estimates the internally displaced at about 360,000. Neighboring countries such as Pakistan, which already host millions of Afghan refugees, are bracing for more.

Meanwhile, the US, the UK and other countries scrambled on Sunday to evacuate their diplomatic personnel – and Afghans who had worked with them and others likely to be targeted by the Taliban such as journalists and activists. Especially those who are female have reason to worry, Time noted.

For those left behind, the fear of the future is palpable because the threat is real, they say.

Civilians in areas of recent Taliban takeover have already reported the closing of girls’ schools, poor families being forced to feed Taliban fighters and the forced recruitment of young men, the Washington Post reported. At the same time, cell phones are being confiscated, people are being forced to attend the mosque and strict rules on appearance are being enforced: Women must wear burqas, men must sport beards.

Worst of all are the threats, say locals.

Mah Jan, a teacher in the northern Balkh province, told the Post how after baring one’s face for a moment from under a burqa, the Taliban sent a message warning not to do it again: “We will take you away and nobody can save you,” she recalled.

And for those who think this time around will be different under Taliban rule, she says that before, the militants watched but didn’t interfere that much. Now, she adds, “the Taliban have grown very brutal.”

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