I doubt that Afghanistan will ever have a musical like Evita in its honour but if Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice are looking for another project, and Julie Covington is available to sing the title track, they could have another hit on their hands.
The Afghan equivalent to Eva Perón could be Queen Soraya Tarzi who was a highly influential figure and a fierce advocate for women’s rights and girls’ access to education back in the 1920’s. In particular, that would appeal to the Leftists.
Whilst we wait for the debut of the stage production, the Taliban are relentlessly making their way across the Afghan wilderness with an increasing number of districts and cities falling under their control. Virtually every intelligence service expects the government of President Ghani to fall within the coming weeks without substantial Western support. The United States has promised to provide the Afghan government with $4.5 billion a year, a large chunk of it for the Afghan security forces, and 29 Black Hawk helicopters but that pre-supposes that the government survives.
The issue troubling Western governments is that a Taliban victory in Afghanistan will be a disaster for the region due to the refugee flow it would spark and, it is very likely to embolden neighbouring Pakistan’s homegrown extremists and lead to a resurgent al Qaeda. Even if the Pakistani government cracked down on domestic religious radicalism, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan will provide the Pakistani Taliban the same safe haven that they once enjoyed inside Pakistan.
Yet astonishingly, Pakistani authorities are almost jubilant at the speed of the Taliban advance but they may come to regret their enthusiasm. It is well documented that without Pakistani support, the Taliban would struggle to be the force they are with Pakistan supplying weapons, safe-havens and logistical support. Pakistani officials dismiss Western accusations about their complicity by pointing to the casualties they themselves have suffered, but it is a charade. Some rank-and-file soldiers may have suffered but the ‘price’ was low to camouflage the relationship with the Taliban.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that Pakistani leadership don’t realize or don’t care how tenuous their position really is and how outnumbered they will be. Afghanistan is not yet a failed state but it is a dead one walking. If Pakistan follows, it will have no one to blame but itself.
Whilst the Pakistani government may not have recognised the problem, others have. There is unmistakable anxiety in New Delhi that the return of the Taliban to power might precipitate the return of Pakistan-based jihadi groups that have a history of attacking India. Separately, the governments of Russia and China are also worried by the potential fallout from an extended Afghan civil war. Then, there is the likelihood of a massive refugee crisis. Current reports suggest over 500,000 Afghanis have already been displaced by the Taliban’s reinvigorated insurgency. Of particular concern for China is that a problem in Afghanistan threatens the One Belt, One Road initiative and/or a problem in Pakistan also threatens the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Yet, it is India that probably has the most to lose.
New Delhi has reportedly been scrambling to send reconciliatory messages to the Taliban – messages that have to date been unanswered. The Afghan government meanwhile, are not pleased with the reports and is appealing for India to provide more support. Afghanistan’s envoy to India Farid Mamundzay recently said “Should we reach a complete deadlock with the Taliban, then we would want India’s military assistance.”
It is extremely unlikely that India will send its army in Afghanistan while others have suggested a peacekeeping force under the flag of the United Nations. The idea has already been unofficially floated at the UN although it is unclear what reception it received. (I would imagine lukewarm, at best).
If the Taliban succeed in overthrowing the Afghani government, which is virtually certain, it will likely initiate one of those ‘games’ where every player wins a prize. The Pakistani government will have their hands full with revitalised local extremists leading to serious security concerns for India. Beyond that, Iran have been cultivating a tactical alliance with the Taliban (despite previous bad blood) over the past couple of years not to mention the implications for China and Russia with their commercial and military links in the region. If Western governments completely lose their minds and return their militaries to Afghanistan, we have the makings of a colossal global flashpoint.
The entire area is riven with centuries old alliances, disputes, clashes and coalitions all mingled into a seething pot. Tighten your seat belt and see if you can get Andrew Lloyd Webber on the ‘phone.