The Taliban, in power in Afghanistan since 1996, partners of Al Qaeda, ceded the territory as a refuge and base of operations to Bin Laden's mujahideen.
After the attacks of 11 September 2001, the United States demanded that the Taliban hand over the leader of the organisation and the terrorists wanted for their involvement in the attacks, as well as the expulsion of Al Qaeda from Afghanistan, to which the Taliban refused. This was the spark that set in motion what would lead to the invasion of Afghanistan later that year.
Before the GWOT, on 10 September 2001, the Bush Administration's National Security Administration proposed a measure to capture Bin Laden: the ultimatum to the Taliban, who, if they did not offer the Al Qaeda leader to the authorities, would stop receiving "aid", transferring to anti-Taliban groups and taking direct military action against them in order to overthrow their regime.
After 9/11, the ultimatum was rejected by the Taliban and President George W. Bush announced the Global War On Terrorism (GWOT), gaining NATO's support. In October of the same year, Operation Enduring Freedom was launched.
On analysis, once again the use of force has failed to end the problem, quite the contrary. As has been the case in the other territories where wars or insurgencies are currently being waged, war has only served in the short term as a means of vengeance and revenge, but in the long term as a breeding ground for the reinforcement of terrorist organisations or guerrilla groups.
The Taliban, as feared and hated as they may be by the Afghan population, have seen their troops and support strengthened by the excessive civilian deaths caused by Western bombing. The prospect of "salvation" originally held out by the occupying forces has turned to support for the "local". The same has happened with the Afghan army, which has been formed in the Western style as a tribal conglomerate, ignoring the historical conformities between the different Afghan tribes, which is one more reason to add to the push factors in favour of the Taliban.
Western meddling has once again worked against us: further reinforcing the anti-colonial perspective, strengthening the basis for extremist discourse, gaining greater social support, and infuriating the local population, which is increasingly close to the local guerrilla groups.
Leaving aside the methodology of warfare, a superfluous strategy has once again been developed, more media-driven than intelligent. The Taliban regime was overthrown and Al Qaeda leader Bin Laden was killed. Improvements after that?
The Taliban were driven from power, but never exterminated, no social programme was implemented to prevent the development of a breeding ground for radicalisation, no forward-looking measures were put in place to eradicate or mitigate the Taliban's support and forces in order to prevent their return. This group of guerrillas isolated themselves to rural areas where, over the last twenty years, they have continued to grow logistically and economically, through the black market, waiting for the perfect moment to strike again. That moment came when the United States agreed to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in 2020, withdrawing little by little until 31 August this year.
On the other hand, the assassination of Bin Laden. A historic event that made the front pages of the world's media, crowning the United States in the fight against terrorism. However, Al Qaeda remains intact, in fact even stronger, having acted intelligently in extending a system of networks that has entrenched its positions. The assassination of Bin Laden, just ten years after 9/11 and in the midst of the Arab Spring, propelled Ayman Al Zawahiri to the head of the organisation.
Without a name as charismatic as Bin Laden's, Al Zawahiri has managed not only to keep the organisation afloat but also to expand its franchise system in recent years. In such a complicated time in terms of terrorist rivalry, having put the world's focus on its splinter organisation Daesh, Al Qaeda has managed to work intelligently in the shadows, rather than collapse in the face of its loss of popularity, and is still the strongest organisation in the world today. As I mentioned in my previous article "Al-Qaeda's strategic victory over Daesh": "The media spotlight captured by Daesh has been used to its own advantage by Al-Qaeda, which has made a strategic change in the shadows, in a subtle, unnoticed and, above all, intelligent way, turning out to be, in spite of everything, a stronger and more mature option for those followers of jihad".
In view of the current Afghan landscape, it is vitally important to go back 20 years and look at the mother organisation, which has links with the Taliban and can unify forces and support with the other surrounding affiliates and empower itself in a way it never would have done before. After years of quiet empowerment, this may be "their moment".
Meanwhile, it is curious to analyse the "communist" position on the conflict. Russia's position remains on the sidelines, trying to avoid reliving its past, limiting itself to limiting and reducing Taliban action to Afghan territory, taking advantage of the loss of US prevalence and maintaining its role as a mediator in the escalation of the conflict. His main concern focuses on the situation in the Central Asian countries, those of Russian interest, which are the limit of the Kremlin's military action. American and NATO failure in Afghanistan could be used to Russia's advantage.
Second, and no less important, is China. The geostrategic situation in Afghanistan is of great interest to the Chinese, who, taking advantage of the US withdrawal, will strengthen their ties with both the Taliban and the Russian government, boosting their relations in the region. Bordering Afghanistan (the 76 km long Wakhan Pass) right in the region of Xinjiang, where the "re-education" camps that repeatedly violate the human rights of the Uighur ethnic group, Muslims of Turkish origin, are located (more information in the article "Jihadist terrorism or state terrorism? The Chinese problem in Xinjiang"). It is more than likely that terrorist movements will emerge in the area as a result of the repression carried out by the government and the consequent Uighur diaspora, with Afghanistan or Pakistan as one of their main destinations, with a possible interaction with Al Qaeda and other Jihadist groups, something that has never been proven but is possible. This border crossing is consolidating as a fundamental strategic point for the Silk Road and the ambitious project to be developed in the area, with Afghanistan being an important source of different minerals and raw materials, including lithium.
Wang Yi's words on the proposed humanitarian aid to the Taliban are noteworthy: "We welcome the Taliban's positive attitude towards political construction, counter-terrorism and relations with neighbouring countries after their entry into Kabul, but the key is to put them into practice; there are two key points: the first is to be inclusive; and the second is to resolutely fight terrorism. We hope that the Taliban can learn from the past, actively interact with all ethnic groups and factions under the interim government, deliver on their promises to the outside world and become more globally recognised", as France 24 points out in an article published on 9 September.
This shows the new chessboard that Afghanistan has become, a truly appetizing candy for various powers, and one on which Russia and China have set their sights, taking advantage of the US withdrawal and loss of power. The game has only just begun in the geostrategic game, but the important thing to expect is that terrorism will be the common enemy.
- Borger, J. (24 de Marzo de 2004). Bush team `agreed plan to attack the Taliban the day before September 11´. The Guardian.
- Doñate, M. (24 de Agosto de 2021). Afganistán, el pistoletazo de salida para la hegemonía de China. RTVE.
- Sedano, R. (9 de Septiembre de 2021). China hace millonaria donación a Afganistán sin obviar la amenaza terrorista. Frnce 24.