The Taliban have opened their spring offensive by capturing the strategic city of Sangin in the opium-rich Helmand province. While Kabul says it was too hard to defend the city anymore the Americans have downplayed the surrender, claiming that only the district centre has been “repositioned”.
It is the same “Sangingrad” which cost Britain the lives of no less than 100 soldiers (The Siege of Sangin was a military engagement which occurred between June 2006 and April 2007 between Taliban and British Army). As their spring offensive would proceed the Taliban may win or lose more territory, but where they are bound to be victors is their indispensable presence at various regional and international moves to secure permanent peace in Afghanistan.
They remain an undeniable reality on the ground; the Afghan government controls less than 60 percent of Afghanistan and the rest is either contested or is under the insurgents’ control. But what brings Taliban under a sharper focus now is the looming threat of Daesh, which many, particularly the United States, believe is gaining ground in Afghanistan, and that none but the Taliban can stand up to it and defeat it. Should the Afghan Taliban be supported there are however a variety of views.
The difference, however, is that as Moscow is about to set the table for Afghan peace talks the Kabul and regional countries Washington is being warned by its generals that the Kremlin is sending arms to Taliban and also that additional troops be dispatched to Afghanistan. But the Trump administration has yet to firm up its official stance on the Afghan imbroglio, as it remains fixated on Daesh. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is of the view that the Daesh is recruiting fighters from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Obviously then for the United States the Afghan Taliban as a counter-force to Daesh is a better option, and more so when they are being supported by Moscow which is no more a rival, according to the thinking of Secretary Tillerson and his boss.
But the trouble is with the mindset nurtured by the rulers, both political and military, in Kabul. Seemingly, to them only viable solution to Afghanistan problem is Pakistan’s alleged support to the Afghan Taliban. And that too may not be their inner thinking; they seem to have imported it from New Delhi.
While Pakistan is bending backward to assure the Kabul rulers that it has no particular axe to grind in Afghanistan and would be too happy to see that peace returns to their country they won’t desist accusing Pakistan of interference in their affairs. The latest such accusation was hurled at Islamabad from the platform of Global Coalition, a 68-nation think tank committed to deliberating ways and means to defeat the Daesh. Most of the troubles Afghanistan is facing were of Pakistan origin, said Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, calling upon the Global Coalition partners “to use their influence to persuade Islamabad to stop alleged cross-border terrorist attacks”.
That such a fallacious call was made on the day Pakistan was meeting the Taliban leader to join the Moscow-hosted peace parleys and a day after Pakistan unilaterally reopened the border to facilitate public traffic between the two countries is mind-boggling. The shoe in fact is on the other foot; it is the runaway Pakistani Taliban, now comfortably ensconced in Afghanistan, who have joined the Daesh and act as their foot soldiers in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. If someone is to fight and defeat the Daesh in this region then the battleground is there in the mountainous areas of Afghanistan close to its border with Pakistan.