Did the fall of Kabul spark the war in Ukraine?
The war in Ukraine may not have happened if the US had not abandoned Afghanistan, a recent seminar on the current situation and future trajectory of Afghanistan has heard.
Both events created millions of refugees and displaced countless others while also creating devastating humanitarian crises in the respective countries.
Australian National University Emeritus Professor William Maley told the ‘Afghanistan: Current Realities, Future Trajectories’ seminar, held at the University of Melbourne, that Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine was influenced by the US’s pull out from Afghanistan.
“Russia was watching the fall of Afghanistan,’ Professor Maley told the seminar.
He said that the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia Nikolai Patrushev at the time told the ‘Izvestia’ newspaper that the US abandoned its Afghan allies, saying that the reason for the military victory of the Taliban was the incompetent work of the intelligence services of the US and other NATO countries and “the typical misplaced belief of the West in the rightness of its decisions”.
Patrushev also predicted that the US would also abandon its allies in Ukraine, saying: “…Kyiv is obsequiously serving the interests of its overseas patrons, striving to get into NATO. But was the ousted pro-American regime in Kabul saved by the fact that Afghanistan had the status of a principal U.S. ally outside NATO? (No). A similar situation awaits supporters of the American choice in Ukraine.”
Prof Maley said the fall of Afghanistan was ultimately a military defeat.
He said the withdrawal of US and NATO troops was one thing but withdrawal also of contractors was crucial.
“It meant the end because Afghanistan depended on contractors for the maintenance of specialised equipment,” Prof Maley said.
He said the seeds of the pull out were sewn at the Doha negotiations between the US and the Taliban beginning in 2018.
“This was not a deal for Afghanistan to survive, it was a deal for the US to exit. And an intersection of problems in Afghanistan from the political leadership to the way aid was delivered led to the collapse,” Prof Maley said.
“The US negotiators and US diplomacy was indifferent to the interests of Afghanistan and also to the interests of Australia and the UK, who also had forces there,” Prof Maley said.
He criticised comments by US President Joe Biden that the Afghan army was unwilling to fight the Taliban, pointing out that during the conflict 30 Afghan soldiers died for every one American soldier killed.
Former Afghan government official Masoom Stanekzai told the seminar the US’ decision to withdraw happened quickly without much consultation.
He described the end of the partnership between Afghanistan and the international community as a “tragedy”.
“Afghanistan was a recipient not a holder or participant in the peace process and the negotiations,” Ms Masoom said.
“Everyone was thinking that a military solution was the only solution but more negotiations could have made for more sustainable results.
“There were false promises from the US negotiators, they promised the Taliban had changed, but they had not.
“The Doha agreement didn’t deliver for the people of Afghanistan. All it delivered was the withdrawal of forces.”
Mr Masoom said the withdrawal led to the collapse of the morale of the Afghan Republic and the Afghan security forces were too dependent on US support.
And he blamed Afghanistan’s troubles on its geopolitical position in what he termed “a difficult neighbourhood”.
“We have tensions between India and Pakistan and Russia and the US and then there is Iran, with its own agenda. This amounts to a bad neighbourhood,” Mr Masoom said.
Prof Maley another issue that has led to the fall of Afghanistan was the Taliban’s access to areas of sanctuary in Pakistan.
“It’s clear this is a critical force multiplier because Afghanistan had no ability to launch hot pursuit of the Taliban,” he said.
Prof Maley said the Taliban’s other weapon of control was coercion.
“The Taliban has been highly successful in using high levels of coercion. Surveys have shown that 85 per cent of Afghans have no sympathy for the Taliban,” he said.
“But it doesn’t pay to be on the losing side in Afghanistan so people change their positions as a matter of survival.
“And the Taliban is highly likely to resort to coercion to stop people leaving their ranks and they are prepared to target family members.
“It is far more morally challenging if other family members will suffer the consequences of protesting against the Taliban. And I think we will see mounting use of coercion to stop the fracturing of the cohesion of the Taliban,” Prof Maley said.
But, in a moment of optimism about the future of the country, he told the seminar the Taliban were not representative of the culture and people of Afghanistan and were “not necessarily a permanent fixture”.