The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last month has been extraordinary for many reasons, experts concluded at an exclusive event held by The Independent last night.
A panel of experts joined The Independent’s foreign editor David Harding as he hosted the virtually held discussion ‘Afghanistan: A nation abandoned?’
David was joined by The Independent’s foreign correspondent and commentator Patrick Cockburn, Camelia Entekhbifard, the editor in chief of Independent Persian, Lieutenant General Sir Simon Mayall, a commander who was the Middle East advisor in the Ministry of Defence and The Independent’s Defence and Diplomatic Editor Kim Sengupta.
Kim was based in Afghanistan for most of August and was in Kabul as it fell to the Taliban on 15 August. He was able to paint a picture of the reality on the ground in a country that has been left in turmoil following the departure of allied troops after 20 years.
He confirmed that the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated at a pace few would have imagined in the aftermath of President Joe Biden’s decision to pull out US forces at speed.
He said: “For the people of this land battered by decades of violence, most of it brought about by foreign powers near and far, there is now darkness only too visible.”
To watch the event in full click on the video below
But was it inevitable?
Patrick told the audience it wasn’t inevitable and said: “ There were lots of ingredients that went into this, some of these ingredients were there 20 years ago, some are more recent. It is not entirely unprecedented what happened and I have seen two armies dissolve at a similar pace in the last 20 years.
“None of it was predictable and none of it was quite inevitable. Why does it happen? People in Afghanistan want to survive, when they spot a winner they join it. There is an old saying that Afghans never lose a war and the reason is that they always join the winning side before it ends.
“It all stems to the Americans opening bilateral relations to withdraw with the Taliban and excluding to agree with the Taliban demand that the Afghan government should be excluded, this was extraordinary and then no concessions were made by the Taliban .”
Could the military have done things differently? Sir Simon believes not and expressed his concerns around the threat that the well-equipped Taliban and linked terror group Isis K now pose.
He said: “I think they are a great threat (Isis K). Unlike what we had in Iraq where is was Sunni extremists against a Shia government. The capacity of course for Isis K to represent a harder line element of the Taliban, who inevitably some of them will be seen as compromising now with the International community, or the capacity forAl-Qaeda to come back at all or for Al-Qaeda and Isis K to start fighting in among themselves are all very real threats and concerns.
“I am not remotely saying that Isis K can take over from where the Taliban are now but they have a capacity to come in on the fracture line and again we know how devastating a bombing campaign in an urban environment is. Previously Kabul was quite well defended because they had a huge intelligence network by the Americans, the coalition, the Afghan government, that of course will now have gone and so the ability or capacity for Isis K to operate in a much more permissive environment does exist.”
Camelia aired her concerns for how the changes in Afghanistan are already affecting women in the country.
She said: “Having spoken with several influential Afghan women I can tell you that they are very disappointed with what they are seeing.
“They have totally lost their faith in democracy, to human rights, and they felt like everything has been so fake. It looks like the Taliban won’t let anyone except medical doctors back to work.
“I have friends who have said the Taliban are issuing statements meaning any girls over 12 years old can’t attend school. Those things should worry us.”
The Independent has launched a petition urging the UK government to be more ambitious in its plans to take in Afghan refugees following the Taliban seizing power and withdrawal of western troops. Afghans are now facing a similar plight. You, our readers, have already shown your strength of feeling in letters and on social media. Here’s a chance to have your voice heard by adding your signature. We thank you for your support. To sign the petition click here
The Independent’s next virtual panel event is being held on 8 September. Travel expert Simon Calder is hosting Travelling to the other side of the pandemic which will be held on Zoom at 6.30pm. To sign up for the event for free click here.
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