Why the Afghan army did not fight

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By Rustam Shah Mohmand

As a total Taliban victory has occurred in Afghanistan, some observers and countries are calling upon Islamabad to play its role in bringing an end to all hostilities. Such advice ignores ground realities. 

Events have overtaken all projections, predictions and estimates. Even Taliban have been stunned by the unbelievable speed of their steamrolling, city after city. Amid the havoc of war, there is just one silver lining. Most cities fell without a fight which saved lives and damage to property. Some towns offered resistance that was overcome.

Those who fled and left their homes as the fighting raged were trying to avoid being caught in the crossfire. They believed the fighting would continue for days. They were mistaken. The Afghan national army units gave up fighting and surrendered and this was clear from the word go.

Why should an army fight to protect a regime that has no rapport with the population? There was a strong belief within the security forces that the regime was sustained by continued American military and financial support. Such a dispensation does not inspire loyalty in rank and file soldiers. Then there was the menace of corruption and that affected the morale of the soldiers also. And finally, when the Americans announced the pull-out of all their forces, there was panic. Members of the security forces felt threatened. The feeling grew that without external props, the regime will not survive. 

It was a psychological threshold and crossing that created alarm. Would the soldiers now fight for a system that was inevitably going to collapse? In such a situation, soldiers lose their motivation to fight.

Chaos at Kabul Airport

The Americans ignored the lessons of history when they attempted creating a new Afghan security infrastructure. Soldiers need training, weapons and equipment but they also need motivation. That motivation comes when an army defends a system that is rooted in the norms of justice and patriotism. Not a system that requires the presence of foreign forces and that is premised on corruption and absence of supreme national interests.

The fact that most cities fell to the Taliban without a fight show that local army commanders had no sympathy for a government they did not trust and for a system they believed was going to collapse. This fundamental fragility of the system was not factored into the security system, which was designed to stave off Taliban attacks. And that has proven costly.

Taliban fighters patrol inside the city of Kandahar, southwest Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. (Picture courtesy AP Photo/Sidiqullah Khan)

It seems Taliban are now conscious of the responsibility in not only ending the long conflict but also undertaking the gigantic task of reconstruction and rehabilitation. In fulfilling this mandate they know they have to align themselves with the international community. As the world stayed glued to their television screens, the group did not allow its fighters to enter the gates of Kabul all day Sunday, it announced amnesty for government workers, and said women will be free to acquire an education and seek employment. They have also announced that the rights of minorities will be safeguarded and that Afghan territory would not be allowed to be used against any other country. Time will tell if they will deliver on their promises. But these are significant announcements which could go a long way in removing deep suspicions against them in the minds of many people both inside Afghanistan and beyond.

*Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade. Article courtesy Arab News)