The Withdrawal Effect: Taliban’s ‘Terror-torial’ Control In Afghanistan

Once a prosperous nation, Afghanistan has been ravaged by four decades of deadly conflict which has crippled its economy, whilst physically and mentally draining its civilians. The recent decision of the United States to withdraw the American troops from Afghanistan by the end of August has enabled the Taliban to seize control of the nation’s majority of regions.

Recently, the militant group had claimed that it had seized control of 85% of Afghanistan’s territory, which included key border crossings with Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Pakistan. 

You and the entire world community have probably recently learned that 85 percent of the territory of Afghanistan has come under the control of the Taliban,” Shahabuddin Delawar, a Taliban official.

Although, Taliban officials have also clarified that they’ve got the territories through mediation.

Those districts which have fallen to us and the military forces who have joined us … were through the mediation of the people, through talks,” he said. “They (did not fall) through fighting … it would have been very hard for us to take 194 districts in just eight weeks.”

It has been reported that the Taliban controls about half of Afghanistan’s 419 district centers, while they have yet to capture any of the 34 provincial capitals.

The militant group has made a tumultuous return after 20 long years. After the US withdrawal, the Taliban’s dominance in most of the Afghan populated regions has risen significantly. 

The militant group has now established a strong presence in the north and the northeast, as well as, in the central provinces of Ghazni and Maidan Wardak. Apart from these regions, the Taliban have also maintained their power in their previously controlled regions of south and south-west Afghanistan, which includes northern Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, and Zabul provinces. Meanwhile, the hills of southern Faryab in the northwest, along with the mountains of Badakhshan in the northeast are also under Taliban control now. 

The Taliban also controls the police headquarters, the administrative center, and government institutions in these regions. It has been observed that their influence is also expanding in major cities such as Kunduz, Herat, Kandahar, and Lashkar Gah.

The Taliban is also controlling major border crossings whilst also collecting customs duty on goods that enter Afganistan. This includes the crossing at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border at Spin Boldak.

State’s denial: Even after the Taliban’s claim of controlling 85-90% of Afghanistan’s territory, several reports have proven to be contradictory.

A calculation by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, in 2018, had discovered that the Afghan government controlled just over half of Afghanistan’s districts, while the militant group had seized less than the 85% of the total area, with most estimates suggesting it is closer to something like half, although many districts are contested.

According to the statistics of Long War Journal, the Taliban fully controls around 46% of the country’s districts, with a further 30% contested, as of July 5.

Many Afghan government officials have rejected the Taliban’s claims as false and baseless.

“It is baseless propaganda,” deputy spokesman of the Ministry of Defence Fawad Aman.

It has also been revealed that the regions with strong Taliban control are scantly populated, with approximately less than 50 people per square kilometer in many areas.

While the Afghan government majorly controls the regions which are densely populated, which includes the cities and districts which are either on the plains or in the river valleys.

Recently, the Afghan forces have reclaimed their control in the Kaldar district in Balkh, which had fallen under the Taliban’s control a month ago. Moreover, the security forces have also succeeded in reclaiming control in the Saighan and Kahmard district of Bamiyan province, along with Chakhansur district of Nimroz province.

Our forces have made good progress. We will make efforts to protect civilians,” Balkh governor’s spokesperson Adil Shah Adil was quoted as saying by Tolo News. “We had clashed in 25 provinces in which the Afghan forces made progress,” Genere Ajmal Omar Shinwari, Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) spokesperson, was quoted as saying by the channel.

Peace and terror: Amid their dispute, the militant group has also expressed their desire to cooperate with the Afghan Government by sharing power. Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, in his recent public appearance has stated that peace deal will only be sanctioned by the group if the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani is removed and there is a new negotiated government in Kabul.

I want to make it clear that we do not believe in the monopoly of power because any governments who (sought) to monopolize power in Afghanistan in the past, were not successful governments,” said Shaheen, apparently including the Taliban’s own five-year rule in that assessment. “So we do not want to repeat that same formula.”

Diverging from their strong-held ideology, Shaheen had also revealed new provisions of moral conduct for the citizens. Under this new government, the Talib stated that women will be allowed to work, go to school, and participate in politics, but will be required to wear the hijab or headscarf. He said that women won’t be required to have a male relative accompanying them while leaving their houses and that Taliban commanders in newly occupied districts have been instructed that universities, schools, and markets will operate as before, including with the participation of women and girls.

Although the Taliban has introduced certain reforms in their rigid mode of conduct, yet many officials still seem skeptical and unconvinced.

“Taliban claim to be reformed but they are run by ideology and cannot change. They are more brutal than before and follow old ways of torture. They are violating all articles of the UN Convention of Fundamental rights,” said Mustafa Akhwand, Director of Shia Rights Watch.

The shift in regional control is ever-changing, meanwhile, it is the Afghan citizens who’ll have to bear the brunt of the feud between the Ghani-led Afghan Government and the militant Islamic group. 

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