The Taliban completed their sweep of the country’s south on Friday. They took over the second largest city of Kandahar just weeks before the USA is all set to officially withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, to mark an end of the two-decade war.
The city of Kandahar
In just the last 24 hours, the Taliban have captured the country’s third-largest city, Herat, in the west, and the second-largest city, Kandahar, in the south.
The blitz through the Taliban’s southern heartland means the insurgents now hold more than two-thirds of the country and are just 40km from the national capital of Kabul.
With a population of more than 6 million, Kandahar can be the most significant Taliban victory.
It is a welcome home gesture for the insurgents, as Kandahar was the birthplace of the Taliban, and its founder, Mullah Omar, used to control Afghanistan from the same city till the year 2001.
The Changing Sides
Over the last few weeks, the insurgents have toppled city after city in a stunning advance that has well-positioned them to attack Kabul.
The siege has been devastating. In Kandahar and the other six significant provinces, we witnessed a swift retreat of the forces.
Afghan forces were overrun, and many soldiers and police officers were reported to have deserted or even switched sides in some places.
According to sources, even local tribal and political leaders played a vital role in the Taliban’s victory by influencing the government’s military to avoid bloodshed, surrender, and gain a safe exit.
India’s Strategic Concerns
While Kabul isn’t under direct threat yet, the US military has estimated that it won’t take more than 30 days for the Taliban to capture the capital city of Kabul and not more than 90 days to capture the whole of Afghanistan.
With the present situation of political turmoil, the fall of major Afghan cities and its impact on India’s interests are coming clearly into focus.
The Taliban’s advances and support of Pakistan in the form of supplies are unlikely to stop. With countering hostilities along the LOC and LAC, an unfriendly government in Kabul will only complicate things further for India.
The very first concern India raised after the capture of Kandahar was for its diplomats, personnel, and citizens based in Afghanistan.
After the announcement of the US troop withdrawal, India has pared down its diplomatic presence in the country. The Indian government flew home all Indian staff at its missions in Herat and Jalalabad, and the consulates in the cities of Kandahar and Mazar have also been closed.
The external affairs ministry has also issued an advisory for all Indian citizens to take commercial flights out at the earliest.
The recent gains of the Taliban mean a more prominent hand for Pakistan’s military and intelligence to influence the outcomes in the country, which will mandate a minor role for India in the future talks process. It will also complicate trade with the central Asian regions.
The Taliban have also captured the central city of Ghazni, which is just 90 miles away from the capital city of Kabul.
With this, they now have control over three main trading routes and highways connecting Kabul, and it won’t take long to witness the insurgents taking control of the whole country and changing the course of Afghanistan’s future.