The US withdrawal from the country will create a political and security gap that the Taliban will fill with ease as the Afghan national forces will not have the backing of the US military anymore. This will lead to a tactical crisis, putting the country at further unrest

The US-led intervention in Afghanistan is coming to an end as US President Joe Biden has announced the withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 US troops in the country by September 11 this year.

The complete withdrawal of US troops from the country is likely to embolden the Taliban to expand its insurgency.

The Taliban and the Afghan government have agreed to talk in Turkey alongside the United Nations and Qatar beginning the 24th of this month.

The principal agenda is to reach a political settlement to mitigate the potential surge in violence after US troops return home, which will leave Afghanistan to deal with the weak political and security system to stabilise the country.

Retrospectively, the application of a military-centric strategy by the US to bring peace in Afghanistan only offered a transient enhancement to the country's physical security, leaving the political, ideological and social problems unsolved.

The strategy did not seem feasible, suitable and acceptable to best match the ethno-religious, social and political dynamics of the country.

A less severe diplomacy-based strategy, backed by a small number of US troops, would have allowed more US-Afghan diplomatic interfacing until trust-building among the US, the Afghan government and the Taliban was achieved.

That approach would have paved the way towards a peaceful option to work out the civil war in Afghanistan as the warring parties could have lessened their provocative aggression to find a pragmatic political ideology that meets the indigenous requirement of the country.

Nevertheless, the US preferred a military-dominant approach.

A similar military-centric approach was adopted by the Soviets when they invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and left the country without solving the conflict despite battling for 10 years.

On the contrary, the Soviet intervention taught the Taliban warfare techniques against an advanced military, which it is using against the American troops, causing a vicious cycle of protracted wars.

Now, the US is leaving the country without producing sustainable and constructive transformation in Afghanistan, neither as a nation nor as a state, putting the county into regression.

The Taliban is likely to gain from these two events by portraying itself as being undefeatable by two great world powers. In fact, the Taliban has said that it has won the war and the US has lost. Several factors favour the Taliban to keep the insurgency.

First, demographic and geographical factors favour the group to maintain continued resistance. The Taliban is said to have 50,000- 60,000 active fighters.

Ethnic groups making up the Taliban have a population of four million (12 percent).

Forty to 50 percent of Afghanistan's population remains contested, susceptible to inclinations to either side of the contest, probably depending upon who addresses their grievances first and better.

In early 2021, the Taliban controlled an estimated 19 per cent of the districts, the government controlled 33 per cent while the rest of the country remains contested.

The US withdrawal from the country will create a political and security gap that the Taliban will fill with ease as the Afghan national forces will not have the backing of the US military anymore.

This will lead to a tactical crisis, putting the country at further unrest.

The Taliban, with its widespread demographic, geographical and cultural reach within and beyond Afghanistan, may even expand its control over more people and geography.

Additionally, the Taliban's rule of the country from 1996 to 2001 could allow it the use of Taliban sympathisers within the Afghan bureaucratic and governance structure for intelligence purposes.

The suitability of the strategy of rebellion also comes from the fact that the Taliban shares some ethnic heritage with Pakistan, where it finds a safe haven to operate against the Afghan national forces.

One additional geographical aspect that favours the Taliban is the rugged terrain, which is suitable for guerrilla warfare.

This was proved during the Soviet invasion.

Economically, the Taliban can afford to keep fighting against the Afghan national forces.

The Taliban's annual income from 2011 onwards was estimated to be $400 million, which is believed to have significantly increased in recent years and could be as high as $1.5 billion. The group generates its revenue from taxation, opium production and sale, extortion and foreign funding.

Control over such a diversified economy makes detachment from the state and remaining so until its objectives are fulfilled expedient.

The Taliban portrays American intervention in Afghanistan as coercion.

It has been able to consolidate support for its resistance against the US by attracting other Muslim extremist groups to the stage in general and Sunni Muslims in particular, adding a religious fervour to its struggle against the West.

Further, the increased and sophisticated flow of information brought by globalisation is making it easier for the Taliban to spread propaganda against the US and the Afghan government.

The Taliban is incorporating ethno-religious, demographic and economic factors coupled with the use of modern tools of information dissemination into the strategy of the insurgency, which could make the group even more influential than before.

An international dialogue-based mechanism aimed at prioritising peaceful solutions, reinforcing the US attempts at holding peace talks with the Taliban, looks appropriate to avoid the vacuum that will be created when the US withdraws its troops. The US has said that it would continue the diplomatic efforts to solve the Taliban issue regardless of the troop withdrawal.

Bhatt, who holds an MA in National Security from Daniel Morgan Graduate School of National Security, Washington, DC, was formerly an officer at the Nepali Police Department

A version of this article appears in the print on April 28, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.