Stoicescu – you cannot conclude agreements with terrorists

Taliban fighters are seen on the back of a vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan. PHOTO: EPA / Stringer / Scanpix

The Taliban forces reconquered Afghanistan very quickly. Once it became clear that the USA and its allies will irreversibly withdraw, the Afghan army lost all combat capability and the two decades of struggle which also saw the Estonians’ participation, is ending with a major defeat for us and the Western countries.

We discussed with Kalev Stoicescu, a researcher of the International Center for Defense Studies, how to take it and what will happen next.

Is what we are observing in Kabul a temporary setback, one defeat among many, or is it a major failure?

This could be a temporary withdrawal – it is a real drama which is occurring in Kabul and the entire Afghanistan.

What is regrettable – a real surprise for the USA and the whole Western world – is that the Afghan state, the government and the armed forces, which had been supported and trained for twenty years, collapsed very quickly like a house of cards.

It was apparent that the Taliban is steadily taking over but that it could happen so quickly and dramatically… It is presently only a matter of hours when the Afghan president and government will hand over control to spare the capital and the people. But whether they will be spared we do not know yet. We shall see how the Taliban will now govern the state. There are tragic memories of how they ruled until 2001. We really do not want it to recur but we cannot rule it out.

We have seen how the Taliban was driven out in 2001. Depressing and shocking facts of their activities became known and they apparently have not improved their manners. Do we just have to stand by and watch it happen?

Last year, in the end of February 2020 the Americans made an agreement with the Taliban which was described as an agreement bringing peace and stability as well as mutual understanding. The American troops withdrawal was of course conditional: the Taliban will have to stop fighting and open negotiations with other participants, But the Taliban did not agree to mention the Afghan government in the agreement by name; it only mentioned participants interested in reaching agreement.

But the Taliban did not hasten to keep the agreement. They knew from the beginning that the Americans will withdraw their forces, that Trump had decided it. Biden effectively agreed with that decision since twenty years had passed and they decided to complete the business. They said that the afghan government is strong enough on its own. As we could see, it all collapsed.

This was a major self-deception on part of the West. How is it possible that they did not understand how fragile are the Afghan civilian authorities and the army?

I do not want to display hindsight but all signs pointed at it. The army is willing to fight the Taliban only if the Americans and other allies support them. But once the Afghan forces are facing the Taliban without support they will lay down their arms. Why? Because they know that they will eventually lose. Opposition to the Taliban may mean death. They take prisoner only those who surrender. The others will probably be killed.

In the rural areas where most of the population lives outside larger cities, the people are not too Western-minded either. The Taliban rule is acceptable to them.

Some developments have taken place in that country. Many women have received education which was unthinkable before. Under the Taliban rule approximately 10-12 percent of women and roughly half of men were literate. Women, who received education, worked in ministries, even the police and the armed forces. But would the Taliban tolerate that? These women will be sent back to kitchen.

How can one cooperate with the Taliban if their worlds are so different? Would the Taliban sit down with Afghan women and negotiate with them? Impossible! It just cannot be imagined.

What should we now be afraid of?

The hybrid threat I can see coming from the direction of Afghanistan will reach us as well. There will be a new flow of refugees. What we saw with the Iraqi at the Lithuanian and Latvian borders can be only a prelude, an introduction. Once the wanes of refugees will move through Central Asia, Russia and Belarus, it will become the reality. Possibly narcotics as well. If Russia will use that, it will become a serious problem. The Russians can well understand the value of it as a weapon. They have already used it to exert pressure on Europe.

We saw the effect of migration back in 2015–2016. As soon as the Russians began to bomb cities in Syria, millions of refugees spilled over the borders. There are four million still in Turkey and they come to Europe. Every time the Russians undertook there something, a new wave of refugees followed.

Postimees has been closely following the experience of Omar the interpreter and we are very glad that he managed to reach the UK a few weeks ago together with his family. But he keeps assuring that he remains a friend of Estonia.

This is shameful. We, too, are now beginning to understand what is happening on the birders of the EU. The migration threat is now concerning us directly. It comes from this direction from the east rather than south as on 2015–2016. Angela Merkel said her famous words, offering asylum all newcomers. That cost her dearly politically. But after that there were Brexit, the election of Trump in the USA, the rise of populist parties in many countries.

Migration is a powerful phenomenon we have to reckon with. We asked 5–6 years ago, why should we admit them, this is the business of post-colonial countries. They started it, let them deal with it. But we are a member of the EU ands we would be very short-sighted to believe that migration only comes from the south. It will come from the east as well.

Tit for tat. Once thousands from Russia and Belarus will come over our borders and we shall ask for aid, they might answer: now you ask for our help! Keep them. We are a border state, this is the European Union’s external border. It is time to understand that these threats are for real.

How to live with this defeat, what conclusions should we reach?

We cannot turn the clock back and make different decisions. The reality is that Kabul has fallen. The Taliban sent its representatives to the former president of Afghanistan to negotiate. The flag of the Republic of Afghanistan was lowered and the Taliban state is called an Islamic Republic. During the previous period of 1996–2001 they called it the Afghanistan Emirate which was recognized by only four countries: Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

If the USA and other major Western countries should again want to punish terrorists or liquidate the threat they pose, should Estonia help them once more?

I do not believe that troops would be used again. At least not for a long time. If some terrorist act should happen, they would be punished by air and missile strikes. Even the “mother of all bombs” was used against them – a powerful bunker-buster in the mountains, when Trump ordered a display of power. But as we can see, even that did not wipe out the Taliban.