Luik: the «friendly mask» will be dropped soon

Taliban fighters stand guard at an entrance gate outside the Interior Ministry in Kabul on August 17, 2021. PHOTO: JAVED TANVEER / AFP / SCANPIX

The Taliban Islamic movement announced its victory over the Afghan government in the presidential palace on Sunday evening. The chaos and fear in the country keep increasing every moment. Estonia’s ambassador to NATO Jüri Luik believes that the new reality will become the greatest shock for the younger generation.

«The Western allies have been there for twenty years and there are whole generations of young people who will find the situation totally shocking, since they have never lived under the Taliban regime and they have grown used to all the advantages created by a civilized and democratic society,» said Luik.

The Taliban announced that the war is over. Is it true, is that all?

I believe that it is, in the shorter perspective. The Taliban has won the war; it has established control over the entire territory of Afghanistan. The only location still under the allied control is the Kabul airfield and airport. It is defended by a huge number of US troops.

The Taliban itself has emphasized in its statements that their goal is to do everything peacefully. Have they kept their word?

The Taliban is no centrally controlled structure, it does have its own leaders and a spokesperson in Doha, but in principle the fighters on the spot do what they consider necessary – especially outside Kabul. It is clear that the Taliban's goal is presently to take over control and they do not want anything to obstruct it. This naturally includes the rhetoric that it must all go peacefully and on cooperation. There are some Afghan politicians who have already started to cooperate with them, for example the former president Hamid Karzai. But I believe that this «friendly mask» will be dropped quite soon because they are religious fanatics. Their logic of handling matters certainly does not aim towards achieving peace and stability.

Therefore we cannot rely on the promises that there would be no persecution of afghan politicians- including those who cooperated with the West?

Certainly not. I am certain that they will turn against these politicians at some moment. The Taliban will definitely impose sharia laws; therefore my predictions are the most pessimistic.

What would that mean for local politicians?

If we recall what happened the previous time the Taliban seized power, a large number of people met violent death. It may be difficult to predict how it will turn out this time. On the other hand the Taliban wishes to retain the international economic aid to Afghanistan which has been significant. But many governments have said that they will cease their aid immediately if the Taliban should violate human rights and act in an uncivilized manner.

The USA and its allies have invested billions of dollars over two decades in developing, training and arming the Afghan army, special forces and air force. But the Afghan security forces were no match for the Taliban. How did their mentality degrade to the point where there was no opposition?

I believe that one very important element was that the structure of the Afghan army, which we had built up, could not withstand the Taliban attack. It was not a matter of force since the Afghan official armed forces were far larger than the Taliban units, their armament was much better, but they lacked the willingness to fight.

Is the time when the USA interferes in other states conflicts to «establish peace» over now?

I believe so. The situation in Afghanistan was the final and very serious blow against that mentality. The idea of bringing along fundamental and principal changes in other societies is now completely off the table. US Foreign Secretary Anthony Blinken emphasized that strategic opponents, which generally means China and Russia, were frequently happy over the US forces being stuck in Afghanistan and the present move allows for taking a more efficient stand against these large strategic opponents with nuclear as well as conventional armament.

Is it therefore possible that the forces in some structures will change?

The entire mentality is changing and has been doing so for a couple of years. When the new US concept of defense was announced, they no longer outlined terrorism as the main enemy but the large rivals of the US. We know who these rivals are. But this requires the reorganization of the forces structure, rearrangement of armament. There is considerable difference between deterring the massive Russian army or individual fighters of the Taliban.

Has the US position changed in the opinion of other countries?

It is definitely an image problem for the USA in the short term. In the long term – we are talking about the United States of America with defense spending seven or eight times larger than in any other country; their political power is immense.

What will happen to the civilians who could not escape from the country?

The most complicated situation concerns those who have criticized the Taliban in public, who have closely cooperated with the lawful Afghan government and have supported the Western defense forces in Afghanistan. This situation need not concern very much a regular Afghan resident who has had no contacts with politics or government affairs, but we have to keep in mind that women's rights will receive a strong blow all over Afghanistan. And we must consider the dramatic situation where the Western allies have been in the country for twenty years and there are whole generations of young people who will find the situation totally shocking, since they have never lived under the Taliban regime and they have grown used to all the advantages created by a civilized and democratic society, including education and everything else.

What will be the foreign political impact of the Taliban's triumph in Afghanistan?

It will change the dynamics of the whole region. The Western presence was a center of gravity which allowed the West exert influence on the region. Now as the Unites States is no longer present, regional great powers will enter the stage. Pakistan, which is often accused of supporting the Taliban, Iran, India, which is concerned with the Pakistani influence in Afghanistan, and naturally Russia and China. As said, the USA loses its direct ability to influence the situation in Afghanistan. The risk of terrorists surfacing there is highly likely.