Talibans Military Successes
(Sep-Oct 2000)

General Mirza Aslam Beg

Rising from the soil of Kandahar some five years back, the Taliban have effected a heroic feat of establishing their sway almost over the entire territories of Afghanistan. The operations conducted by them have proved so over-powering that foreign interventions and support to the inimical forces fell apart and proved of no avail. The Taliban, who were taken to be novices in the art of warfare, have simply baffled military analysts by executing a strategy which proved instrumental in achieving astounding successes. It therefore merits a dispassionate analysis and I shall attempt to discuss their fighting acumen, as it unfolds itself over a five-year period.

First Phase
 After having established their control over the territories of Kandahar, Ghazni and Jalalabad in 1997, they swept over the North-Western areas of Herat and consolidated their hold over whole of western Afghanistan and succeeded in blocking the Afghan-Iran border, which provided the most serious threat of intervention. Despite this, Iran continued its support and Tajikistan was used as the conduit to the anti-Taliban forces in the North, particularly in Mazar-i-Sharif and Hazarajat areas. Thus the Northern Alliance of anti-Taliban forces was further beefed up by Russia, India, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Second Phase
 In June 1998, the Taliban made advances towards Mazar-i-Sharif and Hazarajat, and within a short period of five months, gained total control over these areas. This victory brought in its wake a state of disarray among the elements of the Northern Alliance, and Ahmad Shah Massoud had to assume its leadership. Due to continued foreign intervention, resistance against Taliban became formidable. The City of Kulyab, in Tajikistan was developed as the facilitating supply base of arms, equipment and logistics. Ahmad Shah Massoud, was thus able to establish his hold from Punjsher Valley with North of Kabul to that of Qunduz bordering with Tajikistan and the whole of eastern Afghanistan practically became his domain. He neither lacked weapons to fight nor resources to sustain his forces. It was indeed a great dilemma for Taliban, to cope up with this exigency.

Third Phase
 In May 2000, the Taliban offensive in the North of Kabul in the area of Punjsher Valley met tough resistance from Ahmad Shah Massoud. Taliban suffered heavy losses in men and material. More than four hundred soldiers lost their lives. The set-back induced the Taliban to retreat towards Baghlan, and initiate a new grouping, and a new strategy.

 Around the middle of September, the Taliban embarked upon a deep turning movement, which could appropriately be termed a Strategy of Indirect Approach. Through this maneuver towards the north, starting from the west and covering a distance of nearly 300 kilometers, over very difficult terrain, they were able to capture the sensitive areas of Nehreen, Barkeh and Eshkashem. As a result of this maneuver, the Northern Alliance was deprived of their strategic routes of supply from Tajikistan. After a pause of two weeks, a new offensive was launched from two directions, i.e., Qunduz and Peshkan which enabled them to capture the crucial area of Talkan, which facilitated the fall of Khawaj-i-Ghar, Imam Sahib, Dalishat Artashi, and the important reverine port of Sher Khan, by the middle of October 2000. The Taliban were thus fully saddled in these areas and Ahmad Shah Massoud had no option left but to fall back and shift his military headquarters to Baharak, in the Badakhshan province. The Northern Alliance, having lost three important supply routes, now have only two supply routes to Eshkashem and Darwez, which pass over very difficult terrain.

 The victories of Taliban, have practically shattered the defense line of the Northern Alliance. The operations so conducted by the Taliban in the given time and space dimensions, were characterized by deep out-flanking maneuvers, to isolate the most dangerous opposition first, while containing the future enemy to be dealt with later; giving pauses to recoup and reorganize; effecting tactical withdrawals, followed by deep turning movements, thus forcing the enemy to fight on reverse fronts, and winning battles without fighting, such as the battle for Punjsher Valley. It is proved beyond doubt that Taliban do not need lessons to operationalize their military strategy as reflected in this map.
(editor's note: the map provided by General Beg was done by hand and may be confusing. We have enhanced it in color to help clarify his main points. )

Taliban are now preparing to march on to capture the strategic areas of Feyzabad so that Ahmad Shah Massoud is deprived of the supply routes of Darwaz and Eshkashem. The valley of Punjsher is practically under siege and the Taliban may move towards Sehra-e-Minjan, to win the battle without fighting.

 The military victory of Taliban has now induced Russia, Iran and Tajikistan to plan a counter strategy at Dushanbe, but the fact is that the Taliban now enjoy superior strategic orientation, which cannot be denied to them by Ahmad Shah Massoud, who lacks space and external support.  Russo-Iran Afghan policy has fumbled and the irony is that Pakistan is being scapegoated for this failure. Both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan having supported the Northern Alliance are now conscious of the inevitable fate, and are visibly making overtures towards establishing friendly relations with Afghanistan. Uzbekistan is expected to initiate a conciliatory dialogue and has resolved to open its borders for trade with Afghanistan, which indeed is a sagacious step. In Tajikistan there are around twenty five thousand Russian soldiers deployed on the borders, yet when the Taliban were able to capture Bandar Sher Khan, the Russian soldiers kept a safe distance and avoided facing the Taliban forces. Following the lead from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan may be well advised to open its frontiers for trade with Afghanistan.

 Pakistan is unnecessarily being blamed for aiding Afghan Mujahideen, when, in fact, Pakistan itself is undergoing worst conceivable crisis of its history. In fact it was in 1989, when Pakistan had fully dissociated itself from meddling into the internal affairs of Afghanistan, after the failure of the Jalalabad Operation. What has come to surface, is that the new Taliban strategy has very little congruence with Pakistanís military thought or training, yet the blood is thicker than water, and the bond that exists between the people of these two neighboring countries, will continue to determine the contours of the future strategic consensus in the region. In moments of peril, it is the people to people relationship which matters and not formal diplomatic relations at state level.

 China is a well-trusted friend of Afghanistan and is deeply valued. There is a phenomenal development which China has brought into its Mid-West area. Similarly the war-ravaged Afghanistan must also receive its due attention, as the people have crossed the threshold of endurance, misery and hardships. China undoubtedly can play a vital role in the healing of their wounds.

 The failure of US Afghan policy came to light, when in the wake of Russian defeat in 1989, USA became totally indifferent to this country, as if it had played no role in humbling Soviet Union. USA was not inclined to let the so-called radical forces to assume political power in Afghanistan. As a consequence, Afghanistan was kept bleeding through internal feuds and infighting. Its economy was totally shattered. When the chaos became unbearable, the Afghan soul got ultimately stirred up and Taliban emerged as a force to frustrate the designs of the divisive forces. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE recognized the Taliban Government, whereas for the rest of the civilized world, Afghanistan remained a symbol of fanaticism and bigotry. USA has created in Osama Bin Laden a controversial figure, and has pegged its Afghan policy on him, which has dangerous portents not only for the Afghan people but for the entire region. Rumors are rampant that USA is contemplating an attack on Afghanistan, which does not speak well of US strategic vision. It appears that desperation has blurred the vision.

 Pakistanís Afghan policy has had many ups and downs, as it was never structured on sound pragmatic lines. At state level, there exist misgivings and misunderstanding but the people of these two countries are interwoven in deep ties. It was a sound gesture on the part of the Nawaz Sharif government to recognize Taliban government but the policy remained rather circumscribed due to expediency and as a consequence the major objectives could not be achieved. It is now imperative to formulate a new diplomatic strategy in light of the realities that exist today.

 The Northern Alliance, after its defeat, is in a state of quandary. The Punjsher Valley is now rendered weak and fragile, and if there is an encounter with Taliban, the existing prosperity of this valley would be ruined. Ahmad Shah Massoud is in no position to come to their rescue. It would be prudent to seek accommodation and reconciliation with Taliban. The failure of the Northern Alliance is essentially a failure of foreign interference, which started with Russian involvement in 1979 and now is closeted at Dushanbe. In fact, the party is over, yet, if the opposition chooses to operate in the mountainous areas of Badakhshan, it would be a futile venture. Therefore, it is time that Northern Alliance, initiate a dialogue with Taliban, which would fetch them what is their due. Taliban are large-hearted people and would surely share governance with the Northern Alliance leaders.

 Taliban have resolutely stood to achieve dignity and freedom and have proved beyond doubt that if the nation is prepared to face the challenges Strategic Defiance as an instrument of politico-military policy, serves the interest of the country, best to achieve the core sentiments. They have mastered a strategy of warfare, which indeed is their own accomplishment. Being economically impoverished, and encountering intrigues from many quarters, their endurance is a rich tribute to human courage, which flows from Faith. Someone rightly said: "It is courage the world needs, not infallibility. Courage is always the surest wisdom." Afghan character is the epitome of that wisdom.