Gul Muhammad joined the Afghan army in 2016 at the age of 22. He wanted to serve his country in the war against the Taliban and to remain honest as a soldier.
But after the US signed a peace deal with the Taliban last year, Muhammad felt hopeless as the military lost its share and suffered serious injuries.
In December, Muhammad surrendered to the Taliban, one of four members of his party who left immediately. “Our commander was indifferent to the lives of the soldiers, he was stealing our food and our salaries and distributing them indiscriminately,” he said. “The war has no culture. The Taliban are powerful and violent.”
Muhammad’s frustration has grown in Afghanistan after US President Joe Biden announced plans to “end the war” and withdraw all US and Nato troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 threat.
“The war in Afghanistan can no longer be a multi-ethnic task,” Biden said in a statement on Wednesday.
The US has left Afghanistan at a time when the Kabul government is weak, repressed by corruption and internal strife. Some Taliban say they are confident that if they take their time, they can establish an Islamic Emirate, which threatens to undermine US efforts to support democracy and reform Afghanistan.
“Our jihad will continue until we establish and restore the Islamic state,” the Taliban leader and former ambassador to eastern Afghanistan told the Financial Times. “Our guns and bombers are ready to fight the remaining forces in Afghanistan and the puppet government.”
As the US recedes, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China – are expected to step down, sparking major conflicts in the late 19th century between Britain and Russia.
Sajjan Gohel, a South Asian specialist at the London School of Economics, said there was a striking parallel between this pull in the US and the Soviet departure 30 years ago.
After the fall of Soviet rule, Afghanistan became a stronghold of Islamic security in the world. “The house of cards collapsed,” Gohel said. “Unconnected environments are the main contributors to the smooth running.”
Biden set a date for his departure after taking a deal held by Trump’s administration and said “maybe that’s not what I would have discussed myself”. The Doha Accord, signed between the US and the Taliban in February 2020, set a time for his departure. Instead, the Taliban have vowed not to allow al-Qaeda to threaten the US from Afghanistan, and to reduce violence, with politicians promising to fail.
The Taliban have defended thousands of prisoners while brutally targeting Afghan security forces and civilians. More than 500 people have been killed in Afghanistan in the first three months of 2021, an increase of 30% last year, according to the UN. The Taliban are accused of killing journalists, judges and freedom fighters who have shaken government agencies.
Negotiations between the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul and the Taliban to forge a power-sharing deal have been suspended, prompting Biden officials to convene an international peace conference in Istanbul to pave the way forward. The Taliban refused to go with them.
Christopher Kolenda, a retired veteran who spoke to the Taliban, said the US had gained little after it “lost its chance” to leave.
He warned that in the absence of all possible peace measures “Afghan neighbors continue to set up pot with their proxies and transfer security concerns”.
Chris Alexander, a former Canadian ambassador, has spoken out against US and allies who have sided with Pakistan in their efforts to support the Taliban by donating money and sanctuary to its leaders.
“US allies and Nato have not tried the best way to end the war: the punishment of those in Pakistan. We have international troops or not, let’s work together to end the Indian war,” he said on Twitter.
Afghans are preparing for a future without the US to prevent the Taliban from succeeding. Many, like Ghousuddin Frotan, are trying to flee to Europe or neighboring countries.
“Because of the increased security and killings I want, I want to leave this country,” said Frotan, a development agency director, “I know a lot of people who want to leave.”
Madiha Afzal, of the Brookings Institution, said women’s rights were at stake. “Taliban leaders have learned how to avoid some of these legal questions in order to gain international recognition, but the group’s views have not changed,” he said.
Officials in the United States say Washington is supporting women’s rights through negotiations and still has a lot of anti-terrorism measures in place to crack down on terrorists in Afghanistan, and use the Taliban to force al-Qaeda not to threaten the US.
But the Taliban have been “encouraged” by the approval of the US-backed states, said Naheed Farid, a member of Afghanistan’s parliament. “They have not severed their ties with al-Qaeda. If it had been a global counter-terrorism operation, the task would not have been completed.”
The former US military commander also questioned the commitment of Biden officials to support the 300,000 Afghan army that the U.S. has been training and training for years.
“We have to expect terrorist groups [the US took military actions against] has set up new rest areas in areas where the Afghan government does not improve in the future, “he said.
Muhammad, a former soldier, fears that the Afghan forces will not be strong enough. “Without U.S. and foreign troops, Afghans will be killed like chickens in a butcher’s shop.”