“A Civil War is not out of question, but it is not going to be the kind that we had seen in the 1990s.”—  Chayanika Saxena

“A Civil War is not out of question, but it is not going to be the kind that we had seen in the 1990s.”— Chayanika Saxena

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Shahzada Rahim of the Radical Outlook interviewed a distinguish South Asian expert Chayanika Saxena

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has exacerbated the power struggle in the country

A week ago, the sudden US withdrawal from Afghanistan has created a major power vacuum in the country as the Taliban quick advances surged fears among the people. According to 2019 official estimates of the US government, approximately 53.8% of the Afghan districts were under government influence, while 33.9% area was contested and the remaining 12.3% was under the direct influence of the Taliban. However, after the recent advances amidst the US withdrawal, now the Taliban are claiming to have control over 85% of the Afghan territory.

The ongoing situation in Afghanistan clearly illustrates that if the Taliban’s “fight and Talk” strategy continued then it might exacerbate the beginning of the Civil War. In an effort to understand the ongoing situation in Afghanistan, Shahzada Rahim of The Radical Outlook interviewed Chayanika Saxena a President Graduate Scholar and a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Geography, National University of Singapore (Singapore). Her doctoral thesis looks at the interaction between spaces and political subjectivities of the Afghan diaspora in the cities of Delhi, Kolkata, and parts of Kashmir. With more than six years of experience in researching matters concerning Afghanistan, she has published and presented related matters nationally and internationally.

Thank you for joining me on the Radical Outlook


  1. Shahzada Rahim (SR): As an expert on South Asia politics, do you think the sudden US withdrawal from Afghanistan has exacerbated the chances for the beginning of new Civil War?

Chayanika Saxena (CS): Speaking as someone who has worked in Afghanistan for close to eight years (which, by the way, does not make me an expert in the truest sense of the term), the impending withdrawal of the US has only made the matters worse in and for Afghanistan. I am not sure if we should describe this withdrawal as “sudden”. It has been many years in the making, and ever since the Doha Deal was signed in 2020, the departure of the American/ISAF troops was only a matter of “when” and not “if”. But yes, the US could have halted or decelerated the pace of its imminent departure given that it was itself a witness to the heightened Taliban rampage.

A Civil War is not out of question, but it is not going to be the kind that we had seen in the 1990s. It may not witness rampant racketeering, but the fear of it is palpable and even real. In my opinion, we are heading towards another deadlock – one in which the Taliban and the ANDSF/Afghan government will exhaust them militarily and come to terms with the reality in which agreeing to talk will be the only step forward. We cannot predict for sure as to when this so-called “ripe” moment for these talks will arrive, but it is likely that it may happen in the short term if the cycle of take-retake (of districts) continues. Falling short of the fall of Kabul, which is in no one’s favor, it is likely that an escalatory deadlock and not an outright, highly bloody Civil War will be the reality of Afghanistan in the months to come.

The worst-case scenario is a bloody Civil War that we had seen in the 1990s with different factions fighting each other only to realize the futility of it all in the end.

2. Shahzada Rahim (SR): What would you say did the US troops’ withdrawal weakened the Afghan army and made it easy prey for the Taliban? What is the possible worst-case scenario in your opinion?

Chayanika Saxena (CS): It has weakened the morale of Afghans, and hence, their trust in the governmental/military institutions for sure. And, this depletion of faith will certainly have a bearing on the ANDSF. We already know that the attrition/desertion rate amongst the ANDSF is already high. On top of that, not the whole of ANDSF is as militarily disciplined to the extent that they will follow their commanders into the battlefield to fight the enemy bare-handed if need be. This is not to say that ANDSF is not a competent force. Far from it, it is one of the only legally sanctioned institutions of Afghanistan that inspires the trust of the commoners. However, unlike the evolved setups that we find in India and Pakistan, which, by the way, are sufficiently funded by their respective states, the ANDSF is still nebulous, unfortunately. The ANDSF will not collapse – not at all. But the withering away of their ranks in the face of the ongoing onslaught by the Taliban; the lack of money, and the like would further undermine the ability of the ANDSF to hold its fort.

The worst-case scenario is a bloody Civil War that we had seen in the 1990s with different factions fighting each other only to realize the futility of it all in the end.

Iran and Pakistan have their own religio-ideological interests too – their influence over different Afghan-based factions could possibly be used to get the different sides to talk to each other.

3. Shahzada Rahim (SR): Which countries or political forces are attempting to influence the post-US withdrawal situation in Afghanistan? For instance for a long time, the US and India have blamed Pakistan for supporting the Taliban? How do you comment on this?

Chayanika Saxena (CS): Every country that has been involved or invested in Afghanistan has its own agenda in terms of what it wants or does not want from the evolving situation in the country. By and large, however, it is possible to argue that no country, including Pakistan, wants a complete takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban.

It is undeniable that the Taliban was and is funded and rehabilitated by forces that are of Pakistani origin. In fact, one of the erstwhile Pakistani Foreign Secretary has gone on record to say that the Taliban has its sanctuaries in Pakistan. The “blame”, as you put it, is actually a fact, for had it not been so, why would the Pakistanis have been repeatedly asked to deliver the Taliban to the peace talks? The question that now arises, however, is the degree to which Pakistan continues to call the shots vis-à-vis the Taliban. For all we know, it is waning.

4. Shahzada Rahim (SR): In your opinion, how Pakistan and Iran can play an inclusive role in establishing peace in Afghanistan? 

Chayanika Saxena (CS): For one, they both ostensibly host shuras of the Taliban within their territories. They can use their mehmaan-nawazi (Hospitality), for the want of a better (sarcastic) phrase, prod the Taliban into talking to the Afghan government. For that matter, Iran has already hosted a tripartite discussion in Tehran to this effect. Pakistan can follow suit. Iran and Pakistan have their own religio-ideological interests too – their influence over different Afghan-based factions could possibly be used to get the different sides to talk to each other.

It is difficult to predict if the current Republic of Afghanistan will continue to operate under the same model of governance in the years to come. There will be a change of constitution, the final contours of which cannot be predicted by anyone, at least at this point in time.

5. Shahzada Rahim (SR): Do you think the Taliban will be ready to compromise on the idea of the Islamic Emirate’s restoration in Afghanistan? What if not?

Chayanika Saxena (CS): From the looks of it, it will not settle for anything that is not entirely Islamic in their sense of the term. They cannot do that for the simple reason that they do not see the present Government of Afghanistan as Islamic enough. Perhaps, one of those things that continues to give this guerrilla movement a degree of momentum is its ideological goal to establish a fully Islamic state. After all, now that the Americans are finally out of Afghanistan, what locus standi is the Taliban left with to exist as a political force but for its (ridiculous) claims about wanting to establish a 6th-century empire in a modern, 21st-century nation-state?

They should compromise though. Ideally, no country would like to see Afghanistan return to a state that it was in between 1996 and 2001. That said, we know that countries across the world have tolerated barbaric regimes and juntas. So, it will not be surprising if our collective threshold of tolerance extends to an extent to embrace another puritanical rule in the name of stability and security.

6. Shahzada Rahim (SR): As an expert how do you see the ongoing Afghan Peace Process? Who will be the next head of state or government there?

Chayanika Saxena (CS): The Afghan Peace Process is languishing. Nothing has come out of it and unless we have another “ripe” moment thrown at us, the current pace and state of the (ongoing) peace process will hold.

Well, I can tell you who will not be the head of the state anymore (at least under the current constitutional setup) – Ashraf Ghani. It is difficult to predict if the current Republic of Afghanistan will continue to operate under the same model of governance in the years to come. There will be a change of constitution, the final contours of which cannot be predicted by anyone, at least at this point in time.

7. Shahzada Rahim (SR): How do you imagine the nature of the Future government in Afghanistan? Will the power-sharing framework work in the context of the nation-building process?

Chayanika Saxena (CS): As mentioned above, it is impossible to predict what the future government of Afghanistan will look like in the absence of peace talks and reconciliation. We do not even know when the peace process will start, let alone end on a reconciliatory note. So, to comment on the contours of a future government, when the future is all so hazy, will be as dubious as the astrological predictions that fill our newspapers every day. However, ideally speaking, power-sharing appears to be the only way out of the mess that the unfortunate, externally sponsored but internally sustained, wars in Afghanistan have been. A complete takeover of power by the Taliban is the least desirable outcome. And should the Ghani government continue to stay in power, or is replaced by some other entity but within the existing constitution of Afghanistan, my guess is that it will be able to claim for itself the status of being a government that shares power with all, and rightly so!

8. Shahzada Rahim (SR): In your opinion, where do you see Afghanistan in the next ten years?

Chayanika Saxena (CS): For a country that may or may not survive the way it is in the coming months, it is rather rich for people like me to offer a prognosis about what Afghanistan would look like 10 years hence. At best, what we can do is to hope that better sense prevails in the country, and about Afghanistan amongst the regional powers, such that that peace, which has eluded it for more than four decades, finally comes within its reach.


About the Author

Chayanika Saxena is a President Graduate Fellow and Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Geography, National University of Singapore.

About the Interviewer

Shahazada Rahim is a postgraduate scholar based in Islamabad. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of the news website “The Eurasian Post”. He is a frequent contributor to oriental Review, Geopolitica.Ru, 4PT, and other international newspapers such as Jerusalem Post and Eurasia Review.


Republishing is allowed with the copyright tag of the Radical Outlook

About Post Author

The Radical Outlook

The Radical Outlook is an online news web Portal designed for in-depth news analysis from the Eurasian region and beyond. It is Founded by a geopolitical analyst Shahzada Rahim.
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