By Vivek Pattanayak in Bhubaneswar, November 2, 2021: Is Afghanistan a failed or failing state? Former president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, who authored “Fixing Failed States”, had to flee the country on August 15th as he gave up trying to fix Afghanistan and fled to avoid capture by the Taliban, a jihadist group that seized power later that day.

Failed states present a challenge for both international law and policy. While the definition of failed states may be disputed, the effects of failed states on the international system are clearer. The 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States declared that failing states “pose as great a danger to our national interest as strong states. The European Union’s 2003 security strategy found failed states to be an “alarming phenomenon,” while the U.N. Secretary General observed in 2005 that “if States are fragile, the peoples of the world will not enjoy the security, development and justice that are their right.

We often come across expressions like failed State, rogue State, and fragile State. In many writings one finds the example of Somalia as a typical case of failed State. In the recent times, people also give the example of Libya, Yemen, and Sudan as failed State. For years Liberia was considered as a failed State. Of course, the use of expression of rogue State has become quite common among some although depending upon their understanding of the terminology and attitude, prejudice and bias towards the country concerned.

To many Americans, North Korea is a rogue State. So was Iraq under Saddam Hussein and even Iran after the Islamic revolution. No wonder Bush the junior used the typical expression, “axis of evil.”The dictionary meaning of the rogue State is when a nation or State regarded as breaking international law and posing a threat to the security of other nations.

The question arises what do these descriptions of the States really mean. Before one looks for meaning one should understand what a State is. In political science it is commonly agreed that the territorial entity with population under an organization commonly called government free from any external control is a State.

In other words, the entity must have definite territory, population, government, and sovereignty. Sovereignty is supreme power. That supreme authority should lie within the political entity. India before independence could not have been accepted as a State in political science as the entity was under the British monarch although it had population, territory and also government. What it lacked then was sovereignty.

The nature or character of the government does not matter in terms of considering the political entity as a State.The government can be monarchical, tyrannical aristocratic, oligarchic, Plutarch or democratic.

Sometimes change in government brings in problem of recognition.In the past, succession of king, or monarch, or hereditary ruler when he enjoyed political power and not merely titular headship needed recognition when new ruler came to power with death or abdication of previous king.There used to be contest and controversy with regard to lineage .Even now manner in which government changes can raise issue of recognition of government or legitimacy of the government although it does not affect the status of State.Myanmar is a state no matter whether military has taken over or not.Pakistan was a State even when Musharraf took over by coup d’état. Thailand,a kingdom experienced military take over of the government many times in the last seventy years but it has remained a State.

Whether an entity is a State or not, when a chaotic situation arises, naturally comes into the mind.The typical example is Somalia.This country had a government, people and defined territory and its supreme authority was within the country. It received recognition of other countries and was a member of the United Nations and many public international organizations.In 1991 with the fall of the President, there was civil war. There were many fragmented armed groups who claimed authority and also legitimacy.War-like situation developed followed by interventions from outside sources like Organization of African Unity, Ethiopia, and US.

With continuous armed fights in the capital and forcible occupation of one group or other of various parts of the country, it was difficult to recognize who represented the legitimate government.In an orderly State there is a law giver,there is an enforcer of law and there is an arbiter in case of dispute.In the event there is no permanent institution but multiple transient institutions of making law, implementing law, and dispensing justice and an ordinary citizen does not know whom to approach and where to get relief,the country is no longer a State in the civilized sense.Absence of the central government according to some political scientists can constitute the status of a failed State.

It is not necessary to go into details of developments in Libya, Sudan, or Yemen to either to prove or disprove whether a failed State is or not. In the case of Syria, the country was locked up in civil war for many years and the central authority in Damascus has lost control of many parts of the original territory now held by rebels who constitute disparate groups supported by many countries officially or not.

At one stage a part of its territory along with part of Iraq came under a group of militants under El Baghdadi who called the territory ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) or called it Islamic State of Levant. Did this entity become a State? It did not receive recognition from any country.In history there have been cases of secession giving rise to new States whether secession took place through armed struggle or otherwise.

In those cases, eventually other civilized States recognized the newly ceded political entities as States. Eretria is an example in the recent past.Even South Sudan came out as a country after many years of bitter conflicts, and now it is well recognized as a State.ISIS although continued for certain period as a territorial entity it received no recognition of any country. In this context in international law there is a concept of belligerency and insurgency which would cover the fragments of territory held in Syria by rebels and ISIS.

Many States are called fragile States.What is a fragile State? t is really a weak State. OECD, World Bank have their measurements to determine who should be considered as a fragile State.

In the background of the preceding analysis how would any one like to describe Afghanistan.It has been a State governed by a King till 1973 until dethroned by a palace coup organized by his own brother-in-law and a cousin. The new regime came under severe strain from within the country. Leftist forces took over power under Taraki supported by the Soviets with deposed ruler losing his life.

After brief period Aminullah took over power when Taraki was assassinated, the Soviet troops entered the country established Babrak in seat of power and in the operation Aminullha was killed. After few years Najibullah supported by Soviets became the President. Meanwhile Pakistan and USA with support of Saudi Arabia started armed Jihadi struggle massing Muslims from different countries from the Middle East, Africa and Europe against the Soviet backed regime which continued from 1979 till 1991.

The struggle was led by Rabbani, Masood, Hikmatyar and later by Dostum. When the Soviet Union broke up the regime of Najib fell. He took refuge in UN premises.As there was internal dissension among the three leaders, one Pashtun, other Hajara, and third Tajik with Uzbek Dostum being also in power struggle, Pakistan backed Taliban under Mullah Omar first took control of Qandahar and later Kabul.When they entered Kabul, they took Najib forcibly from UN premises and executed him brutally.The new regime did not receive any recognition of UN although recognized by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and UAE.

Even US hesitated to recognize although CIA was behind Taliban. Masood from Panchshir who received official recognition of UN as the legitimate government of Afghanistan along with Dostum what was called Northern Alliance gave fight till 9/11.After Masood was assassinated by Al Qaeda operative from a Maghreb state a day before twin tower attack; Northern Alliance was led by Abdullah Abdullah. When US led NATO invaded Afghanistan they took support of the Northern Alliance to have a foothold.

For twenty years the US supported regime, first under Karzai and later under Ghani remained in power in Kabul. War lords, the provincial governors and the residual Taliban groups controlled rest of Afghanistan. Attacks on the Afghan troops and NATO forces were innumerable with heavy loss of lives, both military and civilians. It was clear that US failed to control the country and sought for negotiation with Taliban.

Finally, it withdrew under humiliating circumstances leaving Taliban to take control of Kabul with pathetic escape of the US backed President Ghani. So far, no government has given official recognition although China, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan have maintained their embassies. Qatar and Turkey are equally active although it is Pakistan led by ISI who has the greatest influence over the new regime which consists of some declared terrorists either by UN or in the wanted list of US.

The Taliban regime has been following the archaic medieval Islamic law prohibiting women to take any active public role, although civil administration is still to be restored. ISIS, Khorsan has conducted terrorist attack at the Kabul airport during the final days of withdrawal of US and NATO troops killing more than hundred Afghans and manyUS troops. Shite mosques have been destroyed killing hundreds of civilians. These attacks are claimed by ISIS Khorsan. Taliban being bankrupt with all the legitimate fund flow having been frozen is unable to pay salaries to the government staff.

Hunger has increased causing concern in UN, and other countries. There were streams of refugees escaping from Afghanistan after Taliban took over Kabul.`Resistance from Panchshir has not completely gone. The so-called government is conspicuous by absence of women being represented and there is inadequate presence of minority ethnic groups like Hajaras, Tajiks, Uzbeks, and complete absence of other religious groups like Hindus and Sikhs. As the news flow out, the women are in the state of complete fear and uncertainty.

In the last forty-eight years the country has seen only bloodshed, frequent regime changes, brutal enforcement of inhuman laws, even during the Soviet or American occupation although there was semblance of pockets of peace in lucid intervals.

Any dispassionate student of history and politics would come to irresistible conclusion that in last half century the State has acted as a rogue State when it hosted notorious Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Ladin and his operatives and allowed the hijackers of IC 814 to escape.These two solitary instances have made Afghanistan under Taliban regime come under the definition and meaning of rogue State.

That the State during the earlier Taliban regime from 1996 and 2001 could not have full control over the country with Masood having full authority over Panchshir province and Uzbek chief Dostum having his control in the north. This reflected height of volatility and uncertainty in the country.During the period under the Soviet and American military control most of the countryside was lawless and anarchic uncertainty where gun established medieval justice irrespective of civilized law as was evident from wide area under opium cultivation and drug trade being the source of revenue for the illegitimate Taliban and war lords.

If one takes a total picture of last half century the State had rogue regimes, chaos, and lawlessness pervading the territory demonstrating fragility and failing nature of State. Now with the wayward performance of the new Taliban regime based on historical background and its antecedents, it certainly can be viewed as a failed State or a failing State.

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Sudhakar Panda
It is an excellent analysis of the present situation in Afghanistan in the larger context of failed states and the consequences the world has suffered. People in Afghanistan continue to be suffering from violence, inter-group clashes, killings of innocent people with all the restrictions on women freedom and movement. The economy is in chaos, there is rampant poverty and fast deterioration in the social sector particularly in education. The situation gets complicated for India with China gaining entry and Russia promising generous help. Pakistan has the support for Taliban from the beginning. This further adds to the anxieties and security… Read more »