Over the past few weeks, the world became a witness to the swift military takeover of Taliban forces in Afghanistan by overthrowing the ruling government as the United States pulled out its remaining forces after 20 years of their extended stay.
Harrowing scenes of evacuation at Kabul airport were flashed in traditional and social media as Afghans attempt to escape the Taliban’s rule.
As the Afghanistan government collapsed and the Taliban rose to power, concerns were raised as to how it will affect the rest of the world, including the Philippines which is also dealing with an insurgency problem.
To better understand how Taliban’s rise to power might affect the Philippines, one must understand who the Taliban are, why they want to control the Afghan government, and how they did it 20 years after being defeated by the United States military.
The word “Taliban” comes from Arabic word “talib” which means “students” or “seekers.” Founded by Mullah Mohammad Omar in the early 1990s, the Islamic militant group emerged as a force for social order in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar in 1994 and quickly subdued the local warlords who controlled the southern portion of Afghanistan.
The Taliban gained popular support among Afghanistan’s Pashtun ethnic group which enabled them to seize the capital, Kabul, and basically the entire country in 1996.
Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and US
In 2001, Taliban’s rule came to an end after the US military invaded Afghanistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden, a global terrorist leader who founded the Islamist international terrorist group Al-Qaeda.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda carried out a series of terror attacks in the US which is now known as the infamous 9/11 attacks.
According to journalist Baker Atyani, of the Arab News, Al-Qaeda “operated training camps in Afghanistan” during the rule of Taliban. The militant group also allegedly “coddled” bin Laden prior to the terror attacks.
Apparently, the Taliban were able to build a “shadow government” even though the US invaded Afghanistan from 2001 until the American troops’ total pullout in August 2021.
“This is why they were able to quickly fill the vacuum in the government when the US troops left,” said Atyani, the last journalist to have interviewed bin Laden before the 9/11 attacks, during a webinar organized by non-government organization (NGO) Conflict Resolution Clinic on Saturday, Sept. 11, the 20th year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Implication in regional security
In the Philippines, there were concerns that the rise of Taliban may embolden Islamic militant groups, particularly those situated in Mindanao, to escalate the insurgency situation in the country.
“What happened in Afghanistan has a certain parallelism with what’s happening down south in Mindanao,” said Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson Arsenio Andolong, who served as one of the panel of reactors during the webinar.
Andolong, who emphasized that he was speaking as a panel reactor and not as a DND spokesperson, likened Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan to attempts of militant groups and insurgents in southern Philippines to overthrow the government.
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and Dawlah Islamiyah (DI) among others were reported to have links with Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and even the Islamic State (IS) either through financing, equipment sourcing, or training.
But Major Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., commander of the 4th Infantry Division and a Marawi siege veteran, believes terrorists and insurgents in Mindanao “are really too far out” to be affected by the Taliban’s success.
“I don’t think we will be seeing that [Afghanistan-like situation],” he said during the webinar.
“For us in the AFP, we don’t see any red flags and we don’t see the armed groups here in the southern Philippines reacting in an adverse manner to the return of Taliban to power even if there is an external link to Al-Qaeda in the past,” he said.
“Right now, we are seeing that armed groups here in the Philippines don’t even receive the same amount of support that they got prior to the Marawi siege,” he said, referring to the 2017 siege perpetrated by the Lanao-based Maute terrorist group in collaboration with the ASG.
Perhaps one of the “game-changers” in the Philippines’ insurgency problem was the government’s successful brokering of peace talks with the biggest Islamic militant groups in the country — the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The results of the collaboration between the government and the MNLF and MILF were the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) which created the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) [formerly Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao] in 2019.
“When this administration came into office, we organized the first BARMM. In essence, what happened is that we allowed the self-determination of our Muslim brothers down south,” said Andolong.
But the BARMM government is facing a dillema.
The BARMM leaders are requesting to extend the transition period for another three years. Such is a move opposed by the aspiring leaders in BARMM which could spark a new conflict.
“There is a move by the current leaders of the BARMM to extend the transition period for another three years. There is a resistance for aspiring leaders which are the other political leaders in the area,” Brawner admitted.
“There might be [conflict] on the side of MILF, some of leaders or elements ready to wreak havoc in case BTA is not extended,” he added.
Brawner said discussions are being done on the ground “in order to prevent any escalation of violence in the area.”
Moreover, Brawner stressed that the Afghanistan collapse proved the importance of investing in a professional military organization that is well-led, well-trained, well-equipped, and well-motivated.
“Your AFP is ready for any kind of violence that may take place,” he assured.