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A Taliban flag flies in the main square of Kunduz city after fighting between Taliban and Afghan security forces, in Kunduz, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021. Image Credit: AP

The world has practically given up on Afghanistan. Millions of Afghans may soon be under Taliban rule, which has seized at least six provincial capitals in the last few days in their campaign to overthrow President Ashraf Ghani’s democratically elected government.

Following Taliban’s capture on Sunday of Kunduz, the strategic city near the border with Tajikistan that is considered an important political and military centre, other cities have been falling like a domino in the hands of the group. Other important cities that were captured by the militia include Sheberghan, the capital of the northern Jawzjan province, neighbouring Taloqan and Aibak.

Taliban are now advancing toward Pul-e Khomri, another provincial capital in the north, and Mazar-i-Sharif, another strategic city, which is the capital of the Balkh province.

Zaranj, the heart of Nimroz province in southwest Afghanistan, was the first provincial capital to fall in the hands of the group, on Friday, since the United States forces began withdrawing from the country.

Rule by an extremist group

There is no reason to doubt the ability of the heavily armed Taliban to capture Mazar-i-Sharif, which will effectively signal the end of the Kabul’s government authority in the country and the beginning of rule by an extremist group. The group had ruled the country from 1996 until 2001 before being ousted by the United State military campaign following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Reports from Afghanistan confirm that thousands of Afghans are fleeing their homes to seek refuge in other cities, fearing both the already raging war and the prospect of Taliban’s strict regime.

The US, which has made Afghanistan its main base in the so-called war on terror for years, is set to complete its military withdrawal in four weeks.

The US decision to leave the country has been taken despite the objection of the Afghan government and many other governments, which argue that the political and the military structure in that country was fragile and may not last in the face of a full blown assault by the Taliban. The Pentagon also warned last month of the possibility of a long and bloody civil war.

The US now says it has nothing to do at all to keep intact the country it had occupied for two decades. “It is their country to defend now. It is their struggle,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said at a news conference on Monday, the first explicit indication that Washington was not willing to help people of Afghanistan and its government, that was for years considered a close US ally.

“These are their military forces, these are their provincial capitals, their people to defend,” Kirby added. Washington maintains that it would continue to push for a ‘diplomatic solution’. The US negotiator on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said he “will press the Taliban to stop their military offensive”.

The US knows, and the whole world knows, that the Taliban are not interested in a ‘diplomatic solution’. They will press on with their military campaign until they subdue the entire country. And unless the US and major world powers stop the ongoing carnage, Afghanistan will be again an epicentre of regional tension.

A prolonged war between the government forces and Taliban may also result in a power vacuum and safe haven for terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda and Daesh, which have set up base in the country in the recent past.