The Story of (Re)Rise of the Taliban and the President who fled

RISE OF THE TALIBAN - law insider

By Athik Saleh

Published On : August 19, 2021 14:07 IST

At the crossroads of Central Asia and South Asia, lies a small landlocked nation that has now become the center stage of geopolitical tension. The protagonists/antagonists of this play are an organization whose name means ‘students’ in Pashto; a global superpower; some sickly neighbors who are working towards their own self-interest; a president who fled his country before his enemies got to the capital city; and mainly, a group of people who are exasperated and downtrodden by never-ending violence. 

Afghanistan, or the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the name its current rulers would like it to be called, is the subject of our discussion. In what has been a major military and political play, the Taliban, an Islamist organization from the Pashtun region of Afghanistan, took over Afghanistan. The phrase “by force” can’t be used to describe the Taliban’s actions as the Afghan security forces fell before them faster than a house of cards. 

Power struggles have been the norm in a country that is described as the “graveyard of empires”. The Persians, the Mauryans, the Mughals, the British, the Soviets, and finally the Americans, all have vied for the control of this strategic location. Like a bashful maiden from an old novel, Afghanistan discarded everyone. It even discarded Afghanis, including the Taliban. 

Taliban’s story is a story of persistence and perseverance under massive pressure from the US and its NATO allies after the 9/11 attacks. It took the forces of the US and its allies a little over two months to banish the Taliban from their strongholds and send them into hibernation. Their then-leader Mullah Mohammed Omar had to stay in exile till his death. Taliban never gave though. 

They bought their time and they waited. They waited until the foreigners decided to leave. In the meanwhile, they strengthened themselves. They waited for their opportunity. They were aware that the opportunity will present itself and when it did, they grabbed it with both hands. In a military blitzkrieg, they once again became the de facto rulers of Afghanistan while the world and the protectors of democracy stood still and watched. 

In this article, the discussion will be centered around the recent turn of events. Any such discussion won’t be complete without touching upon the actions of the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani before the Taliban entered the capital city of Kabul. 

How did the Taliban regain power in Afghanistan?

Before understanding how the Taliban came back at the helm in Afghanistan in 2021, it is important to understand how the Taliban and its soldiers advanced at a much faster rate than the first time they invaded Afghanistan and took over the reins. 

Taliban is a direct result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that lasted for over ten years. A product of the US, Chinese and Pakistani tactic to destabilize the Soviet-supported rule in Afghanistan, the Taliban took form in the late 80s. Along with the powers that wanted the USSR out of Afghanistan, the Taliban received the support of Osama Bin Laden amongst others.

Taliban made noise for the first time when it invaded the historic city of Kandahar. After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, Afghanistan became the ground of another civil war. Taliban emerged as the saviors during this time. A group that can restore peace and stability in a war-torn country. In 1994, it took over Kandahar. Within two years, it was in Kabul as well. In effect, it took them a little over two years to be the de facto government in Afghanistan.

Based on age-old tribal rules and their own interpretation of Shariah, the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan was regressive and took the country back to the dark ages. Although most countries did not recognize them, they continued their rule with the support of certain countries. This changed when Osama Bin Laden attacked the US. 

Angered by the terrorist attack, the US wanted the Taliban to hand over Bin Laden to them. Taliban’s refusal led to the US entering the country in October 2001. By December, the ‘students’ were running away from all the places that were once their strongholds. At their peak, every part of Afghanistan except for a small part of Panjshir valley was under their control.

After going dormant since 2001, the Taliban has been calculating towards an inevitable US exit. When after 20 years and three trillion USD, Joe Biden, the US President announced the immediate pullout of US troops from Afghanistan in April 2021, the Taliban’s wait for another shot at power came into fruition. 

In the 20 years that they have been away from power, the Taliban has been bettering themselves in the event of a pullout by the US and its NATO allies. According to the Forbes list of richest terrorist organizations in the world in 2018, the Taliban had an annual income of 800 million USD. From a group of tribal soldiers who wore worn and torn clothes in 2001 to a million/billion-dollar organization, the Taliban has grown. 

Its main source of revenue is the opium and heroin trade. Under their supervision, Afghanistan, over the years, has become one of the centers of the global drug trade. 

Taliban has always been dependent on Madrasas located in Afghanistan and Pakistan. These so-called centers of Islamic education were/are the main recruiting grounds of the Taliban. The Pakistani intelligence agency or ISI has been one of the major benefactors of these Madrasas. Taliban’s rise has been dependent on these Madrasas being converted into military training institutions. 

After the US invasion, these Madrasas have been operating exclusively from Pakistan. There have been various reports that suggested that the annual budget of these seminaries runs into hundreds of million rupees. The reported number of these Madrasas are over 10,000 and most of them are present in the Taliban’s ideological hub called Quetta Shura.

When the Taliban troops began to make noise from the mid-2010s, there was one clear difference. They did not look like old Taliban. They now had brand new SUVs, better arms, better clothes, etc. It was clear that they were well-funded. 

The US pullout from Afghanistan was an inevitable one. During the reign of Barack Obama, it was decided that the US will pull out from Afghanistan by 2014. Although many US soldiers returned, many remained in Afghanistan. It was during the reign of President Trump, concrete agreement regarding the complete withdrawal of the US and its allied troops was reached. 

In February 2020, the United States and its NATO allies reached an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan, and in return, the Taliban promised to not let Taliban-controlled areas become breeding ground of Al-Qaeda and to continue peace efforts with the then Afghan Government. 

There have been many criticisms for US pullout from Afghanistan but for the US, Afghanistan has ceased to become an important area in its geopolitical battle. The attention has now shifted to Asia-Pacific where it is embroiled in a power struggle with China. Along with this, the increasing tendency to look within and to concentrate on domestic development has made this pullout warranted. 

When Joe Biden in April announced that his troops will pull out from Afghanistan by September 11th, the opportunity the Taliban waited for arrived. It began its offense against Afghanistan security forces from the next month. From May, the Taliban began capturing parts of the country at a blistering pace. As they reached closer and closer to the capital city of Kabul, the major government-held cities began to fall with little to no resistance. 

On August 15th, when they entered Kabul, the twenty-year wait reached its completion. They ended their twenty years wait in three months. All the efforts of American and allied troops in strengthening the Afghan troops were in vain, as soldiers deserted their units and fled to neighbouring countries or submitted to the Taliban troops. Taliban was officially back! 

The Interesting Story of Ashraf Ghani

Amongst all the ruckus caused by the Taliban, there was one Afghan whose name refused to leave the headlines of global news outlets – Ashraf Ghani, the President of the erstwhile Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. 

Ghani was an academic luminary before he became the President of Afghanistan in 2014. A man who was touted as one of the most influential global thinkers, Ghani was a specialist in the know-how of developing poor countries. From the Pashtun community, the majority in Afghanistan, Ghani’s elevation to the presidency was thought to reap rewards. 

It is not far-fetched to say that he failed. Many political analysts considered him as a man who was not in touch with the reality of Afghanistan. Neither did the Afghanis considered him as their leader. In a country with many warring factions and warlords, Ghani’s new world development ideas were not accepted. 

In August 2021, when the Taliban troops were fast approaching Kabul, Ghani announced to the people of Afghanistan that he will not flee. That he will be at their beck and call. However, when the crunch time came, Ghani fled. Unlike his predecessor Najibullah who was killed while trying to flee the capital in 1992, Ghani’s attempt was a success. He put a cherry on top of this with a Facebook post that said he fled to avoid further bloodshed

Many within his ministry have called out Ghani’s action as treason. This leads to some important questions.

Is Ghani liable for treason? Can he be considered as a deserter since he left the country he swore to protect in the middle of a war?

There are no international law precedents that talk about the fate of a ruler who flees his country in the middle of a war. The above mentioned questions can only be answered by alluding to the erstwhile Afghanistan Constitution. 

Chapter Three of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan talks about the role of the President. Article 63 of the Constitution contains the oath of allegiance the President has to take before assuming his office. The oath contains certain words that talk about the duty of the President – “…safeguard the independence, national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan…”

Article 64 of the Constitution talks about the power and duties of the President. Accordingly, he is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. The same article talks about the duty of the President to defend the territorial integrity and defend the independence of the country. 

Article 66 of the Constitution talks about the President’s duty to take into consideration the interest of the people while acting under the Constitution. While Article 69 of the Constitution speaks about the power of the House of People to punish the President for treason, crimes against humanity, etc. 

From the above mentioned provisions of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, it is clear that by fleeing the country in the middle of a war, Ashraf Ghani acted against the Constitution. Although the existence of the said Constitution is in doubt after the takeover by the Taliban, his duty as the Commander in Chief will make him a deserter at the very least. 

His Facebook post that said that he fled to protect the people can be called into question as well. According to the spokesperson of the Russian embassy in Kabul, he fled with a car full of cash. As he could not get all the cash into the helicopter he fled in, some of the cash was left behind on the tarmac. If these statements are to be believed, Ghani’s fleeing was with malicious intent. 

It can be argued that he had no choice but to leave. However, as a constitutional authority who was sworn to protect the nation, fleeing the nation when it was in the midst of a war in violation of his own duties. If looked through the prism of his duty as the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, his action of leaving his army when they are fighting for their lives can be considered as desertion. 

The fact, however, remains that Ghani’s actions can only be tried and adjudicated by domestic courts or quasi-courts. Since there is no rule in international law regarding leaders who flee their countries, it will be impossible for them to be tried in international courts. 


The case of Afghanistan has been a curious one for a very long time. The most recent takeover by the Taliban makes it even curious. The question everyone has been asking but no one knows the answer to is what will be the future of Afghanistan and its people?

Since the time the Taliban was thrown out of power, Afghanistan and the people there have gone through many changes. Especially, the status of women. During the previous reign of the Taliban, women were denied education and the right to work. There was strict segregation between men and women which led to various other difficulties like access to healthcare for women. 

The current Taliban, at least in theory, tries to portray a different image. Make no mistake, they are still the same fundamentalists, but their agenda has changed. They desire to be recognized by the rest of the world as the legitimate rulers of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. In the recently conducted presser, the first by the Taliban after the takeover, they gave hints as to how they aim to be inclusive and how they will try to protect women’s rights

These words must not be confused with the Western definition of rights. Those are non-existent in the Taliban playbook. However, things may not be as bleak as they used to be during their first tenure. 

Everyone seems pessimistic about such a possibility. However, for the sake of their future, the people in Afghanistan have to stay optimistic because, without hopes and dreams, there is no tomorrow.


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