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A threefold triumph

Weigand Florian Kommentarbild App
Florian Weigand
September 28, 2015

With their attack on Kunduz, the Taliban want to send a message to the Afghan government, to Europe and to the insurgent group's former militants who are now fighting under the IS banner, says DW's Florian Weigand.

Afghanistan Taliban Offensive bei Kundus
Image: Reuters

It's not even been two years since the German Army or Bundeswehr ended its mission in Kunduz and handed over security responsibility to Afghan troops. But Taliban fighters have now captured at least parts of this northern Afghan city and hoisted their flag at the city's main square.

The symbolic value of this event can hardly be exaggerated. The development epitomizes the West's failure in Afghanistan, as Kunduz was the flagship project of Germany's development aid which enjoyed the protective shield of German troops. However, the Taliban have now returned triumphantly.

The development also sends a message to the Afghan government in Kabul. This is the first time after their ouster from power following the 9/11 terrorist attacks that the Taliban are in a position to occupy a provincial capital.

This is also a clear signal to those former Taliban militants who are now fighting under the banner of "Islamic State" (IS), particularly those based along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. It conveys the message: Look, we're still here and are not willing to play second fiddle to any Islamic terror organization, despite all the hype surrounding IS.

Weigand Florian Kommentarbild App
DW's Florian Weigand

This is a very calculated and symbolic move by the Taliban, as the extremists cannot seriously hope to hold on to the city in the long run given Kunduz' strategic importance. The northern Afghan city is economically important given that a strategic road passes through it connecting the country to Central Asia and to Pakistan's sea ports.

An unintended reaction?

Kabul will therefore do everything to re-take the city. It still remains to be seen, however, what level of assistance Western nations will be willing to provide the Afghan government to achieve this goal.

Nevertheless, the intended effect goes in a different direction. The Taliban's new leader Mullah Mansoor has to demonstrate that he was the right person to have succeeded the insurgent group's former supremo Mullah Omar. Otherwise, he would lose all credibility.

At the same time, he must demonstrate to Kabul that he is a serious partner for peace negotiations. Despite the rhetoric, even the Taliban can't ignore the fact the peace talks are absolutely necessary if they want to play a long-term role in the country, as neither side can decisively win in a war.

But what does a future with Taliban participation hold for people who lived and socialized for 13 years in an area marked by relative peace and Western commitment? The growing number of Afghan refugees seeking to enter Europe provides a glimpse into what that future might look like.

The image of a Taliban flag hoisted at the center of Kunduz will perhaps trigger a reaction unintended by the Taliban. Such an image challenges the governments of Europe to grant Afghans a similar status as Syrians or Iraqis. This represents a huge challenge for Germany, a country Afghans have long yearned for.

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