Kabul: The biggest question troubling the mind of every concerned Afghan and Afghanistan watcher is, "Will the Taliban be able to repeat in 2014 what they did after the Russian withdrawal in the 1990s?"
The question has acquired greater relevance with the heightened activity to negotiate the Bilateral Security Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan to determine the extent of allied troops staying back in Afghanistan after NATO withdrawal next year.
Many fear that the Taliban are just biding their time. Will the new Afghan Army be able to stop them, especially if Pakistan and its military intelligence agency, the ISI, continue to back Taliban? Unlikely.
When we compare the circumstances which prevailed in 1990 and today, 12 years after the Taliban ouster, it seems almost impossible for the Pakistan prodigy to stage a comeback. Much water has flowed down the Kabul River since the US-led " War on Terror" was launched on October 7, 2001.
There has been a considerable change in the ground situation. In 1990, there was total chaos and anarchy in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the Soviets. The US and its allies then displayed absolute unconcern.
Huge armour and ammunition pumped in by the US, Saudi Arabia and others to arm the Mujahideen militias on the one side and the Russians on the other, came into the hands of the greedy, ruthless, brutal and lawless warlords. The tribal law - might is right - prevailed.
Most of Kabul was destroyed in the civil war fought among the powerful warlords, including big names like Uzbek strongman General Abdul Rashid Dostum, legendary Panjshiri General Ahmad Shah Masood, Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, dreaded Salafi cleric and terror trainer Abdul Rassoul Rab Sayaff, Ismail Khan and Hazara strongman Mohammad Mohaqiq.
The beautiful capital city of Kabul was ruined, and you could not find a wall in the city which was not pockmarked with bullet and splinter hits. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans fled the war zone and became refugees in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.
People were fed up with the Mujahideen, and the Taliban came as a big relief, providing a ray of hope. Trained in madrassas, they came as selfless teachers and students committed to the cause of Islam. Initially, people welcomed and treated them as saviours. They restored peace, law and order.
Supported and guided by Pakistan Army regulars and the ISI, the Taliban had no difficulty in gaining control of Afghanistan from Kandahar to Kabul. Other provinces fell like nine pins. They just drove through Kabul which fell without a fight. The only territory which the Taliban could not conquer was the Panjshir Valley held by forces led by Ahmad Shah Masood.
Compared to 1992, today`s Afghanistan is not at all chaotic. It has a constitutionally elected government, which has conducted two presidential and parliamentary elections and is in the process of having the third presidential election.
Most of the state infrastructure is in place and functioning. The bazaars are bustling and big malls, hotels and construction companies and a number of independent media houses have come up. Kabul and other big cities have witnessed unprecedented construction during the last decade and the city is regaining its past glory.
No doubt the government is weak and there have been allegations of large scale corruption and rigged elections. Yet, the country has now a regular army and police, working ministries, an independent media and functioning educational institutions with a high percentage of girl students. It is not a devastated and abandoned country with wide gaps into which Taliban can simply walk in.
In 1992, the Taliban were a solution to problems. Today, the real problem is the Taliban themselves. They were seen as saviours in the nineties, but today, they are considered proxies of Pakistan, which the Afghans perceive as a source of all their problems.
Out of power, the Taliban have been out of touch with changing ground realities. They have retained their old shape and characteristic of inflexibility.
The Taliban and their abettors should be ready for rude shocks. Already, there are some encouraging signs. The villagers of Panjwai, a district of Kandahar, the former capital of the Taliban, rebelled against Taliban intimidation earlier this year, and have succeeded in keeping them at bay.
In the 1990s, the Taliban provided peace, good governance, law and order and commitment to high morals that the Afghans desperately needed at that time. They were easily accessible and did not discriminate on the basis of status.
But today, the Taliban is perceived by Afghans as puppets of Pakistan. For the last 12 years, their leadership is being sheltered by Pakistan, and they are carrying out terror activities with the support of the Pakistan Government, Army and the ISI. This overt and covert support of Pakistan for Taliban will be their biggest handicap in staging a comeback.
Another big factor against Taliban would be the way they destroyed the country`s economy and played havoc with its social fabric. Their good administration and restoration of order was drowned in their ruthless suppression of women, ill treatment of minorities like the Shias, Tajiks and Hazaras and public beheadings, limb-chopping and indiscriminate floggings.
Their single largest act of religious bigotry in blowing up the huge Buddha statues at Bamiyan can never be forgotten by the world community. Their mindless self-righteousness and pervasive willingness to shed blood was unmatched.
Afghans, who witnessed the period under Taliban, are still haunted by the atrocities and horrible events. None of them would want them. Rather, they would oppose their return with all their might. The Taliban are remembered as tyrants, and even today, the killing of innocent civilians, women and children in schools and worshippers in mosques is abhorred by the masses.
Immediately after the Soviet withdrawal in the late 1980s, the U.S. thought they had achieved their objective and abandoned Afghanistan completely. Poor Afghan masses were left to the mercy of myriad elements. In this big vacuum, the Mujahideen first stepped in and were followed by a Pakistan-propped up Taliban .
The scenario in Afghanistan in 2013 is entirely different in 2013. The U.S. and the world has learnt their lessons. Pakistan being the epicentre of terrorism, which is threatening to spread.
The world today has a big stake in Afghanistan`s stability.