The world has watched with amazement the fall of Kabul and the cowardly flight of Ghani to Uzbekistan. “After 20 years, the war is over,” exclaimed a Taliban spokesman in front of media, last Sunday. The evacuation of US personnel by helicopters-though more organised—reminded many of the well-documented and hasty US departure from Saigon many decades ago. Posing for pictures while sitting cosily in the presidential palace in Kabul, the Taliban transmitted the same message as the Viet Cong. In less than a month, the Taliban have taken one city after another without even a token of resistance. The groundwork had been laid for years in the rural areas where the power and even sympathy for the Ghani government were almost non-existent. Even in Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat, where one could expect local warlords’ resistance, it was too little too late. When Ghani flew to Mazar-i-Sharif, he had taken the infamous Uzbek warlord, Dostum, with him. He had just returned from Turkey to convince the local warlords but it was too late. The Taliban should be admired for pursuing a very thoughtful and mature policy. They had already taken control of the main border points. In their previous correspondence with regional powers, they had assured of not, under any circumstances, crossing borders into foreign territory. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed on record that the Taliban had vowed not to cross into Central Asian Republics. The same had been cleared with Iran, Pakistan and China. Thus, they had no reason to foster Afghan warlords against the Taliban, who, by their clever policy, neutralised them; preventing the possibility of a new civil war in Afghanistan. At least, for the time being. For the West, it is still a mystery as to how (and why) the Afghan army they had financed and trained for so many years was so unwilling and unable to fight. The corruption promoted by the Ghani regime resulted in the misappropriation of the defence budget among other scams to pocket the money and buy real estate in Dubai. Who owns most of Palm Island? Soldiers seldom received their full pay as officers pocketed the money. This explains the high rate of desertion (almost 35000 annually) from enlisted men. They often flogged their US-supplied weapons in the black market to earn a living. There was no moral motivation to fight for a Western-supported corrupt regime against the Taliban who shared more or less similar religious beliefs, traditions and values. Many times, Taliban representatives had made fun of the Afghan Army for fighting for salaries while the Taliban fought for a cause. The failure to provide a convincing cause to the Afghan army is certainly another major reason behind their unwillingness to fight. There was no moral motivation to fight for a Western-supported corrupt regime. The failure of this Doha Peace Plan agreed upon between the US and the Taliban was not predetermined. Cutting their losses, the US took it as a face-saving retreat from a lost war. Nevertheless, the Taliban saw in it a possibility to reach the goal that they had been fighting for so long: the removal of foreign occupation. The fact that the Ghani government was not involved in the negotiations showed that the US considered it their client that had to follow their master. From the beginning, it was clear that the Taliban would not tolerate an American stooge government in the future. However, they were ready to leave Ghani’s removal to a later negotiated political process. One value practised by the Taliban (based on the commandments of Quran and the Prophet (PBUH) is to stand by agreements. That is why regional powers can rely on Taliban assurances to respect international borders. But once the US violated the agreement, all bets were off. While it was clear to the Taleban that peace in Afghanistan needed a political solution, they have removed the remaining foreign stooge militarily. Neither the US nor anyone in the rest of the world was aware that the Taliban were capable of that in such a short time! The attitude of the Taliban before 2001 is not that of today. This has been made clear in their words and deeds in Kabul, in fact, in all cities and towns captured earlier. The message to the Afghan Army was unambiguous, “lay down your arms and equipment and leave without any retribution.” It paved their easy access to Kabul. This hastened the Army meltdown. They have changed quite a bit, from an unruly movement consisting of multiple armies of local commanders without much of a central power of command to a much more united and disciplined force. Otherwise, avoiding looting and massacres on a large scale would not have been possible. They are not a ragtag force anymore. The discipline has been strengthened by a stronger commitment of the ground force of the Taliban to the leadership and the values committed to them. A second reason is that while the Taliban had been created mainly as a Pashtun force that pitched Pashtuns against other ethnicities present in Afghanistan, today they include a strong section of Tajiks and Uzbeks. This diminishes, if not fully removes, the ethnic split. Ismail Khan wrote in an English daily “The real deal-breaker or maker however was an ethnic Tajik commander, Qari Fasihuddin, who successfully managed to win over his fellow Tajik, Uzbek and Hazaras to his side. Senior Taliban figures, the likes of Abdul Wakil Mutawakkil, are directly engaged to allay fears of sceptics.” Avoiding ethnic exclusivity has certainly added to the Taliban power. It is important to note their insistence on an inclusive government. Symbolic is them asking the Kabul to stay on. I can bet Abdullah Abdullah will be a part of the new set-up directly or indirectly (read my articles on Afghanistan on Sep 29, 2020, and April 2, 2021). Taliban leaders have repeatedly said that they had learnt from their past mistakes regarding the role of women in Afghan society. This has been reiterated in their first press conference in Kabul on Tuesday. If this is true and women will be allowed to go to school, take up jobs and move around, it will certainly strengthen their acceptance, especially in the cities. And last but not the least, the anti-Shia aspect of the Taleban seems to have been visibly softened. If that will hold up, it will contribute to peace in a united Afghanistan. The announcement of the Taliban that the war is over is a good sign for the near future. During their sweep through Afghanistan, the Taliban assured the civilians that no retaliation would be taken and no loot and plunder would take place. This was strictly adhered to; becoming a key reason why Afghans allowed the Taliban into their cities and why the army surrendered or melted away. Kabul was taken with hardly a shot fired. The terrible ghost of a new civil war in Afghanistan can be prevented by neutralising the warlords who did the fighting last time with foreign financing. It is important that the West now stays out of Afghan affairs. To gain most from peace, the regional powers around Afghanistan—that suffered most from the ongoing war—should now cooperate to keep the peace and help in rebuilding the Afghan country and economy. The writer is a defence and security analyst; Chairman Karachi Council of Foreign Affairs and Vice-Chairman Institute of Nation-Building.