Taliban victories have been aided by the dismal political leadership in Kabul, but showing Afghans – and the world – they can run a country will not be so easy.
US president Joe Biden defended the decision to end what was increasingly portrayed in the US as a ‘forever war’, but the Taliban – emboldened and legitimized by the Doha Agreement in February 2020 with the Donald Trump administration – opted to push for more territorial gains immediately after Biden’s announcement of a full and unconditional withdrawal in April.
So much attention has been paid to the building of a central state in Afghanistan since 2001 that Afghanistan’s fascinating local politics, which touch far more directly on the lives of ordinary people, have received less attention than they deserve.
This is now a moment of retrospection for political analysts to question long-held judgments and assessments on Afghanistan, looking at administrative maps of provincial boundaries and geographic terrains. But the Taliban have the advantage of reading deeper than maps, they understand the societal and individual bonds which dictate everyday life and the social fabric which regulates and leverages loyalty.
This social contract lies beyond the tribal or ethnic binaries often imposed on places like Afghanistan by a Western lens and is premised on one golden rule, that survival takes precedence. The western intervention initially ignored this fact and then became weary of trying to learn the lesson.
As the Taliban resurrect the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and its spokesman Mohammad Naeem declares ‘the war is over in Afghanistan’, there are three immediate and substantial challenges the country faces.
First, an attempt to restore the Islamic Emirate is likely to cost it international recognition, legitimacy, and aid. This will, in turn, weaken its prospect of consolidating its hold internally and limit its capacity to govern.
Second, if the Taliban embraces a more pluralistic and inclusive political system with fundamental human rights, especially with respect to women, it may face opposition from its more radical factions and rank-and-file members, who have spent years fighting to restore its emirate.
Third, Another important constituency that the Taliban will risk alienating is its regional and global jihadist allies. These groups are now celebrating its victory, but they may turn against the Taliban if it is seen as compromising on its core ideological principles.
The movement has so far avoided dealing with these questions through vague rhetoric. But now it is in control, these issues are becoming urgent priorities.
Here are the points that AISSC would like to recommend to the government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan for its transition from the insurgency to inclusive governance:
Fill the political, security, and economic void –
- The Taliban must restore a semblance of normality and create confidence in their claim to have the capacity for managing a functioning state.
- The Taliban should need to engage with the anti-Taliban former Mujahideen elements who are currently carrying out the terror attacks across the country, to contain violence and maintain a law and order situation.
- The Taliban should focus on providing security, livelihoods, and confidence to the Afghan people about the future and living in the country.
- Members of the Taliban should ‘remain humble’ and must avoid behaving arrogantly as ‘the responsibilities of serving people’ are greater priorities.
- The Taliban should aim at mobilizing fighters but also appeasing populations, creating empathy, and undermining enemies.
- They must work with not only the traditional, largely rural, constituencies but also with cosmopolitan urbanites used to the freedom of speech, political satire, an endless number of local media channels, and burgeoning entertainment industry.
Displacement and a humanitarian catastrophe – the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates at least 1.5 million Afghans will have left Afghanistan by the end of 2021 so, add this to the more than 3.5 million IDPs currently known and it is glaringly obvious there is a humanitarian emergency. Afghanistan’s neighbors with accessible border crossings – Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan – have no desire to host Afghans fleeing the violence. Turkey, both as a major transit country and a host country for Afghan refugees, is already building a wall along its border with Iran to stop a potential Afghan ‘refugee crisis’ reaching its towns and cities. Afghanistan is already at a critical juncture with its deepening humanitarian crisis while remaining one of the world’s most protracted source countries for refugees.
- The Taliban administration should focus on retaining human capital to support governance and the reconstruction of Afghanistan which is desperately needed.
Restoring international relations –
For Afghanistan to emerge from these multi-layered crises and an ostensible state failure, the Taliban administration must find a way to work with the US-led international donor community. Because any government in Afghanistan needs foreign donors to sustain the education system and other essential services and a Taliban administration is no exception. But the US departure from Afghanistan could not have been more dramatically negative, so a full American disengagement and a lukewarm attitude in responding to humanitarian needs in Afghanistan will both deepen the crisis and open up space for other countries in the region.
- For the Taliban, and whoever among other Afghan political figures join them, the biggest challenge is to convince Afghans – and the international community – that an insurgency group can successfully transform into a government. There needs to be concrete action and delivery on the ground and an avoidance of the temptation to infringe on people’s lives which drove so many away from the Taliban prior to 2001.
- The Taliban must form a separate committee that focuses on lobbying for releasing frozen Afghanistan’s money, and other assets by the international community whereas on the other end the main leadership should concentrate on local governance and politics.
Written by Hon’ Executive Board Member of AISSC – Syed Shah Fahad Hussain
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