What if Taliban are back in the saddle in Afghanistan

Published: August 11, 2019
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PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP The writer is a political, economy and security analyst and a governance and public policy practitioner. He can be contacted at razapkhan@yahoo.com

The much-awaited peace deal between the United States and the Afghan Taliban has been around the corner, and an agreement in this regard could be signed by next month. Already a declaration between the Taliban and certain influential Afghans has been reached paving the way for a possible end to the 18-year-long conflict in Afghanistan involving the US, and a 40-year-long international war in the country. The written declaration came on July 9 in Qatari capital Doha amid a two-day break during in the direct talks between the US officials and the Taliban. The break in the talks was taken to hold the intra-Afghan peace talks.

The declaration announced by the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government representatives in Doha is important in the context that the Taliban have made a clear pledge to stop attacking civilians and government institutions. The pledge by the Taliban is a security assurance prior to the inking of a final deal for withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. Significantly, the Taliban have also declared respecting women rights, as allowed by Islamic Shariah. The declaration unfolding the roadmap for peace in the war-ravaged country could also be instrumental in the return of the Taliban to state power.

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At the moment, it is unclear in what manner the Taliban would return to power, but there is hardly any doubt that the militia would become a stakeholder in state power in Afghanistan after withdrawal of the US forces. Here it is important to note that of late, the Taliban have also agreed to hold talks with the Afghan government — something that they had been denying all along. Noticeably after an earlier round of direct talks between the US and the Taliban, the latter had described President Donald Trump as ‘serious and sincere’ in ending the conflict in Afghanistan. This praise for an American leader from the Taliban is indeed rare. All these developments point towards the fact that the Taliban would be in power in Afghanistan in the future. There are different possibilities in this regard.

The foremost possibility is that with the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban will be in virtual control of Afghanistan. According to estimates by SIGAR (Special Inspector General on Afghanistan Reconstruction), the Taliban are in control of around 40 per cent of the Afghan territory while BBC puts the number at 70 per cent. This is surprising as the 300,000-strong Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) could not establish their writ on even half the territory. So once the US troops would have withdrawn, the ANSF which is only intact due to the support from US forces may develop deep cracks.

The Taliban fundamentally have a militant orientation that has mutated into a political force. The history of the group, especially its emergence in 1994 and power capture in 1996, testifies that basically it is a militia. So when the militia would be in a dominant position in the country, the ANSF could no longer claim to be the national military. Seeing the Taliban coming to power, a majority of the ANSF personnel are highly likely to join forces with the Taliban. This would especially be the case with the ANSF’s Pashtun members, who enjoy majority in the force. However, members of the ethnic Tajik, Uzbek, Turkmen and Hazara groups, who are part of the ANSF, would like to abandon the national force as Taliban’s dominance would be in no way acceptable to them or possibly detrimental to their interests and even survival.

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The Taliban, as part of a strategy, may express their tacit agreement not to revoke the Afghan constitution but they would like to introduce changes in the constitution to make it compatible with their interpretation of Islamic Shariah. Possibly, once in power, the Taliban may attempt to completely throw away the existing Afghan constitution and replace it with one of theirs making.

However, much would depend upon the manner in which the Taliban would return to power and how much stakes they would be able to appropriate for themselves in power. If the Taliban return to power by becoming part of the country’s political system and by winning elections, they will act relatively responsibly. However, at the same time it is also possible that if the group returns to power by winning elections, it may further embolden itself sensing that it is not only militantly dominant but also have people’s support. On the other hand, if the Taliban return to power through a certain formula agreed upon between the US-West and the group as well as other Afghan stakeholders, the group will attempt to dominate the system.

To what extent the Taliban would shun their old ways related to human rights, especially their treatment of women, once in power is quite important. Even though the Taliban have vowed to act differently, the Afghans as well as the world are apprehensive. There is a lot of substance in such fears as the group, as explained above, is fundamentally a militia.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2019.

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