Talibanisation of Afghanistan — challenges ahead

The militant group's victory in Afghanistan has been well-received by many around the world

Dr Syed Akhtar Ali Shah August 25, 2021
The writer is a practising lawyer. He holds PHD in Political Science and heads a think-tank ‘Good Governance Forum’. He can be reached at [email protected]

The Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan has been well-received by many around the world, including Pakistan, as well as several Jihadist organisations. After successfully taking control of the country, the Taliban declared their victory last week. They claimed to have “witnessed the fruits of their efforts and sacrifices for 20 years”.

Taliban’s de facto leader, Mullah Baradar, justified the use of violence and proclaimed that the Taliban are now responsible for the internal matters of the country and the countrymen. Jubilant over the victory, Haji Hikmat, another commander, opined, “We have won the war and America has lost.” He added, “Jihad is an act of worship. Worship is something that, however much of it you do, you don’t get tired.” Taliban’s swift victory even compelled Prime Minister Imran Khan to say that the Afghans have “broken the shackles of slavery”.

Praises aside, Afghanistan and neighbouring countries will soon be faced with several obstacles. They will need to tend to these at their earliest to ensure smooth running of affairs in the country and peacekeeping in the region.

The Taliban’s outlook is the utmost challenge in the context. Taliban are not a localised phenomenon but a mindset espousing an ideology that transcends boundaries. Therefore, organisations like al-Shabab, operating in Somalia, also applauded the Taliban’s victory even though they have no apparent connection with them. Taliban have a hierarchical structure that is imbued with the ideology of Islamic Sharia. Thus, the concept of human rights, which includes women’s rights, is also based on the framework of Islamic Sharia. The Taliban believe in Caliphate in which Amir-ul-Momineen enjoys the ultimate authority.

A major challenge that the Taliban are faced with is having their rule in Afghanistan legitimised by the world because they captured the country through power and not under a political process. They will be required to adhere to the Doha Agreement of February 2020 to engage in an intra-Afghan dialogue for an inclusive government. Although the Taliban failed to abide by a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, the world still expects them to do uphold their commitment in this regard. This is because it was an important item on the agenda of the Doha agreement. The auxiliary challenge in this context is how the participants of intra-Afghan negotiations will discuss the date and modalities of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. This will include joint implementation mechanisms as well as the completion of an agreement over the future political roadmap for Afghanistan.

Another challenge before them is how to adjust their notion of Islamic Emirate with that of a nation-state in the modern sense of the term. Mullah Baradar acknowledges that the real test lies in meeting the expectations of Afghan citizens and resolving their problems. At present, restoration of peace is the main expectation of Afghan citizens.

The Taliban’s legacy of negligent behaviour towards human rights organisations, including those concerned with women’s rights, poses another major challenge for them. The international community is already skeptical of their governance style. We have yet to see whether the Taliban will act as a monolithic entity to the exclusion of others or they will allow political activity to other political organisations and persons. Will there be freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of movement, freedom of the press, and above all freedom of choices. Will women be allowed to go to schools, colleges, and universities? Will co-education be allowed? How will they ensure a safe evacuation of Afghans willing to leave? Will there be no witch-hunting and house searches of opponents? Will they agree to a pluralist society and a political setup based on democratic values?

In addition, regional and neighbouring countries will be required to confront the threat and challenge posed by the remnants of al-Qaeda and its affiliates i.e. ETM, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Daesh, and other such organisations. They will need to work collectively to eliminate this, share intelligence and initiate counter-terrorism operations. They will also need to pursue steps to end poppy cultivation, narcotics trade, and illegal mining.

An internal challenge that is looming large is the shrinking economy, which has contracted by as much as 20% this year alone. In the aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover, Afghan currency may further depreciate. In all likelihood, foreign grants and aid, a major source of Afghanistan’s funding, will dry up significantly. About 80% of the budget is dependent on foreign aid. A loss of such aid may further deteriorate the situation. It can lead to food insecurity and hamper economic and social development. A shrinking economy will become a major concern that the Taliban will have to address by engaging with the rest of the world.

The biggest challenge for Pakistan is how to assuage the feelings of a large section of the Afghan population opposed to a Taliban rule? The other challenge is how to deal with terror groups with a renewed zest that see the Taliban’s coup as proof that political violence can do wonders. How to net terror groups who had been operating across the border? How to tackle jihadist tendencies that have accentuated due to those developments? How to balance relationships with regional countries as well as the US and NATO? How to deal with QUAD in the backdrop of the end game in Afghanistan but a beginning of a new Great Game on the chess of world politics.

In the wake of all these challenges, the Taliban will be required to run the country on the concepts of good governance as agreed by other nations. If they fail to conform to world standards, they will risk political and economic isolation. Moving forward the Taliban will need to detach themselves from terrorist organisations to attract finances and human resources for nation-building. This will also ease pressure on Pakistan and give the two countries a chance to ameliorate relations with one another.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2021.

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