Expectations from Taliban

One can only speculate to what extent the Taliban will stay away from being vindictive

Talat Masood September 01, 2021
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

Pakistan’s current focus is on the unfolding situation in Afghanistan in which the Taliban are in control of practically the entire country except Panjshir and Badakhshan. But going by the rapid progress made so far it would not be long before these would also be in their control. One of main reasons for the Taliban’s success is the inefficiency and corruption of the previous government.

The most glaring aspect of how the situation has changed in favour of Taliban can be gauged from the fact that they faced no resistance in Tajik dominated provinces. Taliban’s leadership has to be given credit that many important operations in Tajik dominated region were led by Tajiks. They had learnt from past experience that their Tehreek had to be broad based and should not be branded as Pashtun oriented. Moreover, indications are that Taliban are going to have an inclusive government in which individuals with experience and qualifications necessary for running a government will be inducted.

In the formation of the government, it is possible that Taliban may ignore the inclusion of warlords and this would certainly be in the larger interest of the country. For these chieftains are medieval in their thinking and belong to a different era, besides being very demanding.

One can only speculate to what extent the Taliban will stay away from being vindictive. Most likely, they would be selective and perhaps deal harshly with those who were very ruthless and brutal in dealing with them during the previous regimes. They however cannot afford to behave and impose a regime that is a mirror of their brutal past.

Taliban’s relations with neighbours is crucial for the regime’s consolidation, functioning and eventually for international acceptance. Realising the compulsions of geography and in self-interest to protect themselves from any negative fallout, China, Russia and Iran have been in close contact with the Taliban leadership for many years — something that has turned out to be beneficial. Iran’s interest is in ensuring that they are not flooded with millions of refugees and those they already host will eventually be repatriated once a modicum of stability returns to Afghanistan.

The safety and fair treatment of Shia community in Afghanistan is of paramount concern to Tehran and it appears Taliban have assured they will continue to ensure their protection. For Taliban, Iran has been a major source of supply of oil and now the demand for it would be even higher. It goes to the credit of Iranian leadership that whereas they enjoyed good relations with the Afghan government and President Ghani, they remained in close contact with the Taliban leadership too.

China, as is typical of their far-sighted leadership, has taken a long-term view of the developments in Afghanistan and the region and kept a close relationship with Taliban leaders. According to Western sources China’s interest would be in the mining and extraction of precious stones that are in abundance in Afghanistan. Considering the precarious condition of the Afghan economy, Chinese assistance and interest in mining and trade with it will generate money for them. Moreover, for China Afghanistan is central for regional connectivity and it is interested in its infrastructural development. The Russian government is also interested in expanding its economic and trade links with Afghanistan. From the security perspective China expects that Afghan government will take action against militant groups that provide clandestine support to rebel Muslim groups in Xinjiang, which has a significant Uyghur population. It is expected that that Taliban will not maintain any linkages with al-Qaeda, ISIK and TTP. They have assured foreign governments of this and it is in their own national interest too.

The European Union has remained very critical of the Taliban especially of their poor human rights record and treatment of women. Improvement in these areas is central to Afghanistan being accepted as a responsible member of the international community. The Taliban leadership hopefully is aware that the world is closely watching them and the recognition of its government would be very much dependent as to how soon it adopts practices that harmonise at least broadly with international practices. The top leadership of Taliban including Mullah Baradar have been interacting with foreign government functionaries and visiting different countries. It should have opened and broadened their outlook.

Until recently, Pakistan’s role in stabilising Afghanistan was an area of major interest for US policymakers that helped in moderating its policies towards it. The US is very closely watching the situation in Afghanistan especially in the wake of the ghastly terrorist attack at the Kabul airport. So far there has been no criticism from their side as the security of the airport was their responsibility. For many Afghans, especially the younger generation that were exposed to Western education, the US and Europe will remain a major attraction. For Taliban leadership to retain them in the country and contribute toward its development would require deft handling. Only time will tell whether they are capable of rising to this and other challenges.

Successive Afghan governments have been generally hostile toward Pakistan and Presidents Karzai and Ghani were openly critical and leaned heavily on India. The Taliban leadership is expected to be more understanding and cooperative toward Pakistan.

Our main concern is a chaotic neighborhood, the influx of refugees, and the slipping in of anti-Pakistan groups in the guise of displaced persons. The danger of ‘Talibanisation’ spreading in Pakistan is unlikely. Last time, in the 1980s it was the Saudi and US policy to counter Soviet and Iranian influence for which they spent billions of dollars and raised religious schools that propagated narratives creating a Jihadi culture among students and in the society. This gave rise to militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan and even beyond in some Central Asian states. That situation does not exist anymore. The Afghan Taliban and their philosophy remain unattractive and medieval to a majority of Pakistani public. Furthermore, there is no funding of these groups by any country as was the case in the past.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2021.

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