Taliban’s pyrrhic victory

Withdrawal of US and subsequent takeover of the Taliban has left a vacuum that will cause instability in the region

Dr Moonis Ahmar September 05, 2021
The writer is former Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi and can be reached at [email protected]

The Taliban’s success in the aftermath of the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan has initiated the creation of a new Afghanistan. The Taliban now maintain control of the majority of Afghanistan except for the province of Panjshir. They took over Kabul, the capital, and other parts of Afghanistan rather peacefully and received spoils worth billions of dollars in the shape of weapons. It will now be a major test for the Taliban to run a country that is economically in a shambles, politically fragmented, and facing serious governance issues. The Taliban’s pyrrhic victory will bring enormous challenges which they will encounter in the days to come.

Afghanistan has been in political turmoil for more than four decades during which it has been intervened by two superpowers of the world. This suggests that instability within the Afghan society has caused recurrent violence, civil war and armed conflict in the landlocked country. Although the Taliban have claimed that after the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, they will put things in order. It will, however, be difficult to make it happen because ordinary Afghans and elites lack ownership and a sense of belonging to their country.

A major problem that is likely to arise with the Taliban’s victory is Afghanistan descending into another deadly phase of instability and violence. The Taliban must realise that they cannot run the country by coercing people to adhere to their interpretation of Sharia. Considering Afghanistan’s history of tribal feuds, the country will continue facing issues of legitimacy, local resistance against the Taliban’s model of governance, and grave economic crisis. To alleviate this, they will be required to focus on political pluralism, democracy, tolerance and the rule of law, besides promoting nationalism by pursuing a multi-stakeholder approach.

Afghan society is known to be conservative, which is why it will be difficult to bring paramount change in the country. The withdrawal of US troops and subsequent takeover of the Taliban has left a vacuum that will cause instability in the region. The defunct Soviet Union invested a large amount of money in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Since 9/11, the US has also poured trillions of dollars in the country. However, not much changed in the country. The fact that Afghans have been unable to evolve as a nation even after the formation of Afghanistan as a state in 1747 under Ahmed Shah Abdali indicates the existence of structural issues within the country.

One can identify four major fault-lines which tend to impede the process of peace in Afghanistan and bring into question the legitimacy, capacity and capability of Taliban to run the country.

First, Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual country. The failure of Afghans to emerge as a singular nation over the years has made it difficult to induce nationalism in the country. Many countries around the world have ethnic and cultural diversity. However, these structural and cultural differences are not an impediment to transforming divergent societal realities into a nation. If Afghanistan is termed a ‘black hole’ and a ‘failed state’, the blame should rest with the people of Afghanistan and not those who had intervened in the country. The poor image of the country rests on the inability of its people to identify with their country. It was only during King Zahir Shah’s regime that Afghanistan had space and time for education, modernisation and development. After Zahir Shah’s removal, Afghanistan plunged into a web of violence and civil war, which deepened with the “revolution” of April 1978. Thereafter, the country has been in a state of disarray. What followed was two major foreign interventions, series of civil wars, and two decades of infighting between Taliban resistance groups and the Kabul regime backed by the US.

Second, previous Afghan regimes and the Taliban can also be held responsible for Afghanistan’s persistent predicament. Without tolerance, wisdom, professionalism and strategic mindset, the Taliban cannot succeed in maintaining their control for much longer. The Taliban’s failure to progress and evolve in line with the international order will undermine their authority both domestically and internationally. It will further expose their parochial management of statecraft.

Third, given the structural differences within the Afghan society and the inability of the Afghans to integrate, it will be a challenging task for the Taliban to form a coherent national body representative of the entire country. A lot has changed in the country over the last 20 years. An entirely new generation is there in the country now, having the tendency to resist curbs on their freedom to seek an education, engage in sports and music activities, and use tech gadgets for learning and entertainment. The tide of social change which took place in Afghanistan in the last 20 years cannot be reversed.

Finally, the Taliban’s success has also increased the likelihood of those opposing their rule to mobilise against them. Millions of Afghan youth are not inspired by the Taliban’s philosophy. They could not do much because of the corrupt and incompetent Afghan regime. However, they can now regroup and reform efforts to mobilise against the Taliban.

In addition, Pakistan’s recognition of the Taliban is to ensure that the Afghan soil is not used to launch hostile attacks inside Pakistan. However, the international community will remain sceptical of Pakistan’s support of the Taliban. Many around the world view the Taliban’s regime as repressive — one that promotes religious extremism and fanaticism. To alleviate this image, the Taliban will need to uphold their word and promote peaceful diplomatic relations. Pakistan must also remain cautious of its support for the regime. The ensuing period will bring considerable challenges for both Afghanistan and those supportive of the incumbent regime.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2021.

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