Afghanistan: Challenges before Taliban Emirate 2.0
On August 15, 2021, the Taliban declared the war in Afghanistan is over, after taking control of the presidential palace in Kabul. Except for the ongoing resistance from National Resistance Front (NRF) in Panjshir valley and sporadic violence from Islamic State’s Khorasan branch, Afghanistan has witnessed relative calm since then. However, the law and order situation continues to remain grim. The common people, especially women, former government officials and media personnel, have been living under constant fear and insecurity since the Taliban took over Kabul in Mid August. There are reports of Taliban fighters harassing women and torturing anti-Taliban forces despite announcing that it would adopt a liberal approach towards women and former government officials.
There are frequent reports in social media that Taliban fighters have forcefully entered the houses of civil society activists and former Afghanistan officials. Fahima Rahmati, a civil society activist, who is also the head of the charity committee in the southern province of Kandahar, on September 12, said that an “armed group belonging to the Taliban stormed into her house and beat some members of her family”. Earlier, the international Human Rights organisations demanded that the Taliban and the international community investigate human rights abuses in Kandahar and Kabul. On September 7, a large number of women organised street protests in Kabul to support achievements gained in the past 20 years. Moreover, the Taliban fighters had beaten four Afghan journalists and camerapersons and had temporarily detained others who tried to cover the anti-Pakistan and anti-Taliban protests in Kabul.
The brutality of the Taliban fighters is confirmed by the UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet. During a media briefing, she said her office had received credible allegations of reprisal killings by the Taliban of former Afghan security forces, as well as instances in which officials in the previous government and their relatives were arbitrarily detained and later turned up dead.
Taliban used coercive methods to suppress public resentment. The Taliban's new government in Afghanistan has issued strict restrictions on holding street protests against the Taliban and Pakistan. This tactic became successful because the international community, including the UN, has been a mute spectator of the developments. In the absence of external support, the public voice against the Taliban is visibly and quickly suppressed.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid announced names of acting cabinet members in a press conference on September 07 in Kabul. Members of the cabinet are appointed as acting heads to run the caretaker government. This has been widely criticised in four aspects. First, most of the cabinet members are listed as terrorists under the UN and USA sanction committees. Second, the cabinet was formed after due consultation with Pakistan. Third, there is no women representation in the cabinet. Fourth, the cabinet is not an inclusive one as it excludes minority ethnic groups of Afghanistan. Therefore, hundreds of people, including men and women, set a large demonstration in front of the Pakistani embassy in Kabul to protest “Pakistan’s interference in Afghanistan” affairs. The protestors were also chanting for “freedom”. Initially begun by several women activists and dozens of men, the protests spread to the capital city's streets. The protestors had painted -- Pakistan, Pakistan, leave Afghanistan -- on the banners.
Immediately after the formation of the new government, Pakistan supplied humanitarian aid to Afghanistan with 30 tonnes of food ingredients and medicines on September 9. The humanitarian assistance came as the Taliban government appealed to the international community to provide the people of Afghanistan with unconditional humanitarian aid to prevent a humanitarian crisis. Earlier, Qatar, UAE and Bahrain had sent humanitarian aid. China announced emergency aid of over $31 million and three million doses of Covid vaccines to the people of Afghanistan.
Thousands of Afghan people have fled their homes and have been seeking resettlement in Kabul and some major cities due to fierce fighting between the Afghan security forces and the Taliban. In the absence of a credible government and its inability to address the looming humanitarian crisis, on September 13, the UN organised a donors’ conference and generated more than $1.2 billion in emergency pledges for helping 11 million Afghans. Interestingly, all the participants in the ministerial-level meeting reiterated that the aids would be provided for the conflict victims of Afghanistan, not to the Taliban government. They also asked the Taliban to keep its promises on women rights and cooperate in delivering relief materials.
Challenges before Taliban
Several Afghan watchers have viewed the Taliban as a security and cultural challenge to the Central and South Asian regions. But instead of posing as a challenge to others, the Taliban itself will face immense challenges in bringing peace, stability and development to set up an Islamic Emirate under Sharia law. It is a fact that it took just 45 days to capture Kabul since the US forces quietly departed from Bagram airfield, and the control of the Islam Qala and Torghundi border crossings, both in Herat province, by the Taliban in the first week of July 2021. Although the Taliban captured territory rapidly, it struggled to establish a system of governance, despite having absolute control over the country.
Some other challenges the Taliban could face in the coming weeks, if not months, are internal factionalism, fund generation for basic administrations, the undoing of liberal democratic values set up in the last 20 years, neutralising growing Pakistani interference in its internal matters, and most importantly, bringing equilibrium in the diplomatic relations between Iran, Qatar, Pakistan, Russia, China and India. Pakistan will expect the Taliban to take action against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leaders taking shelter in Afghan territory. It will affect TTP and Afghan Taliban relations and the Pashtun communities living across the borders.
Iran has already opposed Pakistan’s interference in Afghanistan. In a veiled reference to Pakistan, Iran condemned “foreign interference” in the Panjshir Valley conflict. Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh stated that the September 6 attacks are condemned in the strongest terms. And the foreign interference must be investigated. We are investigating it.”
Similarly, Russia refused to attend the oath-taking ceremony of the new government in Kabul. Instead, the Russian Secretary of Security Council Nikolai Patrushev discussed the Taliban regime with his Indian counter in New Delhi and expressed concern about the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul. It must be noted that the Taliban is a banned outfit in Russia.
Other than Iran and Russia, the Qatari government sent its foreign minister to Kabul on September 12 and advised the new Taliban government to reconsider its decision on women rights and freedom. Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, on September 13 in a joint news conference with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, said in Doha that the Gulf state has urged Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers to respect women's rights and that it was still too early to consider recognising their government.
Therefore, seeking international recognition would be a significant challenge before the Taliban. A week after the formation of the new government, no country has so far recognised the Taliban government in Kabul. In this situation, there could be two options before the Taliban. The Taliban Emirate has two options: it has to run the government as per the suggestions of the international community or wait for the collapse of the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan.
It is interesting to note that the Taliban is not a monolithic group. It is a conglomeration of various ethnic groups of Afghanistan, who keep their distinct ethnic identity despite being part of the Taliban. Importantly, these groups have sympathy and linkages with neighbouring countries of Afghanistan. Despite internal challenges, the Taliban worked as a cohesive force due to a common enemy -- the US. But in the absence of the US’s presence in the region, it would be difficult for the top leaders of the Taliban to hold unity. There are high possibilities of clash of personalities and factionalism within the Taliban associated with ethnic groups and external forces. Perhaps that was why the Taliban took more time to announce the new government and abruptly cancelled the oath-taking ceremony where it had invited many countries to attend. The media also reported that the new acting deputy prime minister Mullah (Abdul Ghani) Baradar was injured during a factional fight in a meeting on government formation. Factionalism and ideological differences in the Taliban intensified after Pakistan pushed for more representation for the Haqqani group in the new government. Therefore, the Taliban might explore projecting some external force/s as the new enemy to keep the unity intact and maintain the support base of unemployed and illiterate youths.
 “Taliban announce cabinet”, MENAFN - Afghanistan Times, September 07, 2021, https://menafn.com/1102756283/Taliban-announce-cabinet&source=24
The article is part of the South Asia Conflict Monitor, September 2021 (updated).