Colombo, August 23 (Counterpoint): To the amazement of the world, the Taliban were able to win the gruelling 20-year war against Super Power United States. But the victory in war has not landed them on a bed of roses. The Taliban now face the unfamiliar challenge of conducting domestic and international affairs under international scrutiny, a harsh one at that. The Taliban’s first week in power shows that the road ahead is going to be hard.
The immediate challenge for the Taliban is to get recognition for their regime. A Taliban-led Afghanistan cannot survive if it is not recognized by the power centers of the present-day world, namely, the United States, the UN and the world’s financial institutions which are controlled by the US. To get recognition from these power centers, a Taliban regime has to meet demands requiring fundamental changes in its political thinking and in its ideology. Essentially these mean watering down its commitment to what it considers “Islamic” values, and suppressing its hunger for monopolistic power.
Unfortunately for the Taliban, these demands are not coming only from the United States and the Western powers but also from China, Russia, and even Pakistan. A changed world is now looking for guarantees on the place of women, treatment of minorities (namely, the non-Pashtun tribal groups), power-sharing, human rights and a ban on Afghanistan-based Islamic terror groups operating in various countries including Pakistan, China, Iran and Central Asia. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the Russian President Putin and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan have voiced these demands.
The Pakistan federal Minister for Information, Fawad Chaudhry, said on Tuesday, that any recognition of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan will be a “regional decision” taken after consultations with regional and international powers. He stressed that Pakistan does not intend to take a “unilateral decision” in this regard. “We are in touch with our friends, both in [this] region and internationally, and we will decide accordingly,” he said.
Chaudhry further said that Prime Minister Imran Khan had a detailed discussion with his Turkish counterpart while the US secretary of state had spoken to Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
US Mounting Pressure
The US is already putting pressure on the fledgling Taliban government by freezing Afghanistan’s assets in the US to the tune of US$ 9.5 billion saying that the Taliban are still on the US list of banned organizations. Furthermore, Afghanistan cannot use the US$ 500 million Special Drawing Rights due to it from the IMF because the Taliban regime is yet to get international recognition. India has closed its mission in Kabul and called back all its staff. Only China, Pakistan and Russia have kept the missions open.
Commentators say that it is not enough if only China, Pakistan and Russia recognize the Taliban regime. The US and international bodies under it must recognize it if Afghanistan is to survive economically. In fact, the US could continue to trouble Afghanistan by continuing to keep the Taliban under the list of terrorist organizations and imposing sanctions on the country.
Of course, China and Russia can help by stepping in with aid and developmental assistance. Pakistan, a close and traditional associate of the Taliban, can give moral support if not economic assistance. But these countries also have demands and expectations from the Taliban. They want the Taliban to eschew the tendency to monopolize power. They want the Taliban to accommodate non-Pashtuns and assure women equal rights.
These countries are making these demands because they want peace in the country for the sake of economic cooperation. China is keen on extending its Belt and Road Initiative from Pakistan to Central Asia via Afghanistan. Russia too would like to extend its gas pipelines to Pakistan and India through Afghanistan. These cannot be achieved without peace and political stability in Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s leaders would do well to remember that their earlier regime, established in 1996, collapsed in 2001, because they did not dilute their monopolism, terrorist predilections and rigid Islamism.
Chances of reform even now, appear to be slim because the Taliban have already banned women from attending offices and working in the radio/TV stations. They have shot people who had celebrated Afghanistan’s Independence Day by waving the country’s national flag. They have been doing house-to-house searches to locate people linked with the previous government. All this was done while declaring an amnesty for all opponents.
Resistance to the Taliban has appeared in a few places. The Tolo news agency said that in the northern province of Baghlan on Saturday, non-Taliban local forces had retaken three districts, namely, Pul-e-Hesar, Banu and Deh Salah. There were reports of heavy casualties on both sides.
“With the support of God and the Mujahideen, three districts were liberated, we are now moving toward Khinjan district and will clear Baghlan province soon,” said Assadullah, the former police chief of Banu. “With the help of Allah, we inflicted massive casualties to the Taliban, currently Banu district is under the control of public uprising forces,” added. Ghani Andarabi, the former police commander in charge of the highway in Baghlan.
Sources said that after entering Baghlan earlier on, the Taliban went on house-to-house searches, which sparked retaliation. Although the Taliban officially have not commented on the recent clashes, there are unconfirmed reports that they are preparing to retake these districts.
Formation of Inclusive Government
A senior Taliban official told Reuters that the framework for the creation of the new government is expected to be announced in the next few weeks. But Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who is expected to visit Kabul soon, said that the Taliban will announce the framework of the new government in the next few days (ten days at least).
Taliban’s legal, religious and foreign policy experts are working to prepare the framework, Qureshi said. There are reports that the Taliban’s deputy leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, has arrived in Kabul. Baradar’s participation would ensure some clarity on the various contentious issues.
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and CEO and Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the High Council of National Reconciliation met Abdul Rahman Mansour, the acting Taliban governor of Kabul, to discuss the security of Kabul city and protection of people’s lives and properties.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan also had a detailed discussion with his Turkish counterpart on the Afghanistan situation, while the US secretary of state had spoken to Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on the same topic.
Dawn reports that the US had reached out to Pakistan and half a dozen other countries it believes can influence the situation in Afghanistan. The foreign ministers of Pakistan, China, Russia, India and Turkey and the Foreign Secretary of Britain were among the top diplomats the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with, his office announced in a statement. Blinken also spoke with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s Secretary General and European Union’s (EU) high representative, the statement added
Afghan’s liberals are keeping their fingers crossed about the future of the country. Farhad Akbari, a liberal political activist is quoted by Tolo News as saying: “If the Taliban continue with their monopolization of power like Ashraf Ghani and distribute power to certain provinces and do not respect the other provinces and their people, there is a possibility of a civil war.”