How will the Taliban govern Afghanistan?
On August 30th, the plane containing the last US military personnel present in Afghanistan left Kabul, ending a 20-year war and leaving the country worse that it found it, in the hand of the Taliban.
After the monumental power takeover of Kabul just three weeks ago by the Taliban, an extremist Islamist group, deemed by many international organisations and states as a terrorist organisation, that left the entire security and military community speechless, Afghanistan prepares for a new era.
As the last America plane departed from the capital of Afghanistan on Monday evening, Afghans were still lingering at the gates of the airport, waiting hopelessly for a last miraculous evacuation, while the Taliban fired shots victoriously into the sky, as if to say: the US power grip on the country has come to an end. We may now begin our rule.
In the aftermath of the disastrous execution of the evacuation strategy of the US Army, ordered by President Biden against the advice of his national security and military counsel, two bombing attacks were carried out. The perpetrators of the attack, later assigned to ISIS-K, the ISIS branch in Khorasan, operating in Afghanistan, had suicide bombers at the Kabul international airport. The blast killed over 170 people, 13 of them being US Army personnel, the highest US casualty in Afghanistan in over a decade, and with record numbers of women and children among those killed.
While the remaining few days unravelled in continuous chaos, as the US reciprocated with a drone strike that also left children dead, while continuing to evacuate its troops, leaving hundreds of nationals stranded and desperate for what will come, the US left behind a country in shambles, “nation building” in the making.
Now, as the US has closed this troubled chapter in its recent history, and a period that will leave a stain and go down in history as one of the less fortunate foreign policy decisions, Afghanistan is left in the hands of a Taliban government.
However, what would a Taliban government look like?
As the Taliban governed Afghanistan in the 1990s, there is some form of a blueprint to look back on, in order to visualise and comprehend how a tribal group might go about actually governing. As it is widely known in politics, being the opposition party is easy, governing is hard. But being a fundamentalist group that negates the entire concept of a structured establishment is even harder to turn into a cohesive strategy, let alone a government agenda.
As Pakistani journalist and foreign policy expert, Ahmed Rashid, recounted in his book entitled Taliban from the early 2000s, the Taliban regime is “essentially caught between a tribal society which they tried to ignore and the need for a state structure which they refuse[d] to establish”.
The problem with fundamentalist groups is that they usually tend to have no organising principle around which they govern by, nor any governing programmes, except that it has to abide, in this case, by Sharia law.
However, as it has been noted once they resurfaced in the early 2000s, terrorist organisations, like many groups of people that are affected by external factors and emerging trends, contexts and situations, are open to learning and evolving.
An Afghanistan specialist Thomas Ruttig suggested in a paper for the Combating Terrorism Center in March, “awareness grew within their movement that their own (repressive) policies had resulted in global isolation as well as opposition from many Afghans, including those who had initially welcomed the Taliban when they almost ended the interfactional wars of the 1990s.”
However, Ruttig continues, as opposed to other insurgent militant groups, the Taliban have never developed a political faction that is separate from the military wing of the group.
Given how they have no real measure for what the dynamics and complexities of governing and political life entail, the expectation is that the Taliban will govern in accordance with that they perceive to be religiously appropriate and what not. Also, it would be premature, but also naïve to assume that the Taliban would be willing to create some power-sharing structure or develop some form of coalition government, so that the interests of a larger group of Afghans are met, given their forceful victory over the Afghan regime and, indeed, over the worse predictions of the US and most foreign states.
Even from a structural and hierarchical point of view, a Taliban government will be hard to envision. The group structure is similar to a terrorist organisation, in the sense that they have different interconnected networks and different layers of power. However,” it has been suggested that the Taliban were most interested in wanting to pursue a top-down, centralised form of government, including an Iranian model with a religious council over an elected president”, as stated in The Guardian.
What else is concerning in a Taliban government?
There are two main concerns that both the West and Afghan nationals are probably restless over: women’s rights and the resurgence of al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
Even though, following a deal the Taliban had with formed President Donald Trump in 2020, the Taliban pledged to fight terrorism and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a battlefield and a rooting ground for extremism, the worry of foreign leaders is more than warranted. With the Taliban in control, the likelihood of al-Qaida coming back is probable, as the UK Defence Secretary has already stated. Just a month ago, the UN published that al-Qaida is present in at least 15 Afghan provinces.
When it comes to women’s rights, the feeling of regression has been vivid and graphic: pictures of billboards depicting women not fully covered were already being painted over just a few days into the Taliban takeover, and Afghan women who have spoken out, had an education or even build a business are fearing for their life, and fearing a dark future with loss of rights and liberties. Even though Taliban spokespeople said that they would write laws that would ensure that women be able to participate in public life, women who have played an active part in emancipating and driving young women and girls towards a path of education and independence are extremely worried.
“The Taliban, during the previous regime, showed that they would never allow women to study and work while Islam allowed them to do so, even under Islam,” the letter said. “Men are entitled to the same rights in every period of time. We are awake with thousands of fears and fears until dawn,” it added, before calling on “the world community” to step in. “Please stop the Taliban. Respect women and girls”, said women’s rights activist and former Afghan MP Fawzia Koof for NBC News.
As the foreign powers are all scrambling to evacuate their nationals and Afghan allies as soon as possible from the country, another massive effort is underway in Afghanistan – that of a regime change of proportions that will forever change the security and geopolitical outlook of the region.
The US may have ended its longest and most expensive war this week. But at what cost?
Photo source: New York Times