The ball is in the Taliban’s court

By Mutiullah Tayeb

Aljazeera

With the seizure of the headquarters of the province of Panjshir, north of the Afghan capital Kabul, and the announcement of a caretaker government, the Taliban movement practically moved to the stage of governance in a country torn by wars for decades.

By forming a government that includes figures from the movement’s first and second generations, the Taliban may have wanted to tell the world that its current government is an extension of the same government that fell after the events of September 11, 2001, and the American invasion of Afghanistan. This symbolism apart, Taliban’s rule of a country divided by decades of bitter conflict is much more difficult than winning a war.

Generational clash

The formation of a caretaker government after three weeks of taking control of the capital, Kabul, may have been intended to fill the void according to the Taliban. However, it seems that the new rulers of Afghanistan are unwilling to form an inclusive government with figures from outside the movement. The delay in announcing the government points to difficult internal discussions that the Taliban leadership might be facing in forming an inclusive government.

The main challenge for the Taliban at the moment may be to maintain unity within its ranks. During the war, the movement largely maintained close ranks and overcame its differences over military or political tactics, but its return to power may widen the differences brushed aside by the war’s priorities. The movement has a hard-line generation of young field leaders and a moderate generation, including most of the old guard who stayed outside the battlefield and became active politically.

Despite the Taliban’s promises of change, it is difficult to expect the movement to shift from its conservative identity to moderation in the near term. One wonders how far does the Taliban leadership have to go in terms of accepting pluralism and changing its position on women’s rights and personal liberties in order to obtain the international recognition it craves. How can it bridge the different visions within the movement regarding the requirements and priorities of this stage of governance?

Internal balances

It appears that the Taliban will count on their successes, namely that, for the first time in four decades, they have managed to bring Afghanistan under the control of a single ruler without any organised or widespread resistance against the Islamic Emirate. They are aware that Afghans are tired of successive wars. This reality gives the movement an opportunity to extend its influence, consolidate the foundations of its rule, and implement its own agenda. According to observers, this calm may be deceptive if the Taliban decides to monopolise power and impose its social order by force.

A mere promise of change and a pledge to establish a political system that allows the participation of all spectrums of Afghans may not be enough to satisfy a new generation of young Afghans. This new generation, which is better educated and politically savvy, might decide to flee the country in search of freedom and a better future.

The cautious calm in Afghanistan can also be attributed to people wanting to give the new version of the Taliban a chance. They wish to see how it manages the political system, the economy, social justice and human rights.

If these promises fail, Afghanistan may find itself facing new security, political and social tensions dictated by the country’s ethnic and sectarian composition as well as the competing interests of its neighbours and regional powers.

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, and nearly 50% of Afghans live below the poverty line. More instability in the country may push more people to starvation. Due to the battles over the past few months leading up to US withdrawal, a quarter of a million people were internally displaced.

Reviving the economy is one of the biggest challenges facing the new Taliban government. It is difficult to deal with the economic crisis in isolation from the international community and in the absence of specialists as Afghanistan’s trained workforce has begun to think of fleeing the country.

Perhaps the Taliban is eyeing foreign investment in the country’s mineral wealth, especially from China. Some years ago, Afghan government sources estimated the country’s mineral wealth at three trillion dollars, making it a potential lifeline for the country’s economy.

The movement is also thinking of taking advantage of Afghanistan’s geostrategic location in the transportation of gas and oil from Central Asia to South Asia. Yet these large projects need a long time to materialise, as well as international recognition of the Taliban to facilitate the work of international companies in such giant projects.

International recognition

The Taliban’s desire for international recognition has been clear since they agreed to open a political office in Qatar to keep lines of communication with the world open. The leaders of the movement wish to gain international recognition because they learned from their first experience in governance, as well as other experiences in Iraq and Syria, that international recognition and dealing with the world are key to its success and survival.

After the announcement of its government, the Taliban has sought international recognition and membership of the United Nations. To gain this recognition, it has made promises and assurances, perhaps the most important of which is its pledge to sever its links to global and regional terrorist organisations and to respect international borders. It has also assured the world that it will not allow the use of Afghan territory against any country and that it will respect international human rights covenants and secure freedoms and political participation within Islamic law.

The statements of Taliban leaders suggest that the movement is already aware that the international community will interact positively with it if it carefully manages its relations with neighbouring countries, great powers, and international organisations. The international community also expects the Taliban to avoid conflict, especially in its relations with the United States and the West more broadly.

The movement is also aware of the fears of neighbouring countries and the West about the danger of Afghanistan slipping back into civil war and the return of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Such a scenario would lead to a large influx of refugees into Europe.

It seems too early for the international community to recognise the new Taliban government. The Taliban promises that it has named a caretaker government to fill the vacuum and administer the country’s affairs temporarily, pending the formation of an expanded government that represents the entire ethnic and sectarian fabric of the country.

The international community does not seem to be in a hurry to give legitimacy to the Taliban government before ascertaining its performance. So far, according to Western assessments, its performance is not promising. Perhaps the movement hopes that countries such as Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran will recognise its government, encouraging broader international recognition. The recognition of these countries will require that the Taliban show its maturity in managing the country away from its narrow partisan agenda and in a manner that heeds international and regional interests.

Several factors throw the ball back into the court of the Taliban, namely: the uncertainty about the formation of an expanded government that represents all ethnic and sectarian groups, the prevailing ambiguity with respect to human rights and political and personal freedoms, especially women’s rights, and the reluctance of the international community to recognise the new Afghan government. In its pursuit of legitimacy at home and recognition from abroad, the Taliban must make a series of concessions without causing a rift in its ranks or a setback to its prestige.

Source: Al Jazeera(Original Content -Arabic)

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