The Taliban Has Formed the Government - What Does It Mean?
The immediate present and future
The Taliban has formed the government in Afghanistan. At first glance it comprises known hardliners -- but then who in the Taliban is not seen as such---owing allegiance to the late Mullah Omar who seems to have cast a shadow over the Cabinet led by Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada who is the third Supreme Commander of the Taliban and worked under the leadership of Mullah Mohammed Omar.
As did Prime Minister Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund who is one of the four who founded the Taliban in 1994. And is facing UN sanctions for his role as Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister during the Taliban rule in 1996-2001.
The rest of the first list announced comprises hard faces who have been associated with religious extremism, with the list including Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani who is on the FBI most wanted list. And of considerable concern to New Delhi as the Haqqani group has been avowedly anti-India through the long years and now is in government in Afghanistan.
There is of course Deputy PM Abdul Ghani Baradar who was imprisoned in Pakistan for eight long years 2001-2018. After that Baradar entered the western world as a recognised negotiator who also spoke with US President Donald Trump after signing the famous Doha accord.
Mullah Omar’s son Mohammad Yaqoob who was also the military chief for the Taliban is now the Defence Minister. He is a young man and has generational appeal, and as the BBC reported he urged the Taliban fighters not to harm the Afghan forces or occupy the homes of those commanders who had fled the provinces as the Taliban advanced across Afghanistan.
There are more with similar antecedents as expected. So a quick glance will inspire the kind of reactions one has been reading, but seen against the political compulsions that seem to be guiding the Taliban currently there might be a vestige of hope that the hardliners have learnt the hard way, and are keen to offer the crumbs of human rights and democracy that the world might be more than willing to settle for.
It is clear that the Americans have no wish to return to Afghanistan. And going by recent statements of US President Joe Biden, indeed to the region as there is a deep fatigue within that country with war and conflict. The ceaseless war unleashed by George Bush and Barack Obama upon the world has created its own wounds within the US, and although there is deep criticism within the US about the manner in which the Biden administration managed the withdrawal, there is unanimity that the US should get out of the war syndrome.
China and Russia have moved in. That Pakistan has considerable support within the Taliban is a given but the 20 years of the American war have definitely cut into its support base in Afghanistan. As during these two decades the Pakistanis cooperated or were made to cooperate with the US in Afghanistan, and many in the Taliban were at the receiving end of this joint action. Many Talibs and supporters died, many were imprisoned including an important figure in the government Baradar.
Tolo News has reported a major demonstration against Pakistan in Kabul. It has carried a video of the same, reporting that its reporter has been detained by the new government. This in itself indicates that one, the Taliban still has a close relationship with its mentors in Pakistan’s deep state but two, that it has demonstrated that there is an anti-Pakistan sentiment in Kabul that the Imran Khan regime and the ISI should remain aware of. In that the Taliban has acted against it by arresting of course who else but the journalists, but next time it might not be so accommodating.
The point here is that Pakistan is not the first player but one of the many international players in Afghanistan now. ISI’s deep knowledge of the Taliban and Afghanistan keeps it as a strategic partner, ahead of others of course, but the control on Kabul is not as strong as it was in the first Taliban avatar. Hence the Haqqani network as it is popularly known here might in the initial stages prefer to be more Afghani than Pakistani. It is an important part of the new government with Afghan nationalism as the dominant text.
The Taliban, till date, has given the signal that it wants to be part of the global order, giving prime space to China and Russia followed by Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and others. Western capitals have made contact over the months while the talks were on with Taliban spokespersons including Baradar. West Asian countries like the UAE are flinging open the doors, perhaps even ahead of the others, with the UAE already sending aid to the Taliban.
To be part of this order the Taliban has indicated very clearly that one, it is prepared to follow a modicum of human rights and not hunt down people without obvious reason; two, while it cannot be expected to bring in women into the government (it has made it clear they will not be ministers) it is not opposed to education and jobs for women; and three, it will not allow its country to be used for terrorism and will not encourage splinter groups and militants in other countries to become active.
There is nothing in its history to suggest it can meet these three basic issues that even China and Russia have told the Taliban is a requirement for recognition. No world capital wants to be seen supporting a fundamentalist government with a shoddy record of rights, where dissenters were beheaded literally, and women stoned for even peering out of their veils. Of course, all Taliban spokespersons have insisted they are well up to the task of running a more democratic (for want of another word) government. Again a gate to aid and funds that the Taliban wants desperately, and to recognition as a government with a seat in the United Nations.
There is deep factionalism within that will rear its head. There are enough foreign forces within Afghanistan to keep the pot burning, and igniting the cauldron every now and again. It is going to be a rough ride for Afghanistan of course, but also for the Taliban that has known some level of unity in the field but is quite out of its depth in Kabul’s palaces and drawing rooms.
The story does not end here, it has just begun.