Fahad Ali looks at the One year of Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan
One year of Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan entered Kabul without a shot fired on 15 August 2021, a surprising development for the country. for the world as it was for the Taliban themselves. It has been a year since the physical takeover and the Taliban regime is ruling Afghanistan de facto with de jure recognition nowhere in sight. Afghanistan is practically isolated from rest of the world as after the Taliban takeover the attention of world media waned and except for few committed journalists hardly anyone is taking any interest in the country. Subsequently, nothing of substance is coming out of the country aiding the secrecy-prone Taliban regime. The situation in the interior of the country is hardly known as the regime has ensured that no information is provided to the world. The rumours about the internecine conflict in the Taliban regime are widespread though nothing is ever confirmed yet there are many signs that such problems remain in existence. The Taliban leadership is trying to give an impression of unity with their media-shy leader gathering in Kabul along with the leading clerics in tow conveying their internal unity. Such efforts are considered by many as merely cosmetic as it is not clear whether the factions within the Taliban are on the same page. The absence of a credible coercive power at the disposal of the regime is also causing further trouble as the various fighting groups have apparently refused to shun their earlier loyalties and prefer to remain as armed pressure groups spread across the country.
It is also reported that since the Taliban take-over, they have faced an economy already beset by drought, the COVID-19 pandemic and waning confidence in the government it toppled with the result that the country is in a virtual state of limbo. In Afghanistan’s final fiscal year before Ashraf Ghani’s Western-backed coalition government collapsed — 2020-21 — 75% of public expenditures from the country’s $5.5 billion annual budget was drawn from foreign aid but as the United States exited, international civilian and security aid was abruptly cut off and the new rulers were sanctioned. The US commandeered the majority of the country’s foreign currency reserves, freezing about $7 billion held in the United States by Kabul’s central bank, linking its release to improvement of women’s rights and the formation of an inclusive government. The result of this deprivation is that since April 2020 the number of Afghans facing acute food shortages has nearly doubled to 20 million — more than half of the country’s 38.9 million population. However, it is reported that the Taliban have proven surprisingly adept at revenue collection, raising $840 million between December 2021 and June 2022, a large share of which (56%) was from Customs revenue collection, as well as through the export of coal and fruits to Pakistan. It is estimated by independent experts that the Taliban made between $27.5 million and $35 million annually by taxing the drug trade and about $245 million at checkpoints along main roads, where Taliban fighters extorted fees from truckers moving food and fuel and as a result, the Taliban’s budget for the current fiscal year — 2022-23 — amounts to $2.6 billion.
In addition, it is reported that internally, the Taliban’s greatest threat comes from the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) and al-Qaida. While the number of bombings has dropped across the country since the Taliban seized power but there also was a string of bomb attacks in May 2022, some of which the Islamic State claimed responsibility. A Sikh temple was targeted in Kabul in June, killing two and injuring seven, and a bomb blast at a cricket match in Kabul in July left two dead.On the international front, the Taliban have not been recognised by any country as yet but the Taliban leadership was invited to an international conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, that included delegates from 30 other countries, including the EU, the US and representatives of the United Nations. China has maintained direct communication with the Taliban administration, and both sides have met on several occasions, bilaterally and internationally, to discuss plans for Afghanistan’s reconstruction. Beijing also has been active in various international, multilateral and bilateral talks on Afghan issues with regional governments and international powers. In addition, the killing of Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in an affluent Kabul suburb last month in an American drone strike did little to convince the world that the Taliban are serious about their commitment to fighting terrorism.
Although US and Taliban officials have exchanged proposals for the release of the billions of dollars frozen abroad into a trust fund, significant differences between the sides remain but the sticking point is the Taliban’s commitment to secure Afghans’ rights to education and free speech within parameters of Islamic law. It must be kept in view that immediately after taking over governance the Taliban strongly assured the international community that it would ensure rights of Afghan women and in this context, the Taliban ministry of education had promised that girls’ secondary schools from grades 7-12 would reopen at the start of the spring semester in March 2022 but the Taliban abruptly shifted course on 23 March, citing a need for additional planning time to designate gender-separated facilities. To date, secondary schoolgirls in most parts of the country are waiting for a decision, while boys’ schools reopened almost immediately after the fall of President Ghani’s administration. These discrepancies seem indicative of what some observers describe as the new government’s largely erratic policymaking as it struggles to adopt a uniform, nationwide approach to key issues, as well as divisions within the Taliban ranks. When the Taliban were last in power around 5,000 Afghan girls were enrolled in school but by 2018, the number had jumped to 3.8 million.
Another serious issue confronting the Taliban regime relates to the media affairs as they insisted after taking over the country that they would welcome a free and independent press but subsequently the regime issued a series of media directives that critics said, in some cases, amounted to prior censorship. As of today, female journalists are banned from working at state-run media and those in privately run media outlets can appear only with their faces covered; journalists in some provinces must seek permission from local officials before reporting; and with media companies banned from broadcasting music or popular soap operas and entertainment programs, and sources of advertising revenue cut off, many outlets closed. Apart from media restrictions, a three-day conference of Taliban leadership decided that men who work at government jobs must wear beards and Islamic dress to work, that city parks must be gender segregated and that woman may not travel by air without an accompanying male relative. The Taliban also ordered shopkeepers to remove the heads of all mannequins calling them un-Islamic.
The widespread impression is that expecting the hard-line tribal outfit to turn Afghanistan into a Western-style liberal democracy is the stuff of fantasy. In fact, pushing the Taliban to the wall may lead the group to embrace even more extreme outfits. The way forward, therefore, must be pragmatic. There can also be no space for foreign militants in Afghanistan, while the Taliban should activate traditional methods, such as grand jirgas, to involve more of the country’s groups and tribes, and eventually move towards democratic governance. To prevent Afghanistan’s collapse into renewed anarchy, the world needs to engage with the Taliban, with engagement one day leading to recognition if Afghanistan’s rulers and the international community can agree on a middle path. TW