Fahad Ali describes a
TTP Nexus – The Afghan Taliban are consistently following their regressive agenda of governance and they are not prepared to alter or amend the policies that are widely abhorred. Their policies are unabashedly one sided with their point of view prevailing over all others irrespective of the rigours and dissatisfaction caused by such approach. They are also bent upon smothering aesthetic activities within the beleaguered populace and have clamped down hard on any rest and recreation activity. It is quite obvious that the Afghan regime is staying loyal to its hard line fringe elements probably out of fear of a brutal retaliation and consider it viable to repress the general public instead of picking up animosity of the battle-hardened group of their supporters. Though the moderate elements within the regime try hard to cover up the extreme actions of their hard line colleagues but they mostly carry no weight at all.
The latest regressive measure is slapping a ban on playing music during weddings and through the ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice the regime has instructed the religious police to scour wedding halls in Kabul to enforce a ban on playing music that they say contradicts Islamic rulings on such celebrations. Last year, the Taliban advised business owners to avoid music at public gatherings but the ruling was not heavily enforced. Following the Taliban’s return to power many artists and musicians fled Afghanistan and sought asylum in Western countries. According to the regime’s strict interpretation only the human voice should produce music – and only in praise of God. Though many activities like kite flying, watching TV soap operas, having fancy haircuts and playing music that were banned by the Taliban during their earlier stint in power came back after US-led governance of Afghanistan but after their second takeover Taliban’s crackdowns again increased.
Afghan women and girls have faced the most restrictions, including bans on them attending high schools and universities as well as holding many kinds of jobs. In April, a women-run radio station in Afghanistan’s northeast was shut down on the charges that it was playing music during the month of Ramadan. Afghanistan NGOs suspend work over Taliban ban on women workers. In recent days, the Taliban have sought to exclude all foreign organisations from the education sector a move the UN secretary-general’s chief spokesman said would be another horrendous step backward for Afghan people. Aid agencies have been providing food, education and healthcare support to Afghans in the wake of the Taliban takeover in August 2021 and the economic collapse that followed it. It is not surprising that a UNSC report has called Afghan Taliban governance highly exclusionary, Pashtun-centred and repressive towards all forms of opposition.
The report said that Kandahar’s return as the seat of power – like it was during the Taliban’s rule of Afghanistan in the 1990s – circumvents senior Taliban ministers in Kabul, the centre of the current government, because of the way decisions are made. The report also said the group was battling internal conflict over key policies, the centralisation of power and the control of financial and natural resources in Afghanistan. Ongoing power struggles are further destabilising the situation, to the point where an outbreak of armed conflict between rival factions is a manifest risk. In recent months at least two spokespersons based in Kabul were asked to shift to the southern city of Kandahar, raising speculations about the shift of power from the capital to the southern city of Kandahar, where the supreme leader Haibatullah Akhunzada is based. In April, Taliban’s main spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid was asked to work from both places while Innamullah Samangani, another deputy spokesman of the interim government, was transferred to Kandahar. Taliban’s information ministry did not give any reasons for the transfer.
Though the Taliban regime rejected the report’s accusations of strife, saying that they were baseless and demonstrated obvious hostility to Afghans but rumours of disagreement between the group’s leaders are not going away. Since taking over the country in August 2021, the group has expanded its curbs on media freedom and women’s rights, with high schools for girls remaining shut. The Taliban officials had initially promised to open the schools after an infrastructure upgrade to ensure gender segregation but the group has doubled down on women’s rights banning women from universities and employment. Analysts say decrees such as those excluding women and girls from education and work were issued from Kandahar – the base of the Taliban chief. Several Taliban leaders have backed women’s empowerment, saying that Islam guarantees women’s rights to education and work. Taliban officials have denied there was a rift among its leadership.
The regressive policies are not the only bone of contention between the Taliban and rest of the world that has been singled out by the UN but it has also criticised the link between the Afghan Taliban and proscribed militant outfits Al-Qaeda and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and has declared them to be strong and symbiotic. The UN Security Council 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee report noted that a range of terrorist groups has greater freedom of manoeuvre under the Taliban de facto authorities and they are making good use of this with the result that the threat of terrorism is rising in both Afghanistan and the region. While they have sought to reduce the profile of these groups and conducted maintaining links to numerous terrorist entities, the Taliban have lobbied member states for counter-terrorism assistance in their fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIL-K), which it perceives as their principal rival.
The report said that the Taliban forces have conducted operations against ISIL-K, in general but they have not delivered on the counter-terrorism provisions under the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the United States of America and the Taliban. It added that there are indications that Al-Qaeda is rebuilding operational capability, that TTP is launching attacks into Pakistan with support from the Taliban, that groups of foreign terrorist fighters are projecting threat across Afghanistan’s borders and that the operations of ISIL-K are becoming more sophisticated and lethal. For Pakistan, however, the main source of concern is the TTP which has an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 fighters inside Afghanistan. Since it announced an end to the ceasefire with Pakistan the TTP has carried out more than 100 attacks in this country. But despite the Pakistan government making its displeasure known, the Afghan Taliban have yet to take coercive measures against the group.
Repeated admonishment from world capitals about the Kabul regime reneging on the counterterrorism measures it had pledged in the Doha talks has fallen on deaf ears. The UN report notes that the Afghan Taliban do not consider TTP a threat to Afghanistan but rather as part of the emirate. The Taliban’s main rival in Afghanistan is IS-K, which has carried out some high-profile attacks on international and domestic targets in the country. In the current climate, especially with key decisions increasingly being taken by the ultra-conservative, isolationist Taliban leadership in Kandahar, it appears unlikely the TTP in Afghanistan will be restrained in any significant manner. It would be a great mistake on part of Pakistani policy makers to discount Afghan Taliban’s affinity with TTP as it would encourage the extremists to keep on attacking Pakistani targets. The Weekender