Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | One year of the Taliban | How far has Afghanistan fallen behind?

In this episode of Worldview, we take a look at the past year of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and if there is anything India and the world can do to make the Taliban keep their promises

Published - August 19, 2022 09:05 pm IST

August 15 marked a somber anniversary for Afghans- one the Taliban celebrated, but hundreds of thousands of Afghans in exile mourned as the day they lost their country to the terrorist group. Inside Afghanistan, the story is more complex.

- The Taliban called it victory day, took out processions bearing their own Islamist flag- called the Shuhada, not that Red green and black flag of the Afghan republic.

- Dozens of women braved Taliban police and even gunfire to come out and protest, call for jobs for women and freedoms.

- The UN has not allowed the Taliban to occupy the Afghan seat, and no country recognises the Taliban regime, but several foreign missions are open in Kabul, including:

1. India reopened its mission in June 2022- sending a small team of diplomats and a large contingent of security personnel, but no ambassador as yet.

2. China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia missions are open, Japan is expected to open soon

3. Gulf countries Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and

4. Central Asian countries Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have functioning missions

5. The European union has a resident delegation in Kabul, and the US has asked Qatar to represent its interests as a “protecting power”

- The Taliban regime receives ministers from around the world, including Indian officials, and Taliban delegations are invited to international, multilateral conferences abroad- leading one senior official to say recognition is more or less settled.

- Afghanistan is being described as a humanitarian disaster- with health emergencies, and hunger, malnutrition and food shortages on the rise

One year later, the Taliban has not only clamped down on the rights of many sections of Afghan society, it has broken several promises it made to the international community.

Promises broken by the Taliban:

1. Taking Kabul by force – despite commitments made for the Doha agreement, the Taliban overthrew a democratically elected government and took Kabul and other Afghan cities by force

2. Women’s rights and girls education- this is perhaps the most egregious broken promise, made at rounds of talks in Doha and Moscow. Instead, the Taliban has

- disbanded the Women’s Affairs Ministry, and replaced it with a Vice and Virtue Ministry

- dismissed women in government, and no political participation

- not allowed girls into classrooms from grade 6-12, segregation and severe restrictions on those who are studying, which has led to underground, secret schools coming up

- decreed that women must cover faces, including TV anchors

- decreed that women cant travel long distances without a male chaperone.

3. Inclusive government: The Taliban still runs what is called an interim government, with Acting ministers, and has made no steps towards an inclusive government which includes former leaders like Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, women and minorities.

4. Terrorism: Contrary to its commitments in the Doha Agreement,

-Taliban run Afghanistan remains a safe haven for terror groups like Al Qaeda, a UN report said this month.

- The killing of Al Qaeda chief Ayman Al Zawahiri in a Kabul suburb is further proof of this

-While the Taliban forces fights Islamic State, responsible for a series of bombings including at the Kabul Gurudwara, they take no action against other groups including Lashkar e Toiba and Jaish e Mohammad that target India.

- And let’s not forget the Haqqanis and other Taliban leader also responsible for attacks on the Indian embassy are all members of the Taliban’s acting cabinet.

5. The Taliban ended all peace talks when it took power in Kabul, and has not reopened talks on peace, power-sharing, governance or international commitments.

What leverage does the world have and how is it using it?

Global Levers:

1. UNSC resolutions- A number of UNSC resolutions and the Sanctions regime could be used to stop the Taliban regime from travelling, and from a number of activities

2. Funds freeze- the US at present holds about $7 billion of Afghan sovereign funds, which it could use as incentives for the Taliban to keep commitments- instead the US split about half into an account which it could use to pay 9/11 survivors, and has refused to disburse the other half as officials say those could reach hands of terrorists

3. Withholding recognition- thus far the world has not recognised the Taliban, but as we have seen, this lever has limited impact.

4. Engaging Taliban- opening new, direct talks with the Taliban on keeping commitments, particularly towards women and other global priorities could be one way of enforcing them, but has proven ineffective thus far

5. Afghan refugees- as lakhs of Afghans have taken shelter in other country, the international community could provide them with platforms to speak and mobilise support within Afghanistan. While the Resistance – or Afghanistan

Let’s turn to Indian policy with Afghanistan- which in the past on year appears to be full of contradictions.

Indian policy in Afghanistan:

1. After nearly a year of keeping the Indian Embassy in Kabul closed, the government sent a team of diplomats to reopen the mission, but has not disclosed what it thinks has changed

2. While the Kabul mission will engage the Taliban, oversee distribution of aid and infrastructure projects, it won’t help Afghans get visas to India, nor perform consular duties, a move that many Afghans needing to travel for studies and healthcare have protested- in contrast to the past, when India opened its doors to Afghans, a key reason for the goodwill it enjoys there

3. The government says it is also seeking assurances from the Taliban on fighting terrori groups that target India, yet its interlocutor in the government is the Acting interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani whose group is wanted for attacks on the Indian embassy

4. India is exploring reopening trade with Afghanistan, first by air cargo routes, and then via Iran’s chabahar port, but won’t reopen talks with Pakistan, which at present is the transit route for trade, and arguably has more leverage in Afghanistan

5. India continues to say it is committed to democracy and fighting terrorism- yet its soft approach with both the Myanmar junta and Taliban regime brings that commitment into doubt.

As a result of both India and the World’s responses, one year after taking Kabul, the Taliban is taking away the wrong lessons

Wrong lessons learnt by the Taliban:

1. De Jure Global recognition is irrelevant, De facto recognition is enough

2. No need to keep its promises

3. The second lesson the Taliban have learnt is that stability and the lack of violence gives rise to international complacency.

4. US and allies are distracted easily: Russia-Ukraine/ China-Taiwan

5. International rule of law, democracy and human rights are hard to enforce: examples of Myanmar, Saudi Arabia etc.

Reading recommendation:

1. The Fifth Act: America's End in Afghanistan- by Elliot Ackerman a former marine and now a prolific author, this book is out this month

2. Most Dangerous, Most Unmerciful: Stories from Afghanistan- J Malcolm Garcia, a freelance journalist in Kabul

3. August in Kabul: America's last days in Afghanistan- Andrew Quilty

4. We Are Still Here: Afghan Women on Courage, Freedom, and the Fight to Be Heard-by Nahid Shahlimi, a foreword by Margaret Atwood is the accounts of women who stayed on

5. The Favored Daughter: One Woman's Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future by Fawzia Koofi, a 2013 book about her struggles. She is now in exile.

6. Open Skies: My Life as Afghanistan's First Female Pilot by Niloofar Rahmani

7. The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power by Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad- is expected to be highly critical of US policy,

8. Taliban: The Power of Militant Islam in Afghanistan and Beyond by Ahmed Rashid

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