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No possibility of reverting to the 1990s Afghanistan

Sep 08,2021 - Last updated at Sep 08,2021

While it is hardly surprising that US and British intelligence failed to predict the Taliban's rapid take-over of Afghanistan, it is curious that the Taliban itself did not foresee its early victory and prepare to govern as soon as it took over. Consequently, Taliban leaders have squabbled over posts and ideology, while Afghans have grown impatient over their failure to form a government and provide services for the population and answers on how Afghansare meant to behave under the new regime.

While the names of provisional Taliban ministers were touted soon after the US completed its withdrawal and last week Taliban spokesman Bilal Karim announced a "consensus" had been reached over appointments to a new governing council. It was predicted that the cabinet would be announced on September 3. That deadline came and went.

Rifts among Taliban factions delayed appointments until Tuesday when a 33-member all male caretaker council of loyalists and associates was announced with certain key posts left empty.  Prestigious senior ministerial posts were packed with veteran ethnic Pashtun mullahs, with one Uzbek and two Tajiks being the exception, but have not met the Taliban’s promise of forming an “inclusive” government. The fact that the posts of health, education, and welfare ministries which serve the Afghan people, remain to be filled.

Disputes had, reportedly, arisen involving Doha-based and Quetta-based politicians and fighters on the ground in Afghanistan, including the Haqqani faction which has been put in charge of security in Kabul. The Haqqani Network had, apparently, refused to accept as supreme leader the movement’s spiritual mentor Haibatullah Akhundzada, who has lived in Quetta in Pakistan and heads the “Quetta Shura”, and to agree to the inclusion of figures from former governments, notably ex-president Hamid Karzai and government negotiator Abdullah Abdullah.

Writing for the US-based website, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute argued that "a unitary Taliban has always been illusionary." He said, The "Quetta Shura is different from the Haqqani Network [which] is different from the Northern Taliban". According to Rubin, Taliban who regard themselves as Afghan nationalists oppose Taliban who follow the line adopted by the ISI. While Pakistani officials vehemently reject this reading of the situation, at least 1,000 mainly women protested Pakistani interference in their country’s affairs on Tuesday in front of the Pakistan embassy in Kabul.

Now that it is in control of almost all Afghanistan, the Taliban has to overcome internal dissent and divisions and govern. The Taliban will be judged on whether it respects human rights and deals with violations perpetrated by its own followers. As the sole authority, the Taliban has to handle day-to-day delivery of services, payment of civil servants, teachers, doctors and nurses and repair the country's broken economy. Unless it has some success with these tasks, the Taliban will not be able to access $9 billion in Afghan currency reserves deposited in a New York Bank, nearly $400 million from the International Monetary Fund, and World Bank financial aid.

The Taliban has seized control of a country gripped with multiple crises. Forty years of conflict, misrule, natural disasters, and four years of drought have impoverished nearly half the Afghan population of 38 million.

Before the Taliban took over, 18.4 million people depended on foreign humanitarian aid and protection, one third of Afghans faced food insecurity, and more than half of all children under five risked malnutrition. The World Food Programme and other humanitarian aid organisations have continued to import supplies and carry out deliveries to communities in need despite instability.

Due to the increase in hostilities in recent months, 570,000 Afghans have been rendered homeless and thousands have fled the country. During the first half of this year, the UN reported that 1,659 civilians were killed and 3,524 wounded, the latter stretching the country's poorly maintained and underfunded hospitals and clinics already challenged by uncontained COVID. The World Health Organisation has warned that if international aid shipments are disrupted, 2,000 — 90 per cent of donor-funded clinics, could close, depriving the country of a functioning healthcare system. The Taliban has no time to waste in squabbles over ministerial posts and ideology. Most Afghans have not welcomed the latest take-over as they did in 1996 when the movement ended years of civil conflict waged by the warlords who had been involved in the campaign against the Soviet occupation.

At that time, the Taliban alienated many Afghans by imposing its harsh version of Muslim canon law, Sharia, as well as restrictive ultraconservative cultural and social practices. The Pushtun Taliban also persecuted the Hazara and Tajik communities and other minorities. Afghanistan was internationally isolated during this period of Taliban rule. Consequently, US and NATO forces were greeted with enthusiasm when they drove the Taliban from power in 2001 following the attacks on New York and Washington by Al Qaeda, which was allied to the Taliban and based in Afghanistan.

There is no possibility of reverting to the 1990s. Afghanistan's cities and towns have changed dramatically over the past 20 years. They have joined the 21st century. Schools and universities have opened, cultural centres created, women have joined the workforce and been appointed to senior positions in the government and civil service, infrastructure projects have improved the country's electricity grid, television, the internet and mobile phones have been introduced.

Cowed and humiliated during the Taliban's previous reign, women have already mounted protests in Herat and Kabul against such treatment now that the movement has returned to power. As they have the backing of the Western powers and much of the international community, the Taliban has to avoid anti-female policies and actions. Women are, after all, at least half of the population and are determined to have a voice. Having had a taste of freedom, many are determined to resist Taliban-dictated seclusion and separation.

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