2021 has been a catastrophic year for Afghanistan which saw the Republic government collapsing under the weight of a Taliban led offensive which exploited multiple fault lines in the country from ideological to political to security.
Emergence of what is variously known as Taliban government, the self-declared Islamic Emirate or Defacto Authority [which will be variously indicated through this trends report] has seen chaos in multiple spheres the significant sign of which is refugees making
a beeline out of the country despite uncertainty of survival across the borders, be it Iran, Pakistan or Central Asia.
Photo Source - Wikipedia Commons
The situation is so grave that the Taliban's so-called Emir or Supreme Authority Mullah Habibullah Akhundzada has passed a decree calling for addressing the grievances of the people at large to prevent the exodus.
While transition of governance in any country and mainly so Afghanistan which had weak systems in place under the Republic administration is a painful process, descent into chaos given the collapse on August 15th in the last four months was possibly not anticipated.
Under the circumstances obtained presently in Afghanistan what trends could be anticipated in the country in 2022, will these lead to a general improvement in situation which can at best expect to be disorder or will this be a further decline into a feral state remains to be seen? Here is a prognostication based on internal and external key drivers such as political consensus in Kabul, governance, economy, international and regional support, security and humanitarian response.
For a government to be successful in administering a country and obtain international recognition, internal political consensus is essential. Presently there are multiple serrations that are evident
The Taliban is facing a crisis of factionalism as quest of power has led to disunity. One of the first signs of the same was differences between Mullah Baradarwho led talks with the United States in Doha and the Haqqani network, the latter having quickly usurped power of controls in the capital Kabul. Underlying these differences may also be inclination of the factions towards Pakistan.
These disputes are unlikely to be resolved smoothly and the so-called Supreme Authority Hibatullah Akhundzada remains an unknown factor for now and how far he will influence the top leaders to reconcile remains to be seen?
Thus factional fighting within the Taliban on ethnic lines, with other major political groups such as the former Republic leaders is expected to exacerbate in the year ahead.
Former president Hamid Karzai has indicated that he has handed over a plan to the acting government to convene the Loya Jirga on a future government and implement the Zahir Shah-era constitution. The Taliban is not expected to hold such a gathering as this will be against the Emirate system's preferred mode of governance.
The so-called supreme authority of the Taliban Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada has remained in the background, issuing decrees from time to time. He has made the first public appearance during the year and also held a meeting with Kandahar's local officials, including the governor. Hibatullah Akhundzada, issued a statement calling for conditions that will reduce the number of Afghans seeking to leave the country. He has also issued a decree on women's rights in marriage which is a replication of relevant sections of the Sharia and cannot be seen as concessions by the Defacto Authority.
Governance will continue to remain weak even though a number of acting ministers, governors and officials have been appointed.
Reluctance of the Taliban to incorporate officials of the Republic government is one of the key challenges that will be faced in governance, particularly in the economic and financial ministries and institutions including the banking sector.
Without effective governance, delivery to the people at large will remain poor and continued distress of a failed state can be anticipated ahead.
The willingness of the Taliban to integrate the former governance structures and administration will remain the key determining driver in governance.
The Afghan National Resistance Front leader, which opposes the Taliban Ahmad Massoud, is said to be currently in Tajikistan along with the former Vice President Amrullah Saleh and the former Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammadi. Multiple Afghan groups are reportedly in Europe and the United States who are said to be working on forming a resistance lobby. Ahmad Masoud is reported to have with the head of the notorious private militia- Blackwater- Erik Prince in the Tajik capital Dushanbe. This Resistance movement is expected to gather steam in 2022, but the actual impact may not be substantial.
On the Security front, the security leadership has declared regrouping of the national army as an objective, including Mullah Yaqoub the acting defence minister. A strength of 100,000 is planned and corps HQs with commanders have been nominated in the same locations as the erstwhile Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF). A general amnesty has been declared for the former ANDSF and the National Directorate of Security (NDS) personnel, but reports from the ground indicate that a number of these personnel have been targeted by the Taliban fighters. As per Khamaa press, 20 countries including the US, released a joint statement on December 5 expressed concern over summary killings and the disappearance of former Afghan military personnel by the Taliban based on a Human Rights Watch report. United Nations has similarly issued a report indicating 100 former ANDSF personnel killed. The writ of the Taliban commanders appears to be weak.
Reports of ANDSF and NDS personnel joining the Islamic State of Khorasan have been received which need to be confirmed. In an interview with the Associated Press, US General McKenzie, commander of Central Command, has warned that Al-Qaeda and ISIS networks have been growing in Afghanistan.
Presently by mid December, apart from the Corps Hqs, training of personnel possibly for transition to a security and counter-terrorism role and formation of counter-terrorist units as Badr 313 and Mansouri force have been proclaimed apart from some demonstration exercises including helicopters. The possibility of the Taliban creating a cohesive military force by the end of 2022 appears to be remote for now.
International and Regional Support
The Taliban has been complaining about the lack of international community recognition for the current Afghan government as unjust. The UN General Assembly voted to defer a decision on Afghanistan's representation at the world body, by Suhail Shaheen the Taliban representative and ambassador from the former government retains the seat for the time being. The change of representation is not likely to come about without a formal recognition of the government by the UN and countries particularly the United States.
In the regional and international sphere, multiple groupings are emerging that are deliberating on establishing links with the Taliban. Pakistan is generally part of all the groups. China, United States, and Russia are the other important members while the European Union includes states like Germany, India, and a role to play. Among the Gulf States, Qatar, Turkey, and the UAE have established some connectivity with the Taliban government in Kabul.
Pakistan is keen to possibly recognise the Taliban government and is calling for early humanitarian assistance while other states are ambivalent. While Pakistan is a key player, a recognition that it does not have the heft to push the same and thus is roping in China and Russia amongst others to create favourable circumstances for the same. A Troika Plus [Pakistan, United States, China and Afghanistan] conference will follow the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) foreign ministers meet on Afghanistan in Islamabad on December 19. The quadrilateral meeting between representatives from Russia, China, US and Pakistan
India has flown in medical and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan while bringing back Hindus and Sikhs in that country in a chartered flight. This could not have come about without the approval of the Islamic Emirate in Kabul thus indicating some level of contact between India and the Taliban.
For recognition of the Taliban benchmarks established by the European Union for recognition of the Taliban are likely to remain the most significant for use by others . These are Afghanistan should not serve as a base for the export of terrorism to other countries, Respect for human rights, especially women's rights, the rule of law and freedom of media, formation of an inclusive and representative government,
Allow free access to humanitarian aid provided by the EU, Provide safe passage for foreign nationals and at-risk Afghans. Of these, the Islamic Emirate is unlikely to accept three that are the main ones: Afghanistan should not be a hub for terror export, women's rights and freedom of the media, and inclusive government.
While a number of countries may establish their missions in some form in Kabul, formal recognition is unlikely in 2022.
Revival of the Afghan economy appears to be way off due to a number of factors, including the collapse of the banking system, growth of the underground economy as businesses have lost faith in the governance system, including currency and fiscal transactions. Customs revenue has commenced while claims have been made of reduction of corruption by the Taliban which remain unsubstantiated.
Over $9 billion of Afghanistan's central bank assets have remained frozen as per the Tolonews. There is no mention of the right of women to work or to education, thus indicating that the regime continues to seek to restrict the public activity for females.
While the Taliban has sought release of assets held by the United States, the US has steadfastly refused the same and is likely to use this as a leverage in the days ahead.
While some attempts are being made to kick start projects such as the Mes Aynak copper-mining project in the Logar province and the Turkmenistan Afghanistan Pakistan and India (TAPI) pipeline, these are not likely to fructify tangibly in the immediate term and benefit the economy.
Omicron concerns are evident across the World reporting of COVID 19 cases in Afghanistan and the treatment is the key facility Afghan-Japan hospital is impacted due to lack of testing kits for the omicron variant. A formal vaccination programme has also not been declared, and all vaccines are likely to be distributed amongst the top leaders and fighters of the Taliban and no structured programme is evident.
The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is acute, and UN agencies have taken to direct payments in cash to employees of UN agencies, teachers, health workers and so on to keep the system going. On the other hand, direct cash is also being provided to Afghanistan's Central Bank- De Afghanistan Bank for instance on December 02 fund was given by United Nations Assistant Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). World Bank has decided to transfer $280 million in aid to Afghanistan through WFP and UNICEF. US special representative for Afghanistan Thomas West has indicated that $474 million aid and assistance is planned in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.