August 15th, 2021, was a day of triumph for the Afghan Taliban. Their sweep through Afghanistan and collapse of the Afghan Republic armed forces then known as the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) was seen as a military master stroke.
The departure of then President of the Republican government Mohammad Ashraf Ghani sealed the Taliban’s power on Kabul.
The ragtag group of fighters commenced their return to mainstream on the right note promising to be a moderate and modern version of the Taliban 1.0 – the first time the so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) was in power in Kabul from 1996 to 2001.
The IEA promised amnesty to all including soldiers of the ANDSF, not to ill-treat fellow Afghans and decrees were also issued by the Supreme Authority sitting in Kandahar Mullah Haibatullah.
The Taliban promised equal rights to women as per Sharia, an inclusive society in their own vision and sought recognition by the international community blaming foreign powers – the United States and NATO for collapse of administration in the country.
The progress towards stability raised some hopes of the Taliban 2.0 mainstreaming with the international community and the United Nations amongst others called for engaging with the Defacto Authority in Kabul.
However, nine months after, the plot is unraveling and it seems that Afghanistan may be moving slowly towards doom due to regression to old ways replicated in the 4 I’s – Ideology, Inclusiveness, Insurrection, and Information.
While drawing their roots from Deobandi ideology spawned in Western Uttar Pradesh in India but one that has been impacted by many conservative interventions, the Taliban is adopting its own extreme version of Sharia.
With a restricted world view the leadership or leader in Kandahar continues to believe that women are not equal citizens should be restricted to the home and hearth and appear in public fully veiled from the head to toe.
Education for women is also passe. The vigorous enforcement of these dictats has had a backlash from the international community, but the Taliban don’t seem to care as the moderates have been either sidelined or are afraid to raise their voice.
Some women organizations in Kabul as the Junbish-e-Zanan Muqtadir of Afghanistan in reaction to the Islamic Emirate's new rules for women’s hijab held a protest in Shahr-e-Naw on May 10 as per Afghan media.
The so-called Ministry of Virtue and Vice is the most powerful in the government which has been issuing and enforcing dictats by the day placing restrictions including on shaving by men and wearing of headgear.
The aspiration by the IEA for formal recognition of the State is unlikely to come about as the regressive ideology cannot facilitate their mainstreaming in the international system of today. US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price in remarks at a press conference after the decree on veils was issued said, “We have expressed our deep dismay, we have expressed our deep concern with what we have seen from the Taliban, with what we have heard from the Taliban in recent days and in recent weeks.”
While women may not have equal rights in all respects in many countries but are not subjected to the degree of subservience being imposed by Taliban in Afghanistan today.
The Taliban claim that the government which is seen as an “acting,” one is inclusive and comprises of all communities within the country including some representatives of the Republic government. However, a cursory glance at the listing of acting ministers, governors and other officials will denote that the presence of Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras is noticeable in exception.
As far as former officials of the Republic some have been integrated by force while on record there are only a few officers and soldiers who have joined the Taliban ranks. The most public ones stated so far have been two surgeons who had served in the ANDSF.
The decree by Mullah Haibatullah has been violated with many reports of brutal treatment and torture of former ANDSF members.
Having access to the biometric national identity system, there are fears that a systematic campaign of revenge is being enforced against those who assisted foreign government and forces in the past.
While there were reports of Taliban having held several meetings with Tajik leaders in Iran including Ahmad Masood [unconfirmed] and Ismail Khan, incorporating their representatives in any form of government is not evident.
Without inclusiveness again recognition of the IEA by the international community is unlikely.
Enforcement of ideology, intolerance and exclusivity has led emergence of serious fault lines and the first signs of an insurrection are evident.
There are many elements which are slowly propping up the most significant group is the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA) led by Masood and the former Vice President Amrullah Saleh. Others are also making the mark such as
Influence of these groups and clashes with the Taliban have been reported from Panjshir, Baghlan
There are reports of Uzbeks owing loyalty to Ahmad Rashid Dostum coagulating in Iran. With limited open-source information confirmation is difficult but there is smoke and thus fire cannot be far away.
A detailed report in the Voice of America (VOA), which could not be independently confirmed, the number of resistance groups have been mapped including the NRFA, Afghanistan Freedom Front led by General Yasin Zia, a former defense minister and chief of general staff, Afghanistan Islamic National & Liberation Movement the only major Pashtun anti-Taliban group led by Abdul Mateen Sulaimankhail, a former Afghan Army special forces commander.
The VOA report also cites cells aligned to Tajik leader Atta Mohammad Noor, others calling themselves Freedom Corps, Liberation Front of Afghanistan, Liberation Front of Afghanistan, Soldiers of Hazaristan, Freedom and Democracy Front and so on.
Some of these may be just creations on social media and lack the heft to pose a serious security challenge to the Taliban. But the first embers have been lit.
Once these groups get external support and coordinate their operations, they may pose a different challenge that the IEA cannot wish away.
Another dimension is the potent threat of the Islamic Emirate of Khorasan (ISK) that is emerging which has continued to launch a series of violent suicide attacks in the past and was most prominent during the Ramzan period. Shia Hazaras continue to be on their adversarial radar.
The Taliban have not demonstrated the capability for control of the insurrectionists.
The Acting Defence and Interior Ministers – Mullah Yaqoob and Sirajuddin Haqqani are said to be the most influential but have not been able to organize an effective force of resistance which can meet the challenge of the insurrections that are likely to spawn in larger numbers in the days ahead.
The most significant difference between the Taliban 1.0 and 2.0 is management of information. Media which had proliferated in Afghanistan during the Republic period is now completely controlled by the central leadership.
As a result, denial, deception, obfuscation, and misinformation is the “news,” of the day. Cocooned in their bubbles the IEA seem to believe their own fakes.
Application of many filters means that the top leadership does not receive the right information and Mullah Haibatullah ensconced in his seminary in Kandahar is remains unaware of the situation on the ground, including implementation of his famous decrees.
To the international media as well the Taliban claim that their government is inclusive, promise restoration of rights of education to girls and holding of an all-encompassing meeting at the national level, loathing the use of the traditional Afghan word Loya Jirga.
Elusive, “carrots,” are being floated as hopes for the waiting international community in the belief that a combination of guilt, repentance and humanitarian concern may lead to continuing goodwill and largesse.
The outcome of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan is a deep humanitarian crisis. For instance, a study conducted in January and February by partners, including the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), sister agency the World Food Programme (WFP), and many non-governmental organizations has indicated that nearly 20 million people in Afghanistan are facing acute hunger.
The stream of refugees to Iran and Pakistan despite the poor conditions they face is growing.
The IEA hopes that they will exploit mixture of sentiment in the international community in post August 15 era of guilt, repentance, humanitarian concern and non-abandonment of the people at large along with emerging geo-political rifts to survive the 4 I’s.
They are exploiting mercantilist aspirations and appetite for minerals of the Chinese and the Russian craving for breaking the isolation by the US and the West post the Ukraine war
However, without tangible progress on the ground in terms of governance, administration, and security, even the Chinese are not likely to back up the IEA.
With the 4 I’s the immediate future of Afghanistan is bleak, we will follow the drivers in the days ahead.