The Consequences (Part 2)
“The Consequences” is a set of short essays that provides views on Afghanistan’s current situation under the Taliban’s second reign. The second block of this series provides information on the Taliban’s grasp of foreign relations, its response to the international community’s expectations and the resulting impact on the peace and stability of the country and the region.
Does the Taliban have the capability to establish normal international relations?
There is a consensus among most national and international politicians and experts that the Taliban is an ideological fighting group that is actually a subset of an international radical Islamist movement. The Taliban never had, nor has, any idea nor strategy for establishing a capable government in Afghanistan. Its measures to govern Afghanistan after the takeover in mid-August 2021 provide clear evidence that it has little or no capacity of governance and a very limited ability to understand and act on the basis of complex international relations.
Moreover, the Taliban is part of an international Islamic radical movement, and its local and international policies are aligned with overarching objectives of international Islamist radicalism. In addition to the Taliban’s problems in internal and external relations, Pakistan (following a specific agenda vis-à-vis Afghanistan) also has a strong influence in the Taliban’s foreign relations.
After the rapid withdrawal of US and international troops from Afghanistan, which resulted in a quick takeover by the Taliban, Afghanistan is entering a serious humanitarian crisis that will have far-reaching consequences. To avoid this humanitarian crisis, the international community feels obliged to re-engage in Afghanistan. But its pre-conditions for engagement with the Taliban include the establishment of an inclusive and representative government, respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights (in particular women’s rights and minorities’ rights), preservation of the rule of law and preventing Afghanistan from serving international terrorist networks.
Acceptance of these conditions would demonstrate the Taliban’s commitment to stability and peace in Afghanistan and strengthen its relationship with the international community, which would create ground for in-flow of international aid to Afghanistan. However, the Taliban is yet to accept these conditions and seeks to resist the international community. Hence, the Taliban position’s raises the pertinent question of whether the Taliban is capable of establishing normal international relations. If not, what will be the consequences for Afghanistan and the region?
To respond to this question, this article provides specific analysis on: a) The impact that acceptance of the international community’s conditions by the Taliban will have on Afghanistan in general and on the Taliban in particular b) The consequences that Afghanistan and the region will face owing to the Taliban’s rejection of the international community’s conditions, considering its relationship with international Islamic radicalization.
Inclusive and representative government
The Taliban and (in particular) the Haqqani Network know well that they will get no place in a participatory government established on the basis of a democratic election, since the electoral process would entail the end of their existence in Afghanistan or a significant loss of power at the very least . For this reason, democracy, which is initially exercised by means of free and fair elections, stands in stark contrast to the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia Law.
On the other hand, most of Afghanistan’s population (particularly the new and educated generation) don’t align with the Taliban’s ideology. This population of the Afghan people sees the Taliban as a terrorist group serving specific countries’ agendas and as the most serious obstacle in Afghanistan’s modernization and development. Thus, the Taliban would never want these people to take part in the establishment of a participatory government, being counted as a real risk to Talibani governance. This is what openly being declared by the Taliban’s officials. For instance, the statement of the Taliban’s Acting Ministry of Higher Education Abdul Baqi Haqqani, “There is no expectation from the people who studied [in Afghanistan] during the past two decades…,” demonstrates the Taliban’s understanding of the real risk educated people pose to them. Therefore, it is unlikely that the Taliban will accept holding elections and establish an inclusive and participatory government.
Human rights, women’s rights and minorities’ rights
The second condition of the international community also stands in stark contrast to the Taliban’s beliefs. Respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights (in particular women’s rights) requires a society based on the rule of law in accordance with international human rights standards. The Taliban’s commitment to these standards is impossible for two simple reasons: First, the Taliban is incapable of developing mechanisms that follow these standards and that protect human rights; second, accepting these standards will shake the base of the Taliban’s faith and will quickly result in the fragmentation of this ideological group. This is because, at a fundamental level, Taliban ideology is opposed to these values, with decades of training and mobilization of Taliban soldiers to fight against these (so-called western) values, readying them for suicide attacks and to kill those who believe in and respect these values. Therefore, even the minutest inflexion towards human rights and the rule of law in accordance with international standards will result in the ruination of the Taliban.
Moreover, the Taliban’s leadership is dominated by old-fashioned Pashtun political chieftains, molded by an ethnic hegemonic agenda over decades. This agenda is purposefully concealed behind Islamic radicalization to keep this hegemony going strong. Hence, an understanding of Afghanistan’s ethnic composition and the fact that the intelligentsia and most of the Pashtun population are opposed to these destructive objectives inform us that the Taliban’s hegemonic agenda will have very limited operating space in a democratic setting. It is therefore a viable strategy for the Taliban to continuously project the empowerment of other ethnicities as a danger to the interests of Pashtuns and to fuel, mobilize and support ethnic conflicts, in a bid to keep fears rampant amongst all ethnicities all over the country. In this regard, the Taliban’s measures against the Hazara people in Daikundi and Balkh are but one example out of the hundreds.
For this reason, it is logical to accept that the Taliban will continue to remain brutal and commit serious human rights, women’s rights and minorities’ rights violations in the absence of rule of law, to maintain and strengthen its existential philosophy.
Preventing Afghanistan from serving international terrorism
Contrary to the expectations and conditions of the international community, the Taliban’s government will continue serving international terrorist networks, since the Taliban is a key part of an international movement with the radical ideology of Jehad (the holy war) at its core. Thus, the Taliban cannot separate itself from this international movement even if it wanted to, since such a separation would quickly result in its delegitimization as an Islamist group; the Taliban would be dissolved rapidly, and its solders would join alternative terrorist groups that exist across Afghanistan’s geography and continue their holy war. Therefore, no expectation of the Taliban to accept international communities’ conditions in this regard is realistic. It is worth mentioning that the little flexibility shown by the Taliban on the ground with regards to women’s rights, media activities and reduced brutality is a tactical measure to gain international recognition.
To conclude on the basis of the facts and analysis provided: the Taliban will remain connected with international terrorist networks, serving international terrorism to maintain its existential philosophy. Distancing itself from an Islamic extremist ideology and demonstrating flexibility by respecting international human rights law would likely result in the Taliban’s delegitimization as an Islamist group, akin to its ruination. Likewise, an inclusive and participatory government will also be counted as a threat to the existence of the Taliban or at least significantly limit its power; this is because the Taliban has a very limited social base in Afghanistan, and as soon as there is a democratic government based on the rule of law, there will be no space for the Taliban and other Islamist groups and leaders to impose their specific interpretations of Sharia Law on society.
Hence, it is most likely that the Taliban, under pressure and influence of international radical Islamist networks and their regional supporters, would reject conditions laid down by the international community. If this hypothesis holds true, what would be the possible scenarios and consequences?
Likely scenarios and consequences
First scenario: The Taliban will join a regional Islamist forum likely to be initiated by Islamic countries in the region and will be supported by Russia, China and as well as international radical Islamist networks. In this scenario, the Taliban will be a strong tool in the hand of these powers to threaten the interests of the West in the region and all over the world.
Second scenario: The Taliban will turn to China to receive support in exchange for Afghanistan minerals and territory and establish a dictatorship, running the country under draconian laws. But this deal will impact international geopolitics and geoeconomics.
Third scenario: There is already a serious existing conflict between different Taliban factions with respect to distribution of power. If the Taliban’s government doesn’t receive enough support from neighboring countries and international radical Islamist networks, its solders will be their first enemies, and the Taliban’s government will rapidly collapse due to internal tensions. Fragmentation of the Taliban will result in the empowerment of the Islamic State of Khorasan, Jundullah, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and other terrorist groups. Increased drug production, trafficking, migration and terrorism will be the first outcomes of this scenario.
https://www.cnbc.com/2021/09/08/terrorism-to-increase-under-afghanistans-new-taliban-government.html, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/17/world/asia/taliban-afghanistan-al-qaeda.html, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/taliban-afghanistan