The complexion of the Taliban government indicates restoration of old order
The recently announced Taliban government defies the group’s rhetoric about an inclusive political set up. It is the restoration of the old regressive order under the banner of the ‘Islamic Emirate.’ The complexion of the cabinet indicates the return of the old guard who dominated the previous Taliban regime.
There is no woman in the new cabinet and few representations from minority ethnic groups. Out of 33 ministers, 14 were part of the previous Taliban rule that was ousted by the American invasion in October 2001. They now hold all top positions in the Taliban 2.0. The cabinet is overwhelmingly dominated by hardline Kandahar factions close to Mullah Omar, the late supreme leader of the Taliban movement. The Haqqani network, which operates in eastern Afghanistan, has also got significant representation in the cabinet.
Although it is described as a caretaker arrangement, the Taliban have not indicated any intention of forming a broad based administration in the future. The return of hardliners has diminished the hope of the Taliban 2.0 taking a break from its past medieval approach to governance. Some of the members of the new government have made it clear that women can only work in restricted fields.
Such pronouncements could make it more difficult for the international community to recognize the new regime. The move has come as a huge disappointment even for the countries which were advocating for cooperating with Taliban rule.
Most of the Taliban cabinet members are under UN sanction and on its travel ban list. An inclusive government insuring human rights particularly women’s right to work and their access to education could have helped in removing international restrictions on the group.
The announcement of the new political setup came soon after the Taliban forces captured Panjshir valley. With the fall of the last pocket of resistance, the Taliban now virtually control the entire country. The fall of Panjshir valley, which had remained out of the Taliban’s control during their previous rule, has huge symbolic value.
The move has come as a huge disappointment even for the countries which were advocating for cooperating with Taliban rule.
Now the Taliban have control of greater Afghan territories than they had in the 1990’s. The group has fully established its rule in the war-ravaged country with the last bastion of opposition gone. Yet the transformation from an insurgent group to one in power has not been smooth. Governing a bitterly divided land ravaged by decades of conflict is perhaps more difficult than winning a war. The challenges ahead are monumental for the new rulers.
Perhaps the most serious challenge for the Taliban 2.0 is to maintain unity within their ranks. Many of the ideological and factional differences that were swept aside during the war could resurface with the group now in power. The composition of the interim government dominated by two Pashtun factions could further widen the cleavage.
Moreover, the struggle between the moderates who would want to take a break from some of the harshest legacies of the previous dispensation and the hardliners who are not willing to reform could sharpen. While the Taliban may have appeared as a monolith during the war, the differences were tangible. The end of the war has widened those fault lines.
Many of the commanders in the field have not been represented in the power structure. Among them are those who joined the resistance as teenagers after the fall of the Taliban government in December 2001. The political leadership that negotiated the peace deal with the Americans mostly comprised veterans who were not in the field.
They seemed to have greater exposure to the outside world and a relatively better understanding of the new reality. Unsurprisingly, they appear more moderate in their views, at least in their statements. Surely one would not have expected a complete transformation of the conservative movement that has fought the war for over two decades.
Yet most observers believed that learning from the past they would take a more moderate path on women’s rights and accept pluralism in order to be recognized by the outside world. It’s also important for the new government to deal with other pressing challenges. The Taliban cannot rule the country through brute force.
It is not the same Afghanistan of the 1990’s when they could enforce their harsh social order. The new generation of Afghans who are better educated and have greater awareness about their situation will not accept the leap backward. The recent demonstration led by women is a manifestation of the brewing resistance to the attempt to curb their rights.
The complexion of the new Afghan government is indicative of the future course of Taliban 2.0. But the restoration of retrogressive rule isolated from the international community cannot bring stability to the country.