Unwise to ignore the forces pitted against Taliban government

Unwise to ignore the forces pitted against Taliban government

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It will be naïve for Taliban to think they have finally won the battle for supremacy in Afghanistan. Complacency can be deceptive. Overwhelmed by the tide of events in August last year, the Taliban at times appear to have lost sense of the perspective in which they have to operate and deliver.

The peace that now prevails in Afghanistan may face considerable hurdles in the months to come if a long-term vision that is rooted in ground realities is not formulated soon. It is also crucial to consider how many forces both internally and externally are endeavoring to create an environment that has the potential to destabilize the Taliban government.

The warlords who fled the country as Taliban swept into power in August have not given up their struggle to regain power and influence. Abdur Rashid Dostam, the powerful and ruthless leader of the Uzbeks, is waiting for any opportunity to stage a comeback and galvanise support on the back of an ethnic slogan of confronting Pukhtun domination of Northern Afghanistan. No less formidable a foe is Ustad Ata Mohmammad, nor a former long serving ruler of Balkh and a strong leader of Tajiks—the second largest ethnic community in the country. Some leaders of Hazaras are weighing their chances for a return to the era when they exploited their positions for personal gains. But alongside ethnic leaders, there are political opponents who have their own party organizations. Professor Sayyaf, an influential warlord during the Soviet war would also like to be part of a dispensation that recognizes his worth as a former leader. Hizb-i-Islami chief, Gulbadin Hekmatyar, considered by many to be the most ambitious warlord, is living quietly in Kabul. But he has not accepted Taliban rule and will seek any chance to mount an effective challenge to their rule. The Panjsheri clan of the late Ahmad Shah Masood is trying to seek the assistance of Iran and some Central Asian countries to regain their once dominant role in the country’s politics.

The peace that now prevails in Afghanistan may face considerable hurdles in the months to come if a long-term vision that is rooted in ground realities is not formulated soon.

Rustam Shah Mohmand

What must worry the Taliban leadership is that these rivals may not be able to gather political or ethnic support on their own, but can exploit any violence or disturbance breaking out. They will also continue to seek the support of countries such as Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to help in initiating a movement for destabilizing the government. All such aspirants for power have an opportunity to exploit poverty, unemployment, food insecurity, a lack of medical care, the inability of the government to pay salaries. Disgruntled leaders are happy to see Taliban in deep trouble because of escalating economic hardships faced both by the people and the government. The situation is alarming. Millions face starvation with children and women being the worst sufferers.

Any widespread discontent has the potential to generate a wave of indignation and resentment anywhere-- and political rivals are there to seize the opportunity. As frustration grows and people lose hope of an economic recovery, there will arise impulses to confront the administration. That will be a moment of deep concern. There are external forces too anxious to tap into the myriad grievances and disenchantment of the people.

Confronted with such daunting challenges, the Taliban will need to put their house in order and soon. The decision to close girls’ schools came as a big shock and surprise to many both inside and outside Afghanistan. The US secretary of State and the UN Secretary General both condemned the move, emphasizing it would increase the Taliban’s isolation. At a time when Taliban should be focusing on garnering support and gaining international legitimacy, such a move will backfire with unwelcome implications. Girls’ education is their fundamental right. The sooner the Taliban accept this reality, the better. They will also would need to reach out to Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmen, Hazaras  and take them into confidence on the regime’s plans for socio-economic development.

At the core of Afghanistan’s reconstruction must be the exploitation of huge mineral reserves estimated to be worth more than $1.5 trillion!

This is a stupendous task . But all human and material resources will have to be mobilized to bring about change and put the country onto a sustainable trajectory of peace and stability. In such a scenario, it will be unwise to ignore the threat posed to the Taliban regime by the many forces pitted against it.

- Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.

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