Afghan Taliban rule in 2022: What went wrong and how to look ahead


Afghan Taliban rule in 2022: What went wrong and how to look ahead

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When Taliban re-took control of Afghanistan in August 2021, the circumstances were entirely different from the 1990’s when they first emerged on the Afghan scene. For the past 20 years, Taliban had not only been fighting US and NATO forces, but for a decade were part of an international peace process, making them cognizant of international norms and expectations. In addition, today Afghanistan’s 40 million people include 65% of its youth who aspire for stability and economic development.

That is why in the wake of US/NATO withdrawal, Afghan people were willing to accept Taliban forming a government in Afghanistan, but had expected that they would gradually evolve a participative framework conforming to Afghanistan’s realities and create conditions for people to have normal lives and opportunities for work.

In the first five months or so, Taliban’s engagement with neighbours, the region and the international community radiated optimism. Security, law and order and access to all parts of the country was improved and many countries and international organizations interested in economic development in Afghanistan such as the EU were considering re-opening their full diplomatic presence in Kabul.

Unfortunately, during 2022 things changed for the worse. The ideologues in Taliban movement took the front seat, arguing that moderates’ approach of appeasement of major powers has not worked. They retreated on their commitment to a dialogue on intra-Afghan political inclusivity, which is vital for Afghanistan being a multi-ethnic country.

Pakistan in particular has to strive hard to dispel the widely held perception (or misperception) in Afghanistan and elsewhere about its alleged interference in Afghanistan.

Mansoor Khan

The Afghan interim government took several regressive measures to restrict Afghan people’s basic rights and freedoms. In March, they placed restrictions on education of girls in high schools. In December, they even suspended university education for girls. Restrictions on women’s access to work and business continue to increase. Women also face problems in their movement without their ‘mehrams’ or male relatives.

In the Doha Agreement, Taliban had pledged they would not allow the use of their soil for terrorism against any other country, but this commitment has remained unfulfilled. While global terrorist groups like Daesh and Al-Qaeda have continued terrorism in Afghanistan, regional terrorist groups such as TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan), ETIM (East Turkistan Islamic Movement) and IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) have become increased threats for Pakistan, China and Central Asian countries.

The Afghan interim government is also having issues in engagement with neighbouring countries. In the case of Pakistan, despite long border and close linkages, bilateral engagement during 2022 has shown strains.

By the end of 2022, the situation in Afghanistan worsened and there is no clarity on a way out. Afghanistan, reaching this dire strait in the past five decades, is the a shared responsibility. First, currently the Afghan Taliban controlling the Afghan state and government are responsible for not understanding the aspirations of their people and addressing their needs and suffering. Second, the deployment of foreign troops ranging from Soviet Union to US/NATO in recent years have taken the country nowhere. It has only propelled warlordism, intolerance, militancy, bad governance, corruption and plundering of the wealth.

Third, Afghan political leaders and parties who remained in power during the past two decades and had the opportunity to use international assistance to consolidate Afghanistan politically and economically wasted an important opportunity for their selfish motives. Lastly, neighbouring and regional countries also cannot be absolved for their inability to evolve a regional compact which could have paved the way for regional connectivity to yield shared prosperity.

The way forward will certainly require addressing these shortcomings and managing competing interests. The most prudent way to address the Afghan challenges is to deal with these in a political manner. Military means to remove Taliban and replace them with other Afghan groups has not worked in the past, and if tried again, is likely to lead to greater chaos and internal fragmentation. The effort should be to revive an intra-Afghan political dialogue according to current ground realities particularly involving Afghan youth representatives present in Afghanistan.

Economic restrictions should be eased and banking operations be resumed. These restrictions are causing suffering to common Afghans and promoting the use of illegal channels for business transactions. These measures can be used as incentive for enticing Taliban into a wider political dialogue.

Pakistan in particular has to strive hard to dispel the widely held perception (or misperception) in Afghanistan and elsewhere about its alleged interference in Afghanistan. The course of events in Afghanistan has confirmed two conclusions. One, Afghanistan is an independent and sovereign country and should be treated as such no matter which Afghan party or group is in power. Two, smooth engagement between Afghanistan and Pakistan in political and economic fields is a mutual interest as well as a great need for the people on both sides. It is important for promoting durable peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region.

- Mansoor Ahmad Khan is Pakistan's former ambassador to Afghanistan. Former ambassador of Pakistan to Austria & PR to UN Vienna. Ex Chairman UN CND. Twitter @ambmansoorkhan

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