Understanding the Taliban for what they are

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While it is undeniable that the Taliban subscribe to an ideology, they also engage in cynical politics

A realistic assessment of the circumstances in which it is to operate should have led the Taliban regime in Afghanistan to take a moderate course. Instead, he sent unmistakable signs of a preference for extremism. A particular state of mind is almost certainly at play, but to attribute the dissonance solely to that factor would be wrong.

The stubbornness of the Taliban

Afghanistan is in desperate need of financial assistance from the international community. It’s not just because of the looming food crisis, which could push hundreds of thousands of people to the brink of starvation within weeks. Donors are likely to provide food aid on time. But the government has no money to pay salaries or run the machines.

Before the US shutdown in mid-August, it was estimated to take care of 80% of government spending in Afghanistan. Several billion dollars in Afghan government funds have now been frozen by the US Federal Reserve. Other donor countries and the International Monetary Fund have also cut financial flows. Russia, Iran and the Central Asian republics cannot take over; China believes in loans, not grants; and Pakistan is a close case of the basket. The only source of revenue the Kabul authorities can hope to tap are customs payments and much of these could be diverted by the militias controlling the border checkpoints.

Western countries are unlikely to recognize the Taliban regime as a legitimate government – a necessary condition for loosening the purse strings – unless it meets three conditions: Kabul will have to ensure that terrorist groups do not find it. refuge in Afghanistan; the rights of women and minorities must be protected; and government must be inclusive. But judging by the first steps they took after taking power, the Taliban do not seem troubled by these demands or the consequences of non-compliance. In forming a cabinet, the Taliban defiantly signaled that they were inclined to bring their country back to the despotism they had imposed during their previous spell in power. The diehard pakhtoons control most of the ministries, other ethnicities have only symbolic representation and women have been excluded. Hints as to how this lot would soon rule followed. The education ministry ordered the return of male teachers and students to high school, but made no mention of the educators or students. Workers were told to stay home until appropriate systems are in place to keep them safe. There is no longer a ministry for women; the Taliban brought down the ministry for the propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice. They have banned protests that do not have their approval.

Minor concessions on the demand for inclusion of non-Pakhtoons are unlikely to satisfy the world or other ethnic groups in Afghanistan. The formation of the ministry added another obstacle to the flow of funds. Many cabinet members are on the UN Sanctions List and the US Counterterrorism List. The United States could even impose sanctions on other countries that provide assistance to this Cabinet.

Given these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, why has the Taliban been so stubborn? A sensible step would have been to show compliance, gain recognition in order to establish diplomatic relations and circulate funds. The rebirth of the hard line could have been postponed until the regime’s position as a legitimate entity was secured. Other governments would have found it more difficult to sever ties than to refuse recognition outright.

A mixture of militias

The general belief is that the Taliban are fanatically devoted to a pre-modern worldview. This narrative is designed to entrench in the consciousness of the world the idea that the young Talibs form the heart of this enterprise and believe so strongly in everything they have been taught that they will turn against their political leaders if there is any. has any deviation from the world view. and the policies they adopt. The story goes that any compromise on the part of elders or nominal superiors will push these young talibés to join the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP).

It’s time to call that bluff. Young talibés, whether from villages or refugee camps, are probably all true Muslims and most might have some respect for their mullahs. But they are not as little exposed to the world as the generation that came before them. According to reports, they had no inhibitions in posing for photos or listening to music, activities frowned upon by strict conservatives. The previous generation of Talibs could have respected Osama bin Laden for sacrificing a life of luxury to join the jihad. But that did not motivate them to join al-Qaeda even though bin Laden took an oath of allegiance to his revered leader, Mullah Omar. After all, there were no Afghans among the 19 militants associated with September 11. If this was the case at the height of jihadism, there seems little reason to believe that these young men will drift into the IS-KP from now on. Are the extremists who have taken the favored government positions likely to make common cause with the IS-KP if they are prevented from implementing their policies? They subscribe to an ideology which is a mixture of Pakhtoonwali (the old tribal code) and a paternalistic interpretation of the Sharia. Dedication to the cause has not stopped them from diverting aid intended for refugees to investments in the Gulf and luxury housing in Quetta. They are certainly conservative and ruthless. But their proclamation of intention to establish a system based on their own interpretation of selected Islamic texts appears nothing more than cynical politics.

Overall, the impression that one seeks to create is that the Taliban movement is a monolith controlled by the extremists and unstoppable. In reality, the Taliban are a mixture of militias that are constantly repositioning themselves in relation to each other. Designations such as defense minister make little sense when the army no longer exists, and Mullah Yaqoob has full control only over men from his locality. Other militias co-opted to serve with his men could move away over time. Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has taken possession of his Home Office’s intelligence files, and who has the power to appoint governors, could be the only real winner here. Resistance to his appointment may have been a factor that led the chief of inter-agency intelligence, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, to intervene directly in the formation of the Afghan ministry. Haqqani’s ascendancy certainly pushes Pakistan’s agenda forward. But the road ahead is strewn with pitfalls in Afghanistan, where fault lines run in all directions. Pakistan knows that it faces a difficult task inside the territory of its western neighbor. Meanwhile, he seems determined to reap all the benefits he can. By pushing its proteges to intransigence, Pakistan can present itself before the world as the only entity capable of controlling madmen.

Kesava Menon is a senior journalist whose other articles can be read at [email protected]

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