After protracted consultations, the Taliban have finally announced the formation of their “interim” government to run Afghanistan. Unveiling the new set up at a news conference in Kabul on September 7, spokesperson Mullah Zabihullah Mujahid, told the world that the Taliban regime would be led by Mohammad Hasan Akhund while the group’s co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar will be the deputy Afghan leader.
According to the official statement theTaliban’s deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani will be the acting interior minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi will be the acting foreign minister, political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai will be the acting deputy foreign minister and Mullah Yaqoob will be the acting defence minister, he announced during a press conference in Kabul. Mujahid himself will be the deputy culture and information minister, Fasihuddin Badakhshani will be the army chief, and Mullah Hidayatullah will be the finance minister. According to Mujahid, the heads of various other ministries will be appointed soon. Mujahid further claimed, “All groups have been represented in the cabinet.”
There are several noteworthy features of the formation of the new government. First, the Taliban waited till such time they were militarily able to crush the opposition led by remnants of the Panjshiri Taliban led by forces of Ahmed Masood and Amer Saleh who considered the Taliban’s conquest of Kabul “illegitimate” and had vowed to defeat the usurpers.
After a bloody fight in which both sides suffered heavy casualties, the Taliban fighters emerged victorious on September 6. With the Panjshir valley coming under their control for the first time, the Taliban fighters can now claim that have established their writ over the whole of Afghanistan.
Second, despite their earlier promises to the world that women would enjoy equal rights under their dispensation, none of the women have been given any portfolios in this new set up.
Third, by calling the formation of this new set up an “interim” government, the Taliban are sending a clear signal to the world that this governing body is subject to change in the near future.
Finally, by completing the process of the formation of their government before September 13 when a major aid conference would be convened in Geneva a the call of the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the Taliban are telling the world that are a force to be reckoned with.
With the completion of the first phase of their government, the Taliban would have to squarely face the monumental challenge of governance defined as delivery of public goods to people to satisfy their minimal needs relating to food, security, employment, health and shelter.
To meet this challenge they would need resources, create corruption free system of governance and devise mechanism for effective and efficient delivery of essential services.
The Taliban’ long-term challenge of governance is exacerbated by drought, surge in Covid 19 cases, acute food shortages and near collapse of the banking and financial sectors.
The ongoing massive brain drain – skilled people wanting to leave the country in droves either due to fear or retribution – only aggravates these challenges. To stem the exodus of the people, Taliban have announced a general amnesty; they have issued multiple statements that there would be no retribution against those Afghans opposed to the Taliban ideology.
A litmus test of these verbal claims would be how the Taliban’s would deal with the conquered territory of Panjshir valley. Would the Taliban fighters engage in revenge killing against captured soldiers of The National Resistance Front (NRF), comprising anti-Taliban militia fighters and former Afghan security forces,or would the general amnesty be extended to the NRF cadres as well.
At the heart of the Taliban’s approach to governance issues would be their choice between “top down” coercive approach or “bottom up” softer approach in which local consultation (Jirgas) plays a critical role.
Analysts have noted the enormity of the scale of governance challenges faced by the Taliban regime. According to one study:
“The problems now facing Afghanistan is its aiddependenteconomy and new Taliban rulers are rapidly piling up. Adding to the damage already wrought by conflict, pandemic and drought, foreignaid is now suspended and in doubt, the treasury is empty and foreign reserves held overseas are frozen, meaning the banking system is paralyzed, andmany of the country’s skilled workforce have fled the country. Economic catastrophe looms for a population, half of whom were already living inPoverty.”
The Taliban have taken the first concrete step by forming their government; it remains to be seen how the international community led by United States would deal with this new dispensation. Fortunately, for Afghanistan there is an emerging consensus among donor countries that the country must not be allowed to drift toward extremism, nor should it be allowed to become a totally failed state. Either outcome would result in economic chaos, exodus of more refugees towards neighboring states and beyond and Afghanistan fast turning into a human catastrophe. Because of these negative externalities, the Taliban regime might have a ray of hope of international help coming its way from the world community to prevent its free fall into another round of violent chaos and mayhem.
The writer is a political scientist and defense analyst.