From 1996 until 2001, the Taliban held power over roughly three quarters of Afghanistan, and enforced a strict form of the Sharia law to govern the land. After 9/11, the United States along with its allies invaded the country to liberate its people from the Taliban/Al-Qaeda menace finally. Under the facade of “nation building” and development the United States remained engaged in war, the longest in its history, at a cost of $ 2.6 trillion.
Cut to present day, on August 15 2021, the Taliban are back and prominent leaders of the Afghan Government, including the president of Afghanistan Mr. Ashraf Ghani, first VP Mr. Amrullah Saleh, just to name a few, fled the capital before the Taliban took over the city. The government that took two decades in the making with an armed force that boasted numbers of over 350,000 men did not take even two weeks to self destruct when faced with a militia of only 75,000 men. The shock to the world was all too real and the uncertainty that was about to grip the country was equally surreal.
It is surprising to many that the Taliban were able to consolidate power across Afghanistan with little to no resistance from the Afghan armed forces or warlords. Many international analysts were of the view that the overthrow of the government will be in less than 90 days. Over this period, besides optics, the nation building or the human development of the country proved to be empty promises. All state institutions metastasized immediately after the American agreement of withdrawal was signed with the Taliban in February 2020, tossing Ashraf Ghani’s bravado up in the air.
It was a surprise to for many that these are not the same Taliban that the world had been dreading for all these years. On face value alone, this new updated outfit seems professional and courteous as far. Zabiullah Mujahid the spokesperson for the new Taliban regime held his first press conference after the fall of Kabul to assure the world community and the Afghan people that they had nothing to worry about. He announced general amnesty for all Afghans and expressed the new regime’s desire to uphold the rights of the women and girls ensuring their right to education and employment under the rules of the Sharia law.
The Taliban are back, now controlling almost all of the territory in Afghanistan. So far, the signs have been encouraging from the Taliban who seem to be inclined towards an inclusive style of governance. The world community will be observing them under the microscope and will not shy away from calling them out. It is a fact that this new Taliban is a better informed, globally aware and realizes that isolation would not bode well for their future prospects. Their pledge to deny terrorist organizations safe haven in Afghanistan will be at the root of their acceptance as a legitimate government.
Ensuring basic human rights especially for the women and girls in Afghanistan and what brand of Sharia law takes shape from here on will also give clarity as to what can be expected in the near future. For now the eyes are on what kind of a compromise is reached between the ethnic groups and the Taliban to form an inclusive sustainable system of governance. The world community now should ignore or isolate the Taliban at their own peril; it did not work in the past and will not work now. Strapping them of financial resources and sanctioning them to be used, as a bargaining chip would ultimately prove detrimental as it did in the past and this strategy would be extremely ill advised. If stability returns to Afghanistan then the Taliban would deserve recognition.
Otherwise, they have got the easy option of joining the extremists. There is a dire need to keep them engaged. The expectations need to be realistic, the world cannot expect miracles from the group rather hope that the civility in their style of governance this time around is a little more citizen centric. Patience will be key.
Over the past 20 years the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan has been strained. India’s proxy war against Pakistan gained momentum with the support of the Afghan government and its intelligence agency, NDS. Their support for banned terrorist outfits like TTP and the Balochistan dissidents has cost Pakistan in blood and treasure. For Pakistan, it is very important that the Taliban ensure and assure that its territory is not used for terrorism against any other country. The likes of TTP and other banned outfits and their Indian sponsored activities need to be stopped if lasting peace and stability is desired. It needs to be a relationship based on trust, shared culture and economic progress. This time around, recognition of the Taliban cannot be a bi-lateral affair rather; it needs to be a regional one. Only after consultations with its regional partners should Pakistan give recognition to the Taliban led Afghan government. A stable Afghanistan is the only solution to lasting peace and stability for the neighbors and the region as a whole. The next few months will define what the future course of action for Pakistan.
From the day the invasion began till the day it ended, Afghanistan still stands as volatile as it did two decades ago. The withdrawal saw the Taliban claiming complete victory over the whole of Afghanistan. It is important that the West now does not repeat the mistakes of the past of abandoning Afghanistan like it did after the Soviet invasion. Snuffing them of the much needed financial resources under the control of the US and other financial institutions will only add to the woes of the battle torn country, pushing the Taliban into some very unsavory hands in order to keep afloat.
If the Taliban are the new reality of Afghanistan then they have to assimilate into the global structure. The UN should step in and ensure the rehabilitation and reconstruction activities are carried out in a comprehensive manner. The West cannot turn away from its responsibilities now more than ever; millions of lives are at stake here and they need to be lead towards the right direction. A stable, prosperous and friendly Afghanistan act as a bridge between Central and South Asia with unprecedented prospects of progress for the entire region.
The writer is an independent analyst, with interests in international relations and diplomacy.