Nearly three weeks after seizing control of Afghanistan the Taliban leadership has announced what I regard as a political stopgap ahead of convening the 800-member all-inclusive Loya Jirga and then holding general election, at some point. As anticipated, the sixty-year old Hibatullah Akhundzada has retained the title of the Taliban supreme leader. He has appointed an interim cabinet, an even mix of old and young. However, they all are his close confidants—very little diversity visible in rank and file!
The main opposition forces—a few good members of the former Afghan government and the Northern Alliance—have been left out of the first draft. The political scavengers like Abdullah Abdullah, Hamid Karzai, and Abdul Rashid Dostum—all have been excluded. However, young Ahmad Masoud—the son of the Tajik warlord of Panjshir Valley, Ahmad Shah Masoud—may be considered at a later stage when he comes to terms with the Taliban ruling elite. He is expected to make some formal announcement on 9 September—marking the 20th death anniversary of his father.
If Ahmad is inducted into the Taliban ruling Shura—it may showcase some measure of diversity and inclusiveness. Nonetheless, his UK credentials may become his demerit, rather than a qualification. With a degree from King’s College London, military training at RMA Sandhurst, several businesses/properties in London, and grooming by the British establishment (FCO/DfID)—Ahmad will remain an outsider, despite being a member of the Taliban-led interim government.
A beginning of a new era?
There are some reasonably experienced/educated members of this administration, such as—Mullah Hasan Akhund as chief minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani as interior minister, Mullah Yaqoob as defence minister, Mullah Ameer Muttaqi as foreign minister, and Zabiullah Mujahid as the cardinal spokesman. Most of these cabinet ministers grew up and schooled in Pakistan, as fortuitous refugees. They purportedly have properties in KP and Balochistan. They speak Pushto, Farsi, and Durrie, but can converse in Urdu too.
The foremost task of this fledgling administration will be to build a greater national harmony, forge political homogeneity, restore moribund economy, and achieve orchestration on multiple discords. They will be required to concede and yield—domestically, as well as externally—on a few key contentious issues, should they aim to sustain and move forward.
They should now come out of the media-conferred kudos—neither are they the absolute winners, nor are militarily retreating Americans the forlorn losers. The Americans didn’t aim to occupy Afghanistan forever, and the Taliban being a legitimate political force, couldn’t be kept in a forced exile for too long.
Thank goodness our Wikipedia-informed TV anchors and self-proclaimed senior analysts are getting gradually sober by saying and writing that the real litmus-test of the Taliban leadership has started now. For weeks and months, they have been lambasting the Americans for their bad deeds in Afghanistan and elsewhere—fair enough. However, one can not completely disregard the US key role towards building a new Afghanistan that desperately needs massive infrastructural rehabilitation, institutional fixing, and constitutional development.
In my recondite perception—the American hard-power has left Afghanistan, however, Washington will re-enter Kabul as a soft-power. They have started their job already—through Doha, Bahrain, and Pakistan.
Rebuilding Afghanistan: The foremost priority
To rebuild Afghanistan, making it a viable state—politically, economically and militarily, the Taliban leadership will have to rely upon its immediate neighbours—Pakistan and Iran being the most important Muslim brothers. And a little afield—Turkey, Russia, and China. An equally greater support and cooperation will be required from the European Union, Britain and the United States.
In my understanding, all aspects about a Taliban-led Afghanistan were discussed at length and agreed between Zalmay Khalilzad and Mullah Baradar before they signed the comprehensive and far-reaching Doha Peace settlement in February 2020. The non-inclusion of the Afghan government throughout these parleys is compelling evidence that the Americans, even under Donald Trump, NEVER trusted Ashraf Ghani and his corrupt/incompetent cabinet—taking instructions from too many foreign masters, some of them having no relevance in Afghanistan, whatsoever!
Then SoS Mike Pompeo, SoD Mark Esper, and NSA Rob O’Brien were fully convinced that the US, in the last two decades, completely wasted in Afghanistan a staggering $2 trillion of the taxpayers’ money—only to receive over 2,400 coffins of the US soldiers at the Dover cemetery (Delaware), the Senatorial constituency of President Biden.
They eventually realised that the Taliban were not an existential threat to world peace—instead, they could help build global stability and security, if engaged with respect and honour. Hence they demonstrated a degree of seriousness and commitment to give way to the Taliban.
Dozens of US troops and civilian contractors were killed in Afghanistan between February 2020 and 31 August 2021, but neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden authorised the use of a retaliatory force under General Austin Miller.
If we go back a little more to 2013, the opening of the Taliban headquarters in Doha, Qatar—which is one of the largest USAF bases—was the first serious overture extended by the Americans to the Taliban. Asking Pakistan to release Mullah Baradar from the prison in 2018, further substantiated Americans’ alacrity for making peace with the Taliban.
Can we expect a reformed Afghanistan in the future?
We wish our Taliban brothers the best and pray for their success in every aspect of good governance and statecraft—but they will have to leave their astringent past behind and focus only on the future of Afghanistan. They neither have the ability nor capacity to do a DIY (do it yourself) job in the war-ravaged Afghanistan—they need others to help them.
Both China and Russia are being considered as alternatives to the US, UK, and EU. President Xi and President Putin will play a constructive role in Afghanistan—funding generously.
However, the Taliban have reclaimed Afghanistan in the 2020s—a decade more intriguing and demanding than the one they had their first rule in Afghanistan, in the late 1990s.
They need to deliver to 40 million Afghans an objective English-driven education, a decent/Western model of healthcare, establish political institutions emulating successful democracies, set up banking institutions that can interface & collaborate with international financial hubs, build telecom/IT sector to interact & communicate with the rest of the world and need to raise armed forces to defend their county against any future invader.
For this all—they can not afford to stay away from the United States, European Union, UK, GCC/Arab League. How lucky they are—they do not have hostile neighbours.
The Taliban need to follow Julius Nyerere—“take whatever you are offered, by anyone”.
Ejaz Hussain is a London-based analyst on South-Asian and Middle-Eastern security. He is an alumnus of Oxford, Durham, LSE, and King’s College, London. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.