Taliban 2.0 and the Search for Legitimacy in Global Politics

Preamble

The call by the Taliban-appointed interim Prime Minister of Afghanistan, Mullah Mohammed Hassan Akhund, on the international community to rescind their decision on the withdrwal of aids in order to assuage the sufferings of the Afghan people reiterated the need for collaborative efforts towards averting the looming humanitarian crises in his country. The end of the 20-year military occupation of the country by the United States, which began with the declaration of a global war on terror after the 9/11 terrorists’ attacks, was instigated by the prospects of an eventual Taliban victory over the US backed Afghan forces. While announcing the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan, President Joe Biden maintained that it was faulty logic to risk the lives of American soldiers for an Afghan cause while the latter were not showing enough courage against the Taliban fighters. Though there has been a counter argument to Mr Biden’s position, that both the Taliban fighters and Afghan soldiers were from the same ethnic extractions, the struggle for legitimacy has been a major albatross of the Taliban regime since the August 15 takeover. The challenges bedevilling the new governance architecture controlled by a Taliban regime attempting to rebrand itself within global politics constituted the basic thrust for discussions during the fourth edition of the Africanist Scholars’ Forum hosted by the West African Transitional Justice Centre on December 2, where the importance of the need for members of the international community to trade concessions through bilateral and multilateral agreements to prevent a major humanitarian crises was recommended. 

Observations

The forum noted that the agitations, which characterized the August 15 Taliban takeover of government in Afghanistan, and accentuated by the necessity of the United States’ negotiation for a safe passage for its citizens and local allies, influenced the misgivings of several nations that refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Taliban administration. Subsequently, the United States froze about $9.5bn in assets belonging to the Afghan Central Bank, while the withdrawal of international aid from the country has been estimated to amount to a 75% depletion of the economy. There have also been several economic sanctions from countries opposed to the Taliban regime’s model of governance, while international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have denied it access to international loans.

According to a recent report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the country is said to need between $6bn and $8bn in international aid annually to take care of essential needs, engage in development activities and maintain a stable polity. With a looming humanitarian crisis, the report maintains that the country needs at least $2bn to fight extreme poverty, especially when about half of the population is estimated to be vulnerable to starvation. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are already about 2.6 million registered Afghan refugees, with 2.2 million living in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan. This is in addition to around 3.5 million internally displaced persons who fled their homes as a result of the crises of past decades.

However, countries within the region have been more proactive towards restoring stability within the Afghan polity. For instance, India has continued to provide support for the Afghan military, while also initiating a regional security conference on Afghanistan with Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in attendance. Similarly, Pakistan pledged the support of $28m in humanitarian aid to cover the provision of food, medicine and other essentials. At the international level, the USA has been meeting with Russia and China in what is tagged the ‘Trioka Plus Meeting’ to find solutions to the challenges in Afghanistan and endorse proactive measures for the prevention of humanitarian crises. It has also been engaging with Taliban officials through its special representative, Mr Tom West, for discussions on the safe passage for US citizens and their Afghan Allies; provision of economic reliefs and humanitarian assistance; and counterterrorism.

The ascension of the Taliban to power has also been marred with the problem of insecurity, a paradox considering its initial ability to fight criminality and provide order in regions that were hitherto under its control. Under the new reign of the Taliban, there have been several terrorist attacks credited to the Islamic State’s affiliate group, Islamic State Khorasan (ISK), which habours defected Taliban members within its leadership cadre. The fractionalisation of the Taliban group at present, based on divergent ideological leanings and material aspirations, has also created operational challenges for the new government. More so, as the government continues to be associated with human rights abuses and lack of inclusivity. The Shia population remain susceptible to attacks from those with anti-Shia sentiments, as exemplified by a recent attack on Iranian farmers by Taliban fighters for purportedly encroaching on the Afghan border leading to the intervention of Iranian soldiers. It is instructive to note that a poor management of the Shia-Sunni friction may result in worse crises if it triggers the reaction of Afghan Shias militant force known as the Fatimiyoun.

In spite of the commitment of Mullah Akhund to ensure the protection of the rights of women as provided for in the Sharia Law, the country has continued to be on the radar for preventing women from work spaces (except for nurses and others in essential services) and schools. According to the UNDP report, the exclusion of women from the Afghan labour force comes at a cost of around $1bn loss to the economy, which is 5% of the total GDP. In spite of this, the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has maintained that the creation of a dress code for female journalists and ban on the portrayal of actresses in soap operas are based on religious guidelines and not new regulations. The exclusion of women from the 53-member cabinet also reveals a gender-exclusive model of governance that reflects less responsiveness than the previous administration that had 13 women as ministers and deputy ministers.

Recommendations

The effort of the Taliban government to engage in discussions with the international community through the media and high-level meetings in managing its political and economic crises is an important step towards asserting its legitimacy within global politics. While there may be divergent opinions in terms of the propriety of its takeover, what remains constant is that a breakout of refugee crises in Afghanistan will not only be a matter of concern to its neighbours, but that of the international community. A conditional intervention by international donors, which stipulates terms of holding the government accountable, would help prevent a devastating humanitarian crisis that is imminent under the current conditions.

The Taliban government should be intentional in creating public order in the country. This includes devising effective strategies for countering threats from al-Qaeda and ISIL affiliates. It thus needs to collaborate with its neighbours and regional partners towards creating a politically stable nation. As the context of the withdrawal of US troops and evacuation of foreigners has shown, the Afghan people remain the primary determinants of the fate of their country, and ought to take ownership of the process of restoring the country to the path of sustainable peace and development.

The Taliban should also fulfil its promise of protecting the rights of women and minority groups in the country. The exclusion of women from education, labour and national politics is not only contributing to delegitimizing its governance model, but also contributing to the economic crises in the country – with negative implications for the future. The Sunni-Shia crises ought to be effectively managed by building a culture of religious tolerance. This should be extended to the management of the factional tensions within the Taliban group itself. If the Taliban quest for legitimacy in global politics is to be taken seriously, then it must begin to act on the protection of the rights of every citizen.