The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) is nearing its first anniversary since its capture of Kabul in August 2021, but in the meantime, life has worsened rather than improved for the people of Afghanistan.
On the security front, the IEA has failed to stand stiff against the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) challenge. And more recently, the killing of Al-Qaeda’s chief Ayman-Al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan by the US also raises questions about the security commitments that the Afghan Taliban had made in the peace deal. The education of women and other women’s rights have been pushed into a dark valley. Economically, it has nothing to sustain its people’s livelihoods other than aid from other countries. More seriously, the journalistic community in Afghanistan has faced a plethora of troubles through the hands of the IEA officials. Simply put, all the terms to which the Afghan Taliban had agreed in the peace deal have remained unfulfilled. The case can be made that the Afghan Taliban not only have disappointed their citizens but the international community as well.
The world community was anxious as to whether the return of the Afghan Taliban to power would make things better domestically for the Afghan people, as well as for the world. But now it has become obvious that the Afghan Taliban are obsessed more with women’s bodies and that how they should appear in public than they ought to be with economic stability and the uplift of the country’s hard-hit and miserable people.
As for all the talk of inclusivity which was so much pervasive in the Afghan Taliban’s circles in the early days, it has now dawned upon the world was not reliable and that power is now concentrated in fewer hands rather than shared and devolved with other ethnic and political forces.
Sadly, the dying ISKP reinvigorated itself when the Afghan Taliban were bickering over state positions in the early days of their coming into power. The ISKP was weakened and reduced to a non-entity in the Ashraf Ghani government, but when it saw the power vacuum and the Afghan Taliban’s internal divisions, it scrambled for exploiting the opportunity. It intensified its recruitment drive, while at the same time transforming its combat strategy. When the Afghan Taliban were laying siege after siege to every major city in the country, there were some major prison breaks. These prison breaks let out all the deadly terrorists belonging to ISKP and Al-Qaeda, who had been apprehended by the Ashraf Ghani government with effort and the use of state resources. Later, to the Afghan Taliban’s surprise, the ISKP carried out a suicide bomb blast in Hamid Karzai Airport Kabul, when Afghan people and foreigners were leaving the country in a frenzy.
Moreover, the overestimated and much touted Taliban capability as a strong counterterrorism force has proved nothing more than a bad joke. Afghanistan’s security landscape is ever more worrying, now that the IEA has failed to handle the ISKP which it had boasted of as being merely a headache and nothing to be seriously concerned about. The ISKP is roaming freely and recruiting massively without any real hindrance—with high-profile attacks every now and then. It has even spread its tentacles across the whole Afghanistan, with the aim of recruiting Tajiks and other disgruntled ethnic groups to double-launch war in both Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The Islamic State group had no hope of survival when it was defeated with many losses in Syria, but hopes were revived in Afghanistan where they faced no such strongman as Bashar Al-Assad, and where they saw an open and easy ground to exploit.
When we consider political stability in Afghanistan, the IEA has proven much weaker than the previous Afghan government on that front as well. It has internal divisions to cope with, and is facing armed resistance from other neglected nationalities and groups. No proper consensus has been yet built to address the core issues that the Afghan people are facing. Economic devastation has turned many Afghans to vagrancy, while there are no sources for them to earn from. The fold includes former government officials and journalists as well, who—previously well-fed—were seen in the streets selling food as vendors for earning daily bread. Besides the economic failure, the IEA has failed even to form a disaster management body in order to save the Afghan populace from the miseries that the earthquakes and flash floods create.
All things said, the segment of Afghan society that faces the most trouble is that of women. Their story is the saddest one and not going to be improved in the current regime. The Afghan Taliban have always been radically conservative about the issues of women. In their first government, before the US toppled it, the Afghan Taliban had pushed Afghan women into near-slavery, and it is no better now in their second government. The brutal approach of the Afghan Taliban towards women is well known to the world, but still an unjustified patience was shown for the Afghan Taliban’s narrative of being more modern and open to women’s issues this time. Since the coming of the Afghan Taliban into power, women have been deprived of education in Afghanistan. It is now the 316th day since the IEA banned Afghan teenage girls from going to schools.
Moreover, the return of the Afghan Taliban to power emboldened other militant groups in the region and elsewhere. They started dreaming of the same kind of success that the Afghan Taliban achieved in Afghanistan. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) made a swift move from Afghanistan into its former stronghold—the districts which were once FATA—when it saw its ideological brethren ascending the throne of Kabul. One must be reminded that TTP was pushed into Afghanistan after Pakistani security forces launched military operations against it, and there the Ashraf Ghani administration incarcerated most of the TTP leaders. Pakistan was hopeful that the return of the Afghan Taliban would make its eastern border safe, and the new government would hand over the TTP leaders to the Pakistani authorities. It had also hoped that the many issues it had with the previous regime would be solved, but Pakistan was also about to be disappointed. The TTP not only returned to its former stronghold, but rejuvenated, strengthened and intensified its terror activities in the wake of the Afghan Taliban becoming the lords of Kabul. Also, the border issue turned into a bitter conflict between the newly formed IEA and Pakistan, with the IEA adamant on not recognising the Durand Line as a border between the two countries. The Afghan Taliban had given assurances to the Pakistani authorities that Afghan soil will not be used by any terror outfit against Pakistan and that it would help Pakistan in tackling the TTP issue, but it is now obvious—since the TTP leaders are under the protection of the Taliban government and ISKP is launching terror attacks in Pakistan from across the border—that the Afghan Taliban have not lived up to their promises.
As the Taliban government’s first anniversary is approaching, the Afghan Taliban mask is wearing off. Their promises made in the peace deal have proven false.
From the Afghan experience, there is a clear lesson for Pakistan to learn: that it should hold talks and negotiate with peaceful movements and protest groups, rather than constantly knock on the door of a fiercely militant group like the TTP, while deciding the fate of erstwhile FATA. Otherwise, the outcome will be horrific and not merely disappointing.