After the takeover in 2021, the Taliban politics and policy received regional and international attention from of various stakeholders, such as governments and humanitarian agencies. They compared Taliban 2.0 (2021-present) with their previous version of Taliban 1.0 (1996-2001), when they captured Kabul brutally.
The Taliban run Afghanistan in a primordial fashion by implementing a version of puritan Islam in terms of governance and jurisprudence, with gender segregation, tribal economy, primitive punishments and medieval diplomacy as their hallmark. As already argued, only Pakistan and a couple of Gulf Arab countries recognised their rule while rest of the world including the US, China, Russia and the European Union (EU) carried reservations, for example, on the issue of women education.
However, the Taliban’s hosting of Osama bin Laden and later their refusal to hand him over to the US in the wake of 9/11 caused not only their quick fall but also collapse of the rudimentary governmental and state structures ─ which were re-established along a western-style democratic model post-Bonn Agreement signed in December 2001.
Paradoxically, however, despite the US-led western supervision of democratic order in Afghanistan in the past 20 years through various presidential elections and political personalities, like Karzai and Ghani, Afghanistan practically regressed to where it was at start of the millennium.
Comparatively, the Taliban 2.0 carries some interesting political and policy similarities with the Taliban 1.0. To begin with, though this time around at the time of capturing Kabul the Taliban commander announced public mercy, yet they manifested their military power through an effective use of social media.
As per media reports, they captured and killed around 100 of their top opponents in different parts of the country. Further, in order to look moderate to the western capitals in this second attempt to govern Afghanistan, the Taliban announced little restrictions on women mobility and, importantly, education.
On the ground, though, women were seen going to schools and colleges, for example, in capital Kabul, they faced stringent restrictions in other parts of the country. Educational intuitions for teenage girls have reportedly shut down. As in 1990s, this time around too there are reports of local bans on music, for example, in Zabul.
Compared with their first rule, the Taliban have struggled in the last 15 months as far as urban governance is concerned. Hundreds of innocent people especially from the minorities have been killed in terrorist attacks launched by ISIS-K since August 2021.
Taliban have struggled in the last 15 months as far as urban governance is concerned. Hundreds of innocent people especially from the minorities have been killed in terrorist attacks launched by ISIS-K since August 2021.
The other day, Pakistan’s chargé d’affaires in Kabul narrowly escaped a terrorist attack in which his security guard was severally injured. In September this year, two Russian embassy staff were killed in a suicide terror attack in the same city. The Islamic State claimed to commit these terror attacks.
This does show that the Taliban have serious governance issues. They are struggling to protect the diplomatic staff from Pakistan and Russia that accorded de facto recognition to the Taliban rule.
Due to lack of policy vision and financial resources, little has been done with respect to infrastructural development. As far as economy is concerned, the country is having subsistence agriculture where opium production has proliferated under the Taliban control. There is little focus on industry and services. The banking sector seems to have collapsed post-Taliban takeover. Bilateral trade is informally done, and that too at low scale — with Pakistan and Iran — since the Taliban are not yet formally recognised by any country in the world.
Due to increasing food insecurity, coupled with substandard housing particularly in the rural areas, millions of Afghans are witnessing humanitarian crisis, which has been aggravated by the Biden administration’s decision to freeze Afghanistan’s financial assets. Had financial resources poured into the country in time, chronic hunger and abject poverty could have been dealt with effectively. Lately, a quarter of the frozen funds have been released to a Switzerland-based entity. “The Afghan Fund will protect, preserve and make targeted disbursements of that $3.5 billion to help provide greater stability to the Afghan economy”, posited the US Treasury.
However, the Biden administration seems to have developed some serious policy differences with the Taliban.
Compared to the Taliban 1.0 that was recognised by at least three countries from the broader region, the Taliban 2.0 has not yet been formally recognized by any country of the world.
PS: The next article will analyse legitimacy crisis that the Taliban are facing since their takeover in August 2021. The political effects of the lingering crisis on Afghanistan’s relations with Pakistan will also be discussed with reference to regional geopolitics.
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