Author : Kabir Taneja

Originally Published 2023-05-01 19:49:47 Published on May 01, 2023
The situation for most Afghans remains critical
Taliban vs the Republic
Twenty months ago, Afghanistan fell back into the hands of the Taliban, aided by a botched US exit, paved by an even worse deal between Washington and the insurgency signed in February 2020. Those decisions are pushing Afghans back into economic and political destitution reminiscent of the 1990s when the Taliban was last in power. While the collapse of the government in Kabul of the then president, Ashraf Ghani, and the Afghan armed forces raises significant questions over the practices established under the US-led coalition for nation-building, there is no doubt that 20 years of attempts to institutionalise a Republic in a country fraught with ethnic and political fault lines did rub off on its population. From education to health, defence to government, the Afghan people, specifically women, became receptive to these ideas that included opportunities such as gainful employment away from traditional methods revolving around agriculture.
The above institutionalisation, however, does not mean that the construction of the Republic was wholesome. It was a patchwork of ‘leaders’ that the West got along with at a given time. The governments of Hamid Karzai and, then, Ghani included personalities that had been equally brutal in their respective histories. Other than the Taliban (which, in fact, was not designated as a terror group), there were more than 20 terror organisations in the country. Amidst these crevasses, the stark task of democratising and instilling moderate politics in a region known as the ‘graveyard of empires’ was being undertaken not only by the West but — subtly — by nations like India as well.
The Taliban, in return, argue that US-sanctioned funds — believed to be around $3.5 billion — that belong to Afghanistan should be made accessible to its interim government.
The crisis in Afghanistan is multidimensional. For the Afghans, it is fast drifting towards a question of survivability; for the international community, how best to deal with the reality of the Taliban remains a challenge. A US watchdog recently claimed that American aid being provided is indirectly funding the Taliban. The Taliban, in return, argue that US-sanctioned funds — believed to be around $3.5 billion — that belong to Afghanistan should be made accessible to its interim government. A forward-looking plan to revive and grow the country’s economy remains elusive. Developing policies is not an easy task for a group whose experience overwhelmingly lies in the battlefield and not administration or governance. This lack of experience is visible in the now long-running dispute within the Taliban’s hierarchies over education for girls. The interim government’s leadership believes that agreeing to this low-hanging fruit would enable a critical mobilisation towards its government being internationally recognised. For the Taliban, international recognition is important, but to achieve it, it will have to make ideological concessions and accept some of the major tenets from the times of the Republic. This, for now, is an unacceptable proposition for the movement’s ideological core led by the supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, who continues to pull strings from the group’s spiritual headquarters in Kandahar. The United Nations also remains in a state of confusion over how to deal with the Taliban and the people of Afghanistan separately. In April, different agencies under the ambit of the UN had simultaneously called for talks on Taliban recognition, threatened to quit aid distribution due to a Taliban-installed ban on female workers, and highlighted a critical shortfall of $5 billion in aid to avoid a tipping point of ‘hunger, disease and death’. The situation for most Afghans remains critical. Tight controls over information by the Taliban disallow a clear picture of the state of the economy, health, and education in most provinces. Many Afghans may find some relief in the fact that there is no major conflict threatening their lives today. But the societal indicators for advancement continue to dip. Ultimately, the Taliban cannot wish away the fact that a big section of the population got a taste of moderate ideologies and progressive societies; this reality cannot be wished away via the barrel of a gun.
This commentary originally appeared in The Telegraph.
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Kabir Taneja

Kabir Taneja

Kabir Taneja is a Fellow with Strategic Studies programme. His research focuses on Indias relations with West Asia specifically looking at the domestic political dynamics ...

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