The latest public pronouncements and actions of the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan indicate that it was easier to seize power but far more challenging to govern, initiate reconstruction and manage the country’s multi-ethnic diversity.
The Taliban’s military victory has not translated into sufficient political leverage to form a government of their own that enjoys the support of the international community.
The ground realities are forcing the Taliban to opt for conciliation instead of political confrontation. Trying to calm public sentiments the Taliban have announced ‘amnesty’ across the country and urged women to join its government.
The Taliban recognised the need both for national unity and external support to rebuild Afghanistan. On the domestic front, ignoring major political players and ethic entities poses serious political risks as military muscle is no substitute for a sound political system.
In an interview with BBC, Taliban spokesman in Doha Mohammed Suhail Shaheen said they were prepared to work with any Afghan because they want to open a new chapter of peace, tolerance, peaceful co-existence and reconstruction.
Asked if the Taliban would give safe passage to those seeking to leave Afghanistan, Mr Shaheen said: “Our policy is that no one should leave the county, because it is a country for all. We need talents and capacity for reconstruction.”
Ruling Taliban regime in Afghanistan is under pressure to adopt a set of flexible and pragmatic policies
On the external front, the landlocked poor country needs support, particularly from its neighbours, for national reconstruction. Mr Shaheen assured the international community: “We want all embassies to continue their work. There will be no risks to diplomats, non-governmental organisations, or anyone else”.
As some analysts stipulate, the Taliban’s take-over could open up strategic space for countries sharing a border with Afghanistan with both risks and opportunities.
And if the Taliban are looking for regional economic cooperation they must ensure that Afghan soil is not used, as Pakistan says, by any terrorist group against any country. The US troops withdrew only after the Taliban committed to the Americans that they would not allow their territory to be used by terrorist outfits against any country.
A spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry recalled that the Taliban had repeatedly told them that they seek China’s participation in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan.
While announcing that it is ready to deepen ‘friendly and cooperative’ relations with Afghanistan, the Chinese wished for an open Islamic government to ensure the safety of Afghans and foreign citizens. Responding to the Chinese, the Taliban spokesman said it would open up a new chapter in bilateral cooperation.
Aware of Taliban public posture and Afghanistan’s economic conditions, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently told the media that the US would only recognise a future government in Afghanistan if it upholds the basic rights of its people and keeps terrorists out of the country.
The 20-year US involvement was dubbed as the ‘forever war’ by Americans who believed that its aims had become obscure. “People care more about bridges and roads getting fixed. Afghanistan right now in out of sight and out of the mind of the ordinary US citizens,” said a political analyst.
Barring Nepal, Afghanistan, with a population of 39 million and a GDP of $20 billion, has the lowest per capita income in the region. And it is the poor who are the main source of recruitment for Taliban militia.
The regional countries sharing a border with Afghanistan should evolve a common strategy to help the country rapidly modernise its economy to pull the Afghans out of the medieval age and create conditions for democracy to flourish.
Afghanistan’s major trading partners include China, Iran, United Arab Emirates, India and Pakistan though its bilateral trade with Pakistan has declined lately.
“Our aim is to work for peaceful, united, democratic, stable and prosperous Afghanistan,” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said after a meeting with an Afghan delegation of non-ethnic Pakhtun Afghan leaders who once belonged to the former Northern Alliance.
If the Taliban accord top priority to the country’s reconstruction one can speculate that they may be ready to provide trade transit facilities to Pakistan that would help expand Islamabad’s economic ties with Central Asia. Afghanistan depends on Pakistan for 54 per cent of its transit trade, according to the Pakistan Business Council estimate 2015.
In Pakistan, there are genuine concerns that a Taliban’s military take-over may inspire and embolden militants, insurgents and religious extremists to step up their activities.
The government needs to review its existing repressive policies towards problematic regions that may be affected by a possible surge in violence.
With the Taliban’s unexpected quick victory the armed conflict has ended and saved Afghanistan from prolonged violence and its fallout on neighbouring countries.
Commenting on the fast-moving situation, the International Monetary Fund says it is premature to speculate on the potential impact of Afghanistan on Pakistan.
The Taliban are under pressure to adopt a set of flexible and pragmatic policies.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, August 23rd, 2021