THE Taliban regime in Afghanistan enjoys complete freedom to enforce its political and religious order. They are doing what they believe is right. And in doing so, as suggested by their exclusive governance approach and decisions on women’s education and the veil, they are validating the international community’s suspicions regarding their ability to govern, deal with security, and ensure human rights. Still, their desperation for recognition of their government by the international community has remained the key reason why they had so far shied away from implementing their real agenda.
Nine months after their takeover of Afghanistan, the Taliban seem to have realised that international recognition is not coming anytime soon, and that whenever it does, it will be at the cost of their ideological dogma for which they have fought for years.
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Apparently, they have no intentions of altering their worldview and becoming normal modern-day political actors. Now they have gradually started implementing their real agenda, either as a political move or out of ideological beliefs. The real reason will become clear in the days to come. As expected, they started by imposing more restrictions on Afghan women. After banning them from acquiring many government jobs, getting a secondary education, and travelling alone outside their cities or Afghanistan, they have now imposed another order: to wear the burqa to cover themselves from head to toe in public.
Led by the Taliban, Afghanistan might become an example of a nation with half-baked paradigms wanting complete freedom. International engagements bring certain obligations, which call for acknowledging global legal and political norms about human rights as well as bilateral ties. These often upset the social and political norms of states on the receiving end.
Apparently, the Taliban have no intentions of becoming normal modern-day political actors.
The Taliban thought they were clever enough to deceive the international community by making shallow promises about female education and an inclusive political structure. They may have thought that after the US unfroze their funds and a few important states formally recognised them they would go about enforcing their actual agenda. Justifying their actions, some might have pointed out that their conservative mindset would take time to adjust to global realities. But the truth is that they have even failed to address the security concerns of their neighbours.
The Taliban regime has failed to counter the threat posed by the militant Islamic State’s Khorasan chapter, and this factor is now causing Afghanistan trouble in its ties with its neighbours. IS-K has broader regional and ideological ambitions and is creating internal problems for the Taliban regime. The international community, especially China, Russia, Pakistan and the Central Asian states, had been optimistic that the Taliban regime could prevent IS-K from fulfilling its regional ambitions.
The Taliban leadership had made tall claims that they could wipe out IS-K within a few weeks. However, the group has not only reportedly extended its operations in Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan but has also complicated the internal security challenge for the Taliban. IS-K continuously targets the Shia community across the country, increasing anger against the Taliban, which had promised full security to the Afghans.
Pakistan is particularly concerned about the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, which is enjoying full support of the Taliban regime. The group is continuously targeting the security forces in Pakistan. Only in April, the TTP and its affiliated militants perpetrated 19 terrorist attacks and one cross-border attack. Pakistan asked the Afghan government to “secure the Pak-Afghan border region and take stern actions against the individuals involved in terrorist activities”. Earlier, the Afghan authorities held Pakistan responsible for military violations in the Khost and Kunar provinces of Afghanistan. Pakistan’s attempts to convince the Taliban to expel the TTP leadership from Afghanistan have failed to yield any results.
The Taliban have not made any substantial efforts to contain the TTP or prevent it from attacking Pakistan. Though the TTP extended a ceasefire, announced for Eid, with the government to hold peace talks, some media reports indicate that Pakistan has already paid a price for the ceasefire and continuation of the negotiations, as the two militant commanders, Muslim Khan and Mehmood Khan, were recently handed over to the mediators. A grand jirga in South Waziristan has formed a committee to broker talks between the Pakistan Army and the TTP as they argue that tribesmen are the major victim of confrontation between the two.
The jirga may have some genuine apprehensions, but it is not clear yet what the state policy is about the TTP: do state institutions want to eliminate the threat or transform it into a non-violent movement, which can counter any movement inspired by nationalism? Whatever the intentions, it is clear that negotiations with a terrorist group have made the latter appear as a more legitimate actor and Pakistan’s security challenge more complex. The tension at the border and the consequent tensions in bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan will only help militants exploit the situation and create a more chaotic environment in which they feel they can operate comfortably.
Pakistan is also concerned about the consequences of the Taliban’s failure to deal with Afghanistan’s economic and diplomatic challenges. A recent report by the International Crisis Group indicates that Afghanistan’s economic collapse is depriving Pakistan of opportunities to revive trade ties, which could translate into hundreds of thousands of impoverished Afghans seeking shelter and livelihood in this country.
Pakistan is gradually losing its influence over the Taliban, but the international community is still banking upon the country to use its leverage to convince them to respect fundamental human rights and fulfil counterterrorism commitments. However, recent developments including the restrictions on Afghan women indicate that the Taliban regime will not compromise on its ideological paradigm and will continue to reveal its more ultra-conservative face. IS-K has made it challenging for the Taliban to fulfil their commitments to the international community, and specifically their neighbours on the security front.
The irony is that the Taliban’s approach is failing Afghanistan, but their supporters in Pakistan are jubilant about the imposition of a strict religious code in Afghanistan.
The writer is a security analyst.
Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2022