A YEAR ago on this day, the Afghan Taliban rolled into Kabul as the Western-backed government fell like a house of cards, and its foreign benefactors beat a hasty retreat after a 20-year occupation of Afghanistan. The hard-line movement’s report card concerning its year in power is nothing to write home about, with mostly negatives, some grey areas and very few positives. There were genuine fears that the Taliban would revert to their ways of old when they enforced mediaeval codes during their 1996-2001 stint in power. However, while in many ways the ‘new’ Taliban are very much like the ‘old’ Taliban, in some areas the group has shown moderation, if only slightly.
Of course, amongst the areas where the Taliban rulers have performed dismally is the securing of women’s and other fundamental rights. For example, the hard-line group has yet to allow secondary schools for girls to reopen, while restrictions on women’s freedom of movement remain. Moreover, the group has not allowed elements that differ with it ideologically to participate in government, and the country is very much being run by the Taliban’s inner circle. As for the international community, perhaps the most pressing issue is the presence of foreign militants in the country, including those belonging to the self-styled Islamic State group and the banned TTP. In addition, the killing of Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in an affluent Kabul suburb last month in an American drone strike did little to convince the world that the Taliban are serious about their commitment to fighting terrorism.
Despite all these grim considerations, the fact is that the Taliban are a reality — an unpleasant one — that cannot be wished away by the international community. Therefore, to ensure stability in Afghanistan, as well as regional security, foreign states will have to work with the Taliban for the foreseeable future. Also, it is unfair for Western states to thrust their demands on the group. Expecting the hard-line tribal outfit to turn Afghanistan into a Western-style liberal democracy is the stuff of fantasy. In fact, pushing the Taliban to the wall may lead the group to embrace even more extreme outfits. The way forward, therefore, must be pragmatic. The international community must insist that the Taliban restore girls’ right to education, and women’s rights to work, free movement, etc, but should not close all channels with the group if they take their time in doing so. There can also be no space for foreign militants in Afghanistan, while the Taliban should activate traditional methods, such as grand jirgas, to involve more of the country’s groups and tribes, and eventually move towards democratic governance. To prevent Afghanistan’s collapse into renewed anarchy, the world needs to engage with the Taliban, with engagement one day leading to recognition if Afghanistan’s rulers and the international community can agree on a middle path.
Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2022