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Sunday December 05, 2021

Fledgling steps on a long trail ahead

September 10, 2021

The Taliban have announced their first interim government comprising 33 members. With Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhunzada as the supreme leader (amir-ul-momineen), Mullah Hassan Akhund will be head of the Leadership Council. He will be assisted by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Maulvi Abdul Salam Hanafi as deputy prime ministers. Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid gets defence, Sirajuddin Haqqani interior, Maulvi Amir Khan Muttaqi foreign, Mullah Hidayat Badri finance and Khairullah Said Wali Khairkhwa information portfolios. They are all senior members of the Taliban and have been part of their previous government in the nineties.

Interestingly, there is no female minister inducted at this stage. More ministers are likely to be announced later.

For the Taliban, this is crossing the first hurdle on a long and tough trail ahead. With most of the Western countries unwilling to accord recognition at this stage, it would depend on how this cabinet proceeds with trying to stamp its legitimacy across divides and prejudices.

It may be true that this announcement may not be strictly in accordance with the expectations which had been generated on account of multiple statements made by the Taliban leadership regarding the inclusivity of the dispensation, but then this cannot be held against them either because making the government is strictly their prerogative. Objections should be raised if its conduct does not meet the more substantive bar of granting human rights and the rights of women to education and work.

The challenges ahead for the Taliban government are principally three-fold. The first one is maintaining unity within. Winning a war after twenty long years of struggle naturally breeds expectations among the rank and file, all of which may not be possible to meet. This may not be the case here, but it has been a subject of much speculation. It was expected also because the naysayers, bitterly unwilling to accept the Taliban reality, are going to do just about everything to cast doubts about their ability to rule as a well-knit unit. So, first and foremost, practical steps should be taken to help nip this divisive talk.

Then there is the issue of governance. Afghanistan has suffered long at the hands of leaders whose sole consuming interest was to pilfer and make merry. The SIGAR papers, which have been made public regarding twenty years of the US-led occupation of the country, have volumes on the criminal mismanagement of operations and how a deceptive perception of winning the war was cultivated much against the reality on ground. The documents also speak disparagingly of the leadership that was hoisted upon Afghanistan through a flawed and fraudulent process where each election proved to be more controversial than the previous one.

Consequently, no attention was paid to alleviating the sufferings of the people at the grassroots level who fare much worse today than they did before the introduction of ‘democracy’ in Afghanistan. This so-called leadership just melted away before the Taliban onslaught with the president decamping with bags full of illicit millions. The rest of them have also run away to their chosen homelands. It appears that aliens were ‘imported’ solely for the purpose of pulling off a heist and then making good with their loot.

These are no examples to be replicated by the Taliban. They cannot indulge in luxury. They will have to quickly turn a new leaf dedicated to serving the people and helping them tackle their grievances. In the same context, they will also have to deal effectively with the signs of disturbances which have been reported from some areas. Use of the cane is not the way out. Instead, communication channels will have to be established to ward off the fears that these people may be harbouring. They have to be assured that their rights would be respected. There must be no apprehension to rake their minds.

It is also in the domain of governance that effective measures will have to be employed to eliminate all stations of terror from the country. Their continued presence on its soil can spell disaster for it, its neighbours, the larger region and the world. They must be uprooted.

The third and most critical aspect of the recovery process is the economy. Afghanistan is virtually on the verge of bankruptcy. The previous rulers left nothing in the kitty. It has to be brought back from the brink. That requires sources of income. With the West inimical to the idea of releasing even funds which legally belong to the Afghan state and the international lending organisations having blocked the passage of aid, it is going to be a tough job.

The ideal thing for the international community should have been to stay engaged with the Taliban government and provide humanitarian assistance so as to give it space to come good on its promises. Instead, it is doing the opposite, thus creating serious issues for the economic survival of the nascent government. This is neither in the interest of the Taliban government, nor the Afghan people who need support in this hour of transition.

I have a strong feeling that the bulk of the burden may fall upon the regional countries, more specifically Afghanistan’s neighbours. They will have to get together and come up with ways and mechanisms to sustain the Taliban government through these testing times and also make it viable over the long run. Let’s face it: if the key objective is to banish terrorism from this part of the world, the spectre of poverty will have to be countered. With the Western community having taken an adversarial position, it is the regional countries which cannot afford infliction of terror in their neighbourhood. It, therefore, becomes essential for them to join hands and show solidarity with the Afghan people in their hour of need. It is no wonder that the Taliban leadership has made a special appeal to China to recognise it. Maybe they can see through the maze that China is positioned to play a pivotal role in the emergence of Afghanistan as an economically stable and functioning state.

Afghanistan has waged through fire for over forty years. It stands on the crossroads between transiting to becoming a viable state dedicated to the service of its people, or plunging again into the pit of plunder. If the first does not materialise, the second would suck it into a hell hole again. That not being an option, it is left to Afghanistan’s neighbours and regional friends to extend support to the new government to help it tide over difficult times. It is all the more necessary to ensure that Afghanistan does not become a hotbed of terror again.

The writer is the special assistant to the PM on information, a political and security strategist, and the founder of the Regional Peace Institute.

Twitter: @RaoofHasan