For the promises held out on August 15, 2021 and in all the pretenses of a changed governing style, the Taliban in Afghanistan has come up hollow. If there was the hope in some quarters—that is a very small fraction in the international community—that somehow Taliban 2.0 would be somewhat different from its previous show roughly two decades earlier, there is definitely some news but nothing to cheer about. The Taliban has shown the outside world that its style of governance is indeed something different: more primitive and brutal than of the past.
About the only thing that the Afghans have had to cheer about is that the Americans are out and that too after their longest overseas stint; and with them the corrupt hordes of the previous era who fled with suitcases stashed presumably with American dollar bills to fend for themselves, cohorts and families for some time. The Biden administration stayed with the terms of the Doha accord, only that few were impressed on the clumsy and shabby way it exited. In more ways than one Afghanistan on that fateful last day resembled the horrific and terrified American pullout from Saigon in April 1975.
One year to the day, the Taliban is still struggling not just with internal governance and domestic security issues but in trying to convince the comity of nations of some sincerity that could bring about formal recognition. The desperate situation has not even been appreciated by the handful of benefactors who have thrown around nice soothing words but nothing more than that. A country like India has stepped in but only for humanitarian reasons to ensure that the population of that hapless nation does not go without food and emergency medical supplies. And New Delhi has made it clear that augmenting its “technical team” in Kabul does not mean recognition of the Taliban.
The Taliban started off on the wrong foot from Day One, not just in going after its political foes but in the manner it started treating women and girl children, an attitude that immediately got the attention of the world. In an age of globalization and revolutions in information technology, one of the first decrees was to confine all women to their homes and take away education of girls in schools, colleges and universities. In one stroke an entire generation of female children were told in so many words that they have little to look forward to.
Girls and women were not only banned from educational campuses; from the entire workforce. And to make matters worse the Taliban has let loose a reign of terror on women who have had the courage to dissent. In a recent protest of a small group in Kabul, the Taliban mercilessly beat them with rifle butts and in the process sent a clear message. But Afghan women groups in the country and overseas have made it known that protests will continue even in face of adversity. Recently at a United Nations hearing came a shocking revelation: that unable to stand the stress between 1 and 2 Afghan women were ending their lives every day.
The Taliban has to realise that even its best of friends across the borders can do precious little to get formal recognition at the United Nations or from individual countries as long as the present policies, especially pertaining to women and children, are on the books. And those in the corridors of powers in Kabul have to understand that they may have just burnt their fingers by having the al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri taken out in the capital city.
Saying they were unaware of Zawahiri’s presence only raises more uncomfortable questions like the real powers of governance. Unless solid answers are going to come, the Taliban can just about forget the US$ 10 billion of Afghan money that has been locked away in the United States. At least the Biden administration was willing to part with some of it in the name of emergency assistance but not directly to the Taliban. The return of Zawahiri to Kabul raises larger questions of a re-run of the al Qaeda in Afghanistan, a source of concern not only to the West but also to countries like India.
Practically speaking the Taliban has had nothing to show for in a positive light in the last one year. That is only unfortunate to a nation where according to one estimate about 90 percent of the 40 million people are facing shortages of food. And with winter around the corner, things are bound to get even more severe. The choice before the Taliban is simple: listen to the reasonable things the outside world is saying or stay the course and push the innocent Afghans into more misery.
*The writer is Editor-in-Chief of Indian Star