After a two-decades-long sustained and bloody struggle against foreign occupation, a swift and surprise victory by the Taliban in Afghanistan not only stunned the world but even the victor. Everyone was in deep disbelief at their achievement. In this struggle by the Taliban against foreign occupation, several of their colleagues were killed, wounded and taken as prisoners. Some of them are part of the leadership team which will govern Afghanistan. The Taliban have indeed snatched this victory from the most powerful military on the globe. Having entered Kabul on August 15 with the final departure of the last US soldier, Major General Chris Donahue, and the last diplomat, the US Charge de Affairs, Ross Wilson, one minute to midnight of August 31-a deadline set by the US President, Joe Biden-marked the formal end of 20 years of occupation of Afghanistan by the US and NATO forces. The freedom fighters turned into rulers overnight. But alas! they were totally ill-prepared for the new role as rulers. To govern a country of about 40 million, which has been at war for the past five decades from within as well as with outside forces, is no joke. The unbelievable melting of the US-backed Ashraf Ghani regime into thin air along with its over 300,000 strong security apparatus with billions of worth of state-of-the-art military arsenal-including most advanced helicopters, planes, hundreds of guns and drones- and hundreds of technocrats and senior officials, including the head of the Afghan Central Bank, has left a gaping governance gap. Filling this vacuum in the governance structure is the most urgent challenge that the Taliban rulers will have to respond to. The world is watching anxiously to see if the warriors can metamorph themselves into effective rulers and can set up a functioning government.
The Taliban announced an interim Government on Tuesday, September 7. The Taliban chief Mullah Haibatullah approved a 33-member cabinet dominated by “Afghan War Veterans,” which was to be led by Mullah Muhammad Hassan Akhund. The spokesman for the regime, Zabihullah Mujahid, while announcing the formation of the cabinet, hastened to add, “The cabinet is not complete it is just acting. We will try to take people from other parts of the country.” This assurance was most likely meant for an audience abroad. The world has made it clear to the Taliban that the international recognition of their de facto control of the country is dependent on three major conditions that the Taliban:
1. form an inclusive and a broad-based government giving representation to all segments and denominations of the Afghan society, including religious and ethnic minorities and women;
2. assure the world of respect for the human rights and rights of women and minorities;
3. to not allow their territory to be used by non-state actors, including the ISS -K, Al Qaeda, EITK, TTP.
The formation of the interim government was necessitated for creating a governance structure to prevent the war-ravaged country from sliding into anarchy and the reemergence of warlords and extremist groups reclaiming “no man’s lands.”
What is needed is for the Taliban to remove the yolk of the guerrilla struggle of yesteryears, organise themselves as a political force and, perhaps, consider forming a political identity by replacing “Taliban” with some Islamic nomenclature. They might actually become a trailblazer for an Islamic democratic political order in Afghanistan, which could bring sustainable peace and prosperity to this ethnically diverse country.
The freezing of Afghan funds by the US to the tune of over nine billion dollars as well as over four hundred million by the IMF could push the country to an economic collapse, even anarchy. This is neither in the interest of Afghanistan nor the world. If Afghanistan’s economic stranglehold is allowed to persist, it could result in the erosion of the authority of the Taliban government and lead to the rise of local militias, which have been temporarily eliminated. For now, they have gone into retreat in the face of Taliban blitzkrieg. According to a UN survey, about 14 to 15 million Afghans (every one in three) are facing food insufficiency. There are two million Afghan children who remain malnourished.
The frozen funds could result in non-payment of salaries to civil servants; resulting in a further collapse of the delivery of services to the people. The economic freeze has had an immediate effect on the health sector, including hospitals, which are facing acute shortages of medicines and disposable equipment. The US and IMF must open channels of communication with the new government in Kabul to avert yet another humanitarian catastrophe.
Leaving Afghanistan alone or abandoning the unfortunate people of Afghanistan (for whom life has indeed been ” brutal and short”) would be morally incorrect and politically disastrous. Afghans have a right to lead normal lives; away from hunger, disease and death. No doubt, the primary responsibility for good governance, including the delivery of essential services, health, education and the safety of life and property, lies on the shoulders of the new rulers now controlling Kabul.
However, these Mujahidin Taliban have only practised guerrilla warfare and are not at all aware of the complex science of good governance, including efficient service delivery. The issue of service delivery in Afghanistan is much more complex due to its rugged topography, geographical spread and lack of any rudimentary physical infrastructure for the public services delivery.
The Taliban might muddle through in setting up some form of functional structure. However, in the meantime, millions of Afghan women, children and men could suffer. A timely engagement by the UN to respond to economic, governance and humanitarian challenges could help Afghanistan transition from a state of war to a functioning state, where other civil and human faculties, both intellectual and spiritual, blossom in a natural rhythm and harmony.
China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran and Qatar could also sponsor a resolution at the UN General Assembly; calling upon the world to unfreeze Afghan funds and rebuild Afghanistan under an UN-supervised body, which can help the Afghan government in creating governance structures and recruiting technocrats from Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. This would help fill up the gap of governance so that the suffering of the people could be reduced.
The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan to Vietnam