What to expect from a Taliban government

Taliban fighters after taking control of Afghan presidential palace in Kabul on Aug. 15. (Zabi Karimi/AP)
Taliban fighters after taking control of Afghan presidential palace in Kabul on Aug. 15. (Zabi Karimi/AP)

For the past five years or more, in talks with diplomats and international organizations, the Taliban has sought to portray itself as a professional and moderate political movement, reformed from its harsh brutality of the 1990s. This week, in the immediate aftermath of overthrowing the Afghan government, its public effort continues: Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid convened a news conference in which he promised terrorism would not originate from Afghanistan, and a female anchor interviewed a Taliban media official on Tolo News, the country’s leading news organization.

Are we witnessing the emergence of a new, friendlier Taliban? Yes — to some extent: The new Taliban regime will probably be more moderate than the last, but hardly in line with U.S. interests.

I have studied Afghanistan since 2007, spent several years in the country and had countless conversations with Taliban leaders and fighters. What I now expect is that — possibly within a few days — the Taliban will declare the restoration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the government’s title from 1996 to 2001) or install a government that is very similar, but with some outward trappings of inclusion. During the long rounds of negotiations in Doha that began in 2018, the Taliban asserted that the state must have an “Islamic foundation,” which it occasionally defined as the restoration of the emirate. When asked if they would demand a monopoly on power, Taliban leaders sometimes (though not always) said “Why not? It is our turn to rule.”

Such an emirate would be led by a single, powerful leader, the emir — a religious as well as political title within the Taliban — likely to be the elusive religious scholar Haibatullah Akhundzada (presuming he hasn’t passed away in secret as did Mullah Mohammad Omar). The emir would operate in consultation with religious scholars and a Taliban leadership council. They are unlikely to delegate power to geographic regions.

Islamic law, or sharia, is already one source of Afghan jurisprudence. Under the Taliban, it will be the only source. Most likely, every judge, or qazi, will be an Islamic scholar who will interpret the law and play the central role in its enforcement. The system is unlikely to be as brutal as it was during the 1990s, but corporal punishments and restrictions on freedom of speech should be expected.

The Taliban was last in power from 1996 to 2001. With the fundamentalist group taking over again, Afghanistan could be a “humanitarian crisis in the making.” (Alexa Juliana Ard, Ishaan Tharoor/The Washington Post)

The Taliban has particularly striven to improve its image on women’s rights. It has met with Afghan female negotiators and politicians, and, in the territories under their control since 2015, has permitted a few girls’ schools to operate. Evidence of the systematic stonings and public beatings of their previous regime has not emerged in those territories. Yet, more girls’ schools appear to be closed than open, and women outdoors must be covered and escorted. And at his news conference Tuesday, Mujahid stated that women will have to remain within the bounds of Islamic law, and that means the Taliban’s interpretation of it. In my own conversations, the Taliban has been consistently emphatic that its rules protect women and that it is the freedoms of the West that expose them to danger. This deep feeling will die hard.

Reconciliation is often key to peace, and Mujahid promised Tuesday that no harm would come to former enemies. Things may not be so simple. Reprisals have been a consistent feature of Afghanistan’s 40 years of civil wars. When a new group takes power, its supporters seek vengeance upon its predecessor. The Taliban has gone through this cycle in various parts of Afghanistan two or three times. Over the past few weeks, reports have been widespread of house-by-house hunts for members of the U.S.-backed regime. Taliban leaders told me two years ago that government leaders — starting with Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah — would be tried as war criminals. Their attitude was that since their colleagues and family members had been imprisoned or killed by U.S. forces and their Afghan allies, so now should the friends of the Americans.

This brings us to the question most important for Americans: the threat of terrorism. In the February 2020 agreement with the United States, the Taliban promised no attacks would occur from Afghan soil against other countries and also pledged to prevent al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups from training, fundraising or recruiting in Afghanistan. No major attacks have occurred. Yet U.S. military leaders and U.N. observers say Taliban leaders have maintained ties with terrorist groups, and al-Qaeda is a longtime friend. How serious is the threat? Recent events have shown the danger of predicting the future. But given al-Qaeda’s weakened state, attacks probably will not materialize for two or three years and even then be of a magnitude significantly less than those that took place on Sept. 11, 2001.

With that in mind, the situation may be one the United States can live with. The best course may be to turn away from a region in which it has few interests, and its influence can yield few fruits. In all likelihood, whatever the Taliban brings, Americans should pragmatically resist becoming involved.

Carter Malkasian is the author of “The American War in Afghanistan: A History.”

Deja una respuesta

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada.