Uncertainty prevails as Taliban capture Kabul
CONTRARY to all speculations, including those of this scribe, the Taliban overran the whole of Afghanistan including its capital Kabul, with a lightning speed.
Most of these conquests were due to the quick surrender of the government troops, without offering any resistance. Apparently, the will of the disaffected Afghan troops was broken on the first sight of combat
About a week after the takeover of Kabul, a small band of trained fighters offered the Taliban some resistance in the Panjshir Valley.
The Panjshir Valley enjoys a unique distinction that neither during the Soviet occupation nor during the Taliban’s first rule, it was occupied. It always preserved its autonomy under its iconic commander Ahmed Shah Masood.
This time also, the Punjshiri fighters now under the command of Ahmed Masood S/o Ahmed Shah Masood and Amarullah Saleh are not prepared to give up unconditionally, unless a power sharing agreement in Afghanistan acceptable to them is agreed to.
The Taliban forces are said to have surrounded the Punjsher valley. Negotiation as well as some skirmishes have taken place.
The international community, including the regional countries, are waiting and watching the Taliban with bated breath.
Their main concern is, as to what can be expected of the Taliban rule? Pakistan naturally will be the most affected country, by the way the Taliban rule Afghanistan and the way the international community reacts to it.
Till now, the Taliban are communicating to the world that their rule will be inclusive of all segments of the Afghan society. They also pledged that rights of all Afghan citizens including women and minorities would be protected.
To prove their bona fides, the Taliban declared a general amnesty for all their opponents including Afghan forces. The amnesty has so far been held quite successfully by the Taliban.
Since their take-over, Taliban have cooperated fully with the US troops that are busy evacuating their citizens and citizens of other Western countries along with those Afghans who worked for them.
For over a week the cooperation was going on smoothly, but the US and Western countries have declared that they may extend the date of their withdrawal by some time, as the Western countries need more time to evacuate all their dependents. The Taliban have, however, rejected this proposal.
A Taliban spokesman said that till the withdrawal of the last American soldier our sovereignty does not get restored. we cannot thus allow an extension in the withdrawal date.
Except for these small glitches, the Taliban are trying to convince the world that they are a changed lot.
According to a press conference by one of their spokesmen, ‘’they will behave differently having learnt from experience,”.
They vowed to establish an inclusive government, respect human and women rights and to ensure that Afghanistan’s soil is not used against any country.
All of the above is, of course, aimed at the international community to placate their fears. Whether the Taliban actually live up to these promises has yet to be seen. There have also been some reports of Taliban reverting to their old ways.
Spontaneous processions in different towns of Afghanistan, carrying the flag of Afghanistan, which has been replaced by the Talibans with their own white flag, were fired upon resulting in the killing of some protestors.
Nevertheless talks between the Taliban and their former political opponents to set up a broad-based government in Kabul are in progress. It has to be seen if a political settlement emerges.
Many countries have adopted the policy of wait and see. In the face of concerted pressure by the world community, the Taliban are making reassuring statements to obtain international recognition and legitimacy.
The country’s precarious economic situation must also be weighing considerably in their decisions while making policies. Afghanistan’s foreign reserves are dwindling and the IMF has suspended their funding.
Thus, without international assistance and trade, their economy will tank before collapsing completely.
The international consensus as reflected in the Aug 16 UN Security Council statement with the focus on an inclusive government, respect for human rights and confronting terrorism has sent a unified message. This has certainly encouraged the Taliban to adopt a conciliatory stance in words at least.
The real test of the Taliban’s intentions would be known, after they have firmly planted their feet.
One of the biggest challenges for the Taliban would be to reconcile their view of ideological politics with the West’s demand for an inclusive and diversified government structure, which can perhaps only be achieved through democracy and elections.
These terms like democracy and elections are alien to the Taliban, because due to their interpretation, there is no place for these systems in Islam.
A spokesman of the Taliban has even now said that Shariah and not democracy will be their governing system.
Similarly, on the question of granting females their fundamental rights, the Taliban are quick to add that only those rights of women will be granted that are Shariah compliant. In short, the Taliban would make concessions only if they have to.
Otherwise they will confine themselves to making only the right kind of noises to make the west happy.
The international community thus needs to engage the Taliban with not only economic inducements, but also to bear sustained international pressure on them, so that their promises indeed turn into action.
According to latest reports from Afghanistan the Taliban have already started making interim appointments to important positions.
The Governor of the State Bank, the Governor of Kabul and the Acting Defence Minister have been appointed.
As is internationally acknowledged Pakistan is the country to be most affected by the events in Kabul.
It must have come as a great relief to Pakistan, that widespread bloodshed has been avoided so far. But Pakistan must act with caution and prudence as the situation in Kabul is still amorphous.
Pakistan must move in coordination with the international community especially on the all-important issue of formal recognition of the Taliban regime.
To go solo on recognizing the Taliban may not be a wise move at this stage, as diplomatic relations and cross borders trade is continuing in any case.
Pakistan is helping in the intra-Afghan talks, but it must make sure that any outcome is totally Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.
Our security forces should, however, step up border surveillance so that no undesirable cross – border incursion takes place.
Lastly Pakistani ministers should be firmly told not to make any triumphal statements about the Taliban or act as their spokesmen.
In fact only the Foreign Minister should be the one to make any official statement regarding Afghanistan. It is time we move and look forward, instead of remonstrating about the past.
—The writer, based in Islamabad, is a former Health Minister of KP.