The Islamic State Factor: How Long Can The Taliban Government Survive?

The Islamic State Factor: How Long Can The Taliban Government Survive?
Two months after the military takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, no country has recognised the regime’s emirate. Not a single country. The reason is crystal clear: The Taliban have not changed. They did not stand by their commitments not to take over the country militarily and even failed to form an inclusive government representative of all the ethnic, religious and political groups of Afghanistan.

The best chance for the recognition of Taliban regime would have been formation of an interim government lead by a non-UN-sectioned Taliban consisting representatives from all ethnic and political groups and former technocrats, including women, of course.

By doing so, the Taliban leadership could have easily convinced its own hardliners, fighters and rank and file that such a set-up was agreed upon in Doha immediately before the escape of former president Ashraf Ghani. But Taliban chose the wrong path -- wittingly or unwittingly.

The Haqqanis entered Kabul and positioned its fighters in some strategic places despite Taliban’s announcement to not enter Kabul. It was apparently because the Haqqanis did not obey the orders and announcements coming from Taliban’s political group in Doha. One high-ranking Afghan official from the former office of National Security, Daoud Naji, confirmed in an interview with Afghanistan International that Khalil Haqqani had called Ghani’s National Security Advisor Muhibullah Mohib, to inform him of their fighters’ ‘large’ presence in Kabul and demanded transfer of power.

It was obviously the first major misalignment between two major Taliban factions namely, the Haqqanis and Doha group. The Haqqanis effectively occupied the palace and some important ministries, such as the Ministry of Interior -- literally by force. This resulted in further disunity among Taliban which deteriorated to the extent of physical clash between Khalil Haqqani and Mullah Baradar. And finally, after days of internal and external pressures to form a government, the Taliban announced an interim set-up accommodating only different Taliban factions, except the pro-Iran commanders like Mullah Qayyum Zakir and Ibrahim Sadr (who were taken in later).

By forming a Taliban-only interim cabinet the Taliban committed another major mistake. They may have thought to momentarily prefer the unity within the Taliban over international legitimacy and recognition of their government. The miscalculation, however, was that their top leadership did not realise that denying a ministerial post to a Taliban commander was perhaps not that hard but taking it back is tough, to say the least. Especially if you would take it from a Talib commander and give it to, say a technocrat who had worked with the previous governments or worse a Hazara. That’s why Taliban’s promises that their future and permeant government is going to be inclusive and formed in consultations with all major groups sound unreasonable. 

Moderation risks defection

In order to earn international recognition, the Taliban need to bring about some changes in their government. The very first step is to remove the internationally recognised terrorists who have bounty on their head and are sanctioned by the UN from their ministerial posts and replace them with more moderate Taliban, which is currently not easy. The political group, aka Doha group, is not strong enough to remove, for instance, Sirajuddin Haqqani from the Interior Ministry. The Taliban must then include some non-Taliban faces from Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek ethnicities into the government. And, of course, at least a woman.

The Taliban also need to do some policy reforms, such as allowing girls to attend high schools, colleges and universities. If Taliban’s top leadership decides to implement the above-mentioned requirements put forward by the international community, donor countries and the country’s neighbours, the chances for defections from within Taliban’s rank and file rise but that can be handled effectively if the Taliban get public acceptance. But there is no indication so far that Taliban will go for this option.   

The Taliban also need to do some policy reforms, such as allowing girls to attend high schools, colleges and universities.


Tyranny leads to uprising

The second scenario, which is apparently very likely, is that the Taliban will prefer internal unity over international recognition. It will lead to the regime’s isolation, even if a couple of countries do recognise their emirate, which will certainly cause economic collapse, looming poverty and humanitarian crisis across Afghanistan. If so, Taliban will lose the minimal support that the group enjoys in the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan, particular the rural areas. A widespread outrage against Taliban, due to poverty or lack of security, can instantly turn into a countrywide uprising against them. The history of Afghanistan tells us that no regime has survived through force, tyranny and exclusivity—be it the powerful kings, the brutal communists etc. A regime change is the only constant phenomenon in that unfortunate country. And Taliban are by no means any exception. 

Signs of uprising

Despite Taliban’s claims of total control over all geographic regions of Afghanistan, they have yet to assert full control over parts of northern Afghanistan. Pockets of resistance, the largest of it in Panjshir, are active. The National Resistance Front lead by Ahmed Masoud has kept its military presence in the mountainous regions around Panjshir intact and shifted its focus towards forming a larger alliance with other powerful Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek leaders. Their recent statement and their activities in the Western capitals show their continued relevance and commitment to resistance. If they succeed to form a larger alliance alongside anti-Taliban Pashtuns, their chances of getting military and financial support from countries that consider Taliban a threat to their strategic interests will rise exponentially. President of Tajikistan, for instance, has already met French president Macron this week to discuss Afghanistan. 

Despite Taliban’s claims of total control over all geographic regions of Afghanistan, they have yet to assert full control over parts of northern Afghanistan.


The rise of IS-Khorasan province

Taliban have no governing experience nor are they willing to get help from the professionals who have worked with the previous governments. Despite their announcement that ‘the war has ended, and peace has arrived’, the security situations are rapidly deteriorating in Afghanistan. The memories of the horrific attack at Kabul airport did not fade away before a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a Shia mosque at a Hazara populated area of Kunduz on Friday which claimed up to 150 innocent lives.

ISKP claimed responsibility, saying that the suicide bomber was an ethnic Uyghur, which has surely sent shockwaves all the way to Beijing as well since Taliban, particularly the Haqqanis, had assured China of acting against them. Only a week later, another blast took place inside Fatemiyah Grand Mosque, the largest Shia mosque in Kandahar. While Taliban keep downplaying threats of ISKP and even terms it an ‘American project’, the ISKP is quietly but surely expanding its footprints across Afghanistan. The fact that the terrorist cult can carry out an attack in the heart of Taliban’s heart, the Kandahar, is itself indicative of their countrywide infiltrations. And none other than Taliban regime itself is responsible for that. It was the Taliban who released all ISKP fighters and would-be suicide bombers from prisons. While Taliban were busy celebrating their victory, the ISKP terrorists exploited the opportunity to gather weapons abandoned by former Afghan security forces, mostly disguised as Taliban, recruit more fighters, regroup and resurge with an unprecedented possession of wealth and weapons. The Taliban cannot eliminate or fight the ISKP effectively due to many reasons which can’t be covered in this piece.

But Taliban’s aggressive and unprofessional approach vis-a-vis ISKP, as evident in Jalalabad, only leads to further escalation of violence which will, in turn, causes countrywide chaos. Such a situation will most probably pave the way for another foreign intervention in Afghanistan as it happened in Iraq, since even Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours are unwilling to see the ISKP establishing itself in the country. 

The only solution is that Taliban immediately return to the commitments that the group had made with the international community prior to Ashraf Ghani’s flight and form a truly inclusive government based on merit and professionalism.

Dr Saleem Javed is a freelance writer and human rights activist. He tweets at @mSaleemJaved