Afghanistan After Taliban Marched In

Afghanistan After Taliban Marched In
Who knew that Taliban would return to Kabul on August 15, 2021, without firing a single bullet or facing resistance. Their swift takeover of Afghanistan sent shockwaves around the world. Since then, numerous articles, reports and books have been written on the subject. One such book is The Return of Taliban – Afghanistan After Americans Left, written by Professor Hassan Abbas.

In the six chapters of the book, the author discusses disintegration and dispersing of Taliban from Afghanistan, their reorganisation and survival amid hostile environment even after the death of their two emirs, one due to sickness and the other in a drone strike. He also discusses their negotiation skill, fighting capability and strategic planning.

The book delves into challenges Taliban presently face, such as running an effective government, maintaining peace in the country, addressing the issue of women’s education and protecting minority rights, thwarting forces like Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from using the Afghan soil for subversive activities in neighbouring countries, countering the threat of ISI-K, and preventing defections within their ranks. The content of the book is based on interviews with individuals based in Afghanistan, the US and Pakistan as well as various books and articles.

In the introduction of the book, Abbas discusses how Kabul fell without any resistance, the escape of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and the Taliban victory. He summarises: “The most important factor that caused the fall of Kabul in August 2021 was how the Taliban strategized their return to power through a combination of hard bargaining on the negotiation table with the US, while ramping up pressure on Kabul through increased violence, including targeted suicide attacks. And it is really intriguing, how the Taliban, under the cover of these two elements, surreptitiously reached out to influential tribes and groups across the country to convince them — and coerce or bribe them where necessary — to opt for “peace” deals with the Taliban to avoid any reprisals afterwards.”

In chapter one, titled ‘The Road to Kabul’, the author delves into effects of the US-Taliban peace deal on demoralisation of government forces and empowerment of Taliban. He cites an example of how the Talban cleverly released around 1,000 Afghan security personnel in exchange for their 5,000 fighters, which not only boosted their morale but strengthened them through additional manpower on the battlefield.

Another factor that led to the Taliban victory is their policy of waiting. In addition to continuing insurgency and employing guerrilla tactics, the Taliban adopted a patient approach. They displayed flexibility on some occasions while maintaining rigidity on others. Leadership also played a crucial role in the Taliban resurgence after their initial retreat from Afghanistan. Despite their differences, they remained united under their leaders, while a cold war for the highest office persisted in Kabul. The Kabul government relied heavily on foreign aid rather than generating its own resources for running official activities and relied on warlords to maintain peace and combat the Taliban, which ultimately proved ineffective.

In chapter two, titled ‘From Insurgency to Governance’, he discusses the various roles individuals played during two decades of insurgency, their role in the Doha Talks and the new Taliban administration in Kabul. Before delving into these details, the author describes the scenes in streets and the Kabul airport after Taliban reached the city gates. He also provides the reasons for their swift action, as leaders from different Taliban factions, such as Haqqanis and Mulla Yaqoob son of Mulla Omer, were eager to secure their desired positions in Kabul.

Additionally, Abbas throws light on the different groups within Taliban. He believes that their shared objectives have prevented them from openly displaying their differences and this cohesion will likely keep them united in the unforeseeable future.

He also shares information about Taliban’s government methodology, as described in a book written by Abdul Hakim Haqqani, the newly appointed head of Taliban’s Supreme Court. While the book is not an official policy document, it reflects the opinion of Taliban leadership. It provides a summary of the essentials of the Taliban worldview, discussing important aspects of their philosophy and public policy approach based on Haqqani’s religious opinions.

Although Taliban share a common agenda and one religion, their diverse background and experiences during the insurgency gave rise to internal rivalries. In chapter three, titled ‘’, the book examines policies, politics and internal rivalries of the new regime in Kabul. Abbas highlights in his writings that the Taliban government is grappling with several issues, including education of women and girls, role of Muslim minorities, financial crisis, and internal rivalries among different factions of Taliban. Particularly on the first two issues, there is a noticeable divergence in the perspectives of individuals who have grown up in different circumstances within Taliban. Some hold moderate views, while others lean towards more reactionary positions. Abbas claims that the Taliban leadership is apprehensive about showing leniency on these matters, as they could lead their followers to join factions with stricter ideologies, such as ISI-K.

To support their activities, every political party or resistance group bases their narrative on ideology. Similarly, the foundation of the Taliban movement is Islam, and within Islam, they follow Hanafi jurisprudence. However, in South Asia, it further divides into two schools of thought: Barelvi and Deobandi. Most of the initial leadership of the Taliban attended madrasahs in Akora Khattak in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which follows the Deobandi school of thought. Therefore, Taliban follows the same school of thought and aims to impose Sharia law in Afghanistan based on the Hanafi jurisprudence of the Deobandi school of thought.

In chapter four, titled ‘Deobandism, Islam, and the Religious Narrative of the Taliban’, Abbas discusses Deobandism and revivalist Islam, the historical context of Deoband, relationship between Deobandism, Salafism, Sufism in Afghanistan and Taliban as a modern religious movement, their narrative, and its relevance to the contemporary Muslim world.

Every person, group, organisation, political party, resistance movement has allies as well as opponents. It seeks support from their allies during difficult times and fears disruption or sabotage from opponents. Similarly, Taliban have both friends and opponents. In chapter five, titled ‘Allies and Enemies of the Taliban’, he mentions Pakistani Taliban as friends of the Taliban, while considering ISI-K their rival. However, the author believes that if not handled properly, both organisations can be detrimental to the Taliban government.

During the insurgency days, Taliban established and maintained relations with different organisations and countries. In chapter six, titled ‘The International Relations of the Taliban’, the author highlights how Taliban will continue with those relations and the potential diplomatic changes they may encounter. The chapter also explores roles different countries can play in Afghanistan's development and in supporting the Taliban pursuit of international recognition as the legitimate rulers of the country.

According to Abbas, China, Iran, Qatar, Russia, India, and Turkey can revive economic activity in Afghanistan. Interestingly, notable exceptions in this chapter are Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, maybe because they recognised and established diplomatic relations with the first Taliban government in 1990s.

In his concluding remarks, Abbas asserts that the Taliban's most formidable challenge is transitioning from a globally condemned insurgency to a recognised political entity. He suggests that Taliban must address critical tasks, such as mitigating terrorism-related disruptions, eradicating criminal networks, and effectively managing imminent humanitarian crises.

Another significant issue highlighted by the author in the book is the difficulties Taliban may face in transitioning from old to new generation of leadership. He also talks about the possible conflict between individuals aspiring for power within the organisation.

The author suggests that for Taliban to establish a stable and independent Afghanistan, they need to move away from rigidity, exclusivity, and oppressive measures. He ends the book with a hopeful sentiment, that in a land rich with poets and mystics, peace is not an impossible outcome.

The book is available in Pakistan via Readings: