Half a Century of War
The cries over the defeat of the West, and with it human rights, are loud in social and mainstream media as the Taliban take Kabul. Without a doubt reaction has won in a grueling battle that lasted almost half a century and has cost the lives of millions, displacing even more. In fact the unrest will last even longer and there is no guarantee that the political order of the Taliban will cement itself. However, let us imagine it does. It is my belief that there is a real potential in this new Emirate, not because of of it’s progressive character or because of some misguided Anti-Imperialism but in short because of the deep entrenchment of said reaction, one that can only be dispelled through stabilization.
But first let’s not delude ourselves into believing this will be an easy birth. If the Taliban have an interest in state building then they will need to ensure the bureaucracy and military are loyal to them which will take purges and possibly worse despite the announcement of amnesty . That is not to speak of the women being removed from the workforce. So undeniably there will be a social and economic breakdown before there can be any build up.
That being said, the path towards stability and prosperity could not thrive under the conditions of perpetual war. As already said, millions were killed or displaced, and though the clearing of mines appears to be going well it’s still an issue, not to speak of the cost of civilian lives coming from the Coalition forces themselves. Undeniably this war has done little for the people of Afghanistan.
So why do the Taliban carry, now after their last takeover, the potential for greater prosperity in the region? One central aspect is that of Ideology. While being a theocratic group may seem as a negative at first religion is, more so than nationalism (as seen with Daoud Khan), something most Afghans relate to while also providing an orthodoxy that can be argued around. While such a process would still rely on centralization and military power, a thing I’ll get to next, it gives different groups of people a common language to do politics with, without requiring the threat of violence. I believe this to be, at the present moment more reasonable than sharing the table with a US-aligned Afghan government that would likely be seen as weak and corrupt.
Even the aspect of religion though, would not have been sufficient in the past for holding power yet, presuming some smart thinking within the Taliban, we must consider the event that had not taken place the last time they were in control. That is of course the 2001 Invasion and it’s potentially mutagenic effect. Hosting groups such as Al-Qaeda in support of a global Jihad did them no favours and while Russia, after the Soviet’s failure to intervene during the 80s might be apprehensive in repeating that mistake it still has interests in the region. At the same time China’s “People’s War against Terrorism” could yet provoke some form of intervention if the Taliban authorities are unwilling to normalize relations.
To move on into the matters of state we first should mention what is likely the greatest obstacle besides potential infighting, that is conflict between the interests of the primarily Pashtun Taliban and the Tajik population to the north. Being the second largest ethnic group in the country, being situated mostly in the difficult to traverse mountains a real resistance could form, perhaps even with separatist ambitions that could prove too much for the Taliban as they want to transition away from their time as militia. And while their own fighters need to feel rewarded, these rewards should be weighted very carefully not to damage the Emirate’s own project.
Here I will allow myself some speculating on the matter of government. Perhaps my western lens is too strong here however, as Afghanistan is now (officially) an Emirate, one would be hard pressed not to look towards the United Arab Emirates for comparisons. Specifically their nature as a Federation could be precisely the model required to ensure peace in the region, restarting the wheels of progress that were arrested decades ago. While I believe the Taliban currently possess the political capital, and a corresponding will, to institute greater centralization than what is present in the UAE I am hoping they are able to temper their ambitions somewhat.
With such a model of relative stability we could see a Tabula Rasa, fertile ground if not for the near future, maybe for the decades to come. And ensuring this will require some involvement still by the international community. As bilateral relationships come onto the table one can still use the carrot and the stick in order to ensure greater safety for ethnic minorities in the country. One such example is Germany halting it’s aid with the surrender of the Government.
Level of Confidence
One should at this point ask how confident one can be in this “Good Taliban” scenario. One point must be reaffirmed before: this article is not a defense of the Taliban as a progressive force, their goal is the institution of a theocracy and should be therefore condemned on that level. The potential for good comes in putting the country back on square one. Allowing for an effort to be made in the various areas the country is deficient in. That being said there are a few good news on the horizon for this political order. One being the already mentioned Amnesty as well as some assurances towards women’s rights being made recently. Beyond that countries such as Turkey being present in Kabul, likely wanting to influence it’s politics in the future (in part in ensuring Turkic rights) and Iran desiring bilateral relations are giving the new government legitimacy before they even had time to sit at the tables. Wanting to defend their interest in Central Asia one can expect similar moves by the powerhouses Russia and China. Fears of Tajik insurrection could also be overstated as the areas were yielded no slower than more traditionally Pashtun regions, which could speak for easing of ethnic tensions in favour of a collective anger towards the previous government. Not only that, the quick defeat of the Government forces are not only proof for a need of change in the military, giving credence to any reforms set by the Taliban, but might help ease tensions further. The alternative, a protracted war using militias that are often created along tribal and ethnic lines could have lead to much bloodshed and anarchy as was the case in the 90s. All of this I believe makes the case for a positive future in Afghanistan not as utopian as some might believe.
Some More Speculation.
A final thing, not directly related to the Taliban and Afghanistan, that I wanted to leave you with is some further speculating about one thought that I have seen here and there. The idea that the removal of troops by the Washington was in preparation of an invasion elsewhere. Personally I do not believe that, however one should be skeptical about the US simply leaving and therefore abandoning their interest in Central Asia.
Instead Washington’s eye might once again fall onto Kyrgyzstan, a country which used to host an American military base that is currently at the cusp of a water conflict with it’s neighbors, the perfect setup for manipulation in favor of the US. Both it, and it’s rival Tajikistan (you will be, by now familiar with that name since Tajiks were already mentioned) both could fulfill a similar role, disrupting Russian and Chinese interests while acting as a jumping off point for operations in Pakistan should China’s nuclear ally prove troublesome. What makes me favor Kyrgyzstan over Tajikistan in this hypothesis is it’s relative distance to Afghanistan’s ethnic politics, which I’m unsure Washington wants to brave again. Of course, should they try in either country they will face a pushback by the two nations that want to ensure their dominance in Central Asia. In either case make sure you remember the name: Kyrgyzstan!