Six months after the Taliban’s domination: Where is Afghanistan heading to?

by Abu Muslim Shirzad

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Aamaj News.

It has been six months since the Taliban captured Kabul, capital of Afghanistan. Apparently, they are still steeped in their triumph, and count every step calculated and good. But the reality shows the fall of a government which followed with the collapse of the economy, governance, culture, military, education, and health systems .Due to working in the media for many years, I have built vast social connections, and every day I receive tons of messages from different parts of the country, but these messages after Taliban’s domination narrate poverty, homelessness, migration and abduction.

“One day I went to an office for work. Its manager said, ‘did you take part in any suicide attack’? I said no. ‌He said, ‘did you take part in any assassination’? I replied no. He said, so there is no work for you,” a young man told me.Another young man’s last words to me were that his hair had turned white in six months, when I asked, what was the problem? “I have many problems, but the main thing is that I am like a bird with feathers but inside a cage”. He desperately replied.
But the main question is, what have the Taliban done with war-torn Afghanistan in the past six months, and what they intend to do with it?

Economy

Although the country’s foreign aid-dependent economy was not very prosperous, in fact it has worsened in recent years, especially with the dwindling of foreign aid, and withdrawal of international institutions, but with the fall of Ashraf Ghani’s government, another dark curtain came down over poor people of Afghanistan. If previously they were concerned about suitable clothes to wear, now they are all struggling for a  piece of bread to survive.

A friend from Kabul told me that before the Taliban came to the capital, there was a dog in their neighborhood that did not eat dried bread, and most of the neighbors threw meat and food for the dog, but he said that now the dog ate the dried bread happily. A story that well depicts the severity of poverty and life in a capital with millions of citizens. Although the Taliban blame the previous government, it seems that they have no clear economic plan, so there is no hope of improving people’s lives.

The Taliban’s only hope was Afghan frozen assets that might be injected into Afghanistan’s bankrupt economy, but that hope was shattered, and the US President Joe Biden, allocated the assets to humanitarian aid and compensation to the victims of the 9/11 attacks. On the other hand, inside the country, there is neither a desire to invest nor a desire to stay. I asked one of the employees of a bank in Afghanistan whether any account had been opened to save a significant amount of money in the last six months, and the answer was no. So, seeing the streets of Kabul full of beggars, the proximity of bakeries full of people in need, the increase in the number of people who intend to sell their kidneys, and protests by government employees about not receiving their salaries in Afghanistan.

Security

Although the death toll has dropped significantly after the former government, the Taliban have occasionally brought it to the attention of Afghans and the world. But the definition of security in the Taliban’s mindset seems to be the same as it was in the 1990s. The outdated definition which is not applicable in society to the majority of today’s young generation. For this reason, a number of people consider the lack of psychological security in society after six months to be catastrophic. But on the other hand, the abduction of female protesters from the heart of the capital, assassinations and kidnappings for economic gain, and summary killings without anyone being held accountable, have added to the plight of suffering Afghan citizens.

I asked a person whether the situation in the country is black and white, as some people say? With the pain in his voice, he said the situation was worse than they were saying. Every day, news of the killing, beating, abduction and humiliation of young people is reported in the media, at least in the cities, a situation that the post-2001 generation did not even imagine, but now they see on the streets every day. The current situation has left the new generation of Afghanistan disappointed and frustrated, and some see the spread of mental illness as a result of the current situation as “catastrophic”.

Although the Taliban talk about providing physical and mental security to the people, the truth is something else. A young man told me that when he saw a Taliban member carrying a weapon, he thought he had seen a monster standing in front of him. Another young man said that he had not opened the curtain of his room for six months, because outside, in front of his room, there was a Taliban station, and he could not see Taliban gunmen with their terrifying and disappointing faces. On the other hand, speculation about ruining the security so that everyone would fight for their survival is so high. A young man said, if the situation lasted on the current course until the coming spring, he would fight whoever gave him a gun. The situation seems to be ruined this spring.

Governance

Whenever we talk about governance under the Taliban, the image that comes into my mind is the appointment of a baker in Quetta, Pakistan, as the director general of traffic in the Afghan capital. The disappointing image that the Taliban see as the reality of Afghanistan and emphasize that they are suitable for Afghanistan instead of the corrupt officials of the former government. But the truth is that the appointment of unprofessional mullahs everywhere cannot be justified by saying that previous government officials were corrupt. Besides, when I saw the list of the Taliban’s cabinet composition, and the governors of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan, and the heads of all government departments, I just repeatedly saw the mullahs – alumnae of religious madrasas– and nothing else.

Further on, despite allegations of complete cleansing of Afghan government offices for corruption by the Taliban, allegations of corruption persist. Passport directorates are a very clear example of the blatant corruption of Taliban officials, and it is highly unlikely that the Taliban would not know that the price of a passport on the black market has reached more than $1,000. So the situation is clear where this way of governance is going. On the other hand, unlike the former Taliban regime, this time some of its senior commanders have become accustomed to luxurious living styles and expensive cars, and some of them have increased the number of their wives by occupying Afghanistan. A luxurious style of life and more wives and children require more money, and considering the situation in Afghanistan, this can only be achieved through corruption and bribery. I asked a shopkeeper if the Taliban are as resolute against corruption as in their previous rule? He said that in less than six months, they have become accustomed to corruption and, by demanding money every day and under any name, have turned life into hell for them.

Domestic Policy

Six months later, the Taliban are facing other problems inside the country, including the lack of domestic acceptance and criticism of ethnic groups,  issues that the Taliban strongly reject and consider the plots of their enemies. But the reality is something else. The Taliban’s harsh policy towards women and its far-fetched interpretation of Islamic principles regarding women’s clothing and work are seen as an example of tensions inside society, a violent behavior unprecedented in 57 Islamic countries. But the Taliban, as always, emphasize their own Islamic interpretation and cultural values. While the burqa, for instance, they seek to impose on Afghan women, is neither an Islamic hijab nor a cultural dress code.

Additionally, the issues of media outlets and journalists are seen as a serious internal challenge, and any journalist who disagrees with the Taliban seems to be viewed with hostility. A reporter who came to Kabul from Kandahar after the Taliban took control said the Taliban had searched his home in Helmand several times. He went to see his mother in Kandahar a few days ago by a message he wrote to me, “I will go to see my mother, and if there is no news about me in one or two days, realize that the Taliban have been arrested.”

Statistics on the closure of media outlets have sent Afghanistan lower than North Korea regarding freedom of expression, and the escape of journalists indicate the burial of freedom of expression in this country. Finally, the mechanism of legitimacy is still not clear to the people. Although the Taliban say the election is not Islamic and has been accompanied by widespread fraud in Afghanistan in the past, this cannot be a justification for domestic political legitimacy; we still do not know whether there will be a power transition or not. A young man once told me that if the mechanism for gaining power in Afghanistan was based on force and the rifle, we would be prepared. Putting this into practice means waiting for another catastrophe.

Ethnic Balance 

Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic country where no one is aware of the exact population and which ethnicities make up the population in this country. But the political turmoil of the past 20 years and the election statistics have provided a fairly clear image of Afghanistan’s ethnicities. Many believe that Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks make up the major part of the population in this geographical area.

This time, the Taliban have fighters from different ethnic groups with them, considering the lessons learned in their first rule back in 1996. This time, the Tajiks played a prominent role in capturing the northeastern provinces and the Uzbeks in capturing the northern provinces. But the protests of the Uzbeks against the arrest of a prominent Uzbek Taliban commander by the Taliban themselves once again revealed the internal ethnic tensions and sensitivities within the Taliban and, in a larger picture, Afghanistan.

Under Ashraf Ghani’s government, his ethnic policies had always been criticized, a policy that the Taliban rejected when they captured Afghanistan, but the reality is something else. In the Taliban’s all male cabinet composition, the vast majority are Pashtuns and Hanafis, and in the provinces the situation is not better than that. When we put all this together, we come to the conclusion that the Taliban have not yet learned from history and think that Afghanistan can be governed by an ethnic mechanism. Considering the bloody history of the past and the influence of foreign actors, it seems to be highly unlikely.

Foreign Policy 

Three countries: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, supported and recognized the Taliban in their first rule back in 1996.  But this time the story is a little bit different. Albeit no country has yet recognized the Taliban regime, they hope to strike a balance so that they can run the country without the interference of others, and have global assistance simultaneously. But creating such a balance does not seem to be so easy.

For example, Pakistan has been known as a supporter of the Taliban in the past 20 years. This time, due to the presence of the Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan, the intensity of separatist Baloch attacks on the Pakistan Army, and the dispute over  Durand Line, Islamabad is cautiously dealing with the Taliban. Both sides– the Taliban and Pakistan, seem to be looking at each other with suspicion. In the case of Iran, although the Taliban, despite the hostility of their previous regime, seek engagement and closeness, Tehran’s message is very clear: to create an inclusive government in Afghanistan with the presence of  all political, ethnic, and religious groups– in cooperation with Tehran– something that is difficult for the Taliban to accept.

Although China and Russia have close ties with the Taliban, they look cautiously at their long-term  relationship with them. Terrorists with Central Asian citizenship and drugs define how the two world powers interact with the Taliban. In addition, the Taliban are closer to Doha this time, instead of the support of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which do not have a warm relationship with Qatar.

Eventually, the United States, Afghanistan’s biggest supporter in the past 20 years, still seems to be taking revenge on the Taliban regime and seeing how a regional and global arrangement of support and opposition to the Taliban will take shape in the next few months. So, with all the issues expressed, the main actors have not yet made a definite decision regarding using their men. Because of this issue, the Taliban– a group which need moral and economic support– are experiencing difficulty. Although some people say that we should wait, the problem is that, neither the Taliban nor Afghans bear the patience anymore.

And lastly, where is Afghanistan under Taliban rule heading to?

Holding such a view of politics and governance as well as considering the critics as enemies, clearly shows that the Taliban are not moving in the right direction. As a matter of fact, they are moving in the wrong direction, without understanding the reality of Afghanistan and without learning from history. Their path will lead to nothing but further destruction.

Looking at 2022 issues with the power-hungry attitude of 1996 does not untie the knot, but adds more knots. As a result, it can be said that the continuation of the current situation with the same superficial view of the current problems of Afghanistan, makes any bad scenario possible for this country, and these scenarios will not only drown the Taliban, but also lead  the country into a destructive war with the intervention of foreigners in the long-term. But whether the Taliban will continue to hold on to power in the same way in the coming months remains to be seen.


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