After the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban on August 14, the biggest challenge to the war-ravaged country and the militia is how to form a new government that may remain stable and then how to use the state apparatus to address complex issues of Afghan society.
After the fall of entire Afghanistan, except the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, to the Taliban, negotiations among some key Afghan actors and victors continue. The main actors taking part in the talks to give a future political roadmap for Afghanistan include former two-time President Hamid Karzai and Chief Executive or Number 2 in the Afghan set-up, Abdullah Abdullah, as well as Taliban’s second-tier leadership. The process of dialogue among key Afghan actors is a healthy political sign for Afghanistan. Otherwise, the Taliban are the victors and they could have their way as the entire country has fallen to them. However, they are demonstrating an extreme sense of responsibility by sitting with Karzai and Abdullah, who seemingly do not have any stake in the future power of Afghanistan. In this regard, both Karzai and Abdullah must also be appreciated for their role. Otherwise, they could opt for not coming to Afghanistan, in the case of Karzai, and to go out of Afghanistan, in the case of Abdullah. Karzai is a US resident while Abdullah could very easily take refuge in a western country. But both have demonstrated a splendid sense of maturity and sacrifice despite serious threats to their lives in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. On the other hand, ousted President Ashraf Ghani must be ashamed of himself for fleeing Afghanistan in a critical hour of trial. He argues that he has left power and Kabul in order to avoid bloodshed but it is just a lame excuse. He could have demonstrated leadership qualities and engaged with the Taliban and offered them his resignation in return for the formation of an interim government. One thinks that the Taliban would have treated him well and it could augur well for Afghanistan. Nevertheless, kudos to Karzai and Abdullah, who are engaging with the Taliban in dialogue.
The Taliban are moving very cautiously, demonstrating restraint and responsibility by not assuming de jure powers despite the fact that they are the de facto unrivaled power in Afghanistan. As the Taliban have been consistently saying that they do not want to form a government singlehandedly in Afghanistan despite being the uncontested power to do so, it is indeed great maturity on their part. However, it has been learnt on good authority that the Taliban want to have 80 percent stakes in the future government while they are ready to reserve 20 percent stakes for fellow Pashtuns, the second major ethnic group, Tajiks, followed by Uzbeks, Hazaras, Turkmen and a tiny Baloch and Wakhi population of Afghanistan. The manner in which the Taliban, in a matter of a couple of weeks, occupied most of the provincial capitals of Afghanistan, necessitated more stakes in the government. Otherwise, it was expected that the Taliban would get around 60 percent stakes in the future Afghan dispensation. However, they pushed to get the maximum share of power in Afghanistan. But as dialogue is taking place in Afghanistan, the Taliban may reduce some of their claimed share in the future political set-up. Much would depend upon how claimants to stakes in power articulate their case in the talks and how the international community put pressure on the Taliban to accommodate minority groups in the government.
The Taliban have huge challenges to meet despite overcoming the greatest challenge of forcing more than 3,50,000 personnel of Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) surrender to them. The foremost challenge to the Taliban is to fill for the time-being the administrative and security vacuum created by the dilution of the ANDSF. At the moment, there is a grave threat from the Islamic State militant-terrorist group in Afghanistan to the people and the rulers. On the other hand, there is also a possibility that ousted Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh along with expelled Army Chief Bismillah Muhammadi may organise an armed resistance against the Taliban. Keeping in view the ground situation, an armed resistance against the Taliban may not be potent but if other Afghan minority groups join in and IS also lends support to it, the Taliban would face a daunting task to quell it. It would again deteriorate the security situation in Afghanistan.
In the situation, the Taliban would do a great job on their part by giving important positions to Karzai and Abdullah in the future set-up. They must request Karzai and Abdullah to be part of their government to benefit from their experience in the government as well as stature in Afghan society. Karzai and Abdullah must also respond positively. As Karzai is an important Pashtun leader, while Abdullah belongs to the Tajik ethnic group, their inclusion in the government would give it the much-needed inclusive colour and make-up, which Afghanistan needs critically. Moreover, their inclusion in the government would delegitimize any claim by disgruntled Pashtun, Tajik and other minority group leaders to power in Afghanistan.
Another important challenge to the Taliban is that with empty state coffers they would face extreme difficulty in running the day-to-day affairs of Afghanistan. The United States has already frozen around $9 billion Afghan assets in its banks. Germany, the UK and the EU have stopped economic aid to the country. In the situation, the Taliban would not be able to manage the routine business of the government for long. They would have to form a really broad-based government acceptable, if not to all, but most stakeholders in Afghanistan. In this regard, they could take advantage of the expertise of Karzai and Abdullah. An important aspect of the Taliban is that they also have a key affiliate group that is the Haqqani Network. Named after legendary anti-Soviet Afghan Mujahideen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, the group has been instrumental in the Taliban military successes. However, the problem is that the Haqqani Network has been on the terrorist blacklist of the US and the United Nations. Recently, Jalaluddin’s son, Anas Haqqani, has also been engaged in dialogue with Karzai and Abdullah. But if in any manner the Haqqanis are part of the government, the international community would not accept it. The Taliban have to keep it in mind and assuage the Haqqanis.
The situation in Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul has entered an extremely important phase and the future of civil war or peace would depend on the ongoing dialogue among the Afghans.