As efforts, including negotiations, are underway to restore peace in Afghanistan and end 17year long armed insurgency by the Afghan Taliban, observers have started forecasting the implications of the militia’s return to power. Optimism is being widely expressed in important international capitals that, at last, the insurgency by the Afghan Taliban would soon end and the militia would join the national political mainstream in Afghanistan.
While at this moment, it is unclear that in what manner the Taliban would return to power but it is quite clear that the militia would somehow become a stakeholder in state power in Afghanistan. Here, it is important to note that of late, the Taliban have also agreed to hold talks with the Afghan government, which the group had consistently shun the hold talks. This development is an addition to the United States-Taliban talks in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar recently, which resulted in Washington announcing withdraw all of the remainder of its troops from Afghanistan within 18 months. On its part, the Afghan Taliban though have desisted from announcing a ceasefire, yet they have described US President Donald Trump as “serious and sincere” in ending the conflict in Afghanistan. This praise for an American leader from Taliban is indeed rare.
All these developments point towards the fact that the Taliban would be in power in Afghanistan. There are different possibilities in this regard. The foremost possibility would be that with the withdrawal of around 14,000 US troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban would be in control of Afghanistan. While this would not be a matter of cours, there is much likelihood of such a scenario. The fundamental reason for such an eventuality is that according to different estimates of SIGAR (Special Inspector General on Afghanistan Reconstruction), an official American body and British Broadcasting Corporation, the Afghan Taliban are in control of around 40 percent to 70 percent of Afghan territory. This is something surprising as 300,000 Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) personnel could not establish their writ on even half of the country’s territory. This is despite the fact that the personnel of the ANSF are armed with US and other Western countries’ supplied sophisticated weapons and mostly are trained by US military trainers. Once the US troops would have withdrawn, ANSF, which remained intact due to the crucial and critical support, particularly airpower of the US forces in Afghanistan, would see deep cracks. There are very thin chances that ANSF would remain intact after the withdrawal of the American forces as the dominating force than would be the Taliban, which is fundamentally and in orientation a militia not a political force. History of the Taliban, especially its emergence in 1994 and capturing of power in Afghanistan way back in 1996, is testimony to the fact that basically the Taliban is a militia. So when one militia would be dominant in the country, ANSF could no longer claim to be the national military. Seeing the Taliban coming to power, many personnel of ANSF would join forces with the Taliban. This would be especially the case with the Pashtun members of ANSF, who importantly are in the greatest number. However, the Tajik, Uzbek, Turkmen and Hazara ethnic groups members, who are part of ANSF, would either like to abandon the national forces as Taliban dominance would be in no way acceptable to them or possibly detrimental to their interests and even survival. A good number of ANSF forces non-Pashtun personnel would also resort to militancy to fight the Taliban. There would be much likelihood that these personnel of ANSF, who would resort to militancy, would be able to control specific areas in different minority ethnicities dominated regions of Afghanistan. This be seen that how the Taliban respond to the would-be militias of the minority ethnic groups after cracks in ANSF.
The Taliban, as a strategy to see the US forces withdraw completely from Afghanistan, may express their tacit agreement not to revoke the Afghan Constitution, because the document and the political and state system under it were provided for by the Western countries specially the US. However, the Taliban would like to introduce changes in the Constitution and make it compatible with their interpretation of Islamic Shariah. However, once in power the Taliban may attempt to completely throw away the existing Afghan Constitution and replace it with theirs. However, much would depend in what manner the Taliban return to power and how much stakes the militia would be able to appropriate for itself in power. If the Taliban return to power through becoming part of the country political system and by winning elections, then they would act relatively responsibly. However, at the same time it is also possible that once the group would return to power through winning elections, this may further embolden it sensing that they were not only militantly dominant but also now have the political support of the people. On the other hand, if the Taliban return to power through a certain formula agreed upon between the US-West and the group as well as other Afghan stakeholders, the group would attempt to dominate the system.
The question that to what extent the Taliban would mend their old ways of violently rather inhumanly treating Afghans, especially women, once they return to power is quite important. It is generally feared by the Afghans that the Taliban would resort to their old modus operandi once back in power. However, cognizant of the apprehensions of the Afghans, the world, in particular human rights groups, the Taliban have been vowing since their ouster from power by the US-led International Security & Assistance Forces (ISAF) in 2001, to change their old ways once back in the saddle. Nevertheless, the Afghans and the world have apprehensions that the group leaders have been vowing to mend their old ways merely to placate incisive criticism from various quarters. There is a lot of substance in the fears of Afghans and the world regarding the Afghan Taliban return to power and the group resorting to violence because it, as explained is fundamentally a militia.
The talks between the US and the Taliban, on the one hand and the Taliban and the Afghan government on the other, may at some point become successful but the Taliban return to power somehow would have implications. This may not be taken for granted that if the Taliban become part of the political system in Afghanistan, the conflict in the country would end automatically.