Afghanistan: Governance Under The Taliban

​​The Taliban issued a statement pertaining to position designations within their newly formed government this past week, prompting immediate criticism from the international community and Afghan people alike. Representation amongst the ranks sparked alarm globally: women have been completely removed and ethnic minorities occupy only a few positions, whilst veterans of the hard-line rule from the 1990s and the 20-year battle against the U.S.-led coalition occupy the highest leadership positions. Protests broke out in Kabul, where dissenters were promptly subdued by Taliban fighters, often using violent methods. Taliban leadership has since imposed limitations on rights to protest,  forbidding further gathering without prior authorization in a new attempt to silence dissent. 

The Taliban has spent the weeks after their takeover reassuring both fearful Afghans and a skeptical international community of a less harsh rule, promising women’s and human’s rights “within reason” under their interpretation of Sharia law. Shortly after the takeover on August 15th, Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar issued a statement promising “to establish an inclusive government that represents all the people of Afghanistan.” Onlookers shared sentiments of hesitancy and disbelief, this new era of Taliban rule will be characterized by actions, not by words of affirmation towards a skeptical international community. Thus far, the words and actions of Taliban representatives and stories leaking out of the country appear incongruent. 

Onlookers were justified in their skepticism. The newly appointed government is anything but inclusive; it is entirely male-led, the majority of whom are from Pashtun tribes, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, with only one Tajik and Uzbek, both Talibs. The administration is fraught with names familiar to those who lived during the Taliban’s rule during the 1990’s- one of the highest-ranking government officials to be appointed is Sirajuddin Haqqani, who sits on the FBI’s most-wanted list with a $5 million bounty on his head and is believed to still be holding at least one American hostage. Women have been stripped of all positions and the Women’s Affairs Ministry has been dissolved. The governmental composition paints a grim image for women and ethnic minorities within the country, as well as increasing skepticism abroad. 

Afghan people have not been quiet in their dissent. Feminists and Islamic democrats have taken to the streets day after day in protest of the Taliban, their interim government, and the rollback of their rights. The protests have continued despite restrictions and increasingly brutal dispersion tactics being deployed by Taliban fighters. Reports describe fighters wielding whips, beating women with batons, pointing guns at dissenters, and firing weapons into the air. Over a dozen journalists have been detained and beaten during their coverage of the protests, attempting to intimidate them into complacency. One report to the United Nations describes Taliban fighters going door-to-door in search of those who participate in the protests.

As the world watches, tens of thousands of Afghan people have fled their homes, and banks are overwhelmed with people desperate to take out money before a total economic collapse. Protestors lament. Several carry signs in English that read, “Why the world is watching us silently and cruelly?”

In this pivotal time of transition, it is absolutely imperative that the international community remains vocal in their discontent with repressive Taliban policies. Even prior to the Taliban takeover, the country catapulted towards humanitarian crises. At the start of 2021, prior to the Taliban takeover, half of the country’s population- nearly 18 million people- were in need of assistance. This number is likely to climb under Taliban governance; the U.N. Development Programme warned on Thursday that the country faces universal poverty by the middle of 2022. As it stands, many civilians are reliant on continued international aid and external provisions. It is absolutely imperative to ensure that this aid continues to make its way to citizens who need it most. 

The protection of Afghan civilians and their rights must be of the utmost priority. Military intervention would be catastrophic, exacerbating an already dire refugee crisis and exposing thousands of innocents to potentially deadly violence. The majority of governments appear to view diplomatic isolation and utilizing financial leverage as a bargaining point to be the most effective means of influencing Taliban decision-making, albeit with humanitarian consequences. As much as 80% of Afghanistan’s budget comes from the international community, and much of the Afghan central bank’s $10 billion in assets are in accounts overseas. Isolation would prompt an immediate, and catastrophic economic downturn, pushing more Afghans into poverty and hunger, in turn exacerbating violence and a pre-existing refugee crisis. In a recent report, Deborah Lyons, U.N. Special Envoy on Afghanistan issued a statement warning international governments from acting too quickly in alienating the country and imposing financial consequences, “The economy must be allowed to breathe for a few more months, giving the Taliban a chance to demonstrate flexibility and a genuine will to do things differently this time, notably from a human rights, gender, and counter-terrorism perspective.” Instead, it would be wise to place alternative safeguards on financial assets to prevent the Taliban from misusing them.

Despite understandable reservations, it is imperative the international community continue to engage in peace talks with the interim-Taliban government, if for no reason other than to guarantee the dispersion of humanitarian aid and express a show of continued solidarity with Afghan people during this terrifying and uncertain time. 

Meanwhile, the Taliban should make efforts of their own to cultivate relationships within the international community and earn the recognition of their government as legitimate. Rather than issuing opposition-based statements in response to international governments, the Taliban should develop clear negotiating strategies based on compromise, reconciliation, and power-sharing. Protecting innocents and ensuring human rights are upheld should remain the focal point of all decision-making for both the international community and the interim Taliban government. 

Finally, the Taliban should revise their governmental lineup, including women and ethnic minorities not only because they are deserving, essential proponents to an effective and just government, but because the country will fall into a state of anarchy if international partners refuse to send aid as a result of their exclusivity. Further, they would be wise to announce when their provisional government will transfer power to democratically elected officials. They should immediately cease their brutalizing of women, journalists, and protesters, and instead devise forums in which civilians are able to express concerns without fear of violent repercussion and punishment. 

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