The Year of The Taliban

Taliban complete a year of their takeover of Kabul in mid-August 2022. It also means that the US and NATO have had sufficient time to assess their performance in a hostile environment spread over twenty years. While those assessments will not be made public any time soon one can comment on what is visible across the Border. That Kabul has survived without any major threat to their rule is meaningful. It suggests that there are no major takers to destabilise the Taliban Government from the West. The discredited Northern Alliance and its leaders living in Turkey, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have not been able to gather the resources or shown leadership qualities that require another round of sacrifices. With all eyes on the  Russo-Ukrainian War  in Europe, Afghanistan is close to becoming the forgotten country. The Taliban have therefore by default been given a reprieve. No international recognition, food shortages with the bulk of the urban population barely surviving, lack of finances to pay government servants, closures of girl schools, slow but steady stricter implementation of Shariah and a host of other problems continue.

The new Taliban leadership is led by Sheikh Haibatullah who has two Deputies, Mullah Yaqub (son of Mullah Omar) and the other Khalifa Sirajuddin Haqqani. Mullah Haibatullah controls approximately five ministries directly which are Minerals and Petroleum, Amar Bil Maruf wa Nahi anil Munkar (Enjoin the Good, Forbid the Wrong), Kare Umoor Ijtimai (Public/Social Works), Finance and Foreign Affairs.  Yaqub heads the Defence Ministry including the Intelligence. Khalifa Sirajuddin Haqqani heads the Interior Ministry. All remaining Ministries are shared equally meaning that each is looking after four to five additional Ministries that are placed under Yaqub and Khalifa. These include Frontier Regions, Tribes, Health, Education, Refugees, Information, Power Generation, and more. The Stahr Mahkama (Supreme Court) is independent. In Kabul Mullah Muhammad Hasan is nominated as Raees ul Wuzara (Head of the Council of Ministers) and has three Deputies namely Mullah Berader, Mullah Abdul Salam Hanafi (Uzbek) and Mullah Kabir.They look after the political side of the Taliban. Although Mullah Hasan heads the Council of Ministers the actual power is with Yaqub and Sirajuddin Haqqani. Qari Fasihuddin from Badakhshan heads the Army.His Deputy is Mali Khan (uncle of Sirajuddin Haqqani). There were unconfirmed rumours that Khalifa did not want Amir Khan Mutaqi to be appointed as the Foreign Minister, a point that he raised with Kandahar. With the Ministries divided equally, Yaqub and Khalifa are kept satisfied.

Pakistan’s TTP problem is still festering. Sirajuddin Haqqani’s effort to negotiate a peace with the TTP has not borne fruit. The TTP stance continues to be unacceptable to Pakistan. Pakistan’s good intent to release some prisoners has been to a degree reciprocated by their announcement of a ceasefire. This is violated nearly daily in North Waziristan by the TTP. TTP blames Gul Bahadur but in actual fact both are one and the same. The TTP demand actually translates to ‘we will get our prisoners released, stretch the talks till all our demands are met and we will remove the Barbed Fence erected by Pakistan’. Taliban are definitely playing along with the TTP and not worried about Pakistan’s security concerns. This holds true for the ETIM that China demands the return of. Not visible in the future.

Indian overtures to establish a better relationship with Kabul will bear fruit. This time around the Taliban have developed a business sense. They can understand that India has greater potential to help Afghanistan. India will re-establish its presence and in time win over important Taliban elders. It will again be in direct contact, with clandestine Talib support, with the TPP and the Baluchi non state actors, all detrimental to Pakistan. It is strongly rumoured that Nur Wali (TTP chief) has told Siraj Haqqani that if he or the Taliban exert unbearable pressure on the  TTP, the TPP will leave Afghanistan for ‘a Third country!’  Is this an indication that they are already planning to shift? Where? To Iran? India? It is amazing to see the level of forgiveness amongst the Taliban leadership. They are willing to overlook the hundred or so surrendering Taliban airlifted to India from Kunduz in late 2001, when Qanuni was the Interior Minister. They forgave Moscow when the Taliban demanded the whereabouts of hundreds of Mujahideen taken by Russia and executed during the Jihad. This was when the Taliban in Kandahar force landed a Russian cargo plane in 1995 that was taking military supplies to the Rabbani Government at Kabul. They allowed the plane, after one year to conveniently fly out. They are willing to overlook the many hundreds of their warriors interned and brutalized by RAW/CIA in cells throughout the country!

The US/Khalilzad plan, some sources suggest, is to make Pakistan financially weak and burdened with debt that it collapses under its own weight. He has made it known that the US sees Pakistan disintegrating within ten years. It appears that the US has again decided to re-engage with Pakistan as of old. It sees an opportunity to drive the wedge between China and Pakistan even deeper. Islamabad must therefore be on alert to any new US initiatives in the region. TTP cannot be trusted, it plays a game based on falsehood. It is strange that the Taliban or Khalifa are unaware of it.  China has remained steadfast behind Islamabad. It follows each event closely regarding CPEC. Any degradation of this project may be construed as a hostile act by Beijing. Pakistan will face problems of shortage of grain, petroleum and energy in the coming year. Given the fact that Pakistan is reliant on IMF and other Bretton Woods instrument ( though this instrument collapsed in the 1970s but it created a lasting influence on international currency exchange and trade through its development of the IMF and World Bank) to sustain itself it, it will not be able to break out of this bind. Pakistan should neither expect any serious relief from Russia as well. Moscow’s dealing with India is at a different level which Islamabad cannot hope to emulate in the short term.

Iran’s relations with the Taliban, has been uneasy. Clashes on their borders, Iran’s support to the Northern Alliance and still unclear future of the Hazara community inside Afghanistan rankles. Internationally it is no longer isolated, recent visits by Putin and Erdogan to Tehran  suggests its new found importance. It also provides an alternative trade route to China.

There has again been an influx of Afghan families into Pakistan which are sponsored by the EU. They are those who helped NATO and the Embassies at Kabul. They await their papers to migrate. The Ukrainian War has dampened the EU interest to settle most of these Afghans since they themselves are flooded by refugees from the Ukraine. Pakistan will be stuck with this large body again as funds for these Afghans from the EU run out. It is likely they will stay on indefinitely .A policy needs to be put in place.

Afghanistan and the Taliban are not in harmony. It is at best a stopover arrangement that will hopefully metamorphose into a shared government with the Northern Alliance, this time with better understanding and lesser brutality. +92-51-8732000 | +92-51-8730820 18-A, Street 2, Sector E-11/1 Islamabad,Pakistan, 44000