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Two years of Taliban 2.0: Its Past and Present

The rule of Taliban 2.0 can be said to be a mix of authoritarianism and pragmatism, and also a combination of its past legacy and forward-looking orientation

It has been two years since the Taliban captured the capital city of Kabul in Afghanistan on Aug. 15, 2021, heralding the end of the U.S.-backed government of Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban’s own reincarnation as a ruling dispensation in the country. The Taliban was able to consolidate power after two decades of unabated military confrontation against U.S.-led forces after they were dethroned in 2001 in the wake of 9/11.
The terrible image of some Afghans clinging to a U.S. Military Air Force plane at Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport in a bid to flee the country following the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban is such that would stay in the minds of the people for years to come. This particular sight stirred global outrage and the horrible scene was described by German President Frank Walter-Steinmeier as a shame on the West. What was more shocking for the global community was the ease with which the Taliban swept across the country, rendering all the U.S. claims of turning the Afghan Security Forces into one of the most professional and skilled armed forces in the region at the expense of billions of dollars to nothing more than a hoax.

Glance into Taliban 1.0
The rise of the Taliban can be owed to the post-Soviet forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan and subsequent factionalism among different religionist groups, warlords and nationalist Afghan political forces in pursuit of power. The majority of today’s Taliban and their ancestors were trained in numerous seminaries established on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border amid the decadelong Soviet-Afghan war to train them in guerilla war and teachings according to their hardline interpretation of religion.
The constant factionalism for power had rendered the country stateless in the decade of the 1980s and the political vacuum was exploited by a group of young enthusiastic, devout youths prone to hardline practices, who gradually began to capture large swathes of Afghan territories. Soon, many provinces fell to their suzerainty, and finally the Taliban declared their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in April 1996 and Mullah Omar declared himself as its head (Amir-ul-Mumeneen).
But 9/11 came as a nightmare for the Taliban and what followed was a disaster for it after the U.S. accused the Taliban and former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden of an attack on U.S. territories. Soon, the U.S.-NATO military launched a much-hyped war on terror in October 2001, and thus came the end of five years of Taliban rule.
After a decade of military confrontation between Taliban forces and U.S.-led troops, the U.S. and its allies showed an inclination toward negotiation with the Taliban as the military option seemed to be failing to achieve its objective. In 2013, a political office of the Taliban was opened in Qatar’s capital, Doha, which was referred to by the U.S. as the first important step toward a political solution in Afghanistan. The establishment of the office and subsequent multiple negotiations led to the gradual withdrawal of U.S.-NATO forces from Afghanistan and eventually installing Taliban 2.0.
The direct negotiation between the Taliban and the U.S. administration not only provided fresh legitimacy to the Taliban but further emboldened it, and it emerged as a real political force in the country. The negotiation itself was a product of the growing failure of U.S.-NATO-Afghan forces to contain the Taliban and its growing acceptance in the wake of the Afghan government’s failure to do away with the plight of people who have seen nothing except destruction, hunger and bloodshed for generations.
The U.S. military and political involvement in Afghanistan spanned over four U.S. presidents (two Republicans and two Democrats), causing the death of 2,500 U.S. troops, and incurring around $1 trillion in achieving next-to-nothing, except for self-patting and claims of making America secure forever.

Enter Taliban 2.0
Among all its major foreign policy decisions, one major decision of President Joe Biden after taking oath in 2021 was to withdraw all U.S troops by the 20th anniversary of 9/11 (Sept. 11, 2001) but the crumbling of one province after another to the unstoppable march of the Taliban forced the U.S. State Department to prepone the withdrawal by Aug. 31 but even that seemed too late for the Taliban when it swiftly took over Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021.
The Taliban reinforced its religious identity, renamed the country the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and asked the U.N. to open its office in Kabul in March 2022, to which the United Nations Security Council decided to establish official ties with Taliban-led Afghanistan.
A national holiday was declared on the eve of the second anniversary of Taliban 2.0 rule in the country and numerous celebratory functions were organized, and flags with white and black colors were unfurled at different places across the country.
Government officials and ministers flaunted their past performances and achievements and many Taliban cadres in the province of Herat, western Afghanistan, were heard shouting slogans like “Death to Europe and the West, Long Live Emirates of Afghanistan.”
As far as two years of performance of Taliban 2.0 is concerned, nothing much has changed from the past in Afghanistan and there seems to be no relation between what Taliban 2.0 had promised and what they have delivered to the devastated masses of Afghanistan. Keeping its anti-women bigotry alive and very much in pursuit of its past policy, they have banned women’s education and hundreds of primary and middle schools for girls have been shut down. All females above 10 years of age have been asked to quit schooling, while earlier a ban was imposed for those who want to pursue studies beyond the sixth standard.
In today’s Afghanistan, women cannot travel alone if the distance exceeds 72 kilometers (44.74 miles), and similarly, around 60,000 women have been thrown out of jobs after the Taliban ordered the closure of all the beauty parlors and boutique centers in the country. In the last two years, the Taliban has issued 51 decrees concerning only women, banning many outdoor activities for Afghan women. Various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working for the betterment of women have been asked to stop their work. Though there is a certain section within Taliban 2.0 that favors education for women, there is no taker of such sane voices within the Taliban.
The anti-women policy of the Taliban and their reluctance to include other political or tribal groups in the government has prevented Western countries from recognizing the current regime. Because of the anti-women policy, many countries have also cut off conventional economic aid to Afghanistan, plunging the country further into economic plight as 80% of the budget for the previous West-backed government used to be comprised of Western economic aid.
On the security front, territorial control has been established but one very often hears of ghastly attacks in mosques and public places, and Daesh in general and other terror groups in particular, seem to be emerging as the biggest security challenge to the current regime. On state-society relations, there are reports of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances of both men and women, and cases of sexual harassment that are not so uncommon after Taliban 2.0 took over Afghanistan. Equally, incidents of capital punishment and stoning to death are not so rare while it was earlier perceived that Taliban 2.0 had undergone a process of enlightenment and would not be a reincarnation of Taliban 1.0.
Taliban has also failed to establish an inclusive government as promised in the U.S.-Taliban Doha Agreement and there seems to be no such indication on the part of the Taliban in the near future to include other political or tribal groups or members of the previous regime.

Both the United States and China along with other countries have been constantly asking the Taliban to include other political factions in the current government but there has been no such consideration shown by Taliban 2.0.
There are some appreciable indexes as well to highlight the bright aspects of Taliban 2.0 rule as poppy production has witnessed a major cut and new rehabilitation programs have been launched under the regime for drug addicts. Taliban 2.0 has also been able to combat food insecurity and poverty but still, there are 16 million children, according to a report, who are victims of malnourishment.
Inflation has come down from 18% to 9% in the last two years and the local currency has been strengthened against the U.S. dollar. A new phase of small industrialization has begun and new canals are being dug to address the water crisis, and a new beginning is made to forge ties with foreign countries.

Ties with Pakistan
Many regional, global political and economic agencies have reported a significant decline in corruption under Taliban 2.0 in comparison to its first spell (1996-2001) and during the rule of former Presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani. As far as its relations with its important neighbors like Pakistan, a country which was the force behind the installation of Taliban 1.0, is concerned, it is no longer so friendly today.
Pakistan has repeatedly accused the current regime of abetting the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which in the last few years has emerged as one of the biggest security threats to Pakistan. The newly appointed army chief, Gen. Asim Munir, went to the extent of threatening military intervention if the regime did not alter its current policy vis-à-vis Pakistan. Earlier, Pakistan’s former Defense Minster Khwaja Asif had expressed the same concerns, and even a high-level religious delegation was sent to Afghanistan to urge the Taliban not to allow its territories to be used against Pakistan. But it all cannot be blamed on Afghanistan or the Taliban alone because it has largely to do with Pakistan’s current political chaos and economic plight as well.
Under Taliban 2.0, China has emerged as a major stakeholder in the political spheres of the country and is eyeing Afghanistan as an indispensable avenue for economic investments given its abundant natural resources. Many countries in Central Asia tend to embrace Taliban 2.0 and are not shying away from claiming that the Taliban is a reality and an integral part of Central Asia. Unlike Taliban 1.0, which was comfortable with keeping itself within an introverted reality, Taliban 2.0 is having a forward-looking sense of international relations as they are in constant investment talks with capital-rich countries in the region. They are no more likely to be seen as an isolationist unit and instead seem to engage with all entities around. Now the Taliban has a realization that they cannot afford to go it alone like their predecessors, and have to deal with all global agencies for the functioning of the state and to address the day-to-day grievances of the common people.
The rule of Taliban 2.0 can be said to be a mix of authoritarianism and pragmatism, and also a combination of its past legacy and forward-looking orientation. Despite their yet-to-be-recognized status, they have been able to survive as a de facto regime and not de jure political authority in the country. But issues like women’s rights, political and social cohesion, the security threat, and tribal conflict would continue to persist in the political landscape of the country. Despite having been in power for two years, it is still struggling to shake off its pariah status and escape global sanctions, and its reentry into the community of nations remains a distant prospect.


Fazlur Rahman Siddiqui

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