Afghanistan: is there light at the end of the tunnel? -Express Tribune

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Afghanistan’s evolution from a fragile, failing to a failed state in the last 50 years is one that cannot be ignored. On the 15th of August this year, we witnessed yet another transformation of Afghanistan. The Taliban seized control of the country and returned to power after two decades.

On the eve of the Taliban’s takeover, the US froze $9 billion of Afghan money. Considering that 90% of the Afghan budget is dependent on foreign aid, a halt on aid will generate an economic downturn. The United Nations and other humanitarian agencies have warned of an impending food crisis in Afghanistan. The UN Secretary General has appealed for $600 million emergency assistance to prevent a catastrophic situation. It has been more than a month since the Taliban assumed control of Afghanistan, but there is still no indication of economic normalcy. Employees have not received their salaries because there is a meagre amount in the government treasury. The Taliban government is hopeful of receiving financial support from China, Qatar and Pakistan to resume economic activities, including payment of salaries and import bills and funding infrastructure. However, this will not be enough to prevent an economic crisis.

The Taliban government lacks experience, skills and expertise to run a country. Their myopic approach on governance, education, human rights, women’s rights, education, economy and foreign policy has taken a toll on the country. If the Taliban continue the violation of human rights, they will face international isolation. In addition, there is a risk of civil unrest because of the economic crisis. People have grown resentful because of the harsh and brutal treatment of women and opposition rallies.

From 1973 till 1979, Afghanistan was viewed as a fragile state when the writ of the state was weakening because of internal instability. From 1979 till 2001, it was a failing state because of the civil war, Soviet military intervention, violence and armed conflicts. After 9/11, the Taliban regime was overthrown, and the country was occupied by the US and allied forces until their withdrawal in August 2021. In the aftermath of the withdrawal, the country remains unstable. Corruption, nepotism, terrorism and fragile state authority run deep in the country. This became evident during the tenure of Presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani. Even though the US and other countries provided billions of dollars in aid, it did not change the fate of the Afghan people. Afghanistan has now been termed a failed state because of the breakdown of institutions. Although the Taliban tried to enforce peace through coercion and fear, they lack legitimacy and popular support.

During these difficult circumstances, approximately 40 million Afghans are stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. The imposition of a suffocating and ruthless form of governance under the guise of the Taliban’s mode of Sharia will further dampen their futures. It is compelling to ask: is there light at the end of the tunnel? Can the people of Afghanistan rise to seize their rights? Has Afghanistan plunged into another phase of darkness because hopes pertaining to the transformation of the Taliban mindset about women, minorities, development, education and governance have proved to be a hoax? In the past month, the Taliban did not form an inclusive government. They did not adhere to human rights or control terrorist groups like IS and Haqqani network, which is sufficient to declare Afghanistan as a pariah state.

The governments of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani must also be held accountable for corruption and misuse of funds. Recently, the Taliban recovered a huge amount of cash and gold from the house of former Afghan vice president Amarullah Saleh in Panjshir Valley. Former president Ashraf Ghani escaped Kabul with millions of dollars. Likewise, hundreds of Afghan officials, politicians, warlords and others in authoritative positions were involved in corruption while ordinary Afghans remained poor despite the influx of aid. Now, the Taliban will be required to clean the mess created by former officials.

Since the 15th of August, three major realities need to be analysed about the dangerous situation in Afghanistan and possibilities for betterment in the war-torn country.

First, Afghanistan cannot be pushed back into an era of suffocation, retrogression and darkness by imposing the Taliban’s way of life. In the last 20 years, a new generation of Afghans has grown up. They are better equipped with knowledge and skills. Therefore, the ultra-conservative culture, the tribal way of life, is losing its strength. It is not just the youth and women, but even ordinary Afghans are questioning the Taliban’s practices. They may have silenced dissent against their rule for now, but it is not unusual to expect a surge in movements demanding democracy, political pluralism and freedom in the coming days. The light at the end of the tunnel is possible if the youth and women of Afghanistan unite against the highhandedness of the Taliban and their betrayal of commitments.

Second, the international community, not recognising the Taliban as a legitimate form of government, will be a major impediment. In a recent press conference, acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi conveyed his thanks to the world for pledging $1.2 billion in a donor’s conference in Geneva. He expressed his confidence about better days for Afghanistan, and promised that “the Islamic Emirate will try its best to deliver this aid to needy people in a completely transparent manner”. He went on to say, “America is a big country and needs to have a big heart.”

Third, the world, particularly the West, will render recognition to the Taliban regime if the avoid being conservative. The Taliban must follow political pluralism, adhere to human rights and women’s rights, and seek legitimacy through popular mandate.

If it is the Taliban’s moment of truth, the same is true for Pakistan. Failure of the Taliban to learn lessons from the past would have devastating implications on Pakistan as well. Pakistan must not repeat the blunder of siding with the Taliban or other Afghan group.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2021.