Taliban regain power, but face growing challenges | Conflict News

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The Taliban took control of Afghanistan last week, 20 years after it retreated from power in a US-led military invasion.

Winning this war may well turn out to be the easiest part, as keeping the peace and ruling the conflict-ravaged and impoverished country will be a difficult task to solve, according to Afghan analysts and officials.

Al Jazeera takes a look at six challenges facing the armed group as it prepares to rule the country of 38 million people for the second time since 2001.

Acceptance

The government of President Ashraf Ghani has failed to meet the aspirations of the people as their standard of living has barely improved with poor basic services such as health and education.

The government was mired in corruption, while the security situation remained precarious, forcing thousands of Afghans to leave the country. Many notorious militia leaders and their henchmen have been rehabilitated despite their atrocious human rights and corruption record.

People carry the national flag during a demonstration held during Afghan Independence Day in Kabul [File: Reuters]

People were frustrated and ready for a change, but that doesn’t mean they are looking forward to the Taliban’s return.

“In many parts of Afghanistan, people are subject to Sophie’s choice of a repressive Taliban regime or a government that extracts far more than it supplies,” said Jonathan Schroden, director of the research program at the Center for Naval Analyzes based in the US state. from Virginia.

“While some Afghans certainly have strong preferences and support one side over the other, many are caught in the middle of not being particularly enthusiastic about one side or the other,” said Schroden, who leads the Threats and Challenges program.

Stretched forces

Within weeks, the armed group captured most of the provincial capitals, including the capital Kabul, in a virtually unopposed lightning military sweep that brought back memories of US-trained Iraqi troops fleeing the fields. battle against marauding ISIL fighters in 2014.

The Taliban launched their military offensive in May as US-led foreign forces began withdrawing from Afghanistan under an agreement the group signed with the United States on February 29, 2020, in the Qatari capital Doha.

Afghan security forces either surrendered (after mediation by local tribal elders) or withdrew, giving Taliban fighters a ride to some northern and western provinces.

Advisers to the previous government led by President Ghani, who has since fled the country, say the former government’s decision to withdraw government troops from remote areas backfired because it allowed the Taliban to take momentum and sowing fear among the remaining troops.

Taliban fighters patrol Kabul [Rahmat Gul/AP Photo]

Now, with almost all of Afghanistan under their control and less than 100,000 active fighters, the Taliban will be at the end of its rope, analysts say.

“The Taliban have found it easy to take over a large number of districts, but clinging to the big cities is another proposition – a proposition requiring significant amounts of manpower,” Schroden said.

A former Afghan minister told Al Jazeera that Shughnan district in Badakhshan province had only been taken by “six Taliban fighters” – it is home to around 60,000 people. And there have been other instances where a handful of fighters have been able to claim significant territory. This has also been confirmed by the Taliban.

The Taliban have announced a general amnesty for government officials as they seek to keep as many people as possible in their current positions.

Unless it increases the number of law enforcement officers, the country is exposed to unrest and lawlessness.

Meanwhile, former vice-president Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud – son of Tajik commander Mujahideen Ahmad Shah Massoud – have already called to challenge the Taliban regime.

Governance

The Taliban have been good at one thing: fighting. How are they going to rule this diverse country with almost negligible modern infrastructure?

“The Taliban have yet to demonstrate their ability to govern effectively. They did not do that when they ruled Afghanistan, and they did not demonstrate such a capability in the areas they currently control in the country, ”CNA’s Schroden said.

A Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon with images of women disfigured using spray paint at Shar-e-Naw in Kabul [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

The Taliban have at times been credited with being good at maintaining security – albeit with very harsh means – and providing effective forms of traditional justice, but they have little or no technocratic understanding of how others exercise. government functions.

The group will likely struggle to provide effective governance to the people of the country, as the government does not have much revenue to spend on public services – that is the essence of its problems today.

“There is the problem of retaining enough manpower, bureaucracy and civil servants to run the business of government. With an exodus of people, one vulnerability could be an insufficient number of professionals and technocratic executives to lead state institutions, ”said Omar Samad, senior researcher at the Atlantic Council.

Controlling your strengths

The war against foreign occupation united the ranks of the Taliban. Now, when these fighters become governors and mayors and gain access to incoming income and authority, will they follow the same path as previous governments and end up being accused of corruption and abuse of power?

Members of the Taliban forces sit at a checkpoint in Kabul [File: Reuters]

“It will be an interesting dynamic to follow. The Mujahedin fought against this following the Soviet withdrawal when they no longer had the unifying cry to defeat the ungodly Communists and turned their guns on each other, ”Schroden said, referring to the war against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

“The Taliban are aware of this risk and have spent at least seven years improving vertical and horizontal links within their organization to strengthen its cohesion. It remains to be seen to what extent these efforts will prevent the Taliban fighters from deciding to cease fighting when the rallying cry of the foreign invaders subsides, ”he said.

The past

The Taliban’s last takeover between 1996 and 2001 was marred by abuses against ethnic minorities and restrictions on women’s rights, while the country was internationally isolated.

Since taking power on August 15, Taliban talking points include respect for the role of women in the public sphere, human rights and minority rights. But the world, and most importantly the Afghans, are waiting to see if those words turn into action.

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 for its ties to al-Qaeda, which was blamed for the 9/11 attacks, and the Taliban will be closely watched to ensure it keeps its promise not to deliver. a safe haven for armed groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIL.

“Afghan history of the past 50 years is full of the rise and fall of regimes and governments. Very few got a second chance, and if they did – like the Mujahedin – they were short lived, ”Samad, a former diplomat and adviser to the Afghan government, told Al Jazeera.

“They face a huge challenge in ensuring an acceptable level of human rights and gender rights policies, media and civil society laws, ethnic rights and minority rights. Also, to visibly sever ties with militant and terrorist groups. Time will tell if any of these lessons have been learned.

Economy and dependence on foreign aid

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world and more than 20 percent of its gross income comes from foreign aid.

The United States froze $ 9.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets following the Taliban takeover, while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) suspended access to its funds.

Many other Western donors could follow suit, making it extremely difficult for the new government to run the economy in a country where 75 percent of public spending comes from grants.

Afghans line up waiting their turn to withdraw money from an ATM outside a bank along a road in Kabul [AFP]

Significant mineral wealth remains underground, as instability has prevented major exploration and international investment.

Although the Taliban have discussed possible plans for economic cooperation with Russia and China, it remains to be seen how that will come to fruition.

Humanitarian agencies should also provide urgent aid to Afghans displaced by the war. It is estimated that more than 5 million Afghans are internally displaced. The UN says nearly 400,000 people have been displaced this year alone as a result of the ongoing violence.

But with aid agencies, including the UN, pulling their staff out of the country, things will be difficult for those dependent on foreign aid.

In order to unlock international funding, recognition by the international community of a Taliban government will be essential, as the group is still on the UN blacklist.

Taliban patrol Afghan capital Kabul [Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu]

The Taliban ignored the idea of ​​depending on foreign aid, saying their fighters survived on bread and water during the war. The question remains: can she convince millions of Afghan civilians to live without the foreign aid they have relied on for years?

It is also an opportunity for foreign donors and aid agencies to persuade the Taliban to agree to their terms in return for aid.

But Jonah Blank, senior lecturer at the National University of Singapore, said: “Money is not really as powerful a tool as some foreigners might think.

” As long as he [Taliban] has enough funds to complete his basic ‘homework’ (as he sees it), so I think it won’t really care if an extra billion or two here or there goes into the treasury, ”Blank told Al Jazeera’s “Counting the Cost” show. .

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