Since the fall of Kabul in mid-August, there is uncertainty about the future political set up on one hand and challenges of recognition on the other to the Taliban. Though the Taliban are constantly assuring the world about human and women rights, freedom of the press and a stable political setup yet the world is skeptical about the future in Afghanistan. The U.S. has frozen Afghanistan’s $ 9.5 billion assets and IMF and European Union halted any kind of financial or humanitarian assistance to the Taliban regime. Similarly, the Taliban facing recognition issue without which bringing enduring stability to Afghanistan would be quite difficult.
Hence, in such a situation, Afghanistan faces two-front challenges: internal and external. If the Taliban regime could not control the situation, there could be instability in Afghanistan and that will definitely affect the region and neighborhood. This article aims to look at the Taliban’s internal and external challenges and how it could affect the region and neighboring states especially Pakistan.
The new interim government formed by the Taliban is not inclusive as the world was expecting. The main political leaders of the main political parties and ethnic groups i.e., Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, Gulbadin Hikmatyar, or any other ethnic group’s leader is not included. This situation is quite concerning which could have a negative impact on the future setup. Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic society where a broad-based government is quite essential for a stable system.
Likewise, ISKP is another challenge for the Taliban who have twice launched attacks inside Kabul following the Taliban’s takeover. It is pertinent to mention ISK has been constantly launching attacks in Afghanistan especially Kabul while targeting civilians and even school children. Though apparently, ISKP cannot challenge the Taliban regime, yet it can create issues on small scale to disturb the new setup.
Similarly, there is a ‘consensus’ issue to the Taliban among their ranks. The current issues between mullah Biradar and Mullah Yaqub, the son of Mullah Umar have surfaced. Many were expecting Mullah Biradar, Taliban’s co-founder, as the Prime Minister yet he was made deputy. Likewise, for the last few days, his absence from the scene was also questionable for many. Many rumors were there following which he had to issue an audio statement that he was alive. Hence, the division among the ranks of the Taliban could also trigger which can harm their future plans.
Moreover, the economy is one of the biggest challenges to the Taliban. Though some countries are helping them out in form of humanitarian aid it would not work and they would need any permanent solution to the issue. China, Pakistan, Qatar, and UAE have sent humanitarian aid so far. On September 13, the U.S. announced humanitarian aid of $64 million to Afghanistan that will be delivered through independent organizations, NGOs, and UN agencies. However, the Taliban and the Afghanistan Central Bank officials want the frozen assets to be released by the U.S. If there is not enough aid to the new regime from the outside world, it would be quite difficult for them to sustain. However, they are looking towards china which can fill the aid gap the U.S. has left. However, that is not certain right now; only indications are there about it.
Furthermore, in addition to internal challenges, the Taliban regime is facing external challenges as well. The most crucial challenge is recognition of the Taliban regime for which they have been paving the way since the Doha process. They were constantly engaged with the regional and global powers to ensure they could rule the country and will form a balanced government followed by balanced policies where there could be no threat to any country from Afghanistan. In their previous rule: 1996-2001, only three states had extended recognition to them—Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the UAE. However, the circumstances are quite different now where these three countries would not be able to extend recognition to the Taliban at an earlier stage.
On September 13, the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Bliken issued a statement we are reassessing our relations with Islamabad and Pakistan should deny legitimacy to the Taliban unless they fulfill international demands. “So, Pakistan needs to line up with a broad majority of the international community in working toward those ends and in upholding those expectations,” Blinken added. The western bloc has two major concerns they want the Taliban to fulfill—respect of women and fundamental rights and denying Afghanistan soil to be used by terrorists. The Taliban are reassuring the world about these concerns; however, some reports keep coming out where journalists have been targeted.
If the Taliban make an inclusive and broad-based government and respect the fundamental rights, there could no issue in recognizing them. Even the west would think about their recognition. And in such a situation, they should not be left in the lurch where the Afghan economy is deep down towards collapse. All regional countries including Pakistan are concerned about Afghanistan. Being the next-door neighbor, Pakistan has been the key stakeholder in Afghanistan. Islamabad has been trying to persuade the world to engage with the Taliban and help them out at this critical juncture. Earlier this month, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told his British counterpart in Islamabad: Taliban is a new reality in Kabul—a statement pushing for engaging with the Taliban. Pakistan fears if there is further instability in Afghanistan, it could have severe implications for Pakistan.
Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai is author of “The Troubled Triangle: US-Pakistan Relations under the Taliban’s Shadow” (Routledge). He tweets @yousafzaiZafar5