Transforming Taliban Militia into a Military Force: Prospects Challenges and Regional Stability


Can Afghanistan successfully regulate its private militias?

The Taliban Movement emerged on Afghanistan’s political arena in 1994 when infighting amongst different Mujahedeen warring factions resulted in bleeding and protracted anarchy in the country. The phenomenal rise and swift takeover of the country by the movement paved the way for peace and rather a cohesive and strong government in the center.

However rigid policies and continued support to foreign fighters including Al-Qaeda hampered the image of the Taliban leadership. In the aftermath of 9/11, the Taliban government was dislodged and efforts were made by the US and its allies to build the Afghanistan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSFs) on modern lines. In this regard a hefty amount of ninety billion dollars was spent. However, after decades long battle with the Taliban, the US entered into dialogue and signed a pact with them for withdrawal from Afghanistan. After the drawdown of US and NATO Forces, the Taliban successfully prevailed over the ANDSFs and established their rule in the country on 15th August, 2021.

The re-emergent Taliban, now often known as Taliban 2.0, are more cautious and are avoiding the rigid policies of previous Taliban regime. They are reaching out to other countries for bilateral ties and humanitarian assistance. Different countries have shown their willingness to engage with the Taliban and established their diplomatic presence in the country. Nevertheless, the Taliban are unable to get international recognition.

The Taliban had demonstrated their fighting capabilities during their war against the US and allied forces, including the ANDSFs. Due to their guerilla tactics and conducive terrain, as well as a favorable operating environment, the Taliban fighters were successful against adversary forces, despite the fact that the latter possessed more advanced weaponry, were better equipped with modern communication means, and also had the advantage of close air support from the world’s most sophisticated aviation assets.

The Taliban take over and the melting of the ANDSFs regular forces has certain lessons for military strategists. The core values such as morale, ideology, faith in the commander and objective to be achieved are always guiding principles for soldiers to fight against an adversary. While the ANDSFs were equipped with modern means of warfighting, they proved inferior to   Taliban fighters in the realm of morale, ideology, cause and faith in the command. The ANDSFs opted to fade away rather than offering resistance.

Now that the Taliban are at the helm of affairs, they are realizing the changing realities of a new era. They are showing their intent to rule without indulging in controversies, which were central to the governance of their previous regime.

The Taliban Defence Minister Mullah Muhammad Yaqoob, the son of the late Mullah Muhammad Omar who founding the movement,   has expressed the intention of his government to establish a 150,000 strong army, the strength of the ANDSFs was approximately 320,000 in April 2021. Currently, the Taliban are using infrastructure developed by the ANDSFs, which includes training facilities as well.  The Taliban has also capture modern military hardware left by US forces at the time of withdrawal and are trying to recover unserviceable military hardware through indigenous efforts; at the same time, they are expecting military assistance from other states, especially Qatar and the UAE, which will include paying salaries of the armed troops, at the insistence of the Defence Minister.

While the Taliban are motivated to defend their country from all sorts of threats, whether internal or external, a transformation of the existing militia structure into standing army is imperative. As militia, the Taliban fought successfully to attain the objective of dislodging foreign troops and their local support elements. However, the working of a standing army is starkly different from a militia. Militias are not governed by any rules, are less disciplined and less cohesive. They are often short lived and dissolve after achieving their objective or upon being overrun by their adversaries.

Armies are organized to achieve national objectives. Rigorous training, chain of command and comradeship distinguish regular armies from loosely bonded militias and armed groups. National cause and cohesiveness are hallmarks of regular armies. Violence inflicted by or upon regular army personnel are governed by international humanitarian laws of armed conflict.

Currently, the Taliban have eight corps, out of which No. 313 central corps is comprised of the elite Taliban fighter willing to die by carrying out suicide attacks on the adversary. This corps is tasked with protecting Kabul airport as well as sensitive installations including government buildings.

Currently, the Taliban army chain of command is largely based on a militia working mechanism. The communication from central authority till the battalion level is faulty and vague. While the central government in Kabul desires peaceful co-existence with its neighbors, especially with Pakistan, border issues such as the killing of Pakistani soldiers by Taliban forces in November 2022 are incidents that evidence that the Taliban militia is facing certain capacity issues, including lack of a chain of command and availability of better communication system between headquarters and field troops.

The Taliban government is facing two potent threats: the Islamic State (Khorasan) or the IS-K and the National Resistance Front. The IS-K has carried out some of worst attacks in the entire country and the Central Asian states.

The NRF is largely based in the northern part of Afghanistan. The group is being led by Ahmad Masood, son of Ahmad Shah Masood, a famous Afghan fighter who fought bravely against the erstwhile USSR invasion in the 1980s. Analysts are of the view that the former personnel of the defunct ANDSFs could join these groups for their livelihood, as happened in Iraq where former members of Saddam Hussein’s army joined ISIS for their survival.

A regular and disciplined army of the Taliban government in Afghanistan is still far from reality. Legitimacy and acceptance of the Taliban by the international community is foremost to establish a legitimate government in Kabul to govern the country. A regular army works under the ambit of constitution and legal framework which is missing from current arrangement of governance by the Taliban government.

In the current structure, the Taliban is a threat to regional peace and stability. Due to a loose command structure, the adherence to global principles of centralized command and decentralized execution is being undermined. The Taliban are unable to contain foreign fighters, particularly militant groups such as the TTP which is a constant destabilizing factor.

The international community should come forward and should try to constructively engage with the Taliban. This would result in a more pragmatic Taliban regime that has better relations with neighbors and more inclusive policies towards vulnerable segments of society, thus leading to stability in the region and a more peaceful Afghanistan.