Following the fall of republic in Afghanistan after 20 years, the Taliban once again gained power in the country. However, experience shows that gaining power is one thing and maintaining it is another. The Taliban now are facing many obstacles to consolidate the foundations of their government as well as establish stability and security in Afghanistan. Some of these obstacles, such as ethnic divisions, rural population, and extremism have historical and cultural roots and were a source of trouble for the previous governments too, but some of them go directly back to the current government and its performance. Poor management and governance, lack of internal and external legitimacy, as well as disregard for the demands of significant sections of society are among the destabilizing factors that back to the policies and actions of the Taliban government.
By: Aryan pourghadiri
The withdrawal of the American troops, the fall of Kabul and the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan have raised fears and hopes among the Afghans who are waiting to see peace in their homeland. Some are optimistic that by the end of rivalries between the Taliban and the former Afghan government, the country will find peace even at the cost of losing democracy. But others, whose views are closer to reality, believe that the re-emergence of the Taliban and formation of the Islamic Emirate will not stabilize Afghanistan and that the consolidation of power is not a guarantee for ending the unrest in the country. Now the question is, what are the factors that make the second belief seems more realistic? Now that the Taliban have seized the power and are seeking to establish a strong and stable government, what are the obstacles that will hinder achieving this goal?
The elements of instability during the Taliban era
The Taliban government are facing many obstacles to create a secure and stable Afghanistan, some of which have long been a source of unrest and instability in Afghanistan, and some of which go back to the Taliban’s approach.
Afghanistan is a mosaic of different ethnic groups. The Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Aimaq, Turkmen and Baloch are among the most important ethnic groups in Afghanistan. Of course, it should be noted that there are other small tribes such as Nuristani, Arab, Qizilbash, etc., which make up 4% of the population of the country. Since 1747, when the first government of Afghanistan was formed by Ahmad Shah Durrani of the Pashtuns, there was a strong bond between the power and the Pashtuns. Since then the country has been ruled by the Pashtuns, except for two short periods, and this has always provided the ground for dissatisfaction among other tribes. In fact, there has never been a "national - based" government in Afghanistan and all the governments have relied on the Pashtuns.
In this country, due to the incomplete formation of the nation-state phenomenon, the sense of national solidarity and loyalty is weak, and instead, there are very strong and deep-rooted ethnic prejudices and commitments. That is why ethnic interests always take precedence over national interests. Therefore, the ethnic governments in Afghanistan do not protect the interests of all the nation, regardless of their ethnicity, and consequently ethnic groups do not support the government. Therefore, there is always a wall of mistrust between the government and society. The current political system of Afghanistan is no exception to this historical fact. The main body of the Taliban government and the high levels of their Islamic Emirate are composed of the Pashtuns, and it is clear that such a structure cannot satisfy all the ethnic groups. Moreover, given the background of the Taliban, it is unlikely that the group accepts to ignore one of the principles of its discourse, which is Pashtunism. Thus the discriminatory distribution of financial resources, facilities and power in Afghanistan leads to dissatisfaction, indifference, rebellion and sabotage among the non-Pashtun tribes, and the reproduction of discrimination and repression by the government, which finally leads to political instability and unrest.
Villagers and rural areas
One of the factors that can destabilize Afghanistan is its rural population. Afghanistan's rural population, who make up about 74 percent of the country's population and are the most deprived people in the country, has an increasing potential to join the extremist and opposition groups due to poverty and low literacy. Although this issue ended in the Taliban's favor during the previous administrations, it could now become the group's Achilles heel because Afghanistan's economy appears to be in crisis and this would deepen the social gap between the urban and rural classes. Moreover, the level of literacy in the country, especially in the deprived areas, has dropped due to the Taliban's educational policies, making the rural population much more prone to joining the extremist groups. This could be a golden opportunity for the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) group, because it can mobilize the Taliban’s opposition forces into an organized group by paying tempting wages to them. In addition, the rural areas, especially those that are geographically difficult to cross, can be a safe haven for the opposition groups, including ISKP, because they are out of the control of security and intelligence forces.
One of the most important problems for the Taliban in stabilizing Afghanistan, which existed during the previous governments, is extremism. Prior to the Taliban's return to power, the group, as a fundamentalist force, had consistently opposed the policies of the then government and sought to implement its own extremist interpretation of Islam in Afghanistan. Now, the rulers of the Islamic Emirate face opposition from those extremist elements who accuse the government of failing to implement the true Islam and consider some of the Emirate's policies, including its negligence towards banning the education of girls and women, against the Sharia. This disagreement in the ranks of the Taliban has now ended in favor of ISKP, the Taliban's sworn enemy, because many dissident elements of the Taliban will see ISKP and its ideas in line with their own ideology, and thus will join it. The rise of ISKP in Afghanistan, which has declared the Taliban as apostate and has made combating the group a top priority, could create major security problems for the Taliban and disrupt peace and stability in the country.
The demands of society
The people are constantly making various political, social and economic demands on their governments. These demands increase when a society experiences a period of welfare and then enters a period of hardship. In such a situation, we will witness a deep rift between the demands and possessions of the people, which creates instability and unrest. The Afghan society has experienced different political and social freedoms over the past 20 years, and now the Taliban are facing a large population of young people who are full of the memories of the republic era and are not able to tolerate the current political and social climate imposed by the Taliban. In addition, Afghanistan's young generation today has many economic demands on its government.
About 42% of Afghanistan's population is under 14 years old and about 55% of its population is between 15 and 64 years old. Such a young population can put a lot of pressure on the government in terms of economic demands. However, it seems that the Taliban government will not be able to meet these demands due to the lack of specialized forces in the economic fields as well as the deprivation of international economic aid and relations. The hatred caused by poverty and the non-fulfillment of the economic demands in the Afghan society may manifest itself in several ways: silence before the storm, which will turn the society into a storehouse of ammunition and will one day ignite with a spark. The young generation will join the opposition groups based on the level of their education and mental background. These opposition groups can vary from the fundamentalist groups such as the ISKP to the liberation movements. They may also engage in unproductive and destructive economic activities such as joining the drug gangs, all of which can lead to unrest and instability in the Afghan society.
Lack of internal and external illegitimacy
One of the most important issues facing the Taliban in stabilizing Afghanistan is lack of recognition by the international community. The western countries have refused to recognize the Taliban, arguing that the group has ignored many of the commitments it had made in the peace talks. As a result, the Taliban government was deprived of foreign financial aid as well as trade with other countries. This issue had serious economic consequences for the country, because almost 75% of the country's budget is provided through foreign aid. Now, without these aid, the government is not only struggling to fund the public services, but also has lost its ability to pay the employees.
It is also worth mentioning that Washington has frozen nearly $9.5 billion of the Afghan assets in its banks following the fall of the previous government. Cutting the foreign aid and freezing Afghanistan's assets have hit the country's economy hard. According to the Disaster Emergency Committee, now 95% of Afghans do not have enough food to eat and one million children in the country are at risk of death due to malnutrition in the winter. Also, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), 97% of Afghans will fall below the poverty line in the coming months. Lack of international illegitimacy not only destabilizes Afghanistan by deepening poverty, but also increases the risk of foreign intervention and aggression.
In addition to international recognition, the Taliban do not have the acceptance of a significant portion of public and ethnic groups, because the group changed everything based on its own aspirations as soon as it came to power and violated its commitment to create an inclusive government. Regardless of the internal consensus, the group changed the name of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the Islamic Emirate. It unofficially replaced Afghanistan’s tricolor flag with its own white flag and scrapped the country’s 2004 constitution. The group also took a number of actions that although were not as drastic as the Taliban’s measures during their previous rule, revived the memories of 1996 to 2001 (the need for a male relative to accompany women on long journeys, beheading of mannequins in women's clothing stores, not opening girls' high schools, and etc.). The Taliban's indifference towards the Afghan people’s demands will undoubtedly cause problems for the new government and deprive it of the trust and support of the people, which will lead to occasional uprisings in the country and lack of public support at the critical junctures.
Following the fall of the republic in Afghanistan after 20 years, the Taliban once again gained power in the country. However, experience shows that gaining power is one thing and maintaining it is another. The Taliban are now facing with several obstacles to consolidate the foundations of their government as well as to establish stability and security in Afghanistan. Some of these obstacles, such as ethnic divisions, rural population, and extremism, have historical and cultural roots and were a source of trouble for the previous governments too, but some of them go directly back to the current government and its performance. Poor management and governance, lack of internal and external legitimacy, as well as disregard for the demands of significant sections of society are among the destabilizing factors that back to the policies and actions of the Taliban government.
In order to stabilize the country, the new Afghan government must show flexibility in terms of some of its principles and find a rational way to gain the public’s consent, achieve internal legitimacy, create national solidarity, control extremism and gain international prestige. Otherwise, that is not clear whether it will have a better fate than its previous Emirate and the previous Afghan governments.
Arian Pourqadiri, is PhD student in Political Sociology