Taliban government and three major security threats
The Taliban government is facing three types of security threats of internal origin: The threat of opposition armed forces known as resistance fronts; the threat of disgruntled commanders separated from the Taliban; and finally the threat of the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP). During the 10 months of the Taliban’s rule over Afghanistan, all these three categories of threats have shown themselves more or less. The threat caused by resistance fronts has shown itself mostly in two provinces of Panjshir and Baghlan. The Taliban’s defectors, who are mostly non-Pashtun commanders, have been a source of security threat to the Taliban in recent months. The last case of this category is the rebellion of "Mawlavi Mehdi," the only Hazara commander of the Taliban. ISKP has also caused bloody attacks against the Taliban and the Afghan people in different parts of Afghanistan since the first days of the Taliban’s rule. This article intends to show whether these three sources of threat have the potential to turn into serious challenges for the Taliban government.
By: Mir Ahmad Mashal
The Taliban government is exposed to three categories of internal threats: The threat arising from opposition forces related to the previous regime known as the resistance front, the threat caused by dissatisfaction of some internal forces, and the threat resulting from the activity of the ISKP. During the 10 months of the Taliban’s rule over Afghanistan, all these three categories of threats have shown themselves more or less. The threat of the Resistance front, which can still be seen in the two provinces of Panjshir and Baghlan, has almost turned into a trouble for the Taliban at the local level. Another source of threat caused by the separation of some local Taliban commanders, mainly non-Pashtuns, has occupied the Taliban in two cases: First, the case of Makhdoom Alam, a local commander in Faryab province; and second, the rebellion of Mehdi Mujahid, the only Hazara commander of the Taliban in Balkhab district, Sar-e Pol province.
According to the mentioned cases, the question that can be asked is, to what extent these three sources can turn into serious challenges for the Taliban government? This article will answer this basic question.
The weakness of opposition fronts
When we talk about military capability, it means the number of operational forces, logistic support, facilities and military equipment. Among the three opposition forces of the Taliban, only the ISKP group is being magnified in terms of the number of operational forces. The latest statistics published by the New York Times put the number of the ISKP fighters in Afghanistan at about 4,000. Apart from the fact that this statistic does not exist in reality and is mostly a propaganda campaign from the western media, ISKP is at a very low level in terms of support and having military facilities. Based on the performance of this group over the past ten months, we can say that ISKP has not been able to have a geographically challenging presence in Afghanistan. The main focus of this group has been on the explosive and suicide attacks, which shows lack of enough military resources and facilities.
Contrary to what many expected to see from the beginning of the spring, the Resistance front began to operate on a limited scale with participation of small number of forces. Although there is no specific figure about the number of the resistance fighters, their operations which were carried out in a limited geography (only in parts of Panjshir and Andarab, and very limited, in parts of Khost district of Baghlan province), show that this group does not have a large number of forces. Moreover, this front is in a dire situation in terms of support and military equipment. But what About the third force, i.e. the defected Taliban commanders? Before we want to examine their number, resources, and facilities, we must note that it is not yet known how many internal Taliban commanders may turn away from the government.
So far, only Mehdi Mujahid has been openly opposed to the Taliban, and the case of Makhdoom Alam is completely different from the case of Mehdi Mujahid, because Makhdoom was arrested not because of opposition, but for other reasons, and he has now been released and is still a member of the Taliban. The case of Mehdi Mujahid has also been declared almost over, but since he is a fugitive, the possibility of recruitment by him still remains. Despite the fact that Mahdi Mujahid can continue his anti-government activities through guerilla warfare, however, for two reasons (Taliban's control over the region and Mehdi Mujahid's notoriety), it seems unlikely that he can increase the number of his forces or obtain more military facilities.
Not having a wide geography
Another important reason that does not allow all these three opposition groups to become influential forces against the Taliban government is the geography factor. This factor manifests itself in three sub-categories: Lack of geographical expansion; geographical remoteness; and geographical encirclement.
If we pay attention to the scope of geographical activity of these three forces, it can be seen that the geography that is currently at their disposal is very limited and small. The geographical territory of ISKP has also dwindled compared to the republic era. At that time, ISKP was present in eastern regions (mainly Nangarhar and Kunar provinces) and had some activities in other parts of Afghanistan. Now this group has lost its geographical strongholds even in the eastern provinces. The Resistance front has also a similar situation. After a season of practical activity, the front has not even managed to come down from the mountains.
But about the third force, it is not possible to express a definite opinion, because it is not yet known how many internal forces of the Taliban will turn away from the government. However, if we consider Mehdi Mujahid as a force, his operational geography is limited to the mountains of Balkhab district.
The second problem of these forces is geographical remoteness. The presence of ISKP in the remote mountains of the eastern provinces, the stronghold of the Resistance front in the heights of the Hindu Kush and the fugitive Mahdi Mujahid in the mountains of Balkhab cannot affect the transit routes and sensitive population centers and cause trouble for the local governments. Another problem of the opposition forces is that they are geographically surrounded. If we look at geography, we will understand that all the routes leading to their regions are under the control of the Taliban. These groups are facing major transportation obstacles when they want to move their troops and military equipment. What puts ISKP in a better position is the geographic proximity of the group to one of the neighboring countries (Pakistan), which provides the ground for the ISIK forces to flow from that country to Afghanistan - albeit if Islamabad wants to cooperate with them.
Lack of unity among opponents
An important issue that allows the Taliban to sue the opposition groups one by one is lack of unity among them. The issue of ISKP is quite clear. It is clear that not only it would never get along with the resistance fighters, but also these two are the enemies of each other. Although there have been some reports in the past that some of the forces of the former government have been recruited by ISKP or some of the ISKP members have joined the resistance, but due to their differences in opinion and demands, we cannot expect an alliance between ISKP and the resistance forces. In the meantime, it is not impossible to see an alliance between the disaffected forces of the Taliban and the Resistance front due to their similar slogans against the Taliban. However, the main obstacle is that none of these forces would accept the leadership of each other and the Taliban will benefit the most from this dispersion.
Lack of popular support
It is true that a large part of the Afghan people is dissatisfied with the Taliban government, but it is difficult to conclude that they will support the existing opposition fronts due to this dissatisfaction. If people of Afghanistan were to choose between ISKP and the Taliban, it would definitely be the Taliban. The ISKP’s operational background in the Middle East, its heinous crimes as well as the conflicting and distasteful ideological foundations of ISKP in the Afghan society have caused the group to not be able to make a place for itself among the people. In fact, most of the Afghans consider ISKP to be a western project that first invaded the Middle East and now it has been sent to their country. In addition, the Takfiri and Salafi ideology of ISKP has had a negative feedback in the Hanafi society of Afghanistan and it did not allow the group to penetrate into the people and recruit soldiers. Regarding the Resistance front, it should be said that although a large part of the Afghan society has a favorable view towards it, the disappointment caused by the performance of the movement’s leaders over the past twenty years has left no desire for the people to join the group. Such a view also applies to Mehdi Mujahid. Although he tried to give religious and ethnic aspects to his case, he was faced with people's indifference and did not receive support.
Lack of foreign support
The most important reason that shows even if the majority of the people get mobilized against the Taliban, they cannot face the group with a serious challenge is lack of foreign support for the opposition forces. If we look at the history of Afghanistan, we will understand that the central governments of Afghanistan have been overthrown when their opponents received external support. This is the main factor that has given the Taliban government the opportunity to maneuver in front of the opposition groups. Among the three groups opposed to the Taliban government, it is clear that ISKP has no chance to gain the support of other countries. This, however, includes direct support, and there are many reports about the indirect support for the ISKP. Regarding the other two fronts, only the demands of the Resistance front have been supported by a number of countries, but no country has directly declared support for the Resistance front's armed opposition. The only country that has allegedly supported the resistance forces is Tajikistan, which has been opposed to the Taliban government since the beginning of its domination over Afghanistan. What is very decisive here is lack of support on the side of Afghanistan's powerful neighbors, major world powers such as the United States, Russia, China, and European powers. It can be clearly acknowledged that as long as these countries do not support the opposition forces, there is no chance of success for any of them.
The conclusion of these explanations is that the opposition fronts are not currently in a position to be considered a serious challenge for the Taliban government. Moreover, no serious and decisively influential foreign source has so far expressed opposition to the Taliban government.
According to these points, although the Taliban can overcome the opposition in the short term through repression, but the right way to provide the government with a desired strength is not repression, but accepting some of the demands of internal opposition forces through the establishment of a lawful and cooperative government. Such an approach can also encourage and persuade the external sources to support the government, and it would help its stability more than anything else.