As much as the developments of Afghanistan over the past weeks has been rapid and unexpected, the perspective of the country’s future, especially the political structure of Afghanistan, can be vague and unexpected for the neighboring countries as well as the regional states. As a result of the developments that happened in the wake of the US peace agreement with the Taliban, today the Islamic Emirate of the Taliban, the Taliban group or whatever we call it, has been able to regain the power in Afghanistan. Over the recent weeks, the Taliban, albeit ostensibly, expressed its readiness to form an inclusive government with participation of all parties and ethnicities. The group has also tried to show a spirit of flexibility in interaction with the Afghan people, including minorities, by its leader's amnesty decree. But will this really be a fundamental change? What was the causes that led to the collapse of the 20-year-old political system that was backed by the western countries? What will be the Taliban's approach towards different parties, groups, ethnicities and movements? Will the new government of the Taliban be able to gain domestic and international legitimacy? And ultimately, what will be the perspective of developments in this country? We have addressed these questions in an interview with Dr. Jafar Mahdavi, secretary general of the People's Party of Afghanistan, a former member of parliament and a university professor.
Q: In the last two or three weeks, Afghanistan has witnessed rapid and astonishing developments, from the advances of the Taliban towards the gates of Kabul to the escape of Ashraf Ghani and collapse of the Afghan government. What is your view regarding the true nature of these developments?
Mahdavi: these developments must be studied within the logical framework of the geopolitical position or geopolitical importance of Afghanistan in this particular geography- That is, Afghanistan's position as a link between the cultural, civilizational, political and security spheres of the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia and the Middle East. Therefore, we must examine the political and military developments of Afghanistan in this particular context in order to understand the nature of them.
My understanding is that as long as Afghanistan is unable to achieve a strong, stable and centralized government, the country’s geopolitical position and geo-economic importance will always turn it into a point of contention for the interests of the regional and global powers. When we look at the nature of Afghanistan's political and military developments over the past decades, especially the three famous wars between the Afghans and the British, the jihadist war against the Soviet Union and the last two decades’ war against occupation, we can see that unfortunately, due to Afghanistan’s strategic and sensitive position in this geographical region, it has always been under the spotlight for intervention and occupation of the world powers.
Although the anti-colonial spirit of the Afghan people has never allowed Afghanistan to become a colony of any country, but in any case, it has imposed heavy human and financial costs on Afghanistan and its people. In other words, the volume of these developments and events has blocked Afghanistan’s economic, social and cultural progress, displaced hundreds of thousands the Afghan citizens and took the lives of more than one million people.
Therefore, we can also analyze the nature of the recent political, military and security developments in the same logical framework that I mentioned earlier.
Q: Why did Afghanistan reach this point?
Mahdavi: Answering this question needs a deep and general discussion and we cannot go into the details on this occasion, but we can briefly say that the democracy which was imposed on Afghanistan by Washington regardless of the country’s social, cultural and economic context, is a fundamental reason behind the current situation. Unfortunately, without providing the necessary social, cultural, and economic infrastructure of democracy and by pouring billions of dollars into the country in the form of social and cultural projects, the Americans and westerners tried to introduce a particular kind of nudity, under the guise of individual freedoms which were against the customs and traditions of Afghanistan. On the other hand, the careless attacks of the Americans under the pretext of fighting terrorism claimed many civilian lives. The careless attacks of the Afghan government forces have also left hundreds of thousands of the Afghan families dead, displaced, orphaned and homeless.
All these developments, in addition to the mercenary and puppet nature of the Afghan government, which came to power via an electoral fraud and with approval of the Americans, brought Afghanistan to the current situation. Ghani came to power in 2014 by an electoral fraud and gained legitimacy under the pressure of the Americans. In the last Afghan presidential election, in which the people did not participate, Ghani was once again imposed on the Afghan people because the government was in the hands of Ghani and his team and the Americans supported him.
All these events caused great suffering to the Afghan people and further strengthened the ranks of the Taliban. As a result, many forces came to the conclusion that this government, instead of being a legitimate and popular government, is the puppet government of the United States. On the other hand, due to the injuries the government inflicted on the people of Afghanistan as well as the widespread corruption and discrimination that took place, many citizens of Afghanistan, especially the Hazara community, were deeply purged of the power structure and was deeply limited.
It was due to all these reasons that the ranks of the Taliban grew stronger and more people came to the conclusion that the current government is not an Afghan government and has nothing to do with Afghans. Therefore, we saw that the people of Afghanistan did not support this government. The Afghan people believed that fighting against the Taliban would be equal to giving another chance to the corrupt, mercenary, puppet and illegitimate government of Ashraf Ghani. That is why they did not fight against the Taliban. Therefore, the ranks of the Taliban were further strengthened and the Americans were forced to enter into direct negotiations with the group. This both increased the political and international legitimacy of the Taliban and further demonstrated the neutral and mercenary nature of the Ghani government.
All these cases allowed the Taliban to capture the districts and provinces one after the other, because no one was eager for war, and of course, we should not forget about the interventions of some of the regional countries and world powers that wanted to see Afghanistan reaching at this point.
Finally, the Taliban incredibly managed to take the control of all districts and provinces in Afghanistan, including Kabul.
Q: What is your analysis of the current situation in Afghanistan and its dynamics?
Mahdavi: No one, including foreign powers, regional states, the Taliban, and Afghan people expected this government to fall in such a fast way due to the cowardly and treacherous escape of Ashraf Ghani.
We need to distinguish between two issues here; one is about the Taliban’s advances and their military might. I think their military might was not so great that if a real war had taken place, the Taliban could have progressed so quickly.
However, Afghanistan is experiencing a relative security at the moment, and after decades of insecurity, explosions, suicide bombings, robberies and social unrest, the Afghan people, especially those who live in Kabul, have witnessed a relatively good security over the last two or three weeks. We hope this issue receives more attention and turns into an institutionalized, stable and fully professional structure, parts of which were done in previous Afghan governments.
But, Afghanistan is experiencing a kind of situation in which we should look on both the bright and the dark sides. Regarding the dark side, we should say that unfortunately a large number of Afghans fell victim, especially the young and experienced elites who left Afghanistan during these past months, and this is a great loss. The Afghan army, police and national security forces, which had spent so much money on equipping and training over the past years, are also on the verge of collapse. At this situation, the Taliban should immediately introduce a political structure, in a bid to prevent the elites from leaving Afghanistan and prepare the ground for the return of those who have left the country.
However, this situation is chaotic and the people's concerns about the future of political developments will affect their personal lives as well as the economy of families.
This was the dark side.
But the bright side is that after a long struggle, we are actually witnessing the fall of a very corrupt and inefficient government in Afghanistan. No other government in the history of Afghanistan has been so corrupt and obedient to the foreigners’ orders. Anyway, the term of this mercenary government is over and this is the bright side.
On the other hand, we are witnessing a relative security in Kabul and other cities. This year, fortunately, the Muharram ceremonies were held with good security by help of the Taliban, compared to the previous years that we witnessed horrific attacks and terrorist incidents. I think this is a valuable point.
The Taliban is currently reiterating that it is not after establishing a government that is consisted of a single party or ethnicity. They have announced that the future government will be an inclusive Islamic government that includes all Afghans from all ethnic, political and social backgrounds.
We also hope to see Afghanistan, which today is in the hands of Taliban, moving towards the establishment of an inclusive Islamic government.
Q: After the fall of Ashraf Ghani's government, the prominent figures of the Taliban have returned to Kabul, and numerous meetings have been reported between the Taliban officials and the Afghan political and religious figures. On the other hand, there are discrepancies between the speeches of spokesmen and officials of this group and the performance of its ground forces. Do you think that all military and political interactions of the Taliban in Kabul are coordinated at the moment, or there is disorder and parallelism in between?
Mahdavi: Regarding the disorder, we should say that this situation is normal for several reasons. First, the Taliban have no experience in governing. They have generally been Malawis, Muftis, and Sheikh al-Hadiths who are expert at the Islamic sciences as well as teaching in the schools of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban fighters are also generally illiterate and lack the expertise and experience that is needed for administrative jobs. Most of them have been involved in war and military activity for the past two or three decades. At the same time, the Taliban is divided into several groups that revolve around each of the Taliban's personalities and leaders. The current situation was an unfortunate one that surprised everyone, even the Taliban themselves. So, a large number of fighters were forced to rush immediately to the cities in order to provide the security of them. In this case, it is natural to see some irregularities, which is quite understandable.
But, what is important is the will of the Taliban to move as quickly as possible to establish an active, effective, specialized and efficient government. If the situation continues like this, the power vacuum continues and a weak and unprofessional government comes to power in Afghanistan, I am sure that Afghanistan will face a historical setback, and we may see all kinds of political and economic crises and even civil wars. It will also lead to immigration of millions of other citizens to Iran, Pakistan and neighboring countries and even European countries, and this will be a bad situation.
Q: After the Taliban managed to take the control of Kabul, one of the most important issues was formation of the next government. The Taliban, on the other hand, have provided general information in this regard and only talk about an inclusive government which would be based on the Islamic rules. Since you have studied a lot about the Taliban and had meetings with the group’s officials, what do you think about the Taliban's point of view towards formation of the government?
Mahdavi: How to form the government is a matter that is not yet clear for the Taliban. However, the group’s leaders are persistently trying to achieve a structure that has both the domestic and international legitimacy. All of these issues will help the Taliban’s new government to be recognized by the United Nations, and this could once again pave the way for international cooperation with the government and people of Afghanistan. Certainly, the international support will be effective for a new government.
The Taliban are trying to create a comprehensive political structure, because without such a system, there would be no national legitimacy, and when there is no national legitimacy, there will be no international legitimacy, and certainly the United Nations will not recognize that political structure and this could be the beginning of all kinds of international economic, political and diplomatic sanctions against the new administration. This could also lead to an economic crisis as well as widespread poverty and unemployment in Afghanistan and create a humanitarian crisis in the country and send millions of other civilians to Iran, Pakistan and European countries.
Q: The international media, quoting the Taliban sources, have reported conflicting news and views on how the Afghan government will be formed in the future. While the Taliban are talking about creation of an inclusive government, some sources have announced the creation of a council-led government with 12 members, and some other sources have reported the appointment of ministers and officials by Taliban leaders without the presence of other political and ethnic currents. What is the Taliban’s favorite structure for the future government of Afghanistan?
Mahdavi: We do not have very accurate information and I think the Taliban have not yet come to a precise conclusion about the structure of the government. But, as far as we understand, the Taliban are interested in making a copy, though with few changes, of the political structure of Iran. The only difference would be that the Taliban’s government will be headed by the Amir al-Mu'minin as well as a council of religious jurists and scholars with special authority, which will probably be based in Kandahar. But, Kabul can be still the political and administrative capital of the country with the presence of the president or prime minister and members of the cabinet and parliament.
This structure has not yet been finalized, but I think the Taliban are trying to integrate the Islamic Emirate, that was previously existed in Afghanistan, with the republican values through which the will of the people can be incorporated into the power structure and decision-making process. Of course, this integration must be made with a special skill between some values of the Emirate, and the factors, values and norms of a democratic political structure. This integration can be seen as a solution and help Afghanistan to move towards a lasting peace and stability.
Q: What do you think will be the outcome of the Taliban's negotiations with other movements and personalities?
Mahdavi: I do not think the Taliban wants to sit down, negotiate and possibly give concessions, just like what the previous governments did, to some political leaders who have no social base and are called as dealer leaders by the people. The reason for this claim is that the Taliban are well aware that these figures, in addition to being a constant nuisance to the Taliban government, will constantly seek new concessions, and then, if those concessions are not made, they may again challenge the country's political stability by chanting ethnic slogans. The Taliban are not interested in negotiating and interacting or even giving concessions to these political leaders.
In such a situation, Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah are the only figures the Taliban may pay attention to. I think Karzai is a political figure who, due his anti-western statements during and after his rule as well as his position among the Afghans, especially the Pashtuns, and also his international reputation, can act as an umbrella in the transitional government or the interim government, which can gain the people's trust in the new political structure as well as create a national legitimacy for this structure, which of course can be a prelude to international legitimacy. Thus, Karzai will have an important and decisive position in the evolution of current policies and future decisions.
About Panjshir province and the issue of resistance, my impression is that, for several reasons, this resistance cannot be inclusive.
The first reason is that the people of Panjshir are by no means ready for a heavy, dangerous and unpredictable attack by the Taliban on their homes.
The second reason is that, over the last two decades the people of Panjshir have witnessed corruption and negligence of their officials and leaders, and therefore, they no longer want to sacrifice their children for the sake of political expectations and deals. They are very tired of this situation.
Another issue is that, unfortunately, our brothers in Panjshir Valley have dealt in a very monopolistic manner with the non-Panjshiri Tajiks in Parwan, Kapisa, Takhar, Badakhshan, Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat, and they have no supporter even among the Tajik brothers. That means that the Tajiks of Badakhshan or Kabul or other regions are not interested in helping Panjshir.
Another issue is the sharp differences that exist between the political leaders of Panjshir. Two decades of developments along with the unaccounted concessions that have been made to the Panjshiris, have created a class of highly capitalist political forces in this area that have no base there. In the meantime, there is no powerful figure who can bring all these forces together, and they are deeply divided.
For these reasons, Panjshir and resistance in this region is not an issue that can be effective in the political developments. Most countries and political forces also do not want to invest in an area that has no future, and certainly this area cannot be effective in the political future of Afghanistan.
Q: The Afghan Shia leaders have recently held a meeting among themselves and also with Taliban leaders. What is the most important concern of the Shia community in Afghanistan?
Mahdavi: The most important concern of the Shia community in Afghanistan can become important only when we pay attention to the sociological realities of this community. That sociological reality is the nature of political and ethnic behaviors in Afghanistan. According to international politicians and analysts, the nature of developments, decisions and events in Afghanistan is more ethnic than political. Thus, we are facing with several ethnic groups that have been rarely able to come together based on the national values during the political history of Afghanistan. Throughout the history of Afghanistan, one ethnic group has always sought to gain the absolute power and keep other ethnic groups satisfied by making few concessions. But the social, cultural and political developments of the last two or three decades in Afghanistan have created an atmosphere which has made other ethnic groups to reject the rule of a single tribe.
Even today, although the Taliban are talking about establishing an inclusive government in Afghanistan, experience has shown that even during their previous government, it was Pashtuns who ruled Afghanistan and other ethnicities were excluded from the political structure. This gave rise to the axis of resistance against the Taliban, and the events of 9/11 helped the international community to overthrow the Taliban by help of the same resistance forces known as Northern Alliance. Recently, we also witnessed that Taliban have appointed some Malawi or Mullah as the officials of large organizations and ministries; Most of these officials have no administrative experience and come from one ethnic group (Pashtun). These appointments contradict the Taliban’s promises, but we still have to wait.
The people of Afghanistan are watching now and hoping that these changes maybe temporary and inevitable to fill the power vacuum in Afghanistan, until a new and inclusive government and political structure is established. The people of Afghanistan have this capacity and are monitoring the situation to see how the Taliban can live up to their promises.
Q: In your opinion, how much will the Taliban adhere to their commitments about the Hazara community after consolidating their power? Do you think the relationship between the Taliban and Hazara community will only be limited to the issue of recognizing the Taliban?
Mahdavi: Hazaras are deeply concerned about their position in the future of the country as a distinctive tribe in terms of religion, language and culture that has suffered the most casualties during Afghanistan's political history. This is a very serious concern and people are constantly raising this issue.
Q: Another important issue is the issue of international legitimacy of the future government which is dominated by the Taliban. It is believed that the Taliban's need to being recognized by the international community, as well as Afghanistan's dependence on foreign aid, will push the group towards pragmatism. How much do you agree with this statement?
Mahdavi: Of course, the Taliban are very different from the Taliban we have seen two or three decades ago. I think at least one important and optimistic point is that the Taliban now know that governing by the way they did two or three decades ago without creating national and international legitimacy is not possible. In that case the world will not recognize their rule, and certainly when it does not recognize it, all economic, political and diplomatic exchanges will be cut off. It is practically impossible to rule a geography that has been completely forgotten and boycotted by the world. If the Taliban understand this, it will create an inclusive government in which Hazaras, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Baluchis, Pashtuns and all ethnic groups of Afghanistan are present.
Q: Finally, what approach will the international community take towards the Taliban?
Mahdavi: Different countries have made the issue of recognition subject to the Taliban’s practical conduct regarding social and cultural values, women's rights, ethnic and minority rights, civil liberties and Afghan people’s fundamental rights. Many countries may not believe in these values and rights, but they use them as a cover for their plans and aspirations. If the Taliban do not show such a kind of flexibility, I believe that the international community and many countries in the region will not allow such a government to remain in power.
Q: What do you think about the future perspective of Afghanistan?
Two solutions and hypotheses are predictable;
The first hypothesis is that the Taliban will show flexibility and create an inclusive political structure that has national and international legitimacy. In that case, we will face a centralized government which can overcome the current crisis with the help of the international community,
Another hypothesis is that the Taliban will show resistance. In that case the world will not be willing to recognize a government that has no flexibility and does not respect democratic values, fundamental citizenship rights and international demands. In that case, Afghanistan will be practically isolated, many exchanges and relations will be restricted and we will be sanctioned.
But in the short term, we will face a deep economic crisis, and the little money left in the banks will be emptied by the people, and most people will leave Afghanistan due to the country’s obscure future. As a result, there will be a deep crisis not only in Afghanistan, but in the world. If a comprehensive government does not come to power in Afghanistan, we will witness a humanitarian crisis in the region and the world.
Q: We saw a suicide attack at the Kabul airport, which was claimed by the ISIK. Do you think that insecurity in Afghanistan has entered a new phase?
Mahdavi: One of the biggest concerns is that some elements in foreign countries will try to use Afghanistan as a base for reinforcement of the terrorist groups and send them to China, Central Asia and Iran. This is a very serious concern.
If a stable and inclusive government is not established in Afghanistan as soon as possible, the country will become more isolated and international sanctions will create an economic crisis which would prepare the social, cultural, political, and especially security grounds that are needed for the emergence of terrorist groups such as the ISIK. In that case, Afghanistan will turn into a center for creation and proliferation of the terrorist and takfiri groups, which will also threaten the security of Iran, Russia, Central Asia, China and India. The biggest concern is that the western countries may want to pursue such a policy with the aim of limiting the power of other countries, such as China, Russia and Iran that practically do not want to bear the position of the United States.
This approach has been seriously considered by the western strategists over the past years as an effective method to weaken the US rivals in Asia.
So, the Taliban must establish an inclusive government in Afghanistan as soon as possible so that the country can achieve economic stability by ensuring political stability. This would introduce Afghanistan as a positive and effective member of the international community.