Taliban’s Role in Afghanistan Post-US Exit Yasmeen Aftab Ali

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The war is not yet over. It has simply entered another phase. It means the US is not done with Afghanistan. Yet. It needs to ensure that the Afghan soil is not used to launch terror attacks. This will demand inputs, both military and diplomatic, to deliver. This surveillance-a word used for lack of a better one-places greater stress on the Taliban government to keep other organisations of different shades and hues in line.

Those who understand Afghanistan, know that the relations between different organisations within Afghanistan are more complicated than the US-led war on terror or Taliban opposing the Afghan government{late}. Those who tend to disagree, thinking that peace has swept through the troubled country need only remember the fairly recent event of August 26, where a suicide bomber blew up 13 members of the US troops and 170 Afghans at the Hamid Karzai International Airport by the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K). This alone brings ample spotlight to the danger posed by these multidimensional armed groups. This would translate into a fairly weak control of the mechanism of governance. These are the groups that the Taliban need to neutralise.

To understand the relationship mechanisms, we need to look at the historically factual checkpoints very briefly:

Haqqani Network and Al-Qaeda: Al-Qaeda is active in 15 provinces out of a total of 34 in Afghanistan. That’s a lot of provinces, even if today, it is a shadow of its former self. Pushed to North-west Pakistan reportedly, post 9-11, Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011. Most of the leadership was either killed or captured.

Haqqani network was set up in the 1980s. When the Taliban became powerful in the year 1996, the Haqqani network, founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a Sunni Islamist militant organisation, allied with the Afghan Taliban, accepting the portfolio of Minister of Tribal and Border Affairs, for that group. Haqqani was known to be tight with bin Laden, being his closest mentor in the Afghan war in the 1980s. Some of the most gruesome and high-profile attacks can be attributed to the Haqqani Network. Two such examples are the suicide bombings in 2008 and 2009-against the Indian Embassy in Kabul. Not to forget, the assault on the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel in June 2011. Due to the Afghan insurgency, attacks on the US interests as well as ties with Al-Qaeda and Taliban, in the year 2012, the US labelled the outfit as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation. The US had offered for the capture of Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of the creator of Haqqani Network, £7.3 million.

Commitment from the international arena will come only if a serious attempt by the Taliban to have learnt from their mistakes is seen.

In February 2020, in his Taliban role, he wrote in the New York Times of the political talks:

“We are committed to working with other parties in a consultative manner of genuine respect to agree on a new, inclusive political system in which the voice of every Afghan is reflected and where no Afghan feels excluded.”

Taliban and Al-Qaeda have been closely linked. Reportedly, “The Taliban continue to provide al-Qaeda leaders safe havens in the south and eastern Afghanistan along the border with Pakistan, presumably in return for funds and training in specialised skills such as bomb-making. Al-Qaeda fighters have been killed fighting alongside the Taliban against Afghan security forces and US troops in Taliban-controlled areas.”

Islamic State Khorasan: An affiliate of the Islamic State was created in January 2015. The group is recognised by Iraqi and Syrian core Islamist groups. Very soon, it started crippling attacks in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan. It attacked minorities, institutions and public areas; killing innocent civilians. It gained control over many areas in the northeast and north of Afghanistan. Global Terrorism Index in 2021, measuring the impact of terrorism, deemed it as one of the four deadliest terrorist outfits in the world. It suffered debilitating losses at the hands of the US troops and its allies. Ultimately, this led to the laying down of arms of 1400 of the fighters. The period between 2019 to 2020 has dented the stature of the organisation.

ISIS-K expanded towards the Tora Bora area; using this position to procure supplies from Pakistan’s tribal belt. It forged alliances for different types of cooperation. It received funding and training, visibly, from Iraq and Syria. Antonio Giustozzi, in his book “The Islamic State in Khorasan,” believes this to exceed a whopping US$100 million.

The ISK and the Taliban are sworn enemies. They have clashed repeatedly may it be for territory or resources. ISK members taken as prisoners were executed by the Taliban. They also took away territory that was later reclaimed by the Taliban. In the past, the ISK took away fighters from the Taliban fold, as they showed greater expertise in assaults against civil and institutional setups.

Iran and Ismael Khan: Fighting in western Afghanistan, Herat, Ismael Khan, (originally a Tajik and supported by Iran) has been the main force. He rose to become the governor of the province in 1992. His fortunes have fluctuated over time. Reported to be arrested, he emerged within days in Mashhad.

Hezb-e-Islami: Formed in the 1980s by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, it was reportedly the main recipient of CIA support. Before the Taliban took power in 1996, he was the Prime Minister for a short while. After the Taliban’s fall in 2001, Hikmatyar sought refuge in Pakistan. A deal was brokered with the Afghan government, leading to his return in 2016.

Why is an inclusive setup important?

Inclusivity of various groups eyeing for a piece of pie alone can bring in a model of peace for Afghanistan. The model must be re-engineered taking members of different outfits in the new setup. Not only to ensure a stoppage to the outbreak of hostilities but also to move towards building a stronger Afghanistan. Unless and until there is an inclusive set-up, those left out will resort to armed resistance, making any kind of governance, offering relief to the people of Afghanistan a mirage.

The state is the controller of policies in different areas. Good policies are based on the well-being of the people. And those having a stake and equipped with arms, those who have, over time, held sway and, in many ways, still do, must be on board for the greater public good.

Commitment from the international arena will come if it is seen that a serious attempt is being made by the Taliban to have learnt from their mistakes. Being confrontational is a recipe for the disaster at this stage.

Above all, the Taliban must take cognizance of a completely different role that it must play in the lives of Afghans. It is a role far from confrontational. That role is for playing the opposition role, not for the one leading from the front.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at yasmeenali62@gmail.com and tweets @yasmeen_9

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