More than ten weeks since the takeover of Afghanistan, the Taliban government is now facing its biggest test of managing the country’s governance as it struggles with the tag of being a ‘rogue state’, outcast by the international community. Besides, a grave food and humanitarian crisis, severe drought, and growing clamour from the restive Afghans for basic governance have put pressure on the Taliban to perform. Moreover, the mounting terrorist attacks by the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) have raised questions over the Taliban’s ability and willingness to protect religious minorities and Afghan civilians. Unless the Taliban steps up to tackle these challenges, Afghanistan is undoubtedly destined to descend into civil war.
According to the international aid agencies, Afghanistan’s situation has gone from bad to worse since the Taliban seized power in Kabul last August. Issuing its most dire warning to date, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently cautioned that the 38 million Afghans are at risk of being plunged into near-universal poverty, faced with a “catastrophic deterioration” of the country’s heavily aid-dependent economy due to the Taliban’s capture of power.
The UNDP’s study suggested that as many as 97% of Afghans can potentially slide below the poverty line by next year – a staggering increase of 25%. This negates the significant progress made in the last two decades, when expanding economic prospects and substantial foreign aid created new employment opportunities for the Afghans.
Accompanying this jump in poverty is the food crisis that has engulfed the country. In recent days, a combination of factors has contributed to the surging food prices across the country, including droughts and blockade of access to the country’s international reserves, aggravated by the sheer inability of the Taliban to govern.
As a result, this food crisis will be exceptionally hard-hitting for the locals as the winter approaches.
Afghanistan’s worsening financial condition also means the inability to pay for essential commodities and services like electricity. Officials of the country’s energy regulator, Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS), have revealed that Afghanistan owes $62 million for electricity from neighbouring countries.
The DABS has asked the UN to provide $90 million to pay the debt. But if the UN doesn’t provide relief, the company will have to ask Afghans to pay up, even though many cannot afford it. This power crisis will be particularly debilitating for the locals in the harsh winter as the food crisis is already ongoing.
Taliban’s governance tests are too many. But it looks like the regime doesn’t realise the enormity of the challenges as it pursues the single-line agenda of international recognition. It has blamed the lack of diplomatic recognition from other countries to its hard-line government for Afghanistan’s problems. When the ISKP executed multiple terrorist attacks targeting the Hazara Shias’ Friday prayer gatherings in Kunduz and Kandahar in October, Taliban’s foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said that non-recognition of Taliban’s interim government in Afghanistan by the international community “is benefitting” the ISKP.
Likewise, it has pressed the Western financial institutions to release Afghan Central Bank’s money. Probably by now, the group would have realised that capturing a country through force and violence is easier than governing it.
Even locals’ patience is wearing thin as daily protests in various parts of Afghanistan continue. For example, in late October women took to the streets of Kabul demanding to protest against the closed school for girls while another one demanded reopening of schools and said that their rights should not be violated.
According to Stefano Pontecorvo, Nato’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan and formerly Italy’s ambassador to Pakistan, twenty years ago there were about 800 thousand students in the country, while at the time of the U.S. and West’s withdrawal there are some 12 million students, half of whom are women. These protests come as millions of teenage girls across Afghanistan anxiously wait to return to the classrooms as high schools remain closed, raising fears about the future of female education. But true to its character, the Taliban fighters forcefully dispersed these protestors, even as it made rhetorical noise about being committed to women’s rights.
While the Taliban struggles with its governance challenges, the international community needs to call out its backers sitting across the borders in Rawalpindi, who have consistently maintained the need to engage the Taliban and give the new rulers of Kabul some time to settler in their seat of power. Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi recently visited Kabul to underscore his country’s support to the Taliban. He maintained that Pakistan was determined to help Afghanistan avoid a collapse of its economy.
True to his character, Qureshi also underlined that the Taliban has promised that Afghan soil will not be used by terrorist groups hitting the Pakistani state, i.e., the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Balochistan Liberation Army. However, he conveniently forgot to mention the continued presence of other prominent groups like al-Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which disturb regional stability and security.
Pakistan has also sneakily taken the first step of recognising the Taliban government by allowing Taliban officials and Afghan diplomats to resume work at the Afghanistan embassy in Islamabad, purposedly under the guise of humanitarian assistance.
This duplicity of good terrorists and bad terrorists needs to be called out by the international community when it comes to Pakistan. It is no surprise that the Financial Action Task Force continued its greylisting of Islamabad over its failure to mend ways. Similarly, the Taliban, too, needs to be held accountable for its actions.