Are the Days of the Taliban in Afghanistan Numbered

Sub Title : Taliban are back to their old ways; this may be to their peril

Issues Details : Vol 16 Issue 6 Jan – Feb 2023

Author : Maj Gen Vinod Saighal

Page No. : 55

Category : Geostrategy

: February 6, 2023

The Taliban are back to their old ways. They have ordered an indefinite ban on university education for the country’s women. A measure certainly not in sync with the times. It may only be to the Taliban’s peril. The article outlines several scenarios that emerge for the removal of Taliban from their near absolute control as of now

It has oft been repeated that the women of Afghanistan in 2022 are different from the women under Taliban from 1996 to 200l. During the American backed Afghan government post-2001 women were exposed to modernity for the first time. All avenues for advancement were open to them. They participated. They throve. That heady freedom once experienced cannot be put back in the box. That is generally applicable to all people born in the present century, young and raring to go. Now parents and husbands empathise with their wives and daughters. Women’s incomes no longer being available have brought further hardship to these families. Support against the Taliban has not yet come out in the open. Not for long. Male students were seen on television leaving the classrooms in support of girl students. Ominous for the Taliban were it to spread to cities beyond Kabul. The final nail in the coffin of the Taliban was self-driven when after banning education for women they passed an edict prohibiting women from working with NGOs that were maintaining a semblance of food and health programs for tens of millions of starving and suffering children, leading to three major NGOs – Save the Children, the Norwegian Council and CARE suspending their operations. Have the Taliban thought through as to what will happen when there are no female nurses to deliver babies or resuscitate sick children.

As they continue with their repression fissures may begin to appear amongst the Taliban. Here is a comment from a senior Taliban figure, who had passed out from the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun, India: “Education is obligatory on both men and women, without any discrimination. None of the religious scholars…. can deny this obligation. No one can offer a justification based on Sharia for opposing (women’s) right to education”. – Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai.

This writer was invited to make a presentation on Ahmed Shah Masoud, the Lion of Panjshir at a conclave in Kabul in 2004 during the Remembrance gathering on the third anniversary of the departed leader. During the week’s stay it was possible to interact with the leaders of the Northern Alliance who had first entered Kabul after the heavy US bombardment of the Taliban defenders in their defences around Kabul. Likewise, a few leaders who continued to play a role till the takeover of the city

by the Taliban on 15 August 2021.

With the perspective having been gained at that time and analysing the reportage of the latest happenings in Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan several scenarios emerge for the removal of Taliban from their near absolute control as of now.

To summarise the most likely ones:

  • An Iranian type spontaneous uprising against the increasing repression of women and the Taliban’s inability to read the writing on the wall. Criticism against the restrictions on women who make up nearly half the population of Afghanistan has come in from a large number of countries around the world, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Countries that consider it imprudent to do so for national or geopolitical reasons will find that the populations of their countries are disgusted and repelled by the actions of the Taliban. The women who have protested in Kabul, Herat and few other cities in the face of beatings, water cannons and firings are the vanguard for what is likely to develop into uprisings across the country sooner than later. More so the students who have shown the first public signs of protest against the denial of education to women. They could commence doing so in educational institutions across the country. Starving and suffering families denied food and medicines are likely to swell the ranks of those fed up with the thoughtless actions of the Taliban.
  • Next there is the possibility of fissures developing among the Taliban leading to a clear division among those (largely in Kandahar) who obdurately refuse to allow any dilution in their edicts and those who see that rigidity of this nature could ultimately spell the collapse of their regime. It had become clear at the beginning after the Haqqanis took absolute control over Kabul, being the first in, that several Afghan Taliban leaders did not see eye to eye with them. (it is worth mentioning here that the Haqqanis do not figure in any of the books listing the Afghan tribes). This should not come as a surprise because the Haqqani clans have always operated from their bases in frontier areas of Pakistan supported by the ISI. The latter’s hold was manifest when the former ISI head hammered out an agreement over allocation of ministerial portfolios ensuring that the Haqqanis got the most powerful ministry in peace time, the Home Ministry. It was not long after Maj General Faiz Hameed’s return from Kabul that the Haqqanis started showing their independence from erstwhile ISI tutelage. For example, the Taliban (including the Haqqanis who still control Kabul) have indicated their disinclination to rein in the TTP–TehriqeTaliban-Pakistan – in spite of frequent requests from the Government of Pakistan to do so. It hardly needs reiteration that the TTP is taking a big toll in Pakistan with support from the tribal belts along the border with Afghanistan. According to latest reports two BLA (Baluch Liberation Army) fronts have joined the TTP adding to the woes of the government in Islamabad.
  • Another possibility relates to the ousted Panjshir leaders including Ahmed Shah Masoud Jr. Amrullah Saleh and Bismillah Khan, if he has escaped as well, assessing the unfolding difficulties of the faction-ridden Taliban. They could start regrouping to restart activities across the Panj River. They were prevented from doing so by the Tajik government wary of the Taliban infiltrating Tajikistan if provoked. Another impediment would have been the Russian Mechanised Division guarding the border with Afghanistan. The latest agreement signed allows the Russian government to remain there till 2049. Remnants of Dostum and Atta Mohammed Noor’s followers who fled Mazar i Sharif into Uzbekistan after the Afghan government troops threw down their arms when the Taliban arrived would start coalescing with their counterparts from Panjshir Valley. Subsequently many people facing unsustainable hardships could slip across and join up with the opposition. The same goes for those being pursued by the Taliban. The regrouped opposition would not be in a position to mount an offensive any time soon. Nor would the Russians or the Tajik government allow it till they were convinced that the weakened Taliban required a coup de grace. Guerrilla raids could commence earlier.
  • An outcome touched upon earlier by several analysts relates to the possibility of Taliban factions, working at cross purposes, separating to carve out independent spheres of influence. This eventuality could occur sooner than expected. In the end all concerned as well as their foreign backers should ensure that whatever happens divisions along ethnic lines do not take place. Pashtuns or Pathans make up 42 percent of the population followed by Tajiks 27 percent and others including Uzbeks and the long suffering Hazaras who are Shias.

To return to the question: “how long can the Taliban who are on the wrong side of history retain their absolute control over Afghanistan”? Maximum five to ten years as per the estimate of this writer.

The countdown has begun.