Afghanistan will become sanctuary for Pak-based terror outfits after Taliban takeover, say experts

·7-min read
Afghanistan will become sanctuary for Pak based terror outfits after Taliban takeover, say experts
Afghanistan will become sanctuary for Pak based terror outfits after Taliban takeover, say experts

Amsterdam [Netherlands], September 9 (ANI): Experts and political leaders have asserted that the Taliban administration will likely face governance issues as the Afghan society has changed significantly since the Taliban first lost control over the country in 2001.

While speaking at a webinar titled, "Afghanistan and the region post - Taliban takeover" organised by Amsterdam based think-tank, the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) on Wednesday, they even showed concern over Afghanistan turning out to be a safe heaven for Pakistan-based terror outfits.

Nargis Nehan, former minister of Afghanistan on Mines, Petroleum & Industry, and Founder of the NGO 'Equality for Peace and Democracy', argued that the Taliban cabinet, announced recently by the group, failed to represent both gender and ethnic diversity of Afghanistan. The Taliban, she contended further, did not represent a popular mass movement but had capitalised on endemic corruption in the country, the relative weakness of the Afghan security forces and the absence of unified national leadership.

The Taliban's victory was said to be enabled by the 2020 Doha Agreement, which allowed the Taliban to ultimately ignore the pursuit of a more multi-polar peace process. That said, Nehan argued that the military situation deteriorated more rapidly than commonly anticipated and has now reached a stage where the Taliban's victory is treated as a fait accompli by the international community, which has adopted a tactic of "wait and watch".

The Taliban's social policy and ideological orientation, Nehan argued, did not diverge significantly from that of the first Taliban regime in power between 1996 and 2001. Yet, the governance difficulties faced by a Taliban administration now differ as Afghan people have shown civic awareness and have moved to resist the Taliban, e.g., through public protests.

"As the Afghan society has changed significantly since the Taliban first lost control over the country in 2001, the new Taliban administration is likely to face various governance issues," she said.

Without advocating for a Taliban regime, Nehan argued that new governmental designs and policies should focus on ensuring social cohesion and social peace. The international community, it was argued, should engage with the Taliban on a conditional basis that ties aid provisions to governance performance. In this context, communication channels should be established on a multilateral-collective level rather than a unilateral-national level. Lastly, she argued that humanitarian assistance to the Panjshir Valley, which is under attack by the Taliban, must be delivered as swiftly and as efficiently as possible.

Dr Dorothee Vandamme, Centre for the Study of Crises and International Conflicts, EFSAS Research Fellow & Research Fellow at Genesys Network, primarily focused her presentation on the role of the Pakistani military establishment in the modern trajectory of Afghanistan. Following the partition of British India in 1947, Dr Vandamme argued, the Pakistani military establishment has focused on ensuring strategic equality with India and preventing encirclement along its eastern and western flanks. Historically, the military establishment has thus benefited from upholding threat perception as high threat perceptions validate and legitimize the existence and dictating role of the Pakistani army internally in Pakistan as well as externally. The reproduction of alleged national security threats herewith provides the military establishment with a power base.

In regard to the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), described by Dr Vandamme as having an almost 'mythical' reputation, she argued that the ISI has long adopted a strategy that has normalized political violence and affiliation with Islamist groups. The structural support for factions within the Mujahideen, the concerted support for the Taliban and groups such as the Haqqani Network are cases in point as the ISI continues with providing funds, recruits, training, organizational coordination, direct military support and a safe haven.

Despite close historical ties between the Taliban and the ISI, Dr Vandamme argued, relations between both groups are not necessarily straightforward. "The ISI's influence over Taliban policy was described as fluid over time, especially as the Taliban has sought to establish strategic autonomy. The Taliban victory in Afghanistan may also create internal issues for Pakistan in the long run by compounding Pashtun irredentism and might also embolden Islamists in Pakistan", she said while speaking at the webinar.

Moreover, a renewed civil war in Afghanistan, for example between the Taliban and organizations such as ISKP, could also have spillover effects for Pakistan. Dr Vandamme ended on the idea that the Taliban victory was a short-term success for Pakistan that may have negative long-term implications for the country. Amidst the weaknesses of the Pakistani civilian government, the support for Islamist groups and inherent anti-India attitudes were concluded to be the cornerstones of the strategic culture of the Pakistani military establishment.

During the event, a question about the possible interaction between the Taliban and China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was answered by Dr Vandamme, who argued that China is merely waiting for Afghanistan to be stable so that possible deals like the BRI can be established. She highlighted that this might present a major funding opportunity for the Taliban and that China is not interested in the human rights situation in Afghanistan but waiting to exploit the potential of the country.

Timothy Foxley -- Political/Military Analyst, Former Senior Analyst for the British Ministry of Defense, the Swedish Ministry of Defense and SIPRI, and currently an EFSAS Research Fellow, stated that the international community needs to be cautious of the present developments in Afghanistan. Narrating the history of the conflict, he argued that not much has changed from 20 years ago.

However, he opined that the current Taliban government is a minority force that has a monopoly on violence and seems to enjoy very little popular support, especially given the fact that its recently formed cabinet does not represent the political and ethnic diversity within the country, thus making the group, not the 'liberators' as it likes to portray itself.

"Almost in an allegorical way, the ongoing fighting in the Panjshir Valley is as of now a rallying point for resistance, manifesting the mistakes of the Taliban which might be able to occupy it but will not be able to control it, with local groups using guerrilla tactics", he said.

Dr Weeda Mehran, Lecturer at the University of Exeter, specialising in the subject of warlordism, conflict and peacebuilding in Afghanistan, explained how the Taliban has been seen as a violent State actor that no longer enjoys the support of the Afghan community. Thus, if wanting to remain in power, The Taliban has to mediate between providing governance services and using violence to consolidate control, otherwise, it will face uprisings. Dr Mehran illuminated how the narrative of tolerance that the Taliban attempts to provide is not reflected in practical behaviour, and that this is particularly visible from its newly formed cabinet, which is extremely exclusive and thus devoid of any ethnic minorities or women. As a result, segregation is likely to become the norm and female rights remain imperiled.

Dr Merhan opined that ultimately what becomes visible is how the Taliban struggles with its own logic, thus becoming contradictory. For instance, the current government consists of black-listed individuals, hence putting the international community in a very difficult position in terms of recognizing a government with its officials listed on various terrorist sanction lists. If the Taliban would be interested in seeking legitimacy, then that is something it should have considered. Moreover, she positively mentioned that owing to social media, the voices of resistance are difficult to be silenced by the Taliban, which is an occurrence it was not prepared for. Having said that, if control is consolidated more, the Taliban might manage to contain people's access to communication technologies.

Dr Merhan concluded her speech arguing that despite various window-dressing statements, the Taliban's promise for not turning Afghanistan into a safe heaven for terrorists is far from the truth, given that many Al-Qaeda, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Islamic State fighters find refuge on its territory. In addition to that, she reminded the panel not to disregard the fact that Haqqani Network members were also given important positions in the newly formed government. (ANI)

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