Sorina I. Crisan, PhD
Afghanistan Governance: The Illusion of Political Inclusion & Stability
What is the political and security situation in Afghanistan today? While under the intense scrutiny of the international community, the Taliban are employing their acquired experience of the social and conventional media to try to put forth an image of fairness, inclusion, and respect for all Afghan lives. As such, at the beginning of September 2021, the Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar said the following: “We’re working to establish an inclusive government that represents all the people of Afghanistan.”Unlike this statement, multiple reports show that the reality in Afghanistan is much different than how the Taliban would like to portray it. In this article you will be able to learn about the various facets of life in Afghanistan, as it relates to: politics, economy, education, human rights, security and safety levels, etc. The article concludes on a constructive note, with suggestions of four action steps that you might like to consider taking, in order to help.
Article by Sorina I. Crisan, PhD
What is the situation today?
After the rapid Taliban takeover of Afghanistan (which transpired in a matter of weeks), and thereafter the takeover of Kabul (on August 15, 2021), unlike Baradar’s statement, there is now a common narrative that has emerged throughout the media which reads of stories of Afghan citizens fearing for their lives and hiding their past (political or journalism) careers. Many Afghans are “desperately looking to leave the country” while others who are learning that they might not be “able to escape are [now] distraught at the prospects for their future” in a Taliban governed country.
In a recent article, Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s Chief international correspondent, in Kabul, poignantly synthetizes the political and security situation that has been unfolding in Afghanistan, since the Taliban takeover. Doucet reports:
“Far from being inclusive, it is exclusively Taliban. The old organigram of the Taliban movement, with its commissions, deputies, and the all-powerful Emir Hibatullah Akhundzada, has been transplanted into a cabinet with the same political architecture of governments everywhere.
Its makeup is overwhelmingly drawn from Pashtun tribes, with only one Tajik and one Uzbek, both Talibs. There’s not a single woman, not even in deputy minister positions. The reviled Ministry of Vice and Virtue is back; the Women’s Affairs Ministry is out.
It’s a government of the old guard, and the new generation of mullahs and military commanders: men in charge when the Taliban ruled in the 1990s who return, beards much lighter and longer; former Guantanamo Bay prisoners; current members of US and UN black lists; battle-hardened fighters who pressed forward on every front in recent months; self-styled peacemakers who sat around negotiating tables, and shuttled around regional capitals with promises of a new Taliban 2.0.”
Who are the Taliban, when did they govern Afghanistan before 2021, and how are they likely to govern the country today?
“The Taliban are a predominantly Pashtun, Islamic fundamentalist group” which governed Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. In 1996 the “Taliban declared Afghanistan an Islamic emirate, with Mullah Mohammed Omar, a cleric and veteran of the anti-Soviet resistance, leading as amir al-mu’minin, or “commander of the faithful.” The regime controlled some 90 percent of the country” before it was overthrown in 2001.
According to Lindsay Maizland, Senior Writer/Editor at the Council on Foreign Relations, after “the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the original regime in 2001, the Taliban regrouped across the border in Pakistan and began taking back territory less than ten years after their ouster.”
Fast forward twenty years later and we may now note that the Taliban regained power in 2021, after having fought a two decades’ long insurgency. The Taliban were able to re-take control of Afghanistan in 2021 because the U.S. withdrew its troops from the country, thus respecting a previously agreed upon action which was highlighted in the February 29, 2020, “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban.”
Based on the Taliban’s previous governance of Afghanistan, Maizland argues that today, the “Taliban are likely to impose harsh rule […] despite their pledges to respect the rights of women and minority communities and provide amnesty for people who supported U.S. efforts. Meanwhile, the group faces immense challenges in providing Afghans with security, health services, and economic opportunities.”
What are two of the biggest fears perceived by the international community, with respect to a Taliban governed Afghanistan?
There are many unsettling concerns about a Taliban-led Afghan Government. To name just two: (1) human rights abuses and (2) the increase of terrorism groups in the region. These two points are succinctly detailed below.
Will the Taliban provide all its citizens with basic human rights? Let us look at one of these rights: girls’ access to education, in the late 1990s vs now.
It is alarming to note that in the past, such as today, the Taliban have promised that women will have access to education, as soon as security levels in Afghanistan improve. Fatema Hosseini and Kim Hjelmgaard, from USA Today, argue that one of the challenges is that “there is little evidence to indicate that the Taliban’s adherence to its policy today is not directly linked to its fundamentalist political and religious ideology.” Along the same lines, Devon Cone, the senior advocate for women and girls at Refugees International, says that when the Taliban were in power, from 1996 to 2001, they made a similar claim that women’s access to education “was a temporary security measure… [but]… the prohibition was never lifted.”
Estimates for how many schools for girls are open today and how many girls are currently enrolled in schools are difficult to obtain, given that “educators and pupils alike are afraid to reveal much information about the practice.”
In an October 7, 2021, article Cone argues, that there “is arguably no population more affected by the recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan than Afghan women and girls” because in “a matter of weeks, the Taliban have already begun to erase the gains that Afghan women have made over the last 20 years.”
Will the Taliban be able to provide basic security to Afghanistan’s population and respond accordingly to the emergence and increase of terrorism groups in the region, such as the ISIS-K?
In a November 2021, New York Times article, Victor J. Blue, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, and Christina Goldbaum argue that since “the Taliban took control of the country, the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan — known as Islamic State Khorasan or ISIS-K — has stepped up attacks across the country, straining the new and untested government and raising alarm bells in the West about the potential resurgence of a group that could eventually pose an international threat.” They further report that there has been a sharp increase in suicide bombings in major cities and that civilian casualties have consequently increased.
The Taliban, who fought as an insurgency for 20 years, now find themselves in a situation where they need to provide security to the Afghan population and defend the population “against almost daily attacks with an army that was trained for rural guerrilla warfare.” This situation makes Western nations concerned and some officials are now “predicting that the Islamic State — often considered a regional threat — could gain the capability to strike international targets in a matter of six to 12 months.”
What are some of the steps that the international community has taken in the past, with respect to the Taliban? And, what type of actions is the international community planning to implement now, to respond to a Taliban-led Afghan Government?
“Over the past two decades, governments and international bodies joined U.S.-led efforts to oust the Taliban and bolster Afghanistan’s government, democratic institutions, and civil society” by making use of: military force, sanctions, helping to implement democratic reforms and providing aid, conducting investigation, etc. Today, while the situation is different, some of the techniques that are being employed are similar to past efforts, such as: assets freezing, sanctions, upcoming talks, etc. Let us briefly address three of these options.
Assets Freezing: Given that major donor countries view aid as a “leverage against the Taliban,” once the Taliban took control of Kabul, the international community reacted by “freezing $9 billion of Afghan central bank assets and suspending the foreign aid that had funded 75 percent of Afghanistan’s public spending.” For a detailed look into this topic, please read the Foreign Affairs article by Rina Amiri, Senior Fellow at the New York University Center on International Cooperation, and director of NYU’s Afghanistan and Regional Policy Initiative.
Sanctions: Since the Taliban have taken power, Afghanistan has experienced a harsh economic crash with widespread hunger being experienced by more than half of the population, and “an estimated 22.8 million people […] are expected to face potentially life-threatening food insecurity this winter.” According to Goldbaum:
“Practically overnight, billions of dollars in foreign aid that propped up the previous Western-backed government vanished and U.S. sanctions on the Taliban isolated the country from the global financial system, paralyzing Afghan banks and impeding relief work by humanitarian organizations.
Across the country, millions of Afghans — from day laborers to doctors and teachers — have gone months without steady or any incomes. The prices of food and other basic goods have soared beyond the reach of many families.”
Erica Moret, senior researcher at the Global Governance Centre and the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies, and Karl Blanchet, director of the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies, argue that: “Sanctions are vitally important but blunt tools that risk heaping additional suffering on the Afghan people – and exacerbating a humanitarian crisis the aid sector is desperately trying to avert.” For more on the theme of sanctions and Afghanistan, please read Moret and Blanchet’s article here.
Upcoming Talks: According to the U.S. State Department Spokesman Ned Price, the United States is resuming talks with the Taliban in order to discuss “the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and steps to ensure that the country does not become a “launchpad” for “terrorism.”” More information on this action step will be highlighted by the media, in the weeks to come.
Could the current situation in Afghanistan been avoided with continued Western-led support of the prior Afghan Government?
In short, some critics say yes, while others disagree. To highlight one of these views, here is an argument put forth by David Sylvan, Professor of International Relations / Political Science, at the Graduate Institute, in Geneva:
“Over and over, observers of the collapse emphasized the blow to government forces’ morale in the wake of Washington’s decision to draw a line. But to focus on that decision is to ignore the utter reliance of the regime on active and continuing U.S. aid. Had Washington pulled the plug a year or a decade before or after, the outcome would have been the same. Put simply, these regimes had no capacity on their own to survive against domestic foes: in Game of Thrones terms, they were wights to the U.S. Night King.”
To conclude, while the situation in Afghanistan is bleak and will most likely continue to be like this for a long time to come, may one help from afar? If so, what are some examples of action steps one might take, when one feels too small to be able to make a difference and/or too far away, both psychologically and physically, from Afghanistan?
When reading news about the current situation transpiring in Afghanistan, one might feel unable to make a difference on their own. What is important to remember is that even a small action step may make a direct and important difference in someone’s life. For instance, here are four ideas of action steps you might like to consider undertaking, if you want to assist.
Research and write an article to bring more awareness of the current situation taking place in Afghanistan. For example, this article is meant to accomplish exactly this point.
If you choose not to write an article yourself, maybe you would like to consider to post and/or re-post on social media some of the fact-checked articles and information that has been published by respectable and reliable news outlets.
Write blog posts to showcase the richness of the Afghan culture and society. For example, here is a video regarding Afghan food, which was posted by Sadia Badiei on her culinary website called, Pick Up Limes. Badiei says that her intention for the video is to help “connect” viewers “with the beauty of the Afghan culture and people through its incredible cuisine.” Further, she argues that all the revenues gained from this video are to “be donated to non-profit organizations helping the Afghan people.”
Volunteer at one of the local refugee centers. For example, you may like to help teach Afghan refugees the language of your country or help refugee children with their homework and reading assignments.
In short, there are a lot of ways in which one might help, even by undertaking some small action steps. As a starting point, try to gently nudge yourself towards learning more about the Afghan culture (i.e., listen to music, read books, prepare food, etc.) These intentional action steps may help position yourself psychologically closer to this wonderful and historically rich society. In this way, when given the chance, you may inform others about Afghanistan’s beauty, importance, and meaning, which is a laudable yet simple step to take, even when you are just “one” person.
Thank you for reading.
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About Author: Sorina I. Crisan, PhD, is an analyst, researcher, and writer in international relations and foreign policy. Dr. Crisan is a research associate with the Global Governance Center and the founder of this website, Persuasive Discourse, an online platform dedicated to showcasing her PhD work and interviews with scholars and practitioners regarding their work within the fields of international relations and political science. You may follow her work on: PersuasiveDiscourse.com, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
Note: The copy for this article has been created based on the author's opinions and on the websites and individuals that each quotation is referencing (or is hyperlinked to).
Illustrations by: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona (Photo Title: Stop Killing Afghan Protest in London. Published on August 22, 2021) & IsaaK Alexandre KaRslian (Photo Title: A Girl Looks on Among Afghan Women Lining Up to Receive Relief Assistance, During the Holy Month of Ramadan in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Published on August 19, 2021). Both images are courtesy of Wix.com photo gallery.
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