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Why the Taliban Still Can’t Form a Government
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Spectators hold Afghanistan’s and Taliban flags as they watch the Twenty20 cricket trial match being played between two Afghan teams ‘Peace Defenders’ and ‘Peace Heroes’ at the Kabul International Cricket Stadium in Kabul on September 3, 2021. Photo: AFP / Aamir Qureshi
Spectators hold Afghanistan’s and Taliban flags as they watch the Twenty20 cricket trial match being played between two Afghan teams ‘Peace Defenders’ and ‘Peace Heroes’ at the Kabul International Cricket Stadium in Kabul on September 3, 2021. Photo: AFP / Aamir Qureshi

It looked like everything was set for the Taliban to announce the new government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan after this Friday’s afternoon prayers. But then internal dissent prevailed.

That was compounded by the adverse optics of a ragtag “resistance” in the Panjshir Valley that is still not subdued. The “resistance” is de facto led by a CIA asset, former vice president Amrullah Saleh.

The Taliban maintain they have captured several districts and at least four checkpoints at the Panjshir, controlling 20% of its territory. Still, there’s no endgame in sight.

Supreme Leader Haibatullah Akhundzada, a Kandahar religious scholar, is expected to be the new power of the Islamic Emirate when it’s finally formed. Mullah Baradar will likely preside just below him as a presidential figure along with a 12-member governing council known as a “shura.”

If that’s the case, there would be certain similarities between the institutional role of Akhundzada and Ayatollah Khamenei in Iran, even though the theocratic frameworks, Sunni and Shiite, are completely different.

Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada posing for a photograph at an undisclosed location in 2016. Photo: Afghan Taliban via AFP
Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada posing for a photograph at an undisclosed location in 2016. Photo: Afghan Taliban via AFP

Mullah Baradar, co-founder of the Taliban with Mullah Omar in 1994 and imprisoned in Guantanamo then Pakistan, has served as the Taliban’s top diplomat as the head of its political office in Doha.

He has also been a key interlocutor in the protracted negotiations with the now-extinct Kabul government and the expanded troika of Russia, China, the US and Pakistan.

To call the negotiations to form a new Afghan government fractious would be a spectacular understatement. They have been managed, in practice, by former president Hamid Karzai and ex-head of the Reconciliation Council Abdullah Abdullah: a Pashtun and a Tajik who have vast international experience.

Both Karzai and Abdullah are shoo-ins to be part of the 12-member shura.

As the negotiations seemed to advance, a frontal clash developed between the Taliban political office in Doha and the Haqqani network regarding the distribution of key government posts.

Add to it the role of Mullah Yakoob, son of Mullah Omar, and the head of the powerful Taliban military commission overseeing a massive network of field commanders, among which he’s extremely well-respected.

Recently Yakoob had let it leak that those “living in luxury in Doha” cannot dictate terms to those involved in fighting on the ground. As if this was not contentious enough, Yakoob also has serious problems with the Haqqanis – who are now in charge of a key post: security of Kabul via the so far ultra-diplomatic Khalil Haqqani.

Mullah Yakoob in a file photo. Photo: AFP
Mullah Yakoob in a file photo. Photo: AFP

Apart from the fact that the Taliban amount to a complex collection of tribal and regional warlords, the dissent illustrates the abyss between what could roughly be explained as more Afghan nationalist-centered and more Pakistani-centered factions.

In the latter case, the key protagonists are the Haqqanis, who operate very close to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

It’s a Sisyphean task, to say the least, to create political legitimacy even in an Afghanistan that is bound to be ruled by Afghans who rid the nation of a foreign occupation.

Since 2002, both with Karzai and then Ashraf Ghani, the regime in power for most Afghans was regarded as an imposition by foreign occupiers validated by dodgy elections.

In Afghanistan, everything is about tribe, kin and clan. The Pashtuns are a vast tribe with myriad subtribes that all adhere to the common pashtunwali, a code of conduct that blends self-respect, independence, justice, hospitality, love, forgiveness, revenge and tolerance.

They will be in power again, as during Taliban 1.0 from 1996 to 2001. The Dari-speaking Tajiks, on the other hand, are non-tribal and form the majority of urban residents of Kabul, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif.

Assuming it will peacefully solve its internal Pashtun squabbles, a Taliban-led government will necessarily need to conquer Tajik hearts and minds among the nation’s traders, bureaucrats and educated clergy.

Dari, derived from Persian, has long been the language of government administration, high culture and foreign relations in Afghanistan. Now it will all be switched to Pashto again. This is the schism the new government will have to bridge.

Taliban fighters stand guard in a vehicle along the roadside in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war. Photo: AFP
Taliban fighters stand guard in a vehicle along the roadside in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war. Photo: AFP

There are already surprises on the horizon. The extremely well-connected Russian ambassador in Kabul, Dmitry Zhirnov, revealed that he is discussing the Panjshir stalemate with the Taliban.

Zhirnov noted that the Taliban considered some of the demands of the Panjshiris as “excessive” – as in they wanted too many seats in the government and autonomy for some non-Pashtun provinces, Panjshir included.

It’s not far-fetched to consider the widely-trusted Zhirnov could become a mediator not only between Pashtuns and Panjshiris but even between opposed Pashtun factions.

The delightful historical irony will not be lost on those who remember the 1980s jihad of the unified mujahideen against the USSR.

(Republished from Asia Times by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Afghanistan, Taliban 
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  1. I’ve noticed the sudden appearance in the international MSM of a narrative that there’s something wrong if the rebels can’t form a government within a few days of having won the war. They neglect to mention that western countries often wait for months while various parties try to assemble coalitions.

    • Agree: El Dato
  2. Wokechoke says:

    From left field. The Taliban can destroy Britain. If the Scottish Nationalists import enough refugees and control their vote they can win a new referendum. Might only need 5,000-10,000 people to be resettled and that’s the end of the Anglo-Scottish Union delivered by a few thousand Pathans. Now of course the actual margin of defeat for the 2014 referendum was 200,000+ votes. But there’s Sturgeon’s pathway to secession. More diversity delivers more votes for devolution. The polling in a referendum 2.0 might be swung by 10,000 additional voters.

  3. Andreas says:

    Much of this is speculative, but I’ve gotten the impression that adults have been actively working and coordinating with the Taliban for some time. I’ve assumed them to be mostly Russian, but with close cooperation from other regional players, such as Pakistan, Iran and China.

    In contrast to the bumbling and graceless US exit from Afghanistan, the Taliban seemed to be remarkably disciplined and acting with honor throughout the withdrawal.

    Thus, I also suspect that when the Pentagon says that they are working with the Taliban that what they really mean is that they are coordinating with the Taliban in close conjunction with Russia.

    Of course, this is too politically incorrect to state openly as it would embarrass the hapless Americans even more to admit that they were largely dependent on Russian influence with the Taliban to effect any semblance of an orderly withdrawal. And it would likely be above the intellectual capacity of anyone working for the US to reconcile this cooperation with the incessant vilification of Russia over the last several years in any way that would make sense.

    Also not surprising is that the spayed and neutered US press corp did not rise to the occasion and push the Pentagon on the unexpected professionalism of the Taliban and to what level other players were involved in the withdrawal.

    As for the Russians, secrecy agreements notwithstanding, it does not seem to be in their national character to openly gloat about the epic US failure in Afghanistan and over how dependent the US was on Russia to achieve the withdrawal. Russia, I’m guessing, will instead quietly treat this as a big favor to be repaid at some point in the future.

    So, yes, the game is far from over and there are immense political complexities to overcome in Afghanistan to form a stable government under the Taliban.

    But if Zhirnov is working from a foundation of trust and goodwill established up to this point, then there may indeed be room for more optimism than what the Pentagon will ever admit. What is for sure is that things are going to get even more interesting very soon.

  4. “Western countries often wait for months while various parties try to assemble coalitions.”

    Throughout history, winning a war of independence has only been the first half of a new nation’s birth.

    The second half, which is often just as bloody, consists of forming a stable government, economy, and society.

    This can take years.

    For example, the American War of Independence lasted 8.5 years, and ended in 1783, after which another six years passed before the “United States” had anything like unity with a stable government.

    Today the US government will thwart Afghan stability and unification as long as possible, by any means necessary.

    What the U.S. government cannot co-opt or enslave, it destroys, or else it aborts (i.e. prevents from being born).

  5. Smith says:

    Terrible news.

    The Taliban must form the government at soon as possible, learn from the Vietnam experience, the more unstable you are, the easy you are to be dealt with by your enemies.

  6. Smith says:

    I encounter a pretty good theory by Yun Lin in the Saker’s equivalence of this article:

    Could be worthy to study more. Anyway, the Taliban ought to make themselves clear soon, this kind of instability isn’t good.

    • Replies: @antibeast
  7. antibeast says:

    The Taliban just announced their new government in Kabul. Anyway, Yun Lin’s hypothesis is mostly based on innuendos, i.e., ascribing ulterior motives to the protagonists for the sequence of events that have transpired since the Fall of Kabul. He also mistook the US-made weapons left behind not by the US military in Bagram Air Base (which were decommissioned) but by the Afghan National Army as signifying some kind of conspiracy which has been debunked several times. The US Deep State has been circulating various conspiracy theories to discredit the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

  8. Smith says:

    Good that the Taliban have immediately announced their candidates for interim govt after this post!

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