Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

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Have the Taliban Changed?

Thomas Ruttig 2 min

CTC Sentinel, March 2021

Graffito in a Kabul street. Photo: Thomas Ruttig

This is a guest article by AAN’s Thomas Ruttig for the March 2021 issue of the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC’s) monthly Sentinel, at the Department of Social Sciences of the US’s West Point military academy. It is based on Thomas’s experience from working with the UN during and after the Taleban’s rule over Afghanistan and recent research by AAN colleagues published at our website.

Here the article’s abstract:

Whether and how much the Taliban have changed since their repressive rule over Afghanistan before the fall of 2001 is key to whether a potential peace settlement can create a social and political landscape in Afghanistan that is acceptable to the people of Afghanistan, as well as the United States and NATO allies. While the Taliban have softened their rhetoric on some issues (for example, on women’s rights and education) and there is evidence of real policy change in certain areas (for example, on the use of media, in the education sector, a greater acceptance of NGOs, and an acceptance that a future political system will need to accommodate at least some of their political rivals), their policy adjustments appear to have been largely driven by political imperatives rather than any fundamental changes in ideology. Many in the Taliban hope that they can restore their ‘Emirate.’ Given their continued domineering behavior, intolerance of political dissent and oppression (especially toward girls and women) in the areas they control, there is legitimate concern that if political pressure diminished after an eventual peace agreement and a troop withdrawal, they might revert to pre-fall 2001 practices. Shifts in Taliban rhetoric and positions do, however, shed light on what they may be willing to entertain in a post peace-settlement Afghan political order in which they have to come to some modus vivendi with other Afghan power groupings and interests. The Taliban are a religiously motivated, religiously conservative movement that will not give up what they consider their core ‘values.’ How these values will be reflected in any future constitution and play out in the concrete policies of any eventual power-sharing government that includes the Taliban will be subject to the day-to-day political bargaining between various political forces and the balance of power between them. Whether some changes in approach will be perpetuated will depend on the ability of Afghan communities and political groups to maintain pressure on the Taliban. This, in turn, depends on continued international attention toward Afghanistan particularly if and when there is a political settlement and power-sharing deal and after foreign soldiers have left.


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