CTC Sentinel, 11 November 2021
Andrew Watkins, former Crisis Group analyst in Afghanistan, attempts a first, extensive and in-depth assessment of the Taleban’s now more than three months’ second rule in Afghanistan.
In the abstract, he writes:
In spite of the evolution in Taliban shadow governance over the past decade and the group’s growing sense of military and political momentum, the first three months of the reinstated Islamic Emirate revealed the group’s struggles with the responsibilities of national sovereignty.
But he also writes:
In some ways, the Taliban have transitioned their leaders and fighters into officials of a still-forming government with incredible speed. In less than two months, the Taliban extracted oaths of fealty or at least gestures of tacit acceptance from most political leaders who remained in the country; appointed a caretaker government (or at least the façade of one); established a harsh, at times abusive, but largely orderly new security regime in cities; maintained firm control over borders and set customs to account for economic hardship; engaged in regional diplomacy with neighboring states; swiftly and brutally put down an attempted resistance in a mountainous province; and increasingly devoted resources to rooting out security challenges, including a bloody campaign against the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) branch but also retribution against a number of former security officials.
Watkins explains why the Taleban conform so little with international demands for a ‘inclusive government’:
While true, the vacuum created by Ghani’s departure posed an internal dilemma that the group may not have faced otherwise. Compromising and sharing power with adversaries in order to reach Kabul was one proposition; sharing power voluntarily, after already having marched victoriously into the capital and assuming an unchallenged position of authority, was another entirely. Most members of the Taliban may have been persuaded, under the assumption that seizing Kabul might require a lengthy siege or bloody urban warfare, to accept the former. But power-sharing likely would have encouraged speculation that their leadership was allying itself with the ‘corrupt,’ ‘puppet’ political leaders of the Western-backed Islamic Republic, or worse, that they were caving to the demands of foreign states. (…) Calls for inclusivity in Afghan politics, especially from foreign powers, have had a problematic history over the course of Western intervention since 2001. Encouraging inclusivity has served as a euphemism for bringing powerbrokers, even allegedly corrupt or criminal figures, into government—under the logic that they will do less harm from within the state than outside of (and possibly opposed to) it.
He also sees a “dual track of authority between the formal hierarchy and the informal interpersonal networks that anchor the Taliban’s organizational culture” – which very much replicates the dual tracks of authority under presidents Karzai and Ghani.
There is some more interesting information such as:
Anecdotal observation suggests that the Taliban have appointed many of the police chiefs of districts in Kabul not in the style of “spoils of war” for the most accomplished battlefield commanders, but on the basis of experience in and knowledge of the capital; more than one district chief seems to have a background in remotely running informant networks and mounting terror attacks from Kabul’s outlying districts.
Also the following statement is highly necessary to underline, as there is a dominant but ill-informed narrative to the opposite:
Taliban’s fighters: they were not paid, throughout the insurgency. Accommodation, board, and expenses were covered, and a wide variety of ‘part-time’ and overlapping arrangements existed [to cover this].
There are also a number of notions that are debatable, such as that the Taleban have a “strong philosophical preference for minimalist government” (this author would argue they are very state-and control-oriented). The Taleban also have not “tacitly accepted the scope of the modern Afghan state as defined by the previous Western-backed government” (they have almost the same ministries as before) – but this is the ‘traditional’ scope of the Afghan state as it existed (with few changes) through the monarchy and the communist periods.
This article was last updated on 3 Dec 2021