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What the Taliban is doing to survive in power

Anju Gupta writes: Faced with violent protests and resistance, it is weaponising ideology and firming up like-minded alliances across the globe.


Since the fall of Kabul, the Taliban has been finding it difficult to rule Afghanistan the way it had bragged about for decades.

Pakistan’s proxy, the Islamic State Khurasan Province (ISKP)’s violent campaign against the Taliban is continuing, mostly in Kabul and eastern Afghanistan. Pakistani forces are mounting cross-border attacks on TTP hideouts and leaders inside Afghanistan. Over the last few weeks, underground armed resistance movements have become stronger, frequently freeing “pockets” in at least 10-12 provinces of northern Afghanistan, which are also witnessing frequent public protests.

Taliban forces have also experienced border skirmishes with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Iran and have amassed military equipment along the borders. The Defence Minister has even threatened Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to return Afghan fighter planes that had landed in their territory when the Taliban seized power. The Taliban leadership is re-emphasising Sharia-based governance, backing TTP strongly and appears to be inching towards naming a new Amir-ul-Momineen (AuM) to stitch a powerful narrative and plan for survival. The emergence of a Kabul-based AuM would adversely impact the stability of Afghanistan, the region and far beyond.

In recent weeks, a significant section of the Taliban’s top leadership is building the image of Defence Minister Mullah Mohmmad Yaqoob, son of Taliban’s founding AuM, Mullah Omar, as a young, charismatic, incorruptible and strong leader, who is also the heir to Mullah Omar’s legacy. Referring to his role as of a “blue-blooded Pashtun”, deputy Amir and military chief of the Taliban since 2016, Taliban propaganda is showcasing him as “the warrior” who defeated the US and NATO, quietly moving the spotlight away from the invisible AuM, Haibatullah Akhundzada. This appears to be preparation for scaling up Yaqoob’s “divine religious warrior” image and possibly anointing him as the next AuM. The new AuM would be seen in control of the Afghan army and would work as a “unifier”.

The friction of the Taliban with its “prime backer” Pakistan is becoming more vicious and visible. There is no let-up in Taliban support for TTP, or on frontal attacks on Pakistani forces in the tribal belt and in big cities, including Islamabad. The propaganda by the two groups is now enmeshed in terms of projecting a common ideology and slamming Pakistan’s deep state as an “enemy” of Islam.

Non-Pashtun Taliban are being arrested by Taliban or are switching sides. The reports about killings of scores of former Afghan forces by the Taliban may soon augment ranks of the resistance movements. The tensions between Taliban and Central Asian countries would only strengthen the movements that are now calling on Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras to unite against a Pashtun Taliban.

Furthermore, the new movements are projecting the legacy of Ahmad Shah Masood as a historical “hero” of the Afghan nation and his son, Ahmad Masood, as a capable, young, charismatic “new hero” for a “modern” Afghan nation, as against “primitive” Taliban rule. At the same time, the propaganda is questioning the US “model” of backing a Pashtun presidency for 20 years since 2001.

Violent public protests in Kazakhstan in January have demonstrated the “fragility” of Taliban’s rule, which cannot count on military support from any nation-state or block of nations to overcome similar crises. In case of a “hypothetical rapprochement” with Pakistan, even Pakistan would not have the bandwidth or courage to play such a role for the Taliban.

Lacking financial or diplomatic support of any big nation or block, the Taliban’s quest for funding and recognition has, till now, largely failed. The formal structure of governance in Afghanistan has crumbled in no time and the Taliban’s inability to even pay basic salaries to local functionaries is leading to exodus and the emaciation of whatever was left of this machinery.

The Taliban has not lived up to assurances given to the international community through the Doha process — of a broad-based, all-inclusive government, willing to engage and accommodate progressive forces within and beyond. As a result, apart from “regulated” humanitarian assistance, it has failed to acquire funds or legitimacy, even from Pakistan and China.

The Taliban knew that it lacked tools, finances and expertise to create a “modern state”, so it is not even pretending to do so. Rather, it has chosen a primitive model — showcasing Afghanistan as a Sharia-based system, even justifying deployment of suicide bombers against enemies. This approach aims to keep its flock together, weaponise the ideology to instil fear in the regional and global community and firm up like-minded alliances across the globe.

Its backing of TTP is being projected as support for the Pashtun cause across the Af-Pak border. It is clear that the Taliban has cultivated a bond with TTP as an “ideal buffer” against Pakistani forces, which could create deep trouble for Taliban. Both groups believe that survival can be ensured if they stick together and may claim “Pashtunistan” along the Af-Pak border — in case Taliban loses its grip over northern Afghanistan to underground movements. Taliban is aware that, if presented with a choice, Russia, Iran and Central Asian nations would prefer the movements as a practical buffer against the Taliban.

The presence of a Kabul-based AuM would, however, have implications beyond Afghan borders. The Islamic Emirate could soon start behaving like an ISIS-style Caliphate, emulating Syria- and Africa-based terrorist groups. Terror groups of the region and beyond could begin pledging allegiance to the AuM. Once such a move is made, the natural progression would be for the Taliban to start exporting and receiving foreign fighters to and from other regions. Taliban propaganda to this effect is already making mentions of Syria, Palestine, Xinjiang and Central Asia, which could eventually expand to include other areas.

16 Feb 22/Wednesday                                                                              Source : indianexpress

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