Why will Afghanistan remain unstable, violent and in an economic mess?
The dire economic situation in Afghanistan and the long delay in the international recognition of the Taliban regime are making the task of securing the nation much more challenging for the Taliban regime.
In the first 10 months since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, violence remained at a disturbing level in Afghanistan with almost no signs of any respite in the days to come. There has been a significant increase in terrorist activities across Afghanistan since the Taliban came to power in August last year.
Data shows fighters of the National Resistance Front and Islamic State-Khorasan Province (Da’esh) are growing in strength, leading to further escalation in violence.
The dire economic situation in the country and the long delay in the international recognition of the Taliban regime are making the task of securing the nation much more challenging for the Taliban regime. Adding to the Taliban’s woes is the existing and deep divide in the outfit’s rank and file along ethnic lines.
The country of a 4 crore-odd population has long suffered from an overreliance on foreign development and humanitarian aid, especially to pay for government agencies that provide vital public services such as healthcare, education, energy, sanitation, shelter, and food assistance. Over the past year, the problem has been exacerbated, with many Afghans suffering from extreme poverty. The collapse of government services, curtailment of foreign aid, rising inflation and supply chain bottlenecks, disease and drought have made things worse for millions of Afghans. The rise of terror attacks is one of the biggest problems in Afghanistan at the moment.
In June itself, Afghanistan recorded a total of 367 terrorism/conflict-linked fatalities. It included 88 civilians, 258 Taliban fighters, 10 National Resistance Front fighters and 11 Da’esh terrorists. There were 391 fatalities, including 111 civilians, 254 Taliban fighters, 15 National Resistance Front fighters and 11 Da’esh terrorists in May.
Significantly, the June tally was the second highest since the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, with May 2022 recording the highest. There were 2,876 fatalities in August 2021.
In addition, in a major attack on June 18, Da’esh terrorists targeted the Gurudwara Dashmesh Pita Sahib Ji in the Karte Parwan area of north-western Kabul, resulting in the death of two people, including a Sikh Granthi named Sawinder Singh. During the attack, several blasts took place in and around the Gurudwara. However, Taliban security personnel foiled an attempt to detonate an explosive-laden vehicle at the Gurudwara entrance.
Similarly, on March 25, 2020, Da’esh targeted Gurudwara Shri Guru Har Rai Sahib in Kabul, resulting in the death of 25 people, and injuries to eight.
Continuing with its propaganda in cyberspace, Da’esh's Al Azaim Foundation, the media wing of the group, released a video on June 14 focused on the issue of “blasphemy” in India, threatening to conduct attacks against India in near future.
On June 16, Da’esh released propaganda material, including the 3rd issue of Pashto Magazine ‘Khurasan Ghag,’ criticising the Taliban for “their friendship with the governments of India, China and Pakistan.”
Efforts to revive the economy
In what could evolve into a significant economic move, US officials were working on a mechanism to allow the Afghan Central Bank to utilise its frozen foreign funds to deal with the hunger crisis stemming from the Afghan conflict, persistent drought and, more recently, a devastating earthquake. In this regard, foreign minister Muttaqi along with senior finance ministry officials and representatives of the Afghan Central Bank held meetings with the special representative for Afghanistan Thomas West and officials of the US treasury department in Doha on June 29-30.
On June 27, in an attempt to promote Pakistan’s economic interests in Afghanistan, Pakistan Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif approved the import of high-quality coal from Afghanistan in PKR instead of USD, after he was informed that the import of coal from Afghanistan would save up to USD 2.2 billion annually.
On the other hand, taking a cue from the rising global prices of coal and to enhance revenues, the Taliban ministry of finance revised the rate of Afghan coal from USD 90 to USD200 per ton.
In a tele-conversation with Afghan foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi conveyed that the visa-issuance process for Afghan traders would begin soon and that the return of Afghan students to Chinese universities would be facilitated. He also confirmed that the air traffic between Afghanistan and China would resume soon.
On June 18, the Afghan deputy foreign minister Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai met Khwaja Awduzov, ambassador of Turkmenistan to Afghanistan and described Afghanistan-Turkmenistan relations as friendly and based on common interests, and declared that the Taliban was committed to the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Project and was well prepared for its implementation.
There were also discussions on railway projects and the Qushtepa Canal.
On June 19, foreign minister Muttaqi met Uzbekistan’s national security adviser Abdul Aziz Kamilov and Uzbekistan president’s representative for Afghanistan Esmatullah Irgashov. Kamilov noted that security in Uzbekistan depended on the security and stability of Afghanistan and that the Uzbekistan government was ready to strengthen political, economic and transit relations with the Afghan government.
Projecting positive narrative
In a boost to the Taliban regime’s efforts at projecting a positive narrative, the recently constituted ‘Commission for Contact with Afghan Leaders and their Repatriation,’ claimed success in getting back former transport minister Hassan Mubarak Azizi; former spokesman for the ministry of defence general (retired) Dawlat Waziri, former director of Breshna Shirkat (the National Electricity Company) Amanullah Ghalib, former minister of education Farooq Wardak, former president's adviser Habibullah Ahmadzai, erstwhile second deputy of the Afghan Senate Hasibullah Kalimzai, renowned cancer specialist Dr Abdul Wardak and senior commander of Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum Nizamuddin Qaisari. Welcoming them, the Taliban hoped to utilise their experience and expertise in their respective fields.
Following up on the ministry of education’s announcement that the regime would soon establish between three and 10 madrassas in each district, the Taliban have been converting a number of high schools, technical institutes and higher education centres into madrassas in Kandahar, Kabul, Herat, Balkh, and Helmand provinces, besides identifying certain higher education institutes where education could be imparted to Taliban fighters and their family members.
Many countries that had received Afghan students through exchange programmes have signalled their intention to repatriate the students. Considering the treatment of former Afghan military personnel, this practice may result in the death of some of the cadets and would force the remainder to serve under a regime they never signed up to defend.
Ethnic rift within the Taliban
Efforts by the Taliban to rein in Hazara commander Maulvi Mehdi Mujahid, who led around 1,500 fighters in the Balkhab District of Sar-e-Pul Province, failed after Mehdi rejected the offer to accommodate him in one of the ministries in Kabul. Mehdi had accused the Taliban of following a sectarian agenda and not acting as an Islamic Emirate.
Inputs indicate that, besides the ethnic divide between Pashtun and non-Pashtun Taliban commanders, the rift with Mehdi was also over the profits from coal exports to Pakistan from the mines in Balkhab, which he controlled. The Taliban wanted a share in the proceeds from the mines.
Subsequently, the Taliban deployed additional forces along the roads leading to Balkhab, and launched an operation on June 23-25, claiming to have regained control over the District Centre. Reacting to the Taliban offensive and killing of civilians during house-to-house searches in Balkhab, Richard Bennett, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Afghanistan, and Amnesty International expressed concern over extrajudicial killings, civilian displacement, destruction of property, and other human rights abuses.
Meanwhile, on June 8, Azizullah Asefi, one of the non-Pashtun commanders of the Taliban, who was leading the Taliban in Baghlan’s Khost-wa-Firing District, defected to the National Resistance Front along with his fighters. In addition to Mehdi, Salahuddin Ayoubi and Asefi, more defections by ethnic minority Taliban groups were reported by Uzbek Taliban commanders in Faryab and Jowzjan Provinces and Tajik Commanders in Takhar and Badakshan Provinces.