The following summarises the lead position of members of the Next Century Foundation’s working group on the future of Afghanistan, but it does not represent a consensus endorsed by all present, nor does it represent the view of the Next Century Foundation.
After the withdrawal of the United States in Afghanistan, the international community has been on high alert and serious concerns have been raised about the future of Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban. The current situation on the ground demonstrates a variety of disturbing realities. We have deep concern about the effect that the winter may have on the population, and would like to underline the fact that the harsh conditions may cause the loss of life to many women and children. Further, the freezing of Afghan assets has resulted in a failing and diminishing economy, placing immense pressure upon the everyday lives of Afghans, especially women. This brings us to the issue of human rights and the emancipation of women, as the future of women continues to create uncertainty and distress under Taliban rule. With the Taliban and the international community equally leveraging human rights for political progress, the need to divert away from the current course of events must be emphasised: human rights should never be leveraged.
The economic crisis lies at the base of all issues in Afghanistan and amongst the Afghan people, there is the consensus that urgent action is vital. As Afghanistan operated across a cash based dollarized economy, the absence of physical cash and the freezing of assets belonging to the Afghan government have been massively debilitating. Private sector investment was also seized, accounting for approximately $6 out of the $9 billion. This act by the US is violating international law, as the private sector belongs to the people, not the government. Essentially, the private sector must play an important role in relieving these economic difficulties, but current circumstances render the private sector disabled.
Economic hardship has also consequently led the educated younger generation to look for economic opportunities elsewhere across the globe. This is devastating for the future of Afghanistan, as it became clear that they were beginning to understand the governance of the country. If economic and political affairs improve in the future, the youth would be a vital cog in the wheel of stability. Fundamentally, however, the economic distress across the nation is causing the deprivation of basic needs, and this must stop.
Misperceptions of the Taliban
On several occasions, the international community have made it clear that they regard the Taliban as being an incompetent entity, unfit to govern Afghanistan. This perception must change as realities have shown that this is not completely true.
From the outside looking in, it appears that the Taliban is severely factionalised, and so the future of Taliban rule remains unclear. However, the Taliban are one of the most misunderstood organisations in the world. One of the most significant attributes that they carry is unity. The idea of internal conflict has been exaggerated and one mustn’t forget that the organisational structure depends upon and revolves around a leader, known as the Ameerul Mu’mineen. Events in the past have displayed the importance of this leading figure, and this is where the unity lies. The division that remains within the Taliban lie with certain individuals who see themselves as hardliners, but there has been evidence that conveys that within the leadership circle, there is more tendency towards moderation rather than the hardliners. Another vital point that needs to be highlighted is that, even though previous security forces have been laid off, the government has a large degree of support from the Afghan people because no one is worried about their physical security any longer. With this, there have several indications that the Taliban have become significantly more tolerant. Female education has been promised to resume in March, persecution of Afghans across the country has been reduced and social media constraints have been minimised substantially.
Additionally, the modernisation of the Taliban has also been demonstrated through their policy towards the drug trade. From being defiantly opposed, the Taliban have now insisted that unless a critical substitute is provided to Afghan farmers, then it cannot be expected to end the cultivation of drugs; the $500 million contract with CIFAR for the processing of hishar and marijuana clearly indicates this reformed attitude.
Most importantly, evidence suggests that since day one of the Taliban takeover, they have been susceptible to compromise, with their main goal seeming to be to remain in power. Therefore, what exists is a true desire to govern the country to the best of their ability.
The Way Forward
With the economic sector in disarray, there is absolutely no substitute for bringing in physical cash to Afghanistan, and so the plea continues for an injection of cash into the economy, along with the unfreezing of Afghan assets.
In terms of cooperation with the Taliban, normalisation of relations is imperative. The international community and aid delivery agencies led by UN, have complained about distant cooperation with the government, or have attempted to avoid engaging with the Taliban. If we wish and expect the government to provide security for aid deliveries by international communities, then the initiation of relations is a must. Humanitarian organisations must try to liaise with central government authorities so that official codes of practise are agreed and can be implemented within policy so that relations can be secure and stabilised. In contrast to imposing western values, agreements with the Taliban will gain much more reception.
Concerning diplomatic developments across international relations, bi-lateral relations are the future. The multi-lateral approach to Afghanistan died as the US exited the region, and after the US made the unilateral decision to exit, several European nations have indicated that bi-lateral relations are the way forward. The isolationism of the Taliban operationalised through sanctions have proved ineffective, and so the international community must invite communication.
Ultimately, if we are to protect the achievements and progress made in the last 2 decades, things must change. The most significant point that radiated from The Next Century Foundation’s working group meeting was that there still remains opportunities to save the economic and humanitarian situation, so we must act.