By Ron Synovitz
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
September 15, 2021
It has been just a month since Taliban militants seized control of Kabul and declared Afghanistan as an “Islamic emirate” that will uphold the militant movement’s interpretation of “Islamic rules and Shari’a law.”
But already, the new Taliban regime is struggling to deal with a series of political, social, and economic crises that are testing its ability to transform from a guerrilla insurgency into a functional government.
By many accounts, the Taliban is failing the test.
Masato Toriya, a specialist on the region from Tokyo University, says the Taliban-led government’s complete lack of management experience is exacerbating an already dire economy situation — causing living conditions across Afghanistan to deteriorate further.
Compounded by internal rifts that are emerging between rival factions of the Taliban leadership, Toriya says the threat of a civil war reigniting in Afghanistan is now serious. “One cannot deny the prospect of Afghanistan’s new slide into civil war,” Toriya said.
Indeed, independent analysts say the possibility appears greater than ever that the unity of the Taliban insurgency could splinter into regional Taliban fiefdoms now that the task is to actually govern — with the Haqqani network in the east and a Kandahar-based faction of Taliban co-founders in the western half of the country.
“Conquering a country is always the easy part. Ruling it, in Afghanistan’s case, is the difficult bit,” historian William Dalrymple, an expert on Pashtun tribal rivalries, told RFE/RL. “That’s when the tensions and the fault lines become apparent.”
While the dynamics of those internal Taliban rivalries continue to play out, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that Afghanistan now faces a “humanitarian catastrophe” and a complete collapse of basic services.
Some $9 billion in foreign reserves of Afghanistan’s central bank, Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), has been frozen — most of it held in the United States.
Foreign donors have suspended aid to Afghanistan, saying disbursements are contingent on the behavior of the Taliban-led government, which has not been recognized by any country.
That has left ordinary Afghans reeling from rocketing inflation, rising poverty, cash shortages, a plummeting currency, and rising unemployment.
Ajmal Ahmady, the former DAB governor who fled Kabul after the Taliban takeover, told RFE/RL that he expects all of those dire economic indicators to “worsen.”
Meanwhile, despite Taliban claims that the movement is more moderate than it was when it ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, it quickly reintroduced restrictions on women’s rights.
That includes tightened rules on women’s education and outright bans on the right of women to work.
By forcing women in Kabul and many other parts of the country to leave their jobs and stay at home, economic experts say the new Taliban regime is only further damaging the already struggling economy.
The Taliban’s promises of restraint in its dealings with its adversaries also look like empty words.
In several cities that have fallen under Taliban control in recent months, Human Rights Watch has documented grave human rights violations.
Taliban gunmen also have responded violently against those who have dared to protest against their rule — with reports of demonstrators and their leaders being shot dead on the streets or at their homes.
In fact, Human Rights Watch says there has been a pattern of summary executions of former security personnel, former members of the government and their relatives, and civilians in revenge killings.
Meanwhile, instead of focusing on reviving the government institutions that collapsed as U.S.-led foreign military forces were completing their withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, the new Taliban regime has found it difficult to provide even the most basic services.
The Taliban leadership has outlawed peaceful demonstrations by those who oppose their rule. That ban also prohibits journalists from covering protest marches.
Some journalists detained for doing so have been severely beaten in the custody of Taliban authorities.
Amid tightened restrictions on media, many journalists have either stopped working or have simply fled the country. Media rights groups say independent journalism is now at risk of disappearing from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Afghanistan also is facing a mass exodus of people. Tens of thousands of Afghans who fear Taliban reprisals for their work in government or with foreign organizations during the past 20 years have already fled Kabul.
Many more have been left behind, and some have been selling off their possessions on roadsides across the country.
For some, it is about survival and getting enough money to feed their families. But others are using the money to try to flee from Afghanistan into neighboring Iran and Pakistan.
“Many people are selling off whatever valuables they have,” one Kabul shopkeeper told RFE/RL. “People are desperate. There are no jobs and no money. People don’t have any other choice.”
Perhaps the most significant development during the past month are the reports of rifts within the Taliban leadership that have emerged since it announced its version of a “caretaker government” last week.
The dispute surfaced after Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban co-founder who headed the group’s Doha political office, disappeared from public view for several days after he’d been named as deputy prime minister in the Taliban cabinet.
Some Taliban sources say Baradar was involved in a brawl at the Presidential Palace in Kabul with Khalil ur-Rahman Haqqani — a prominent figure in the militant Haqqani network who was named the Taliban’s minister for refugees.
Those reports have highlighted the divisions between the Kandahar-based faction in the Taliban leadership council, the Quetta Shura, and the Haqqani network that controls areas further to the east.
By announcing a cabinet made up exclusively of the movement’s hard-line old guard, the Taliban risked demonstrating that critics were right not to believe Taliban promises of “an all-inclusive government” that would represent Afghanistan’s diverse ethnic and religious communities.
Thirty of the 33 cabinet members are Pashtuns. There are two ethnic Tajik ministers and only one ethnic Uzbek. There are no women, Shi’a, Hazara, Baluch, Turkmen, or members of Afghanistan’s non-Muslim minorities.
“The Taliban’s new government tells us that they only consider themselves entitled to run an Islamic government,” Kabul researcher Ali Adili told RFE/RL. “This is an ethnically homogeneous, ‘mullahcratic’ government.”
One key indicator about the future for women in Afghanistan is that the Taliban has abolished the Department of Women’s Affairs that had been part of the deposed Kabul government.
Kabul residents tell RFE/RL that many Afghan women are now pessimistic about their economic and social situations, as well as their safety and their futures.
Written and reported by Ron Synovitz in Prague with reporting by RFE/RL’s Gandhara website editor Abubakar Siddique and Radio Azadi correspondents in Afghanistan whose names are being withheld for security reasons