Taliban’s Emirate has been re-established. What will happen going forward, not just for Afghanistan, but also the region and beyond?
The answer will depend largely on whether or not Taliban sticks to the promises it has made to the international community and assurances they are giving to Afghans.
There will be broadly two sets of metrics on which Taliban will be judged.
Taliban and Afghans
First, Taliban conduct internally. If there are atrocities, reprisal killings and massacres, if minorities are persecuted and women are considered chattel and/or are erased from public life, then it will be difficult, even impossible, for much of the world to engage with the Emirate. Diplomatic, economic and political isolation will follow. There will be resistance to Taliban rule from within Afghanistan and without.
But if Taliban behaves no worse than an ultra-conservative Islamist regime, then the world, and even most Afghans, might reconcile to the Emirate.
Taliban and Jihadists
Second, Taliban approach to jihadists. Will it sever links with the melange of non-Afghan jihadists – Arabs, Chechens, Iranians, Pakistanis, Tajiks, Turkmen, Uighurs, Uzbeks and others?
Even if Taliban doesn’t break its ties with al-Qaida and other non-Afghan terror groups, will it restrict and restrain their movements and activities? If Taliban ensures that Afghan soil will not be used against any other country, then there is a good chance that many countries will be ready to do business with the Emirate.
On the other hand, if Taliban is unable or unwilling to curb these groups, all bets are off. Forget the West, even countries surrounding Afghanistan that are quite open to dealing with the Emirate will treat it as a pariah regime.
These metrics are inter-related. Afghanistan can’t become a horror show for Afghans and still expect the world to look the other way just because it isn’t exporting jihad.
The problem for Taliban will be that if it comes down too hard on foreign jihadist allies, it could face stiff resistance, not just from these groups but also from the military commanders who have fought together with these groups for two decades. Foreign jihadists expect Taliban to help them the same way they helped Taliban.
But if Taliban goes soft on these groups, it risks international isolation. Worse, it could face retaliation by countries that will seek to payback in the same coin by supporting resistance groups fighting against the Emirate.
An attendant problem is that jihadists from around the world, enthused by the re-establishment of the Emirate and the defeat of the US empire will make a beeline for the Emirate.
Pak Plan vs Reality
Pakistanis, who have invested so much in Taliban, also have a lot riding on Afghanistan. They can’t afford to get it wrong. Afghanistan, they believe, is their lynchpin for becoming the regional hub for trade and transit. Connectivity to Central Asia and Islamabad’s geo-economic wet dreams are all dependent on how Afghanistan plays out.
But these grand plans will shatter if the Emirate becomes a pariah because imposing an Emirate is one thing, running it, quite another, especially if there is no money coming in and people are fleeing the horror show.
This means Pakistan will find itself compelled to impose on the Emirate, including putting curbs on Pakistani Taliban who shares an organic link with Afghan Taliban. This could have repercussions for relations between the Emirate and the original Islamic State – Pakistan. If Pakistan becomes very overbearing, the Emirate might be inclined to balance things by reaching out to Pakistan’s enemies (read India).
Help Friends, India
For now India, like many other countries, will be in a wait-and-watch mode. There are not too many options that India can exercise except for pulling out its people and providing refuge to Afghan friends. Not only is this the right thing to do, but also the strategic thing to do.
These Afghans will be India’s friends when things take yet another turn in Afghanistan. While India waits for its options in Afghanistan to open up, it must not only beef up defences to handle a possible wave of jihadism, but also have retaliatory options in place against Pakistan, which will be the conduit for these jihadists.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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