The geostrategic importance of Afghanistan is a significant consideration in deciding whether and how to interact with the Taliban.
In June 2021, events in Afghanistan came full circle. After a 20-year conflict, the US withdrew, Ashraf Ghani’s administration in Kabul fell apart, and the Taliban regained control. What do they want, and what distinguishes them from the prior iteration? Hassan Abbas’ The Return of the Taliban: Afghanistan After the Americans Left paints a portrait of the government, highlighting its internal divisions, limitations, and prospects.
The Taliban in the 1990s were infamous for their prejudice, brutality, and cruelty toward minorities and women. Following the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban rallied its supporters along the Pakistani border with Afghanistan, strengthening their insurgency between 2003 and 2018, and vowing to overthrow the US. It started talks with the US government in Qatar in 2018–19, portraying themselves as responsible administrators rather than a terrorist force.
Taliban came in, bribing and coercing powerful tribal groups, waging strategic assaults on Kabul, all the while the US-selected political elite of Kabul fled in a panic. Afghanistan has undoubtedly evolved over the last 20 years, whether or not the Taliban has really reformed. Ideology must be diluted for governance to work, but can a force that has been taught to destroy instead than create succeed?
Taliban is not really a movement of religious zealots, despite its name. Only a small minority get seminary training, and the majority of rank-and-file members are merely family members, neighbors, and sympathizers. According to the book, roughly 30% of the membership is ideological. According to the book, tribal culture and ethnic traditions are just as important to a person’s identity as their religious beliefs.
Taliban 3.0 still has divisions between its pragmatic Kabul Taliban and its closed-minded compatriots in Kandahar, the group’s spiritual and doctrinal center. Others in the administration are more cognizant of the need of engaging globally, even though the chief judge Abdul Hakim Haqqani and the supreme commander Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada lean in a conservative direction.
The dispute with Islamic StateKhorasan has become worse as the Taliban strives to distance themselves from the extremist strain of Deobandism. Islamabad has made several efforts, but the Afghan Taliban have been hesitant to confront the Pakistani Taliban, leaving the Af-Pak border unrest and insecurity.
Pakistan has historically exploited Afghanistan as a weapon against India. According to the book, the Taliban is now negotiating new agreements with both nations. India’s principal concern is reducing terrorism, and despite the Haqqani network’s close links to Pakistani intelligence, it maintains its skepticism of it.
India has been attempting to find a new equilibrium with the Taliban since June 2022 after investing in infrastructure and cooperating closely with the Ghani administration. Afghanistan is unable to maintain its isolation due to both its dismal economic position and its geostrategic importance. Previously, the US provided direct funding for two-thirds of Afghanistan’s budget; however, the country is now considering its choices and interacting with China, Iran, Turkey, and Qatar.
According to Abbas, the Taliban does not want to be lectured on what it views as “alien” reform goals since the West does not lecture it and because the West works with numerous countries that have appalling human rights records. The Taliban’s hold on the wheel is not going to loosen anytime soon, therefore the book proposes providing some legitimacy and engaging the government without supporting it.