EXCLUSIVE – AFGHANISTAN CRISIS: Interpreting Taliban Cabinet By Professor Ijaz Khan
By Professor Ijaz Khan
The composition of the 33 member Taliban Government is well known. It is not inclusive is also not contested as well as it reflects the more hardliners, old guard is well established and has been commented by many. Why it is so and what it means for domestic, regional and international scenario needs further debate and understanding. The answer to why will answer the three questions.
The general expectations were, Taliban will announce a cabinet which will have some non Taliban, as well as will be representative of all the ethnic identities of Afghanistan, even If that was just symbolic. But most were taken by surprise by when they announced an exclusive Taliban government. Again the wider expectations/opinions, of Mulla Abdul Ghani Baradar heading it has been proved wrong. Instead they announced an exclusive Taliban Cabinet composed and dominated by hardline, old guard Taliban with strong Haqqani Network presence. Pakistan’s ISI chef Gen. Faiz Hameed made a very public visit to Kabul on the eve of this announcement.
Gen. Faiz Hameed, Pakistan’s Intelligence agency ISI chief made a very public visit to Kabul on the eve of the announcement, leading many observers to believe, he (Pakistan) made this happen. Pakistan’s influence over Afghanistan cannot be denied and is not, by Pakistan or its detractors. How much is a question of debate. Pakistan may have influenced the choices, but cannot be credited or discredited with all the outcome, even though it is not unhappy with it. Pakistan is satisfied as all other of its concerns are eclipsed by elimination of Indian influence. Pakistan did try to convince Taliban for at least a symbolic inclusive cabinet due to US demands as well as its own interests. Pakistan was under immense US pressure to make an inclusive government happen. In addition to this making Pakistan in a more acceptable position with Washington, Pakistan has worries about impact of an exclusive Kabul government on its own extremist challenge. Pakistan’s ability to deliver that, would have been appreciated by China and Russia too. However, that did not happen. Though Taliban have assured Pakistan and have made public announcement to not permit Afghan soil to be used against any other state, including Pakistan, it has not agreed to handing over Pakistani Taliban (TTP) currently free in Afghanistan to be handed over. Taliban decision to go for an exclusive government was also influenced by Taliban fears of losing its own cadres to the IS-K as has been observed by many commentators. Whether that was the determining factor or not, this perception of reason for exclusivity can help reducing US concerns.
The exclusion of some important Taliban commanders, known for their closeness to Iran, can be more the result of Taliban giving a small positive message to US. Coupled with a common interest against Islamic State, this could keep the US window open. The demotion, considered widely as sidelining of Mulla Baradar and Stanekzai may have been influenced by Pakistan due to their meetings with Indians in Doha and subsequent statements on relations with India. Taliban decision was probably influenced by their desire keep Pakistan on its right side after not adhering to its arguing for an inclusive government. However, this was not only due outside considerations, but Taliban’s internal powerplay. The foreign considerations/ influences did strengthen those who came up on top, already in competition for that, including Haqqani Network, which is a very strong group within Taliban Movement. It must be remembered, HQN though formally part of the Taliban, predates it and has retained its separate organizational structure, intact.
The government is called caretaker for a six month duration. How will and who decide the regular government after six months has not been announced yet. Mostly, caretaker or interim governments are composed of such largely non-controversial persons, who are not contenders for regular/ permanent position. Such persons are respected, but don’t have power to prolong their stay. All the members of this caretaker setup are contenders for positions in the regular government with enough power to back that. Some may want to retain, others would also want to improve their status, but none would be willing to relinquish their positions. Those not making it to the cabinet have been silenced with expectations of making it after six months.
This means silencing Taliban internal competition/ conflict temporarily, for a very short term not ending it. Those in the Cabinet will be using their status to strengthen and thus weaken the outside hopefuls. Those not happy with their position inside the cabinet will be trying to undermine their colleagues with better positions. Those outside would be trying to make the interim cabinet or some of it a failure, to ensure their entry after six months.
This exclusive government may have postponed for a few weeks the Taliban internal conflict, but has given a greater impetus to Afghan national contradictions. Those Afghans, not satisfied with the Republic, foreign military presence and more importantly, the unending violence were ready, even welcoming to some sort of a compromise with Taliban and their outlook, however they cannot be happy with what they are seeing in the shape of this exclusive cabinet or treatment of women and other detractors. Though Taliban have made significant gains in Panjshir, the resistance there has not ended.
This situation will also provide space for regional and international rivalries to play more strongly in Afghanistan. Iran cannot be happy with this arrangement and may re find itself closer to India and renewed competition with Pakistan. The US tempted by the new Cabinet’s distance from Iran and the ISK threat, try to somehow reach out to Taliban, though constrained by the HR considerations. China appears in upbeat mood and despite concerns about Uighurs, seems reaching out to the Taliban. However, Russia and to an extent China too must be worried about the IMU presence and relations with the Taliban. Here, we must remember, more than TTP or Uighurs, IMU strongly helped the Taliban led by its new Military Chief on the battlefront in the North. In short, Taliban has declared its territory not to be used against anyone, but has not shown any indication to take action against any of the foreign terrorist organizations or hand them to their countries, be that Al Qaeda, IMU, ETIM or TTP. The exception being ISK, with which it is in conflict since long.
Afghanistan appears to be going towards a more severe and destructive civil war, with regional and international interests more involved. This time around, most probably, China and Russia would be more involved, increasing the intensity. The US would not be just watching. The Taliban Cabinet is the climax of flawed Doha Deal, its implantation process, irresponsible US withdrawal and an Afghanistan with a broken state and society, intolerance, with only hope for peace being the strength of the women led peaceful demonstration, from where a very pessimistic scenario has emerged for Afghanistan, Afghans and also the region, with international impact.
About Professor Khan
Professor Ijaz Khan is a Senior Managing Partner of Research for Peace, Democracy and Development in Peshwar, Pakistan and former Chair, Department of International Relations, University of Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. A member Human Right Commission of Pakistan. Author of “Pakistan’s Strategic Culture and Foreign Policy Making” as well as a Consultant / Researcher on issues of Security, Peace, Human Rights, Democratisation, Governance, Politics, Foreign Policy with reference to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Pashtuns & Newly Merged Districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He can be contacted at [email protected]
or via his blog at https://ijazk.blogspot.com/
Image Credit: VOA – Public domain via Wikipedia