The world is grappling with the fact that four out of its 33 ministers were among those detained at Guantanamo Bay, 14 are under the United Nations’ sanctions list, while one carries a reward of $10 million. In recent history, no government formation has attracted so much international scrutiny as the Taliban’s.
It is hardly a government. It rather looks like a gathering of leaders of armed militias sharing the spoils of victory against US occupation with no regard for country or its hapless citizens.
The Taliban have discarded the concerns of the international community regarding inclusive government and human rights, including that of women.
The all-male cabinet is dominated by Pashtuns (40% population), ignoring the country’s diversity. No Hazara Shias have been included. The representation of Tajiks and Uzbeks is also symbolic. Those opposing the government are being brutally suppressed.
For the United States, its cup of woes is overflowing.
After embarking on a war on terror for 20 years, the US now feels more insecure than before 9/11. Besides Al Qaeda (AQ), it now faces a serious threat from Islamic State (IS) and affiliated groups across the globe. The IS amply demonstrated its capability in Afghanistan by killing more than 180 people, including 13 American servicemen, at the Kabul airport on August 27.
The US will not even be confident that the Taliban would honour the Doha Agreement, of not allowing Afghan soil to be used to target the US or its allies.
Faced with a sharp decline in his popularity following the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, President Joe Biden cannot politically afford any attack on US interests anywhere in the world or on the homeland.
The US has been left with no choice but to seek international consensus on dealing with the Taliban government. Eating humble pie after ratcheting anti-China rhetoric, Biden called Chinese president Xi Jinping on September 10, seeking cooperation on all issues, including Afghanistan. China is equally worried though it has not openly acknowledged the fact.
Can China take at face value the assertion of Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, that many members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) have left Afghanistan after a warning from the Taliban? The question is whether they have indeed gone or just melted away into the hinterland of this vast country, along with the cadres of the IS, AQ and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Russia has also refused to be present at the inauguration of the Taliban government, as it is — like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — grappling with internal security threat concerns from terror groups based in Afghanistan. Iran, another neighbour, is miffed at the Taliban for ignoring its Shia minority in government formation.
Pakistan, the main international backer of the Taliban, is realising that its narrative that the latter have “reformed”, has fallen flat.
Except for perhaps getting its lackey, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the charge of the interior ministry, nothing significant seems to have emerged from the much-publicised visit of the ISI’s Director General to Kabul.
In fact, it was foolish on the part of the Imran Khan government to dispatch him, as it has not only buttressed the allegations against Pakistan of backing the group, but also hardened the Taliban’s position. The group in no way would like to be seen taking orders from an intelligence officer of a neighbouring country.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan army and government are finding it difficult to explain to their people the sudden jump in activities of the TTP, which they had so far been conveniently blaming India for.
Deflecting domestic criticism that TTP was a by-product of the policies pursued by the Pakistan army and ISI for decades would be now extremely difficult.
Will Haqqani, notorious for orchestrating suicide attacks, including on the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008, bail out the Pakistan army by extending help in targeting the TTP? India should join the international community in adopting a consensus approach to ensure that the Taliban regime addresses the concerns of the international community.
Imposing sanctions would be counterproductive, as it will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis unfolding there and push more youth towards extremism.
A mechanism should be set up to release Afghan money and aid frozen by the US and other donor countries. It should be carefully spent on welfare of the people of Afghanistan and should not go into the pockets of the Taliban leaders or fuel their war machinery.
Saving Afghan lives and helping the country to stand on its feet without external intervention and interference should be the guiding factor in formulating a response.
(The writer is a former Intelligence Bureau officer who served in Pakistan)