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Review - The Resurgence of Taliban

Inspired by the recent advances of the Taliban in Afghanistan, PhD candidate Lema Salah and assistant professor Romain Malejacq were interviewed by political scientist Tjidde Tempels. Salah is a historian and gender and diversity expert. In her PhD she focusses on gender and inclusivity within the military. Furthermore, she explores the gender policies of the UN in Afghanistan. Malejacq is working at the political science department of Radboud University and the Centre for Conflict Analysis (CICAM). He has published on warlords, state-building and political violence in Afghanistan.

Media Coverage

Because of the many things that have happened over the last few weeks, first some attention was paid to the current situation on the ground. Currently, a lot of things are unclear regarding the situation at hand, because a lot of information cannot be doublechecked, Malejacq explained. Salah highlighted that it is difficult to get a grip on the situation, since a lot of news is coming through social media. In the last couple of weeks, we have seen multiple instances of fake news coming out. Therefore, assessing the current situation is difficult.

Furthermore, Malejacq and Salah talked about the violence that is being committed by the Taliban against the people in the Panjshir valley. In the whole of Afghanistan, the Taliban is going from door to door to intimidate people, however, in the Panjshir valley the Taliban is more geared towards eliminating the resistance. Lema Salah added that while a lot of mainstream news outlets have been focussing on the airport in Kabul and on people trying to flee the country, we should not forget that in several places in the country people have taken their resistance to the streets. It is important to be aware of these demonstrations because people currently living there are enormously important to listen to. To what extent this will remain possible remains to be seen, as Malejacq pointed out that the Taliban has been making moves to ban demonstrations.

More progressive than before?

There has been some talk in the media about the Taliban being more progressive than before, a “Taliban 2.0”, but both researchers contest this view. Salah notes that this seems to be a narrative that mostly originates in the West, as on the ground in Afghanistan there are not many people who believe this narrative. Moreover, if the benchmark is the horribly violent rule of 1990s Taliban, we can hardly consider this seemingly slightly different Taliban as less awful. Malejacq added to this, that mere cosmetic changes may have been made to incentivize western governments to perceive the Taliban as a player to negotiate with.

When asked if there is any public support for the Taliban, Malejacq made a very interesting point. Generally, the Taliban is not a very well-loved group, most people would not support it if they had a choice. However, the only option besides the Taliban is the regime that was built over the last decade. This regime is perceived as a façade by various groups of Afghan people. Both the Taliban and this former regime have little to no legitimacy, which greatly increases the complexity of the situation. So, the success of the Taliban did not stem from popular support, but rather because of their successful military tactics.

The Taliban’s State

Someone from the audience posed the question whether we can speak of a more centralized Afghanistan right now, as opposed to a more tribalized one. Malejacq was hesitant to answer this question affirmatively. One challenge for the Taliban is controlling people locally and their own commanders. The Taliban is very hierarchical, but it is difficult to say to what extent they will be able to implement their policies. During their 90s regime, they were able to ban opium effectively for example, this was, however, not accomplished by real governing, but rather by violence. Salah added to this that it is currently difficult to assess the situation, since we are still watching it unfold. Malejacq expanded on this, explaining that there are also disagreements within the Taliban itself, for example in regard to whether they will cooperate with Al-Qaeda, and to what extent liberal policies regarding women’s rights and media will be implemented.

With respect to the possible state apparatus that the Taliban will develop, Salah hypothesised that that it might look similar to Iran’s. Malejacq noted that there will probably be one key difference compared to Iran, namely the absence of elections in Afghanistan.

International community

The international community will have some leverage against Afghanistan, because of the dire economic situation of the country, Malejacq maintains. In that way, they will probably be able to influence some of the social policies implemented by the Taliban. The United States and regional powers such as Pakistan and Russia will likely ask for the cutting of ties with Al-Qaeda as the sole condition for recognition.

Both speakers agree that the United States and its allies have shared responsibility for the current situation. Salah holds that the international community should be hesitant, to legitimize and recognize the government of the Taliban. She does not see, however, how the international community could be silent with respect to what is happening right now. She thinks that in the end there might be another intervention. Malejacq disagrees here, he maintains that the US are definitely not coming. While the Taliban should not be given immediate international recognition, it is important, that the people of Afghanistan are not left alone with the Taliban. In the 90s the international community left Afghanistan alone, giving the Taliban the opportunity to run Afghanistan exactly how they wanted it.

The Future

Many things are not clear right now, and we will have to see how the situation will unfold. One thing that we can certainly take-away from this lecture is, that we currently have to keep the people in Afghanistan in mind. Hopefully, the international community are able to put effective pressure on the Taliban government, so that the people of Afghanistan can be safeguarded against the worst parts of their rule and excessive violent policies.

By: Sami Dogan (Research Master Student Philosophy)