Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 545, 18 August 2022

Afghanistan: One year since the Taliban’s takeover
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

In the news
On 15 August, the Taliban’s acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, while speaking at a ceremony to mark the one year of their takeover of Afghanistan, urged the international community to cooperate with their government. He said: “We should all work together to take advantage of this opportunity, and the international community should cooperate with Afghanistan and the new government. To prevent the misery that occurred during the past 40 years that no one could stop, so as not repeat it again. Here, every remedy has failed.”

Further, he said: “We pledged to the entire world that Afghan soil wouldn't be used against anyone. We have not seen any instances of Afghanistan's soil being used against anyone in the past 12 months. The perpetrators of the attempted launch of some missiles into Uzbekistan were detained. some of them have been killed and others had been put in jail.”

Issues at large
First, is the deteriorating humanitarian situation. Following the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021, the humanitarian situation worsened in Afghanistan. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 24.4 million people require humanitarian assistance to survive due to severe drought and an increase in food prices. Meanwhile, over 25 million Afghans are living in abject poverty requiring immediate and urgent attention to address rising food prices. Additionally, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) cited that the conflict has forced more than 700,000 Afghans to leave their homes. The healthcare system in the country has taken a hit as hospitals face a shortage of medicine and supplies with primary-care facilities being forced to close and medical staff being underpaid. Meanwhile, the Taliban government has been criticized for the imposition of strict rules for women and education policies.

Second, the dampened security situation. After the Taliban came to power, most of the largescale fighting and killings ceased in Afghanistan. However, the Taliban continue to face challenges from two insurgencies one led by the Islamic State’s local branch, the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP), and the second comprising the National Resistance Front (NRF) and other groups aligned with the former government. 

Third, is the deteriorating economic situation. According to the UN, Afghanistan’s economy has contracted an estimated 30 to 40 percent since August 2021; output and incomes have reduced by 20 to 30 percent. Additionally, some prospective studies predict that the poverty rates may climb as high as 97 percent by the end of 2022. The economic situation worsened with the suspension of aid after the Taliban took over. This, along with the sanctions and the freezing of Afghanistan’s central bank assets, has sent the economy into a downward spin.

Fourth, is the question of the Taliban’s domestic legitimacy. Following the takeover, the Taliban announced a government consisting of hard-liners who were close to the former leader and founder, Mullah Mohammed Omar, while the cabinet was predominantly made up of Pashtun men. Thus, the promises of inclusivity in the government were not upheld, denting the chances of achieving domestic legitimacy. While there has not been any major resistance to the Taliban government, civilians have taken to the streets in protests. In most cases, these protests were held by women in Kabul where they protested against several issues.

Fifth, is the quest for international recognition. The main challenge for the Taliban has been the recognition of its rule. Over the past year, the Taliban has tried to seek international legitimacy at various forums; however, no country has officially recognized the Taliban government yet. While the international community remains hesitant and weary of the Taliban’s assurances and promises, the lack of legitimacy has become a hindrance for the country that is grappling with an economic and humanitarian crisis.

In perspective
First, is the Taliban’s inability to address the humanitarian situation. The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is set to get worse due to the lack of funds, resources, and solutions to address major issues. Additionally, the Taliban cannot overcome the crisis by itself. With the international community’s reluctance to engage, the situation is likely to aggravate.

Second, is the Taliban’s capacity to address the threat of IS and other groups. The danger from the IS and other terrorist groups seeking to find operational space in Afghanistan poses a serious challenge for the Taliban. While most of these groups may not be a match for the Taliban, the possibility of Afghanistan becoming a terrorist hub again would place the Taliban under international pressure.

Third, is the Taliban’s failure to access the country’s frozen funds. The unfreezing of Afghan assets is the most effective way to address the economic crisis in Afghanistan. Although there have been several rounds of talks on unfreezing Afghan funds, it is unlikely that the funds would be released in the next few months. Thus, Afghanistan’s economic situation is likely to worsen and slow down economic growth. 

Fourth, securing legitimacy and recognition would be a slow process for the Taliban. Given the prevalent hesitancy and scepticism, domestically and internationally, in acknowledging the Taliban government, it is unlikely that they would be recognized as legitimate rulers of Afghanistan anytime soon. 

Fifth, the Taliban is here to stay. After one year in power, there is no existential threat to the Taliban government. They have managed to secure their position in Kabul and are likely to continue to enjoy this position. However, the uncertainty lies in the agenda that the Taliban would choose next. Until now, the Taliban have projected themselves to be relatively liberal domestically and internationally. Whether this will change in the coming years remains to be seen.

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