South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Afrasiab Khattak
Afrasiab Khattak

Taliban’s promised interim government has been finally announced on 7 September by the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a press conference in Kabul. It is anything but inclusive, the concept that was continuously touted by Taliban themselves during the last two years and also used by Pakistan and other promoters of Taliban. But in a way it vividly represent the composition of students from Afghan refugee families in Pakistani religious seminaries (madrasah) and the Taliban’s fighting machine based in Pakistani sanctuaries.

If one looks at the thirty-three member list from Taliban’s angle, it is inclusive in the sense that it accommodates most of the Taliban factions led by their old guard. But it excludes important ethnic groups (like Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Turkaman), women and religious minorities. In short it doesn’t include a single non Talib or non Mulla. Most of the Afghans link the recent visit of the Director General of Pakistani ISI with the formation of Taliban cabinet and attribute some of the features of the list to his interactions with Taliban leaders.

Taliban’s main leadership, including its three Supreme Leaders (Amir) so far, and majority of the members of the Leadership Council hail from Loy Kandahar ( the greater Kandahar), a Pashtun region constituting almost all of south western Afghanistan. The family of the late Mulla Omar, the founder of Taliban, got two important seats in the cabinet. His son Mulla Yaqub becomes defence minister while his uncle Mulla Abdul Manan gets the ministry of public welfare. In total fifteen of the new cabinet members belong to Loy Kandahar.

Loya Paktya, another Pashtun region that includes all provinces in the South and is the home to Haqqani Network, got ten cabinet berths. Siraj Haqqani, who has been heading the dreaded Haqqani Network for many years, is currently one of the deputy leaders of Taliban and who also carries a five million dollar bounty on his head, got the interior ministry. His uncle Khalil Haqqani, again with five million head money, became the minister for refugees.

The eastern region around Nangrahar mostly Pashtuns, got five seats. But compared with it, the entire north of Afghanistan mostly populated by non Pashtuns got only three positions (two went to Tajiks and one to Uzbeks). One important position of army chief that went to a Tajik commander Qari Fassihuddin is generally regarded to be a reward for his role in helping Taliban in capturing the northern provinces. But in the absence of army as an institution after the recent developments the position is more of a token value than any real value. One of the deputy prime ministers Abdul Salam Hanfi, the only Uzbek in the cabinet, has long affiliation with the Taliban and he was also part of the Taliban regime in 1990s.

There is not a single women in the list despite the fact that many women have made their mark in political, economic, academic and cultural life of Afghanistan during the last two decades. There have been many bold and outspoken women parliamentarians, brilliant journalists and social activists. But the Taliban seem to be sticking to their medieval ideology of excluding women from sociopolitical life. Even if they can’t stop girls from university education this time but they are still imposing segregation in class rooms and dress code on girl students.

Most of the Taliban ministers are middle aged old guards and the youth bulge is not represented in the new cabinet. In fact Taliban under the influence of their madrasah background have refused to recognise millions of the youth, both boys and girls, thrown up by the vast network of the educational institutions established during the last two decades in every nook and corner of the country. It has led to a dangerous confrontation between Taliban trained in Pakistani madrasah and Afghan students who have graduated from the colleges and universities in their country. In fact the aforementioned exclusions have become a trademark of Taliban and that’s what has ignited anti Taliban resistance so quickly, both the armed struggle in Panjshir and the women led youth protests in urban centres.

As if epitomising this contradiction the Taliban cabinet was announced on a day that saw bold anti Taliban marches on the call of Ahmad Masood, the Panjshir based son of Commander Ahmad Shah Masood, well known for his prolonged resistance against the Taliban in 1990s. The courage of the women protesters facing the guns of Taliban was remarkable. The protesters went to Pakistan Embassy and raised anti Pakistan slogans because for them Taliban and Pakistan are inseparable.

Another aspect of exclusion can be noted within Taliban of the known commanders who are not in the good books of Pakistani security state. Factions led by Mansour and Amir Khan aren’t represented in the list. Similarly commanders like Sadre and Gul Mohammad are also missing. Taliban supposed to have links with Iran are also sidelined. The list shows the lack of change in Taliban, the loud claims about a changed Taliban notwithstanding. But all this will have internal, regional and international ramifications.

Pakistani focus on Pashtun Taliban is to weaken Pashtun nationalism on both sides of the Durand Line. That’s what motivates the predominantly Punjabi generals of Pakistan army in supporting Talibanization of Pashtuns. But the exclusion of other important ethnic groups will deepen the ethnic fault lines in Afghanistan leading to serious instability. In view of the fact that the same ethnic groups populate the countries situated on the northern and western borders of Afghanistan, the problem is bound to acquire regional proportions. Actually this was one of the important factors leading to proxy wars in 1990s. Some of the neighbouring countries have publicly declared that they will recognise the Taliban regime only when there is an inclusive government in Afghanistan. Even Turkey, which isn’t an immediate neighbour of Afghanistan, has publicly conditioned its recognition with inclusivity in governance.

Some of the western countries may take a position against the total exclusion of women in Taliban regime. Unlike other Muslim countries where scholars combine their religious education with other disciplines, most of Taliban commanders don’t have a grip on both. In a viral video the Taliban minister for higher education rubbished college and university education and thanked God he didn’t have it! Taliban do not have any idea of modern governance and they can’t attract technocracy to work with them. Interestingly Taliban have declared a cabinet without giving any hint of the state system that they have in mind. They haven’t uttered a word about the constitution, even a provisional one.

Holding the international list of designated terrorists in total disregard will not only weaken the international legal action against terrorism but it will also create practical problems for the Taliban regime in its international relations. For example how would some of the senior most members of the Taliban regime travel with their name in list of designated terrorists in other countries or who face travel bans of the UN agencies? How would the militia become a government and a state after it has occupied Afghanistan? Only time will tell.

* Afrasiab Khattak is a former senator and analyst of regional affairs


Updated On: 09 Sep 2021