The establishment of an interim government in Afghanistan marks the rapid consolidation of power by the Taliban. The last bit of organised resistance in the Panjshir valley has ended. Despite the talk of inclusion and reconciliation, the new government is a clear show of strength by the dominant Pashtun faction of the Taliban. Of the 33 named in the new cabinet, 30 are Pashtun, two Tajik and one an ethnic Uzbek. There are no women either. This should not surprise anyone.
In a signed opinion piece in the New York Times published in February last year, Sirajuddin Haqqani, now Afghanistan’s interior minister, had said the Taliban would protect “the rights of women that are granted by Islam”. Other minorities like the Shia Hazara, too, are absent. The Taliban have also declared that Afghanistan will be an Islamic Emirate, under the leadership of the reclusive Moulvi Hibatullah Akhundzada, who will be the Emir. It also marks the beginning of a new and dangerous chapter in the geopolitics of the region.
More than half the members of the new governing council, including Prime Minister Mullah Mohammed Hassan Akhund, are on the United Nations’ sanctions list for terrorism. The strong presence of the pro-Pakistan Haqqani network, which had functioned out of Pakistan for years during the fight against NATO forces, as well as the ideological leadership of the so-called Quetta Shura, which is based out of Quetta in Balochistan, signals the key role that Pakistan is playing in the latest developments in Afghanistan.
The fact that the Taliban have not made even a token attempt to put their hardliners backstage, signals that they do not intend to play by any accepted rules of international diplomacy, nor are they too worried about the impact of any potential sanctions. For the moment, a trade deal with Pakistan, allowing the use of local currency, would stave off an immediate crisis. China, which has clearly signalled its support to the new Taliban regime, will also do so.
This poses a challenge to the rest of the international community, and in particular, India. At the UN, Afghanistan’s permanent representative to the UN, Ghulam Isaczai, who was appointed by the previous Ghani government, implored the international community, “We ask that you continue to reject the reinstatement of the Islamic Emirate, hold the Taliban to account for their violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, insist on an inclusive government and draw a fundamental red line regarding Taliban’s treatment of women and girls and respect for their rights.” That might be wishful thinking, but further sanctions would only deepen the already severe humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
On its part, India has pledged to continue to stay engaged with the “people of Afghanistan” – a careful choice of words. He also said India is prepared to extend humanitarian aid to the Afghan people but asked for unrestricted access and a non-discriminatory distribution of aid to all sections of Afghan society, preferably monitored by the UN. As of now, there are no indications that the new Afghan government is prepared to accept such conditions. India needs to tread carefully to counter Pakistan’s influence and foil any bids to allow Afghanistan to be used as a base by anti-India terror groups