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Taliban’s Options

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Now that the US has left Afghanistan, the world is looking at the Taliban to disprove its worst apprehensions. Unfortunately, the very impulse that brought the Taliban to power is what makes it incapable of providing anything like ‘civilised’ governance. The new dispensation will use terror to control every aspect of people’s lives, while trying to utilise its international sponsors for the purpose of keeping the essential services and institutions running. It has already asked Turkey to take over the Kabul Airport. Similar assistance will be needed for operating the power stations, banks, water supply systems, telecommunications networks, et al. It may be noted that the Afghans who have the necessary operations skills have either left or will do so at the first opportunity – constituting an unprecedented ‘brain drain’.

The general belief has been that China would help fill the gaps, particularly in the financial sector, but there are problems with that. The Taliban know that, essentially, China is a formidable ideological adversary that has even less regard for ‘human rights’ than them. Unlike the US, it is right next door and can overwhelm Afghanistan with sheer numbers if need be. Sharing power with China could result in subjugation never experienced before. The other ‘friend’, Pakistan, wants concessions that are not palatable to any Afghan of any variety.

What does that leave? India, of course! Already, statements have been made asking India to complete its development projects. Even the Taliban know that India’s interest in Afghanistan is of ensuring progress and peace, so that it can conduct trade not only with that country but also Central Asia. Unfortunately, arriving at some kind of an arrangement will be very difficult because some semblance of democracy will have to be implemented, particularly in the context of upholding human and women’s rights. Also, both, China and Pakistan will work hard to undermine such a deal.

Also, the Americans and their allies may have gone, but they still have many cards up their sleeves. They will pressurise the new regime through sanctions, trade embargoes, the occasional drone attacks, etc., with the purpose of isolating it. The inner ethnic and other divisions, as indicated by the recent IS-K actions and the Panjshir resistance, will keep the situation on the boil. These problems cannot be solved by locking women up in their homes and gunning people down on the streets. It requires sophisticated governance and diplomatic ability. For this, India has always been Afghanistan’s best bet, but will the Taliban be able to acknowledge that fact?