The sad reality of Afghanistan is that although the war has ended, violence continues. The security situation is grave, and amid the political chaos and the absence of structured institutions, the Taliban are unable to effectively tackle the resistance groups in the country. Several non-state actors are thriving in the political vacuum: the Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) has carried out several offensive strikes, and directed assaults in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and al-Qaeda has been laying its bases under the radar.
These events have turned hope into despair, and the future of Afghanistan is seen as resting on a knife-edge. The Afghan crisis points to the importance of a stable political administration that is crucial for peacebuilding and preventing the ascent of non-state actors. Law and order in Afghanistan are in shambles, with public floggings, revenge attacks on the old regime, disappearances, and suicide bombings. The country is in the midst of a serious humanitarian and economic crisis.
Economic Crisis and its Impact on Afghan Women
The Taliban’s actions have severely impacted the economic situation. There are several factors linked to the reduction in donor assistance, affecting the livelihood of millions of Afghans. Accountability and transparency, key components in the establishment of any public financial management system, are missing in the Taliban’s model of governance. The Taliban are unable to effectively implement the public financial plan, which is a significant instrument to fight the economic crisis and strengthen the economy. They implemented the national budget abruptly and without transparency, which increased the risk of inefficiency and misuse of available resources. The uneven distribution of budget resources affects Afghan women and girls, many of whom are the breadwinners for their families in the absence of a father or male caretaker. Under these circumstances, the Taliban’s ban on girls’ and women’s employment only shrinks the GDP further and directly impacts the economic situation of individual families.
The restrictions placed on girls and women have attracted global criticism and isolated the Taliban further. The higher education ministry has ordered an indefinite ban on university education for women in Afghanistan, and the regime has banned girls from middle and high school. Women are barred from most kinds of employment, and it is mandatory for them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. They are not allowed to travel without a male relative and are prevented from visiting parks and gyms.
Although the decision to allow the education of girls up to the sixth grade brought some cheer, the restriction on their education in middle and high school, and most types of employment remain issues of grave concern. The Taliban also use these restrictions as a tool for negotiation.
The Taliban’s “Attempts” to Fight the Opium Trade
After taking control in August 2021, the Taliban clamped down on the narcotics trade. Gretchen Peters says in his 2010 book Seeds of Terror, “The Taliban’s ban against poppy cultivation is often projected to buttress the contrast between the austere Taliban and rapacious warlords they displaced.” However, Peters provides evidence from Mullah Omar’s enactment of 2001 that he bought an enormous amount of opium from the market before banning it, for smuggling purposes. It stands to reason that even now, the Taliban are seeking to mask their financial operations which are as critical to their survival now as they were during the 2001–2020 period.
Narcotics is the biggest generator of revenues in Afghanistan, more than any other commodity. With international aid drying up, the illicit opium trade has emerged as the country’s economic lifeline. The Taliban’s purported ban on opium poppies and ephedra, which is an excellent source of chemicals used in the manufacture of the drug methamphetamine, has deprived Afghan farmers of an important source of income. However, in their years on the run after the US-led invasion of the country, the Taliban had benefited from the illicit opium trade in the areas under their control. This time too, their drive against narcotics seems to have several layers.
India’s Role Pivotal in the Taliban’s Quest for Global Recognition
The Taliban regime seeks legitimacy both at home and abroad. Their unhappiness with Pakistan’s attempts to undermine the development of their relationship with India presents an opportunity for New Delhi. The Taliban acknowledge that they cannot keep all their eggs in the Pakistani basket. India can leverage its soft power to project its influence, and to restore its relations with the Afghans. Lately, India has shown willingness to engage with the Taliban by providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. It can also work on restoring stalled development projects, which would help reestablish normalcy in relations, and also help the economy of the country. While India’s position on the Taliban remains the same, it is, however, willing to narrow down its strategic ambition to being people-centric, i.e., focused more on the growth of the Afghans.
India’s people-centric approach gives it an advantage over other countries in the region seeking to engage with Afghanistan. While the Taliban would like India’s support in their quest for global recognition and legitimacy, India must engage cautiously in its role to shape the future of Afghanistan. While the Taliban have shown interest in engaging with New Delhi, there is no evidence yet of a change in their fundamental ideological position. This is frustrating for India. A stable Afghanistan is central to India’s security and strategy.
The question that arises is whether the Taliban should be allowed to survive. There is a lack of appetite for engaging in the war in Afghanistan. However, the continuing violence and operations of non-state actors are a reminder that the country remains far from secure. Development projects have stalled, and the country is plagued by weak institutions. As an Afghanistan fatigue sets in, there is urgent need for countries in the region to collectively act for the safety of Afghan civilians. But this would require the Taliban to make larger shifts in their position.
Only the use of soft power will benefit Afghanistan. Offering educational opportunities to Afghan students and utilizing media and communications for institution-building will help reduce coercion and promote stability. It is imperative that India come forward in engaging with the Taliban, and paving the way for the rest of the world to develop mechanisms to support Afghanistan.