The Taliban have never stopped disappointing the world, including the people of Afghanistan. The government they formed more than three weeks after they captured the presidential palace in Kabul and held their own party on its premises has only heightened the disappointment. Many had presumed that the 20 years they remained out of power when the Americans lorded it over their country would have taught them a lesson and they would be politically maturer this time. Alas, the new government is hardly the kind that instils confidence among the people who want peace and stability in the landlocked nation.
It is now apparent why the Taliban took so much time to form the cabinet, though, in retrospect, it was easier to capture power once the Americans announced their deadline for departure and thereby left the field virtually free for them.
Obviously, there was a power struggle that delayed the cabinet formation but the outside world does not know how it was resolved and under whose influence. What is known is that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the founders of the Taliban, who was tipped to be either the supreme leader with his base in Kandahar or the prime minister, has been pipped to the highest political post. In the end, another Taliban founder, Mullah Mohammed Hassan Akhund, emerged the winner. As prime minister, it is his responsibility to provide a stable government that can fulfil the aspirations of the common people, not just the Taliban cadres. It is a different matter that his background is hardly confidence-inspiring.
The worst atrocity that the Taliban committed when they came to power in 2001 was when they turned their anger against the Bamiyan Buddhas that had been standing benignly for hundreds of years as a symbol of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage. Those statues, painstakingly carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamiyan Valley in the sixth century, were smashed to smithereens as they were declared to be idols.
The man who allegedly ordered the horrendous attack against the two statues in wanton disregard for public opinion both within and without Afghanistan is today the prime minister. If his mindset remains the same, what great progress can the world expect from him or his government? Nonetheless, to expect another Taliban leader to be any different from Akhund is not to understand them.
Those who hoped that the new government would have certain characteristics of a national government have been proved wrong. The ministers are all drawn from a small group of fighters who provided leadership as the Taliban took on the might of the Afghan government and its American backers. That there is not a single woman in the 33-member Cabinet is a sad commentary on the state of affairs. Incidentally, the women were the worst sufferers of the Taliban when they came to power the first time.
The Taliban cadres are essentially drawn from the Pashtuns and it is no surprise that an overwhelming majority of the ministers are also from this community. Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic nation, which has also been home to many non-Muslim communities like the Hindus and the Sikhs. Forget representation for the minorities, it is one community which dominates the show.
Except for China, few countries have responded to the changes in Afghanistan. In fact, the world hardly knows anything about these leaders except that they are good fighters. Good fighters need not necessarily mean good rulers. In Britain, Winston Churchill who gave purposive leadership to the country during the Second World War, was dropped like a hot potato once the war was over. Such a comparison is odious, as Afghanistan is hardly a democratic country. What is far more agitating is the kind of control Pakistan seemingly exercises on the Taliban leadership.
Reports even hint that the leadership crisis was resolved at the behest of the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI. True, the Afghans are too nationalistic to allow Pakistan to control them. For the time being at least, the Pakistani influence cannot be underestimated and India will have to nuance its diplomatic and political moves taking into account the Pakistani factor.
Since the initial moves India made to reach out to the Taliban leadership was through their office in Doha, controlled by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who lost the race, it will have to wait to make further moves. In the otherwise gloomy situation, one cheering news is that the Afghans are not favourably disposed towards Islamabad who, they know, only wants to fish in troubled waters.