Taliban needs to reform ideology, cut terror links for ruling Afghanistan

The Taliban are aware that if they shelter foreign militants with transnational agenda. It could turn neighboring powers like China, Russia, Iran, India, or Pakistan against them, writes Ainur Khan for South Asia Monitor

Ainur Khan Aug 20, 2021
Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Fled the Country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug,15,2021. Person second from left is a former bodyguard for Ghani. (AP Photo/Zabi Karim)

Having overrun Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, the Taliban are gearing up to play a pivotal role in running the country. The Taliban’s success has come sooner than the assessment of the Afghan situation by the US intelligence. The hardline Sunni Islamist militia has already declared - “The war is over and it’s time for Reconstruction”.

Though the power struggle continues, it is apparent that the Taliban will either run the entire country on their own or go for power-sharing with other political outfits. With the global power players keeping a keen eye on the political developments in Afghanistan, the Taliban need to transform themselves from a militant outfit to a political one, to get recognition from the international community.

It seems this time a more matured Taliban have drawn up a better plan than they did in the 90s when they took the country by force. Their meetings with China, Russia and Iran prove that they have well laid out plans.

Sending out the right notes, the Taliban have said they stand for cooperation with all countries.

“About international relationship, it is our policy to have co-operation with all countries of the world. Now a new chapter has opened, that is the construction of the country, economic development of the people, a chapter of peace among all countries, especially our nearby countries. We need cooperation from other countries. Our intention is to rebuild the country and that cannot be done without the cooperation of other countries," said the Taliban spokesman Shaheen Suhail in a recent exclusive conversation with CNN-News18 television channel.

China, Russia, Pakistan, Turkey and Iran have already shown interest in striking a relationship with the Taliban. The US has urged the Taliban to uphold human rights, particularly women’s rights and cut ties with militant outfits.

China for friendly relations

China intends to have “friendly relations” with the Taliban and unlike the USA, Beijing has declared it would not withdraw its embassy from Kabul and keep its citizens on Afghanistan’s soil.  This only demonstrates China’s confidence in the Taliban’s intents.
Last month during a meeting with a Taliban delegation, China reiterated that the Afghan Taliban will make a clear break with all terrorist organizations including ETIM (East Turkistan Islamic Movement) an UN-designated terrorist group which Beijing considers as a “direct threat to China’s national security”. China has accused ETIM of leading violent attacks that claimed hundreds of lives in the past decade within and outside China.

By Cutting off ties with ETIM, the Taliban could get recognition from China as a “genuine political force”, grab abundant investments in the war-torn country’s devastated infrastructure and expect a potential inclusion in China’s Trillion-Dollar connectivity plan BRI (Belt and Road Initiative).

Pakistan, which is thought to be a salient player in ensuring peace in Afghanistan, is facing tough times due to the Taliban’s unwillingness to crack down on cross-border militant groups namely Al-Quade, ETIM, or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

China, Pakistan and Afghanistan have already agreed to extend the BRI - China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) - into landlocked Afghanistan, which can unfold enormous business potential for Afghanistan.

Situation fluid for India

India had a good relationship with President Ashraf Ghani’s government. India has pumped in huge investments amounting to USD 3 billion for the reconstruction of the country following a commitment by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Afghanistan in 2016.

A key potential trading hub is the Chabahar port in southeastern Iran in which India has invested. The seaport is believed to be the best and an economical transit route into Afghanistan and Central Asian countries.

But the recent Taliban attack on the India-built Salma Dam, known as Afghan-India Friendship Dam in Afghanistan’s Herat province - the third such assault since last month on the nearly USD 300 million structure that provides water to several districts in the region - will surely dent the Taliban’s image in India.

However, the Taliban spokesperson’s recent on-record comment on India is interesting. “I hope they (India) will also change their policies because earlier they were siding with the regime government, which was imposed. It would be good for both sides, for the people of India and Afghanistan’’.

The Taliban have reiterated their previous promise of never allowing any force to use the Afghan territory to endanger any other country and declared that they would stick to a moderate rather than extreme ideology to run the nation.

Afghanistan needs funds, not fighters

Afghanistan reportedly has the world’s largest unexploited reserves of copper, coal, iron, gas, cobalt, mercury, gold, lithium and thorium, valued at over USD 1 trillion. But with an unemployment rate of 65 percent and 47.3 percent of the people living below the poverty line, the country needs to focus on its rich but unplanned resource extraction and national integration.

In a broad sense, the Taliban are seemingly interested in re-establishing and consolidating their rule in Afghanistan and have so far not shown any interest in pursuing a regional agenda.

The Taliban are aware that if they shelter foreign militants with transnational agenda. It could turn neighboring powers like China, Russia, Iran, India, or Pakistan against them.

While in power, the Taliban will no longer need foreign fighters, whose services they utilized in their violent battle with the Ghani government. Now, they would rather need foreign friends to secure foreign aid and investment.

It is high time for the Taliban to reform their ideology and cut off relations with regional terror or militant groups like ETIM, al-Qaeda, or TTP if they want to be recognized on the international stage and bring about much-needed peace, stability and development of Afghanistan.

(The writer is an international relations researcher-writer in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at ainurkhan99999@gmail.com)