The war is over, and a deadly blanket of peace has fallen on Afghanistan. A year has passed since Afghans, in former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's words, “broke the shackles of slavery”, displaying to the world their cuddly, ‘friendlier’ version of the (in)famous ‘madrasa students’ we all remembered from the 1990s.
With Imran advocating for them at the United Nations, claiming that the only way forward was to “strengthen this current government” and “stabilise it for the sake of the people in Afghanistan”, the 2.0 version of Taliban, while having ice creams in amusement parks, had promised they would adhere to human rights, form an inclusive government, provide amnesty to former government employees and not allow the country to serve as a safe haven for terrorists. A year later, none of this has been done.
A ‘Terrorist Council’
Let’s do a quick recap: in September, a new government was formed with the blessings and the direct intervention of the Pakistani ISI. It should have been an 'interim' and inclusive government, but it was really a terrorist council instead. The word 'elections' has lately been erased from the Taliban dictionary.
On 25 December, the government of Kabul officially abolished the Electoral Commission of Afghanistan, saying: “We do not see the usefulness of it. If there is a need in the future, we will create an ad hoc Islamic commission.”
And to make sure that their rules would be followed, they brought back the feared Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, enforcing the group’s strict interpretation of Islam in the country.
Elections have not been the only casualty of the new government. Women have practically disappeared from the outside world: women and girls have been ordered to wear the hijab, preferably in the now famous 'Dementor Suit' version, and cover their faces when in public, with the religious police saying they prefer women to stay at home.
To make sure of this, women are also banned from making long-distance journeys alone and allowed to visit public parks in the capital only on days when men are not permitted.
Actresses are not allowed anymore on screen or on stage, and female TV anchors and presenters have been targeted by the new rules more than anybody else.
Music has been banned, musical instruments smashed and burned; men cannot shave their faces, and journalists can not tell the truth or be critical if they don't want to be jailed, beaten and tortured. But the rest of the world, the world that abandoned the country with scenes resembling the American withdrawal from Saigon, has been again following Imran Khan’s words, according to whom “human rights do not have the same meaning everywhere”.
A Slew of ‘Invitations’
So, Norway invited the Taliban to Oslo, flying them in a private jet, for talks with members of Afghanistan’s civil society and Western diplomats. Then, the new terrorist government of Afghanistan was invited in style to Geneva for the same kind of talks. Meanwhile, people were starving in the streets: funds of the Afghan government have been frozen in banks abroad, and the Taliban want that money without conditions.
They reiterate the usual, not-so-veiled threats to the rest of the world: the chaos that will be generated in Afghanistan by the lack of resources, the “inability to fight terrorism”, and the West and its neighbouring countries being inundated with refugees.
In another development, according to Afghan sources, a certain number of Chinese military aircraft landed in Bagram in October. There were also reports of Chinese training Haqqani militias in Miranshah, Peshawar and Quetta. The ISIS-K, under the ISI's control like Haqqanis, seems to have been given the task of creating a smokescreen for the Taliban government by carrying out attacks and taking responsibility for them.
The Jaish-e-Mohammed, which has been giving, for years, financial and material aid to the Taliban, training and providing suicide bombers to Haqqanis, have been given in franchising the training camps of Nangahar and, on ISI's advice, the cadres of the group have been shifted to Afghanistan. Al Qaeda's members were given a number of high-level posts all over the country, even though the Taliban had 'promised' to sever its links with the organisation.
But terrorism was randomly mentioned again by the rest of the world until al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri was found and killed in Kabul by an American drone. The Taliban condemned the strike but did not confirm al-Zawahiri’s death, saying they were investigating the US claim. The usual farce of accusations and counter-accusations started, with both the Taliban and the US accusing each other of violating the Doha Agreements.
Giving Taliban ‘a Chance’
After a year, the cry of 'give Taliban a chance' has not died but is taking a different shape. More than 1,000 people have been killed and thousands left homeless when an earthquake struck Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan on 22 June. The disaster posed a huge logistical challenge to the Taliban government, which has not yet been formally recognised by any country.
International aid agencies came to the rescue, sending food, tents and medical supplies, as they did all winter, directly and not through the Taliban government – the same Taliban who are looking for international legitimacy, at their conditions, and who now count on China to shore up their legitimacy and provide assistance for the reconstruction in Afghanistan. China has engaged with Kabul expanding trade and investment plans.
Beijing is keen to incorporate Afghanistan into the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a mission that will be made easier if the Taliban are generally seen as legitimate.
Chinese companies have signed contracts to extract copper from the Mes Aynak mine and oil from fields in the Amu Darya basin of the northern provinces of Faryab and Sari Pul.
Pakistan, in the middle, is enjoying its benefits: possibly the concession of the umpteenth International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan through the help given for Zawahiri's death, coal at discounted prices from Kabul, a strategic place between China and Afghanistan, a location where to move all their jihadi elements when it is needed.
The World Has Turned Its Back on Afghanistan
Interestingly enough, a year after this announced disaster, nobody is taking responsibility or regretting the hasty withdrawal and the unconditional surrender of the US. And nobody is changing the more-than-20-years-old strategy essentially based on Pakistan: pretending once again not to understand or see their lies, their double and triple games, their unscrupulousness in dealing both with allies and foes.
Having cornered itself once more and being left with ‘international recognition’ as the only
leverage to deal with a government of terrorists, the West, the Americans and NATO allies seem to have been fooled once more by ‘the most dangerous country in the world’. Until the next terrorist attack.
(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. Her latest book is ‘Balochistan — Bruised, Battered and Bloodied’. She tweets @francescam63. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for his reported views.)