Why Upholding Fundamental Rights is Essential for the Taliban?

As the battle for Panjshir valley draws to a conclusion, the triumph of the Taliban practically lead to the closure of a tragic and violent chapter in the modern history of Afghanistan. The rights-related challenges to the Taliban will now manifest themselves. As a result, the Taliban is burdened with the responsibility of governing a country that is repulsing perpetual violence and has a sheer longing for sustainable peace, dignity, and rights.

The country which the Taliban has conquered and the society, especially the urban population, which they will come to experience are distinct in attitudes and behaviors from their previous rule in the late 90s. Thus, the notions which underpinned the Taliban’s governing model in the past are redundant in this changed Afghan social milieu and global atmosphere.

The people of Afghanistan are more concerned about preserving fundamental human rights and national development than ever. They are now an actor in the country’s development and have an undeniable agency that they need to accept. This agency will develop its own discourses that will be imperative in preserving fundamental human rights in the new political dispensation. There are four rights-related challenges that the Taliban needs to consider before presenting their human rights policy.

The first daunting challenge the Taliban would be facing is the necessity of recognition and legitimacy. The international community and the regional countries consistently underscore two major policy acts that the Taliban need to ensure and adopt in its governing model: containing terrorist threats and preserving fundamental rights. The Taliban’s need to uphold human rights in its policy and actions is vital. Its first press conference did make an impression of the “changed Taliban.” However, the reports from disparate regions of Afghanistan are giving contradictory signals to the proclaimed policy. This bodes ill for the credibility of the Taliban’s promises to regional and international state actors and, most importantly, Afghan society.

Domestically, while elections would not be held in the near future, the Taliban’s legitimacy in the eyes of the people is at best questionable. The second Karzai and Ghani administrations – though elected in a fractious and questionable vote – lost their appeal to the public with their oblivious attitude to the apprehension of the common Afghans. Rampant corruption, warlordism, and violence through structures of the state are some of the reasons why the public and the soldiers-on-ground didn’t put up a fight against the Taliban’s lightening movement toward Kabul.

In this context, the Taliban should acknowledge that power emanating from the barrel of a gun is fraught with fragility and indicates to the public that the new ruler is no better than the former power elites or foreign invaders. In the absence of elections, the only surest way for domestic recognition and legitimacy is to secure fundamental rights, especially women’s rights. It will allow the Taliban to garner legitimacy and enable them to rule with the public’s confidence and inclusive dialogue.

Facing this crucial economic challenge, the Taliban cannot afford to institute a puritanical social model as it not only dents the projection of a “changed Taliban” narrative, but will also result in further withholding of necessary monetary assistance which the Taliban needs to stay afloat.

The second most daunting challenge pertains to the Afghan economy and reconstruction efforts. Securing fundamental rights would allow the Taliban continuous and enduring access to credit, commerce, and international aid. The economic situation since the fall of Kabul is in a terrifying downturn. Around 40% of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) is dependent upon international aid, and around 4% of it is dependent upon remittances, services of which are now restored, giving breathing room to Afghans and the new governing elite.

Ajmal Ahmady, former governor of the Central Bank of Afghanistan, relays that the economy which awaits the Taliban is in dire straits. Moreover, in this transitioning period of evolution from an insurgency to a governing actor, the Taliban cannot run the country’s economy on the patterns through which it funded the insurgency. The country is also facing an acutely severe banking and humanitarian crisis.

Facing this crucial economic challenge, the Taliban cannot afford to institute a puritanical social model as it not only dents the projection of a “changed Taliban” narrative, but will also result in further withholding of necessary monetary assistance which the Taliban needs to stay afloat.

An unequivocal policy declaration regarding fundamental rights including a policy of instituted mechanisms for enforcement and remedial measures are likely to change the perception of the Taliban. This would help it forge enduring global economic partnerships. Furthermore, no country can develop by living paycheck-to-paycheck. Therefore, in long-term economic prospects, Afghanistan needs a streamlined economic model that hinges upon a pragmatic approach to economic statecraft, which naturally includes preserving human rights to build investor confidence, entrepreneurial spirit, and public support.

The third challenge to the Taliban is the challenge of the new politics which already has taken shape in the urban social milieu of Afghanistan. The more the Taliban press upon restrictive social vision, the more they are likely to experience political resistance and mobilisation by different groups. These mobilisations will not be armed but highly vocal with international visibility. There is no other way for the Taliban than reconciling with this new scenario in Afghanistan.

In the past 20 years, the changes in the Afghan class structure with a promising development of a middle class in the Afghan urban society are irreversible. The Taliban’s appeal to restrict  “brain drain” is indicative of this irreversibility in the class structure. However, the Taliban falls short in promising an environment conducive to life, culture, and growth. The Taliban has already seen political mobilisations of disparate groups – be it the national flag or women’s rights. Moving forward, these protests and “non-armed” resistance efforts are very likely to gain prominence.

The Taliban’s acceptance of this type of political resistance and mobilisation as part of a new Afghan political reality in the urban side of the country will be a prerequisite for any kind of Afghan reconstruction efforts. Moreover, this new politics in urban Afghanistan will demand rights, accountability, and security – all of which the Taliban need to guarantee to govern and not merely control a territory. Thus, the Taliban is left with two options; economic stagnation or reconciliation with this new political reality.

Lastly, the challenge of regional partnerships is also very crucial. There has been a conspicuous embrace of the Taliban’s triumph in the regional capitals of Beijing, Moscow, Islamabad, and Tehran primarily. However, Taliban has built regional confidence by promising to contain terrorist organisations threatening the sovereignty of the regional countries. These security guarantees are intended to secure a long-term strategic partnership that encompasses security concerns and includes issues of regional economic connectivity and trade. Indeed, issues of security and trade probably triumph over issues of human rights in these interactions, but matters of perception and stability undoubtedly concern these regional actors.

Notwithstanding the warm embrace, China and Russia cannot afford to accept a fundamentalist regime in power in their backyard. More than brutality and puritanical social conduct, their concerns would be more around the extremist tendencies it would generate in different transnational terrorist organisations.

Concurrently, Pakistan and Iran could also ill-afford a vision of fundamentalism being realised in their neighboring country because of the acute security threat it will generate against them as well. The regimes in Central Asia would also like to see a moderated version of the Taliban rule as fundamentalism also threatens their delicate domestic stability.

These are the four rights-related challenges that the Taliban’s human rights policy must adequately address. There must be a recognition that things cannot go back as they were in the past. Choices are very limited to the new governing actor in Kabul because of the domestic and international pressures. Currently, there is a visible gulf between what the Taliban leadership is trying to articulate and what is happening on the ground. These kinds of discrepancies are deleterious if the Taliban intends to govern a society that is religiously plural and ethnically diverse and cherishes a set of different social visions regarding personal life, public culture, and governing dispensation. This society will not stay silent.

Hassan Zaheer

Hassan Zaheer is a post-graduate in Sociology from the University of Karachi with specialisation in Sociology of Religion and Politics. He is currently working as a non-resident Research Associate with the Centre of Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR), Islamabad.

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