The Taliban are now in the process of transitioning from a guerrilla outfit fighting the US-led occupation to forming a new government to preside over the mountainous country. Since capturing Kabul on 15th August, the Taliban have conducted numerous press conferences and interviews to the global media in which its various spokesmen and officials have had to outline their vision regarding women, minority rights, security, system of government and their prospective foreign relations.
Any party or movement that captures power will no doubt face numerous challenges and complexities that will need to be navigated. The Taliban are no different; facing a multitude of challenges in light of the international community, stopping aid and financial support to Afghanistan.
For the Taliban or any Islamic movement the implementation of Islam comprehensively is not just a nice thing to have or something that is pleasing, but a necessity mandated by Allah (swt) in numerous verses in the Quran and Sunnah.
The implementation of Islam does not herlad a return to the dark ages. Likewise, the implementation of democracy does not herald a return to the time of the Ancient Greeks. The Islamic ruling system is a tried and tested system spanning 1,400 years. When implemented correctly, the Islamic civilisation led the world in justice, morals, science, culture and economic prosperity while catering for every citizen regardless of race, colour, faith or gender.
In light of the Taliban taking over power in Afghanistan, the inevitable question is: how does a country like Afghanistan proceed from her current position, to fully implementing the Islamic system and navigating challenges within the framework of Islamic law? Many would argue that it is simply a utopian fantasy and that Rome or Kabul was not built in a day. Therefore, it is better to take small steps and embrace a gradual approach like Turkey under Erdogan.
Despite these pragmatic arguments or positions, it is clear that gradualism is a failed strategy and an approach where there is no Islamic evidence to support it (in fact the opposite) but it has failed practically, with Malaysia, Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Tunisia proving its abject failure. Therefore, it is not even a practical path to take to implement Islam.
Not adopting a gradual approach to implementing Islam, does not mean that those who want a radical implementation are somehow clueless of reality or have their heads in the clouds. The latter in light of developments in Afghanistan would consider some of the following practicalities: how does one stick to Islamic red lines while working out a strategy to deal with the international community and exert maximum pressure on it? How does one function in the modern and complex international and financial system without being labelled as a pariah or a backward state? How does one function while being suffocated and isolated? Working out an approach to deal with the aforementioned is not as difficult or impossible as it seems.
Afghanistan’s finances and public-sector workforce are significantly dependent on aid notably from the US, Japan, the UK and some European countries. The average age of the population in Afghanistan is 18 years of age. Some Afghans only know US-led military imposed freedom and have no recollection of the past Taliban regime during the late 1990s and early 2000s. There are despotic warlords who the West supports and they are likely to be a thorn and not conform without concessions and benefits. There is also significant capital flight mostly due to the Afghan political class fleeing the country, even the former US President Donald Trump called them complete crooks.
Although the Taliban conceded significant leverage during the Doha negotiations, it still retains some. The international community will face very difficult decisions on what to do next regarding the Taliban and global powers are likely to differ leading to rifts and divisions between them. There are existing wide differences on international issues between the UK, Europeans and the US -even before bringing in the other actors such as Russia and China. Now adding the regional player, meaning India, Iran, Pakistan and Central Asia, one can easily conclude that this international and regional equation will no doubt create risks and challenges but also at the same time offer options and opportunities.
The Taliban should seek to exploit the different powers with their different interests and draw up a list of incentives and actions they can take to advance the path to implement Islam comprehensively and safeguard Afghanistan in the early phase from unwanted pressures and threats.
The Taliban in Afghanistan’s geopolitical and geo-ecoonmic setting have significant leverage cards and some of these include:
1) Afghanistan has historically been an important piece of real estate. Due to her territory straddling South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East, Alexandra the Great, the Mughals, the Persian Empire, the British Empire, Russia, the US and China, all have wanted to have influence over this country as it provides access to so many regions and because of this, she is known as the ‘Heart of Asia.’ Whoever ruled in Afghanistan was important for both regional and global powers.
2) Today, Afghanistan’s geography is critical to the region, a stable and secure country is critical to the world. The last thing the region and especially Europe need is another refugee crisis.
3) Afghanistan has committed to items in the Doha Accord which are in the security interests of the US and her allies. These items indicate the importance of Afghanistan to the US and other global powers. Hence, the Taliban are in a position of strength rather than weakness.
4) Afghanistan has significant untapped resources such as lithium that underpins the new shift to green technology. China and Europe all need such resources for their economies and this places the Taliban in an advantageous position.
5) Afghanistan is the epicentre of various infrastructure and energy projects which are critical to the region and which necessitates the Taliban’s coordination and cooperation. This once again places the Taliban in a position of strength rather than weakness.
Whilst Afghanistan is in a perilous state surrounded by hyenas, the Taliban do have cards to play and with the right political will, thinking and awareness they can use their leverage cards to navigate the troubled waters ahead without compromising Islamic red lines. The beginnings of any new state will inevitably be bumpy but it quickly needs to be replaced by something resembling coherence, and with a plan that is rooted in Islam alongside a deep understanding of realities and practicalities. This is not only feasible but also realistic in the coming phase.