Afghans are glad to be liberated from a corrupt system but are terrified at the prospect of a tyrannical alternative.
The misfortunes of Afghans seem to know no end.
Despite the total victory of the Taliban and the war having ended in the country, Afghans now face a dark and unpredictable future. It is natural to look back during such times and wonder if the past was better than what the future holds.
Unfortunately, for Afghans, the choice seems to be more of a dilemma between bad and worse.
The Afghan Republic had lost the people of Afghanistan to the Taliban before they lost actual territories to them. Two of the major factors in the lack of resistance faced by the Taliban during their campaign were the lack of motivation among defense forces to die for a corrupt government and the people’s indifference towards the government collapsing.
The disgraceful scale of institutional corruption in the republic was its undoing. This corruption manifested in the form of rigging of elections, bribes, embezzlement, nepotism and the lack of constitutionalism and institutionalism.
Afghanistan’s consistent ranking among the top fifteen most corrupt states resulted in it being ranked among the most fragile states in the world. Fragile states, due to the absence of basic needs, are an ideal breeding ground for insurgents.
Even the urban population, who had seen relatively better living standards, will miss very little about the previous regime – but the prospects of Taliban rule make that choice a difficult one.
The Taliban’s traditionalism is their biggest strength and their worst weakness. The movement and its members’ strict adherence to their religious code theoretically eradicates organised corruption.
A survey conducted between 2010 and 2012 showed rampant corruption was listed as a catalyst for Afghans to support the Taliban over the republic. The lack of corruption also reflected in the Taliban’s provision of a fairer justice system in the areas they controlled. The current size of the state, to which the Taliban’s previous regime pales in comparison, would test the movement’s integrity but the Taliban would in all likelihood outdo the Afghan republic before them.
Traditionalism also means that the Taliban’s political ideology stems from their reading of religious script. A reading only they have the authority to conduct, rendering all opposing readings as invalid.
The authority the Taliban claim is given to them by virtue of them being Maulanas (religious scholars). This interpretation also relies heavily on jurisprudence locked in the context of the time it was originally conducted. The reward awaiting those who adhere to such traditionalism in the afterlife justifies any cost that it might incur with respect to public dissatisfaction or the international community’s disapproval.
Tradition, by definition, is at odds with evolution of thought and practice. This would limit the Taliban’s ability to modify policies and approaches to keep up with modern times. Though the Taliban’s religious conviction fed into their narrative of an impending victory, despite the odds, it would pose as the biggest challenge to their ability to adapt and govern this new Afghanistan.
The swift and total victory achieved by the Taliban spared Afghanistan much bloodshed but it came at a heavy cost nonetheless. The abrupt collapse of the Republic resulted in the caving in of political institutions, the disintegration of the Afghan defense forces and the large exodus of human capital from Afghanistan.
The commanding position the Taliban held allowed them to prioritise internal cohesion over living up to their promise of inclusivity. The Taliban chose to see government positions as spoils of war to be distributed among their military cadre.
The unfortunate reality of the Taliban being a military outfit with very little experience of actual governance would make it very likely that they would be overwhelmed by the arduous task of governance.
The absolute nature of the Taliban victory could also lead to arrogance. This arrogance coupled with the Taliban’s battle hardened mentality would mean heavy-handed crackdowns on dissent and freedom of expression. This was recently seen in their beating of Afghan women’s rights activists and a ban on demonstrations in Kabul.
While the Republic had its fair chance of two decades to govern Afghanistan only to constantly fail, the Taliban have a chance to prove its doubters wrong. The Taliban could win the population’s confidence if it acknowledges its limitations and allows women to participate in building the new Afghanistan.
The Taliban lost a major opportunity of gaining the population’s trust by not creating an inclusive government. There is still time for the movement to pass more moderate laws to show how they have evolved, though that too is unlikely to happen considering the old guard’s dominance of the cabinet.
The more moderate approach would come at the cost of dissatisfaction of their own ranks, who fought for a conservative vision of Afghanistan. They are already likely to do better in the security and justice sectors, but that would not be enough. The Afghan population is apprehensive and are weary to have come out of a system rotten with corruption to another that has tyrannical tendencies.