A Taliban Year in Power: Mighty Oppressed

A Taliban Year in Power: Mighty Oppressed


Status: 12/08/2022 07:11

The Taliban have been in power in Afghanistan for a year – and experts say they are now more firmly established than some governments before. Its style of government remains unpredictable – but neighboring countries are interested in something else.

By Sebastian Manz, ARD Studio New Delhi

For two decades, Western troops and the Afghan military they supported tried to crush the Taliban. They were not successful. On the contrary: a year ago, Islamists seized power again in Afghanistan – and that will likely remain the case for the time being, high-level observers believe.

Thomas Ruttig says that having withstood Western attacks gives the Taliban legitimacy to rule the Hindu Kush again. He is an analyst at the independent think tank Afghanistan Analysts Network and has been monitoring developments in the country for decades. The Taliban is now stronger than ever: “They are the most powerful Afghan government in 40 years”, believes the analyst.

The Taliban’s political power is not based solely on military successes. “There is a large part of the Afghan population that is also close to Taliban values,” says Ruttig. Many in the country would have rejected Western occupation. After the withdrawal of NATO troops, most people in Afghanistan are experiencing the most peaceful phase in decades.

curbing corruption

The new regime may also point to its early political successes. “The Taliban managed to contain corruption to a relatively large extent,” says Ruttig. This would have increased government revenue again. The comparatively peaceful general situation in the country also ensures that the agricultural situation is slowly improving and trade is picking up speed again. However, all this is happening in a manageable way – a large part of the population is still threatened by hunger and poverty.

Meanwhile, early foreign investors are also carefully exploring their options. China, Russia and Pakistan in particular are showing increasing interest in the country’s raw material deposits. Pakistan already imports a lot of Afghan coal.

China, on the other hand, has identified Afghanistan as an important part of its New Silk Road project, believes Michael Kugelman, an Afghanistan expert at the independent research institute Wilson Center in Washington. With this massive infrastructure project, China is trying to establish new trade routes between Asia, Europe and Africa. The Kabul regime is keen to work more closely with China, says Kugelman. “Basically, the Taliban are staunch representatives of a liberal market economy,” adds Thomas Ruttig. However, even regional investors were still acting on a wait-and-see basis. Because the Taliban’s policy is still not very predictable.

dysfunctional management

Experts see the reason for this in the fact that the Taliban movement itself is not a unified group, but consists of several regional factions. As a result, the central government’s political commitments in Kabul have often proved unreliable in other parts of the country. “The best example is the promise of amnesty for members of the former state apparatus,” says Ruttig. Many Taliban in the provinces would not have joined in and instead settled old scores. Such behavior would hardly be sanctioned: “The most important thing for the Taliban is to preserve the internal unity of their movement.”

Learning to deal with modernity: the Taliban participates in a computer course. Image: AFP

In addition to reliability, the regime also lacks administrative skills. “The Taliban are essentially a resistance group, so they have very little administrative experience,” says Kugelman. The supply of the population with the essentials is not yet guaranteed. The country’s traffic, energy and water supply routes are sometimes in catastrophic conditions. So far, no convincing solution has been found. The Taliban lacks qualified personnel. Many experts who worked in the bodies of the previous government resigned for fear of reprisals.

However, the Taliban are more flexible today than they were during their first reign at the turn of the millennium. “There are a lot of young people who are well educated,” noted Ruttig. Gradually, they occupied key management positions. Financial management, for example, is already working very well.

Hardly threatened from the outside

Experts agree that the so-called Islamic State (IS) attacks in Afghanistan do not pose a serious threat to the Taliban. On the one hand, the attacks are not primarily aimed at the rulers, but at religious minorities in the country and, on the other hand, IS does not enjoy any support among the Afghan population.

National Resistance Force (NRF) fighters in the Panjshir Valley, about 150 kilometers northeast of Kabul, are the only remaining military threat to the Taliban. The people of the valley have always rejected Taliban rule. It is said that around 3,000 fighters are still hiding in the mountains there. The Taliban had already sent massive troops into the valley last year to break the resistance by force. Since then, thousands of people have fled the Panjshir Valley. Analyst Michael Kugelman believes the NRF still exists. However, it lacked the means to become a serious threat to the Taliban.

At the moment, there is simply no political alternative to the Taliban. “Even the West has never managed to establish a half-viable government in Afghanistan,” says Thomas Ruttig. That is why the Taliban regime is likely to last for some time.