Taliban Faces Growing Armed Resistance Across Afghanistan

However, they either failed to understand or underestimated the complexity of Afghanistan, as the Soviets and Americans had done before them. Afghanistan is composed of numerous ethno-tribal micro-societies, with none of them constituting a majority. This, plus the landlocked but crossroads location of the country in a traditional zone of regional and international rivalries, has historically rendered the task of nation-building in Afghanistan very arduous. The job becomes even more taxing when elements of one of those micro-societies seek to exclusively rule the others, whether with or without an outside backer’s support.

The Taliban hail from the Ghilzai tribe of ethnic Pashtuns—the largest minority in Afghanistan. This is the first time that elements of the tribe have seized power, in contrast to their Durrani tribal counterparts, who led the country for most of its over two centuries’ life. The Taliban leaders are largely trained in a version of Islam that approximates to a mix of Deobandi, Wahhabi and Salafist Sunni. Most of their commanders and foot soldiers are poorly educated, even in literary Islam, in Pakistani madrassas (religious schools) and have known little more than an austere rural existence. They are divided from within and insecure in relation to the rest of Afghanistan’s population, especially in the urban centers, where many experienced liberalist political–social and economic changes during the two-decade-long US occupation.

While exuding a sense of religious, political and ethnic supremacy and triumphalism, the Taliban leaders have expediently targeted women and girls and, more specifically, two other groups. They essentially view the defiant Shia Hazaras as deviants and the Sunni Panjshiris and their Tajik kindred, who constitute the second largest ethnic category in Afghanistan, as traditionally recalcitrant. The Taliban have unleashed unspeakable discriminatory, horrific operations against the opposition, involving beating, arrest, torture, disappearance and killing, to suppress any form of opposition across the country.

Nowhere are their atrocities more pronounced than against the NRF and people of the rapidly dwindling 150,000 or so inhabitants of Panjshir. This is because the NRF, led by the 34-year-old, Sandhurst-educated Ahmad Massoud, along with most compatriots in the country, want a free, sovereign and prosperous Afghanistan. It has advocated a publicly mandated, inclusive pluralist and democratic system of governance, with Islam as the state religion.

Fearing Panjshir’s resistance, the Taliban occupied the center of the valley shortly after assuming power. As reported by social media and private sources, they have subjected the Panjshiri inhabitants to heinous punishments. There are reports of an instance where the Taliban killed a captured NRF fighter and beheaded his father in front of crowds. Arrest, torture and the disappearance of any suspected Panjshiri or, for that matter, their Tajik kindred have become the order of the day in Panjshir and beyond. The Taliban have engaged not only in massive human rights violations and curtailment of freedom of expression and press freedom, but also in operations that amount to ethnic cleansing. This is something that urgently requires a thorough investigation by the United Nations Human Rights Commission and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

The Taliban, whose continued alliance with al-Qaeda has once again been confirmed by the UN, have recently raised more fighters wherever they can, given their own growing numbers killed and injured since March this year. They are hurriedly focused on building a 100,000-strong force, including a suicide regiment, fully equipped with billions of dollars’ worth of modern arms left behind by the US, to battle the opposition, and also their rival terror group, Islamic State’s Khorasan branch, which the Taliban haven’t been able to control. In addition, while abhorring modern education, they have reportedly supported many new madrassas to train jihadis.

The scene is now set for continued conflict and bloodshed until such time that the Taliban change their barbaric ways in the name of their self-centered version of Islam. They currently don’t enjoy the support of a cross-section of Afghanistan’s mosaic population or satisfy the criteria for international recognition. The only politics that can work in Afghanistan are those of plurality, inclusiveness and consensual processes of state-building. Any attempt by the Taliban to cut their way through by such orchestrations as a ‘Loya Jirga’ (Grand Assembly), which is advocated by former president Hamid Karzai, who hails from the Durrani Pashtuns, will produce nothing more than a propaganda tool for the Taliban leaders to claim false domestic legitimacy to gain global recognition.

Amin Saikal is adjunct professor of social sciences at the University of Western Australia. This article is published courtesy of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).