The Taliban promise inclusivity in Afghanistan. But some predict bloodshed

ONEIf the Taliban’s black-turban mullah gathers in Kabul and Kandahar to find out how they want to govern, the decisions they make will give the world a clue as to whether they remain the same brutal regime that controlled Afghanistan before the 2001 US invasion. or adopt a less extreme version of Islamic rule.

Change was not originally in the plans of the mullahs. While declaring an Islamic emirate in name Thursday, it was not clear they would bring back the rules and regulations of their former 1990s government, according to current and former U.S. and Western officials who oppressed women and used public amputations, beheadings and stoning as not only criminal punishments but also entertainment for a population denied access to television or music.

But in recent years, as the Taliban held peace talks with the United States in Doha, its leaders were offered advice from international and regional officials, urging the group to curb its fundamentalist practices in order to gain international political recognition and assistance and secure support. from young and rather sophisticated Afghans who brag about their version of Islam.

Since the fall of Kabul, the militants have been in constant communication with US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the foreign ministry said on Thursday, as well as former Afghan president Hamid Karzai and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a senior member of the Ghani government who overthrew the Taliban. . Afghan officials have argued that the group would alienate the international community and its own people if it installed a purist interpretation of a religious emirate, with a designated “emir for life” and an unelected shura council of mullahs who governs the country, according to current and former Afghan and Western officials briefed on the negotiations.

The Taliban are now in internal deliberations, with its triumphant military wing pushing for a more purist system and a political wing – which includes some Doha negotiators – arguing for a more “inclusive” Islamic system, according to regional officials with the talks. “We want an inclusive Islamic government in Afghanistan,” Doha Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told TIME. But he did not give details, and a senior Taliban official told Reuters that they might appoint a ruling council led by the movement’s top leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, perhaps as “president”. It is similar to how they ruled from 1996 to 2001, with Mullah Omar as the galleon figure, and the council governed the government.

Although the deal has not been finalized, the group has signaled that it is likely to retain the Afghan government bureaucracy to govern the country, and ordered their supporters to protect public property and extend amnesty to “all those who have previously worked for and helped the attackers.” or worked for “the corrupt Kabul administration,” according to a statement released to TIME.

At the group’s first press conference on Tuesday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid took the first question from a female journalist and said the Taliban would respect women’s rights under Islam, even though he offered few details. The group reportedly invited the Ghani administration’s health minister to continue in the role while the country fights the COVID-19 pandemic. In many areas, the Taliban have urged police and other urban workers to return to their jobs.

But US, Western and Afghan officials remain very skeptical. Taliban patrols in Kabul have harassed and beaten Afghans trying to reach the airport, according to U.S. and Afghan officials as well as journalists on the ground. They opened fire on young people demonstrating in the eastern city of Jalalabad and have reacted violently to further protests on Thursday in other parts of the country. Afghan and Western officials tell TIME that Taliban units are going door-to-door in some neighborhoods, asking for identification papers. (A Taliban spokesman tells TIME that opportunistic fraudsters are shaking down a frightened population or taking personal revenge that has nothing to do with the group.)

The angels Times Foreign correspondent and photographer Marcus Yam photographed Taliban fighters on their way to the airport, firing automatic weapons into the air, then hitting Afghans they had encapsulated with “sticks, pieces of rubber hose, tied ropes, rifle butts.” They attacked Yam as he tried to film them. An Afghan pilot was assassinated and at least one former U.S. military translator was reported killed in the weeks before the militants captured the capital.

U.S. and Western officials tell TIME they believe that after the last U.S. troops left, more bloodshed could occur. A regional official tells TIME that the Taliban have taken hard drives from the abandoned computers of former senior Afghan government officials, especially members of intelligence and national security agencies, from which they can harvest data showing who ordered operations against the militants, sometimes in collaboration with the CIA. Regional security officials are preparing for the Taliban’s retaliation.

Perhaps the biggest fear is that Afghanistan under Taliban control will once again become a stronghold for groups planning to attack the American homeland. The Taliban have not severed ties with Al Qaeda, which remains entrenched in the country and whose fighters have married into the Taliban. The Afghan-based branch of the so-called Islamic State also remains active in the nation. The Haqqani network, a major Taliban faction, continues to hold US Navy veteran Mark Frerichs hostage in Kabul last year.

There are incentives for the Taliban to take a more moderate approach to governance than they did while ruling Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. The United States and the United Nations still have sanctions in place that could paralyze the group’s early attempts at governance, says Brian O’Toole, a former Treasury official who managed sanctions against foreign assets. “It gives the United States a huge leverage because the Taliban will find it very difficult to carry out any international trade.” Billions of dollars in Afghan federal reserves have been frozen by the Biden Administration, according to Ajmal Ahmady, acting head of the country’s central bank, and the International Monetary Fund also froze access to its funds due to “lack of clarity in the international community regarding the recognition of a government in Afghanistan.”

Juan Zarate, an anti-terror tsar in the George W. Bush administration, says the sanctions will remain “a significant barrier to the legitimacy of any Taliban regime, absent wholesale trade, fundamental reforms on their part or simple diplomatic capitulation and adaptation from The West. ” The sanctions could make the Afghan economy “a no-go zone” just like North Korea, “Zarate said. (China has signaled that it will recognize the baby government, with Turkey and Russia expected to follow shortly).

But Gretchen Peters, executive director of the Center for Illegal Networking and Organized Crime, says the Taliban bring in up to $ 1 billion a year from opium trafficking, extortion and kidnapping, money they already used to fund the apparent disbursement of some Afghan officials. who gave up without a fight. “They seem to be inundated with cash,” she says.

Even without a cash squeeze, the Taliban will have to contend with a cultural clash. More than 70% of Afghanistan is under 25 and has never experienced the group’s harsh rule in the 1990s. The new generation of Afghans has grown up with freedom of speech, social media and satellite TV filled with Bollywood action movies and female news hosts. A large part of this young population is accustomed to access to education, health care, clean running water and electricity – services that are largely made possible by Afghanistan’s international ties.

In the Doha talks, US peace envoy Khalilzad spent hours trying to impart an international civic lesson to Taliban leaders, according to Western officials briefed on the talks. Khalilzad explained, for example, that if the Taliban did not have a certain percentage of women in the workforce, or committed the human rights violations that marked their previous reign, international organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund would avoid them.

The Taliban checked the American council’s advice with regional officials from Qatar and Pakistan and got the same answer back: return Afghanistan to the Dark Ages, with women excluded from leaving home and summary executions for the slightest transgressions without a fair trial, and you will become a pariah. Regional sources say Pakistani and Iranian officials have warned Taliban leaders in recent weeks against declaring an Islamic emirate.

Former top Afghan officials are waiting to see how the group’s decisions unfold. A former Ghani official predicted to TIME that if the Taliban are more moderate than last time and are able to provide government services and end the fighting, the Afghans will embrace them. Another says the group’s proposal to the last government is merely window-splitting: “The Taliban will at best designate a name or two as a symbol.”

The former governor of Afghanistan’s Logar and Herat provinces, Abdul Qayum Rahimi, told TIME that he had decided to stay in the country, in part because the Taliban treated him with respect despite resisting militant attacks. “They treated me well and let me rescue about 260 people with me,” said Rahimi, who left the door open to serve in a new Taliban government. “I want to see how it comes out.”

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