Dismantlement of the Taliban regime is the only way forward for Afghanistan (2023)

Dismantlement of the Taliban regime is the only way forward for Afghanistan (1)

Despite the USand NATO military withdrawal from Afghanistan last August,Washington and allies continue to struggle with their Afghanistan policy choices, unable to decide between options ranging from fullnormalization, containment, disengagement, confrontation, and others.

This is thanks in no small part to the fact that the group remains shrouded in mystery in terms of their ideological, political, and organizational dynamics.As a result, ask ten individuals about the Taliban, and you will receive ten different answers—or as one might phrase it,the “Taliban in the eye of the beholder.”

Thecontrasting views of twoprominent US and British military generals illustrate the group’s many faces around the world. Just days after thecollapseof Afghanistan’sRepublic last August, Britain’s Chiefof the Defence Staff General Sir Nicholas Patrick Carter described the Taliban as“country boys” with a “code ofhonor.”A year later, he characterized Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban’s deputy leader, as a“modernist” and called for the international community to embrace him and his“modernizers” faction. Former US National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster, however, takes an entirely different view of theTaliban, describing them as“a transnational terroristorganisation that is interconnected with others and it’s a creature of support from Pakistan’s ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence].”Furthermore, these and other perspectives on the Taliban are not mere academic definitions—they often shape policies as well. The first attempt to make“peace” with the Taliban was in 2006 by the British military in Helmand province, which then culminated in the 2010 London conference when“peace and reconciliation” became the main policyframework of the Western alliance.

Even within the US government, policies were divided. The US Department of State’s ongoing refusal to include the Taliban in its list ofDesignated Foreign Terrorist Organizations is the policyconsequence of itsromanticized view of the Taliban, which contributed in no small part to the 2020 Doha Agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban. Keeping the group’s official classification in US bureaucracy ambiguous kept doors open and options available for Washington if it ever decided that it needed a quick off-ramp, which it took in February of 2020. Confusingly, the revised 2017 US South Asiastrategy reflected General McMaster’s more hardline view of the Taliban.

Bearing these factors in mind, a better understanding of the Taliban’s guiding principles and ideologies can help the academic and policy communities in their understanding of the group and approach towards them. Specifically, a three-pronged framework originating in Persianliterature sheds light on themachinations of despotic reigns such as the Taliban, known as “Rule by ThreeInstruments”: zar (gold/bounty), zoor (violence/force), and tazvir (deception).

The Taliban have shown remarkablesuccess in aligning these three tools to advance their agenda. Not only are these ideas important to explore as an intellectual exercise, but they also have direct policy implications for international engagement with the Taliban and Afghanistan.

Zar (gold/bounty)

As with any group, the Taliban have different loyal constituencies that require constant rewards (both material and immaterial) to retain.

  1. Rank-and-file
  2. Mid-level commanders
  3. Islamist/clericalconstituency
  4. Ethnic/Pashtun base

The reward packages are composed of material, religious,ideational, and political elements. Rewards considered ”heavenly” in the Taliban’s interpretation, such as sexual gratification or meeting with the Prophet Muhammad, are what often motivate the group’s hard-core followers, exemplified by suicide attackers. The mid-level and field commanders are rewarded by distribution of bounties and economic assets. During their insurgency phase, extortion of aidmonies, illicitdrugs, andfinancial payments by various intelligence organizations enriched the Taliban’s field commanders.

(Video) Inside the Taliban's Takeover of Afghanistan

If the rank-and-filemembersrepresented poor fighters or “the $10-a-day” Taliban, a large number of Taliban mid- and senior levels were the “fat cats.” For example, the former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour wasbelieved to have a lucrativebusiness in the United Arab Emirates. Since their return to power, the Afghan state’s vastbureaucracy, international aid, and mineral resources have become new and additional sources for the enrichment of Taliban fat cats.

The Taliban are the Sunni version of Iran’sclerical movement, committed to creating aclerical-ruled Islamistpolity. Unlike in Iran, however, the Taliban do not dilute their puritanical movement withpseudo labels such as “Islamic democracy.” As with any other ideological movement, the Taliban’sIslamic government is transformative and totalitarian in nature. A new treatise by the Taliban’s key ideologue Sheikh Abdul Haqqaniprovides a clear example of their version of a totalitarian Islamist polity. This was facilitated by the 2020 Doha Agreement, which—through its ambiguity in tone and definition—envisioned a vague “Afghan Islamic government” which, again, gave the Taliban the benefit of interpretation.

TheTaliban havealso a distinctive Pashtun ethnic identity. The vast majority of Taliban senior leadershipare Pashtuns. Ensuring Pashtun political supremacy within the Afghan polity is the unifying factor between the Taliban and ethno-nationalist Pashtuns. Both former presidents of the previous Republic, Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, failed to create a cohesive and nationwide anti-Taliban narrative among their fellow Pashtuns. It should be noted, though, that there is in fact a flourishing anti-Taliban movement in Pakistan known as the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, demonstrating that such unification is indeed possible.

Zoor (violence/force)

The Taliban’s use of violence to advancepolitico-ideological ends has been effective and strategic. During the insurgency phase, theTaliban terrorized coalition forces with cheap but effective tools such as roadside bombings and“inside attacks.” The Taliban were not aformidable military force by conventional measures, but instead found success as ahighly effective terrorizing movement. This is exemplified by the fact that the group failed to capture and hold any major urban city until July 2021. Since their takeover of the Afghan state, the Taliban’s strategic use of violence against their active and potentialfoes is in full display. They resumed public hangings in cities such as Herat and Mazar, clear examples of“performativeviolence.” The Taliban’s Ministries of Defence and Interior also have a“suicidebrigade” in their formal structure, ready to be deployed against any threat and particularlyalongside Afghanistan’s northern and western borders.

That said, the group is not without challengers in the militant ecosystem. The regional branch of the Islamic State, known as Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-K), is a double-edged sword for the Taliban. While there is a serious competition overideologicaldoctrines and material resources, IS-K has provided a goldenopportunity for the Taliban to present themselves as“good terrorists” capable of fighting“bad terrorists.” The pro-Taliban voices in Western and regional capitals,including in Delhi, are being lured to this proposition. The Taliban can also use the pretext of fighting IS-K to suppress their political opponents.

Furthermore, Taliban-ruled Afghanistan has now joined the club of “digital authoritarianism.” The group is learning fast from other authoritarian regimes to use social media to propagate their agendas while suppressing independent media and controlling digital platforms. Afghan social media users are increasingly targeted by the Taliban’s feared General Directorate of Intelligence for posting critical comments, including Afghan and foreign journalists who have been detained by the Taliban for their online comments. Similar to like-minded authoritarian neighbors in Iran and China, the Taliban have an impressive presence on social media, particularly Twitter.

Tazvir (deception)

Deception has historically been an integral part of warfare andpolitical strategies, including by the Taliban. Before their first successfuloccupation of Kabul in 1996, they led many tobelieve that they were clearing the way for thereturn ofKing Zahir Shah. They followed the samestrategy in their second attempt in 2021, by claiming that the Taliban have now changed (i.e., “Taliban 2.0”). However, after capturing the throne, they began implementing their Islamist vision, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Despite huge international coverage and press that came with both the US-led war and the Taliban’s takeover last August, the group—incredibly—kept Mullah Mohammad Omar’s death a secret for more than thirteen years. Even Iran and Pakistancould not match this level of secrecy indisguising their nuclear programs!

The Talibanutilized social media and smartphones in their warfare strategies as well. Their reconnaissance team quietly erected and filmed the Taliban’s flag on iconic publicsquares then under Afghan Republic control, disseminating the video clips on social media platforms toannounce the“liberation” of the city. In cases such as these, the Taliban first occupied the virtual and information space before the physical space.

Furthermore, a plethora of Talibanapologists in Islamist and Western media, think tanks, and political circles have assisted them enormously in their deceptive strategies. While pro-Russian voices and views within Western policy circles are frequently exposed and ostracized, the pro-Taliban circles have yet to be recognized as an important constituency. Examples include The New York Times’ decision to publish a purported op-ed by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the International Crisis Group’s recruitment of a close relative of the Taliban’s foreign ministry spokesperson as a consultant, and its consistent advocacy for engagement with the Taliban or writing of books for the Taliban by Western authors.

Breaking the cycle of mis-engagement with Afghanistan

While there is consensus on the human cost of theconflict and itsimplications for regional and globalsecurity, there have been divergentprescriptions to resolve it. The Taliban represents an important piece of this multifacetedconflict.

Reflective of this complex nature, there have been two distinctive internationalapproaches towards the Taliban: containment during their firstreign of the 1990s, and engagement from 2010 onward. The 9/11 terrorist attacks on US soil demonstrated well the futility of the containment strategy.The 2020 Doha Agreement was the culmination of intended Taliban engagement. Apart from the Taliban, few parties remain supportive of the Doha Agreement. Norway, a strong investor in the engagement strategy, recently expressed its ”disappointment” with the Taliban, joining many other actors with buyer’s remorse. US President Joseph R. Biden’s (and previously former President Donald J. Trump’s) wishes to disengage from Afghanistan continue to be challenged by the United States’ security, political, moral, and emotional attachment with Afghanistan.

(Video) Life in the Taliban's Afghanistan

In the context of the Taliban’s reinvented Islamist authoritarianism with twenty-first century technology, the international community must also rethink its approach to supporting the Afghan people against the regime’s wave of repression. This means leaving old methods of engagement behind for good.

Dismantlement of the Taliban regime is the only way forward

The alternative to the existing strategy of“containment, engagement, and subsequent disengagement” isthe dismantlement of the Taliban’sreign. In a“post-terrorism” world, when the global war on terrorism is being ridiculed as a “forever war” amid great power competition and a war-weary citizenry, the dismantlement strategy may seem far-fetched. However, a junta based on plunder, fear, anddeception is incapable of addressing Afghans’ basic needs as well as responding to regional and globalsecurity concerns. A dismantlement strategy willalign Afghans’ needs with regional stability and globalsecurity.Such an endeavour needs serious, creative, and sustained United Nations (UN) leadership,particularly the UN Security Council. There are already pockets of resistance to the Taliban, too, as symbolized by courageous Afghan women.

The Taliban’s firstreign was dismantled spectacularly due to the combined efforts of Afghan,regional, US, and NATO partners. In a post-Taliban Afghanistan, the group could become a political party similar to Pakistan’s Islamic parties.

Afghanistan has become a humanitarian catastrophe for its citizens, gender apartheid for its women, a regional black hole, and a deep scar on Western credibility. The Taliban’s trademarks of reward, violence, and deception have characterized their “anti-resistance” strategy. The world cannot afford to remain neutral about the outcome of this struggle. Will the international community,and particularly the United States, follow the famous saying that“Americans will always do the right thing afterexhausting all the alternatives,” or will history repeat the cycle of reactive politics that always ends with thugs in charge?

Dr. Davood Moradian is director-general of the Afghan Institute of Strategic Studies (AISS).

The South Asia Center serves as the Atlantic Council’s focal point for work on the region as well as relations between these countries, neighboring regions, Europe, and the United States.

Learn more

(Video) A year of Taliban rule in Afghanistan – BBC News

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Is Afghanistan still ruled by Taliban? ›

It ruled approximately three-quarters of the country from 1996 to 2001, before being overthrown following the United States invasion. It recaptured Kabul on 15 August 2021 after nearly 20 years of insurgency, and currently controls all of the country, although its government has not yet been recognized by any country.

What is the Taliban doing right now? ›

The Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in 2021, twenty years after their ouster by U.S. troops. Under their harsh rule, they have cracked down on women's rights and neglected basic services.

What is the current situation in Afghanistan 2022? ›

Afghans also remain at a heightened risk of terrorist attacks, such as the August 2022 bombing of a mosque and September 2022 bombing of the Russian Embassy, both in Kabul, allegedly perpetrated by the Islamic State.

What was the point of the Afghanistan war? ›

The United States went to Afghanistan in 2001 to wage a necessary war of self-defense. On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorists attacked our country. They were able to plan and execute such a horrific attack because their Taliban hosts had given them safe haven in Afghanistan.

What country is ruled by the Taliban? ›

The Taliban's political system, in the words of one legal analyst, is “highly underspecified and undertheorized.” The Taliban refer to their government as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the title of the first regime they established in the 1990s, which they used to refer to themselves throughout their two-decade- ...

Who funds Taliban now? ›

The group drew financial support from various actors, within and outside the state, and research by Gateway House shows four major sources of funding for the Taliban – the revival of opium cultivation, and its global sales; mining; extortion and illegal taxation; donations.

How does the Taliban treat females? ›

Women were brutally beaten, publicly flogged, and killed for violating Taliban decrees. Even after international condemnation, the Taliban made only slight changes. Some say it was progress when the Taliban allowed a few women doctors and nurses to work, even while hospitals still had segregated wards for women.

What has happened since the Taliban took over? ›

The previous Taliban regime, in the 1990s, severely curtailed women's freedom - and since the takeover of power by the Taliban last year, a series of restrictions have been re-imposed on women in Afghanistan. Regulations on clothing and laws forbidding access to public areas without a male guardian have been enforced.

Can girls go to school in Afghanistan? ›

After the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, they shut down schools for girls over 6th grade, effectively barring women from getting an education.

Who won Afghanistan war? ›

The nearly 20-year-long conflict ultimately ended with the 2021 Taliban offensive, which overthrew the Islamic Republic, and re-established the Islamic Emirate. It was the longest war in the military history of the United States, surpassing the length of the Vietnam War (1955–1975) by approximately six months.

Why is the US freezing assets in Afghanistan? ›

The funds were frozen by the US government after the Afghan government collapsed last year and the Taliban took over control of the country. Afghanistan – now under Taliban control for over a year – is facing a potential economic catastrophe.

Does the US get oil from Afghanistan? ›

By 2050, the US expects to import more than 80 percent of its petroleum from this region and much of that oil would be extracted from beneath the deserts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The struggle for control of this last great deposit of oil has been called “the Great Game.” In 1998, Unocal Vice President John J.

Who started war in Afghanistan? ›

In 2001 an international coalition led by the USA invaded Afghanistan to destroy terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda when the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden.

What is the longest war in history? ›

The longest war in history is believed to be the Reconquista (Spanish for Reconquest), with a duration of 781 years.

Does US recognize Taliban? ›

The United States has not yet made a decision as to whether to recognize the Taliban or any other entity as the Government of Afghanistan or as part of such a government.

How many countries have recognized Taliban? ›

Saudi Arabia was also the second of only three countries to recognize the Taliban government, extending official recognition on 26 May 1997, one day after Pakistan and shortly before the United Arab Emirates. After the removal of Taliban, Saudi Arabia is one of the major helpers in the Afghan reconstruction.

Are Taliban Sunni or Shia? ›

The Taliban, predominantly Sunni Pashtuns with a support base concentrated in the country's south, have refused to include other ethnicities or religions in their regime.

How much does the Taliban get paid? ›

Mining – $400 million to $464 million

According to the Taliban's Stones and Mines Commission, or Da Dabaro Comisyoon, the group earns $400 million a year from mining.

What is the main source of income in Afghanistan? ›

Agriculture and livestock. Agriculture remains Afghanistan's most important source of employment: 60-80 percent of Afghanistan's population works in this sector, although it accounts for less than a third of GDP due to insufficient irrigation, drought, lack of market access, and other structural impediments.

Why did Taliban ban education? ›

The decision to shut down girls' secondary education came as members of the Taliban's interim cabinet met in the southern city of Kandahar to plot a course to diplomatic recognition, which could bring much-needed funding to alleviate Afghanistan's economic collapse and widespread poverty and hunger.

Why do Taliban want to rule Afghanistan? ›

Rise to power

The promise made by the Taliban - in Pashtun areas straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan - was to restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law, once in power. From south-western Afghanistan, the Taliban quickly extended their influence.

Can girls study under Taliban? ›

Schools in Afghanistan are closed to girls beyond sixth grade. The Taliban have portrayed their leader's ban on secondary education for Afghan women and girls as based in religious principles, but Muslim scholars and activists say gender-based denial of education has no religious justification.

What did the Taliban destroyed in Afghanistan? ›

BAMIYAN, Afghanistan — The Taliban's destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues in early 2001 shocked the world and highlighted their hard-line regime, toppled soon after in a U.S.-led invasion.

Why is Afghanistan impossible to conquer? ›

The difficulty in invading Afghanistan was attributed to the prevalence of fortress-like qalats, the deserts, the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan, its severe winter and its "impregnable clan loyalties", various empires fighting each other while attempting to conquer Afghanistan, and outside neighboring countries ...

Are there condoms in Afghanistan? ›

Some mullahs in Afghanistan are distributing condoms. Others are quoting the Quran to encourage longer breaks between births.

What are girls not allowed to do in Afghanistan? ›

From the age of eight onward, girls in Afghanistan were not allowed to be in direct contact with males other than a close "blood relative", husband, or in-law (see mahram). Other restrictions for women were: Women should not appear in the streets without a blood relative or without wearing a burqa.

Can girls drive in Afghanistan? ›

The Taliban regime in Afghanistan has now stopped issuing driving licences to women and other provinces of the land-locked country, news agency ANI quoted Afghan media reports. Before the Taliban took over Afghanistan, women could be seen driving in some of the major cities including Kabul.

When did us lose Afghanistan war? ›

Obama ended major combat operations on Dec. 31, 2014, and transitioned to training and assisting Afghan security forces. Nearly three years later, President Donald J. Trump said that although his first instinct had been to withdraw all troops, he would nonetheless continue to prosecute the war.

What country defeated Afghanistan? ›

At the end of December 1979, the Soviet Union sent thousands of troops into Afghanistan and immediately assumed complete military and political control of Kabul and large portions of the country.

Why did US pull out of Afghanistan? ›

Bush and Barack Obama regarding his decision to withdraw. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the decision was made in order to refocus resources on countering China and the COVID-19 pandemic.

How much money does the US give to Afghanistan each year? ›

SIGAR noted in its January 2022 report that, The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that donors contributed $1.67 billion for Afghanistan humanitarian assistance programs in 2021. The United States contributed the largest amount, over $425 million.

Who froze Afghanistans assets? ›

History. After the fall of Kabul in August 2021, the Biden administration froze the funds in New York, because it was unclear who had the legal authority to access the account.

What is the main product of Afghanistan? ›

Afghanistan main exports are: carpets and rugs (45 percent of total exports); dried fruits (31 percent) and medicinal plants (12 percent). Main export partners are: Pakistan (48 percent of total exports), India (19 percent) and Russia (9 percent).

Why doesn't the US produce its own oil? ›

The reason that U.S. oil companies haven't increased production is simple: They decided to use their billions in profits to pay dividends to their CEOs and wealthy shareholders and simply haven't chosen to invest in new oil production.

Why does the US not use its own oil? ›

And yet that same report reveals that the U.S. imported 7.86 million barrels of oil per day last year. That happens because of a combination of economics and chemistry. The economics are simple: overseas oil, even after shipping costs, is often cheaper than domestically-produced crude.

Who owns the oil in Afghanistan? ›

Unocal Corporation

Does Afghanistan have oil? ›

With hydrocarbon-rich Iran and Turkmenistan to its west, Afghanistan harbours around 1.6 billion barrels of crude oil, 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and another 500 million barrels of natural gas liquids.

Who won the first Afghan war? ›


What is the longest war in the history of the US? ›

War in Afghanistan

What war had the least deaths? ›

Cod Wars: one man killed, one man wounded. Toledo War: one man wounded. Battle of Athens (1946): several wounded.

What is the shortest war ever? ›

The little known Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896 is generally considered to be the shortest war in history, lasting for a grand total of 38 minutes.

Is it possible to have a world without war? ›

If the global community can continue to develop our understanding of the causes of peace, and continue the inexorable growth of development and systems that support peace, then a world without war may not only be possible but in fact inevitable.

Does the Taliban have an army now? ›

The Armed Forces of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Pashto: د اسلامي امارت وسله وال ځواکونه), also referred to as the Islamic Emirate Armed Forces, is the military of Afghanistan, ruled by the Taliban government from 1996 to 2001 and since August 2021.

What's the Taliban's main goal? ›

The promise made by the Taliban - in Pashtun areas straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan - was to restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law, once in power. From south-western Afghanistan, the Taliban quickly extended their influence.

Which country has strongest army? ›

The United States boasts the world's most powerful military.

Why did the Afghan army collapse so quickly? ›

Afghan forces fell apart because of low morale, internal distrust and the loss of U.S. airstrikes, according to the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

How strong is the Taliban army now? ›

The Taliban's strength is even harder to measure. According to the US Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, estimates suggest a core strength of 60,000 fighters. With the addition of other militia groups and supporters, that number could exceed 200,000.

Why did the US want to overthrow Taliban? ›

In late 2001, the United States and its close allies invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban government. The invasion's aims were to dismantle al-Qaeda, which had executed the September 11 attacks, and to deny it a safe base of operations in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban government from power.


1. A Year of Taliban Rule - how women’s lives have changed in Afghanistan - BBC News
(BBC News)
2. Can the Taliban fix Afghanistan’s economic crisis? | Start Here
(Al Jazeera English)
3. Taliban's drug trade problem: the reality of Afghanistan's opium addiction
(Channel 4 News)
4. The Chinese entrepreneurs chasing an Afghan ‘gold rush’ | 101 East Documentary
(Al Jazeera English)
5. Afghanistan: Inside the Taliban's Emirate • FRANCE 24 English
(FRANCE 24 English)
6. One year since Afghanistan under Taliban rule
(The Newsmakers)
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