Afghanistan: Back to the Future
(Co-authored with Dr. Waqas Sajjad)
Director Centre for Afghanistan, Middle East & Africa (CAMEA), ISSI
The problems prevalent in the Afghan society, polity, and economy before the takeover of the Taliban in mid-2021 were already intense. Poor socio-economic indicators, instability in political structures, an economy struggling to survive, and weak political alliances all defined Afghanistan being left behind by the US-led coalition. It was always evident to observers that the withdrawal of foreign actors would cause significant and dramatic change in Afghanistan, most importantly in the case of the new role that the Taliban would adopt.
The advent of the Taliban coincided with the war in Ukraine, which compounded Afghanistan’s economic challenges, and made the humanitarian crisis worse. The interruptions in foreign aid led to a massive drop in public spending, reducing household incomes and consumption. The banking sector shrank like many other critical services, and to date the Afghan economy is undergoing a tumultuous readjustment. While corruption has reportedly gone down and tax collection is increasing, low growth rates of 2.0-2.4 percent are predicted for the next two years.
The Taliban had promised inclusive governance structures, and insisted there would be no discrimination against women. They stated that cultural institutions would be allowed to continue operating as normal, and rights will be upheld. However, the Taliban’s wanton rollback of women rights, particularly education, employment, and mobility, have proven the limits of that promise.
The Taliban government seeks better ties with its neighbours, but rising incidents of violence against international actors in Afghanistan have raised questions about the Taliban’s ability or willingness to provide security to foreign nationals. The Taliban have insisted there will be no compromise with terrorists, yet the rise of ISKP shows this may be otherwise.
Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral ties have traditionally followed a negative trajectory and continue to be determined through a security lens. They have failed to evolve into a robust partnership, and as a result, important aspects of the bilateral relationship have remained underdeveloped or suffered greatly. Since the Taliban takeover, Islamabad’s policy towards the group has been guided by a regional approach, which recommends an inclusive political setup, commitment to human rights, and assurances that Afghan soil will not be used against any state. However, the ongoing spike in attacks by the TTP and Daesh in Pakistan, especially the high death tolls of December 2022, put into question whether the Taliban can be reliable partners for stability or peace. The bilateral relationship appears to be following the same tumultuous trajectory of previous years in 2023.