18/08/2021

The Taliban trap

2 min
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, moments before the start of the press conference in Kabul

The Taliban showed on Tuesday that during the last 20 years of war they have learned to use other kinds of weapons, such as diplomacy and communication. In their first press conference as Afghanistan's new unofficial authorities, their spokesmen insisted that no reprisals would be taken against anyone and that women would be allowed to continue working "within the limits of Islamic law", without clarifying, however, what this means. It is clear that the Taliban intend to convey an image of seriousness to the outside world and, at least as long as Afghanistan continues to be a focus of information, not to give arguments to Afghan activists who are denouncing that large-scale repression will soon begin. Unlike the Islamic State, the Taliban are now seeking international recognition, which has already begun to come from China, Russia, Iran and Turkey.

As for the West, the military defeat of the United States and NATO has been followed by a surprisingly rapid acceptance that, from now on, negotiations with the Taliban government will be necessary. However, it is one thing to apply realpolitik and another to turn the whole discourse on its head and hope, as the NATO Secretary General has said, that the Taliban will keep their promise to fight other terrorist groups. Are we to believe that those who a few weeks ago were dangerous fanatics will now, overnight, become respectable rulers?

The Taliban's pragmatic turn seems more like a trap designed to enable them to occupy the levers of power without economic and social cataclysm and to avoid the danger of foreign intervention. But no one can be fooled about what the establishment of a rigorist Islamic republic, in which Sharia is law, will mean for the civilian population - especially for women. The most likely scenario is that, once installed in power and with the international support already outlined, and once Afghanistan also disappears from the media agenda (which will happen in a few weeks), the Taliban will be able to carry out their plans without any opposition. And proceed with the repression they already applied in the 1996-2001 period.

Perhaps they have learned their lesson and will not engage in sponsoring international terrorism or destroying human heritage such as the Bamian Buddhas, but ultimately we will have a new narco-dictatorship that will take the country back to the Middle Ages in some respects. The disastrous withdrawal, with the dramatic scenes at Kabul airport, which will forever remain another humiliation for the West, is causing an exodus of refugees that will now have to be dealt with. Perhaps Joe Biden is right when he says that it makes no sense for more Americans to die in Afghanistan, but the question he has not answered is how he intends to prevent the Taliban from now turning on all those who, when the United States intervened in Afghanistan in 2001, stood with them to build a democracy and modernise the country.