The political dynamics of Afghanistan are realigning themselves in the wake of the US departure. The two biggest contenders native to their own land; on the one hand, the de facto Afghan Government is struggling to hold its rule while, on the other hand, the shadow government of the Taliban is positioning itself at the centre of the new power structure.
The political turmoil that Afghanistan has faced is far greater than the wars that have been waged on its ground. The cycle of turbulence that started in 1992 with the Afghan civil war has fundamentally weakened the local cohesion and peaceful transfer of power among its factions. The landscape showed hope for change when in 2004 Hamid Karzai got elected as a president of Afghanistan. The start of his regime provided countless opportunities for progress with aid and development projects being pooled in from the US and the international communities. However, the Afghan administration’s incompetency proven ineffective further by the never-ending threat of violence made the region remained bound by the shackles of regression.
This laid the ground open for the Taliban to address the gap in the power structures by reinventing themselves under the banner of a revolution. They struck upon the institutions’ mantle and changed to set out the ideologies of the organizations bringing them out of the shell of an autocratic structure towards a more profound central structure. They revisited their own ideologies and adopted them in accordance with the changing times in matters of governance, technology, and most importantly, in the realm of public services. Their strategy was wide and clear to supersede the Government in Kabul, which became their underlying motto and can be seen as a winning stride in their evolution from 2010 onwards.
A factor that played a key role in their path development is Layeha, a code of conduct established in 2010 that states the purpose of the movement and sheds a thorough beam on the Taliban’s objectives and strategies. It called not just for a shift in their operations but also highlighted the revised norms and values that will enable them to grow their networks of communication, gain more public support and provide ways that will place them strategically in front of the opposing government officials. However, the main contributing part of the code of conduct was the rules and regulations that emphasized the prohibition of activities relating to extortion and kidnapping, which has painted the Taliban narrative in the most repressive light. Regarding the earlier position of the Taliban, Thomas H. Johnson and Matthew, analyzing the New Taliban Code of Conduct, sate:
The Taliban have suffered politically from engaging in barbaric, ultraviolent, and un-Islamic methods such as beheadings and mutilating civilians. While this method may have short-term advantages in garnering support from certain foreign donors or outbidding among competing insurgent groups, it has had detrimental long-term strategic effects on the Taliban’s efforts to gain support among rural comminutes.
It was these roadblocks that were identified in the new code of conduct that resulted positively to change the dynamics of the Taliban. For the first time, a progressive change was observed in their organizational structure that brought them from hidden behind a curtain of accusations towards a multidimensional front capable of gaining public trust and become a voice opposing the central.
Where, on the one hand, the Taliban were emerging, the other side of the coin was flipping for the US. The public support that the US had so craftily gained started to lose its momentum. From 2011 to 2012, the US worked its best to undermine the Taliban operations it gained on initial ground working to gain the trust of the local. However, the tide turned an ugly face when in 2011 a video went viral that showed the US marines disrespecting fallen bodies of Taliban insurgents. In light of this, the Taliban issued a statement condemning the act as “in contradiction with all human and ethical norms.” This led to a growing anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan which only became more prevalent in years to come. In 2012 at a US base in Afghanistan copies of the Quran were burned which outraged the nation resulting in raging riots though out the country. These incidents were followed by numerous more and only contributed to highlighting the new Taliban narrative that the US is only working in demolishing the religious cause of Islam.
Following this, the US tried to rebuild its relations with the Afghans; meanwhile, the Taliban worked in evoking anti-American feelings in the eyes of the public. They directed their objectives and started targeting development projects in the country by focusing on sectors of education, healthcare, and social welfare. They shed their earlier notion of oppression and started to work in collaboration with Non- governmental organizations and international communities to bring change in the Afghani society. Their policies were majorly targeted in rural areas where the Afghan Government failed consistency. They implemented their reforms on both the social and judicial levels empowering the region in its own functionality without having to rely on the delayed response from the central.
The Taliban leadership went a tremendous changed after the passing away of their supreme leader Mullah Omar in 2015. The uncertainty that arose in the wake of his demise led to minute setbacks and a decline in the focus of the organization. The strong cohesion of the movement started to falter with sub-groups forming within the divisions. However, this was soon overshadowed by the US decision to tone down its military forces in Afghanistan, while not much earlier to this the Afghan Government in the centre was undergoing a massive change; the 13-year long presidency of Hamid Karzai was drawing to end and was soon replaced by Ashraf Ghani in the elections of 2014.
Under the regime of Ashraf Ghani, the Government of Afghanistan went into a sizeable decline. The administration of the country has become severely dismantled, the economy stooped to a new low, the fragmentation and lack of unity have sprung far and wide, the central remains embedded in corruption and the public is in rage. In order to attempt a shot at peace Ashraf Ghani tried time and again to come to an agreement with the Taliban but to no avail as the objectives of the Taliban remains clear to showcase the capabilities of their governance while highlighting the fallacies of the central.
With the US ready to carry out its withdrawal from Afghanistan, it started to change its strategy with the Taliban. Instead of throwing them on the sidelines, it initiated a series of direct talks to negotiate the terms of future governance. Often times these meetings are being carried out without the involvement of the central Government, which not only legitimizes the authority of the Taliban but also represents the inefficacy of the current Afghan Government. What this means for the Taliban is an opportunity to have a stake in the political landscape of their own homeland. Over the years they have transformed not only themselves but also the ideologies that they were previously recognized for. Now two decades later they have established themselves as an organization rooted in the ground aiming to stay and maintain a notable presence in the future of Afghanistan.