The Taliban’s Fate
by Nabi Sahak
Why should the Taliban embrace the recent reconciliation option initiated by the Afghan government? The answer lies in the simple fact that the Taliban are no longer a popular movement. It has increasingly lost its claim to any form of political legitimacy, and many Afghans now view the group as morally bankrupt.
Moreover, the group is in organizational disarray. Once Mullah Omar’s death was revealed, there was disunity and confusion over who the new leader should be—and whether or not that new leader could gain the allegiance of the group’s rank-and-file members. Already, a schism has emerged between the Taliban’s Pakistani and Afghan members. Even within the Afghan Taliban, certain prominent members parted ways with the central leadership. This was demonstrated by the discontent ofMullah Mansour Dadullah, a famed Taliban fighter who exposed Pakistan’s secret agenda for the Taliban and who also challenged the legitimacy of the group’s new leader, Akhtar Mohammad Mansour.
The challenges facing the Taliban show no sign of abating, and it will become more and more difficult for them to remain a viable movement.
Now, Taliban members face a stark choice: they can either continue their acts of violence and terrorism—and risk losing whatever popular support they still have—or they can agree to sit down and negotiate with the government in good faith.
Will all Taliban members be willing to make the latter choice? Certainly not. But Afghan Taliban soldiers who are by birth citizens of Afghanistan may be willing to give up their fight against the central government.
But unfortunately not all Taliban members will be willing to compromise. Other Taliban soldiers are affiliated with warlords or international terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda, and they will not negotiate with the government or give in.
Yet, luckily, after 14 years of war, there are fewer and fewer of those diehards. The Afghan government has not fallen, and the Taliban does not control large portions of the populace or the strategically located provinces in the country. Also, in the most recent battles, the Taliban have incurred much higher casualties than the Afghan security forces. Their recent take-over of Kunduz province (which lasted less than a week) resulted in catastrophic casualties for them. This battle also reaffirmed once again that the Taliban movement while socially and morally incompatible with the wishes of the Afghan public is also operationally unsustainable.
Given their military setbacks and the national disapprobation that they face, the Taliban’s best option is to reconcile their differences with the Afghan government. Most Taliban fighters, in fact, are not that different from many of those who serve in the government. They share a common history, culture, and religion. Such commonalities make reconciliation a real possibility.
However, if the Taliban wants to pursue negotiations, they are running out of time. The country’s political elites and thepublic have already grown weary of the peace talks, and popular reactions against the Taliban’s most recent wave of attacks indicate that the group’s future survival is in serious doubt.
Also, the Taliban cannot permanently rely on Pakistani support. Indeed, in the long term, that support is unsustainable. Mounting pressure—from the Afghan government, the Afghan population, and the international community—will eventually force Pakistan to choose between the Taliban and its relationship with an increasingly strong Afghan state. It is in Pakistan’s own geopolitical interest to choose the latter.
Particularly after the wave of recent attacks in Afghanistan, public anger toward Pakistan has increased. Afghan politicians, civil society organizations, and the public are outraged by Pakistani meddling. Almost the entire nation blames Pakistan for the political instability in Afghanistan, and several Afghan religious scholars have even declared Jihad against Pakistan.
Afghanistan’s President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani recently stated: “We hoped for peace, but war is declared against us from Pakistani territory.” His statement resonated with all Afghans, and it spread like wild fire among the public, particularly in light of the recent attacks in Kabul—one of which killed at least 15 people and wounded hundreds more.
The Afghan government and public continue to work for peace, stability, and prosperity, and the Taliban’s attacks, of late, have done nothing to slow the country’s progression toward democracy. (Indeed, most of the world’s stable democracies have emerged from some sort of conflict.) Now, democracy has been planted in the Afghan soil, and its growth—while slow—is continuing. The Taliban must embrace reconciliation. It is their only option, and it will not be around forever.
About the Author
Nabi Sahak is a Rotary peace scholar at the University of Queensland's School of Political Science and International Studies and worked as a reporter for BBC Radio in Afghanistan.