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Gandhara Briefing: Taliban Rule Faces Early Hurdles

Taliban fighters patrol a street in Kabul on August 27.
Taliban fighters patrol a street in Kabul on August 27.

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Welcome to Gandhara's weekly newsletter. This briefing brings you the best of our reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Taliban Rule Faces Initial Tests

Taking Afghanistan was the easy part for the Taliban, governing it will prove more difficult.

"That's when the tensions and the fault lines become apparent," the historian William Dalrymple told us, adding that despite widespread speculation the Taliban “has shown an extraordinary discipline and a well-organized campaign with very little tribal dissonance."

(Check out this infographic about factional rifts within the Taliban’s command, based on reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.)

The group's promise of an inclusive government was welcomed by Afghanistan’s neighbors. But initial signs of the Taliban acting on the pledge to form such a government are hardly promising.

The appointments it has made so far, including senior ministerial posts, are of veterans. Many appear on UN and Western sanctions and terror lists and include figures such as Abdul Qayyum Zakir and Ibrahim Sadar.

The Taliban seeks to gain the international recognition and legitimacy that would lead to foreign aid and allow for stable international relations.

"The Taliban do understand, at least at the leadership level, the absolute necessity and significance of international aid, and they also know that those aid flows cannot happen unless the Taliban regime has international legitimacy," Hameed Hakimi, a research associate at London's Chatham House think tank, said.

"The Taliban are very keen on international recognition because they want to clear up their international image."

While the Taliban might be a disciplined organization, it is now under tremendous international scrutiny. A meeting of Group of Seven (G7) leaders saw them saying that whey will hold the Taliban accountable for human rights violations.

Economic pressures on the Taliban will also be immense. The World Bank followed the U.S. Treasury Department and International Monetary Fund initiatives in freezing assets by suspending funding for projects in Afghanistan.

Ajmal Ahmady, the exiled former head of the Afghan central bank, warned that his country will have to grapple with a weak currency, rising inflation, and higher import costs on top of everything else.

Chaotic Exodus Turns Into Tragedy

Tens of thousands of Afghans have shown their feelings about the incoming Taliban government by trying to leave against all odds and amid warnings of terror attacks.

Western governments have so far evacuated more than 100,000 Afghans, mostly through Kabul airport.

Canada and several European nations announced the end of evacuations, which involved the use of commercial airlines while other nations such as Ukraine chipped in. But there is no consensus on how Afghan refugees will be settled upon reaching their various destinations. The EU is adamant that it won’t accept a new wave of Afghan migrants.

Many Afghans’ desperation was on display as international coverage focused on those desperate to leave the country before Taliban rule set in. Here are satellite images of the evacuation efforts.

In a video, Liza Karimi, a Current Time reporter, describes the harrowing experience of being caught in a deadly crush outside Kabul airport. Another video captured the desperation during a stampede on August 21 in which many lost their lives.

Parents have even resorted to handing their children to foreign forces in a bid to save them from Taliban rule. We talked to Allyson Reneau, a mother of 11 and an expert in U.S. space policy, who helped 10 members of the Afghan girls robotics team escape.

On Thursday, suicide bombings killed scores and injured hundreds of those who thronged outside the airport’s gates, bringing these efforts to a temporary halt.

The Islamic State, an enemy of the Taliban as well as of the West, claimed responsibility for the attack saying one of its suicide bombers from its affiliate, Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), targeted "translators and collaborators with the American Army."

The situation in Kabul has prompted an exodus across Afghanistan’s land borders, evidenced in this video report, from the Pakistani town of Chaman, which is currently flooded by Afghans fleeing their country.

“The problem is that there is fighting. Nothing is clear. We don’t know who is killing whom,” said Haji Shah Lala, who traveled 700 kilometers from Nangarhar. “Obviously people are worried about their future,” another added.

Resistance Takes Root In Panjshir

As the Taliban firms its grip on power in Kabul, a nascent resistance is taking shape in a remote mountainous valley that resisted the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and denied the Taliban complete control of Afghanistan in the 1990s.

"We will resist anyone who tries to impose misery, injustice, and chaos upon us," says Jamshid, a Panjshir resident who says they are ready to take on the Taliban because “we already have experience living under a Taliban siege, and we will do it again."

This infographic details the sophisticated U.S. weaponry that the Taliban now controls after the takeover.

Here is a video profile of, and interview with, Ahmad Masud, a young leader of the anti-Taliban resistance and son of legendary commander Ahmad Shah Masud.

“What we are standing for right now is for the whole country. It’s for sovereignty, it’s for peace, it’s for people, it’s for inclusivity, for tolerance, and acceptance, and moderation,” he said.

Both the Taliban and Masud have reiterated that they want to resolve their differences through talks. (This photo gallery shows the young men being trained in Panjshir’s resistance.)

China’s Plans For The Taliban

Security interests have prompted the Chinese government to court the Taliban for years, but their relationship now faces a major test, Reid Standish writes.

“Should the Taliban prove that it can be a more reliable partner in protecting China’s security concerns than the Western-led Afghan government was, Beijing could put its political and economic muscle behind the group and help them in their quest for international legitimacy as Afghanistan’s new government,” he writes.

The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is bound to have profound implications for Beijing’s interests in Central Asia, Bruce Pannier writes. “China will continue to invest in Central Asia and extract valuable resources.”

“But Beijing will not be spending the amounts of money it did 10 and 20 years ago,” he writes. “And the bills for loans that Central Asian governments took from China during those years are coming due, leaving many of those countries hard-pressed to make payments.”

Seeking Security In Tajikistan

In Dushanbe, we met the Afghan athlete Freshta Hosseini and Sawsan Azizi, a recent Afghan law school graduate, to hear their stories of departure from Afghanistan. Both fled to Tajikistan to evade Taliban threats and forced marriage.

It was a close call. “They stabbed me several times and sent [death] shrouds to my home,” Hosseini told us about what prompted her to leave Afghanistan. “My name appeared on a hit list, they even fired at my car and rammed it.”

I hope you enjoyed this week’s newsletter, and I encourage you to forward it to colleagues who might find it useful.

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Abubakar Siddique
Twitter: @sid_abu

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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari- and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday, in our newsletter, Azadi Briefing, one of our journalists will share their analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

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