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[00:00:00] Yusuf: Welcome to geopolitical horizon. The podcast from the geopolity.com. On 15th of August it will be one year since the fall of the Kabul government and America’s departure from Afghanistan. We all remember the images from the airport. And for this, we will be publishing a deep dive of Afghanistan in the past year. We’ve got Adnan Khan, the founder of geopolity to give us some information on this and go through some of the points of the deep dive. How are you keeping it Adnan.
[00:00:41] Adnan: I’m good Yusuf, how are you?
[00:00:42] Yusuf: I’m good. Thank you. I’m good. Now a lot of people are still trying to figure out why america’s occupation failed in Afghanistan.
[00:00:51] Adnan: OK, fundamentally Yusuf, America’s occupation failed much down to the same reasons the occupation of Vietnam failed after so many years. They went to war with some very questionable objectives. Very quickly they got embroiled in a protracted war and rather than saying it’s not going as planned, they kept lying and saying things are going, really good. They’ve turned the corner, and then very quickly the objective changed from some tactical outcome to not losing became the objective. So rather than winning and winning is X, it literally came to the point where not losing was the objective they’re there for. So leaving Afghanistan would be embarrassing. It will impact America’s position. Therefore America has to stay the cause. So they lied about the capabilities of their regime they established, they lied about the Security Services that they poured loads of money into. They lied about women’s education and general stability in the country. And it just took 20 years for people to work out what was going on. So from that perspective, it was always gonna end in this type of failure. It was just a matter of how they were gonna depart and really it’s the same sorry story as Vietnam in the end.
[00:02:09] Yusuf: Now obviously now that Taliban are back in power and how, how have they got on since they’ve taken over? If we start off with their governance, how’s that been?
[00:02:19] Adnan: Okay. So just days after Afghanistan fell, I think literally a few days after the Taliban gave their first Press conference. So you had Zabihullah Mujahid, he made his first public appearance. He was known to be a Taliban official and he gave that famous Press conference where he spoke in English. And for the first time you actually saw the Taliban not on the battlefield but as politicians. And really the first year there’s been some successes, there’s been a lot of challenges and just, you know, to mention for this podcast, we did actually get in contact with the Afghan information Ministry, for this deep dive, we sent a number of questions to them and they kindly actually responded and actually provided quite a detailed response to a lot of the issues and questions revised. And a lot of what they’ve said, we’ve incorporated into the deep dive, which will be coming out on the 15 th August. So obviously the, probably the most famous thing that happened in the first year was their establishment of their government. There was a lot of claims when they took over the Taliban are back, they’re gonna oppress the people they’re gonna oppress the opposition. They’re gonna massacre, carry a blood bath on the opposition. And unless they created a broad government where they incorporated all the minorities. Nobody really gave them any hope. The odds were really against them, but the Taliban inherited a dysfunctional country from a two decade occupation. The government America established was non-existent for most people. It was corrupt. There was no rule of law, even though America’s pouring laws of money into it. So if you put everything aside, that Taliban started from a very weak position. They inherited lots of problems and we’re just looking at one year, one year really isn’t a long enough period to judge the performance of a government. If we were to do that to an American president, it will be unacceptable for anyone. However the ministry provided us with a lot of explanation of what the priorities were and what they tried to do. So we now have an interim government in place in Afghanistan. That’s what they called it. So unlike China, where the ruling political party is the government in this case, that’s not happening in Afghanistan. You’ve got the leader of Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada, he didn’t actually take up any official role in the government. He remains the Supreme leader of the movement, but what they established was an acting Prime Minister and two Deputy Prime ministers to him. And these were taken up by some of the founders of the Taliban. It includes Abdul Ghani Baradar who led the peace talks or what led to the peace talks in Qatar and then you had a 33 member cabinet. And what you find is this includes people that are on the American terrorist list. So you’ve got Sirajuddin Haqqani famous individual from the Haqqani network who are on America’s terrorist list. And interestingly, the Taliban actually retained most of the government employees that were there from the previous regime. So they say the Afghan ministry provided 440,000 personnel. That were there running the American lad government they’ve actually , maintained. So you’ve got a hybrid government now of new individuals from the Taliban and those from the old now that’s very unique because in Afghanistan, the opposition don’t work together. And that’s why historically the Northern Alliance have fought Taliban and the Taliban have actually fought them as well. Now there was speculation Taliban might reach out to former Afghan officials, such as Hamid Karzai that didn’t really transpire in the end, however, The government that Taliban established, it looks remarkably similar to the previous foreign back ed regime. There’s not been any explanation or outlining of their Emirate the Islamic principles they gonna be based upon the Islamic system of governance. What you see is an acting prime minister and two deputy prime ministers, which is very similar to what the previous was. And this actually led to some divisions in the Taliban. You’ve got those people who want to go back to the Taliban did in the 1990s, then you’ve got another faction that believes to get more international recognition we need to be a bit more savvy and we need to change. However, one thing that has definitely come across that across Afghanistan, the daily violence has completely gone. There used to be people dying every day because people were settling scores and there was no law and order that’s completely gone and in fact Taliban have a bit of history of this, the areas they rule in you’d get a level of stability because the are sincere, and they’re not there to make money or be corrupt. And this is actually what led to the Taliban to emerge in the 1990s and a similar things happened again here. So that’s really what they’ve done on the governance side for the first year. So obviously it’s still a long way to go and I’m sure we’ll touch on the other aspects aswell, so such as the economy and foreign policy,
[00:07:19] Yusuf: It’s interesting that you mentioned that the daily deaths have actually gone down because I know security was a major thing when the Taliban initially took over, especially with the minorities such as the, Shi’as and the Uzbeks and the Tajiks. Can you give us more information about that?
[00:07:38] Adnan: Effectively Afghanistan was a jungle and might was right. Despite the fact that America established a government and it said the government was doing a really, really good job. The reality was, as we know now, it was corrupt. It was ineffective because the money America was pouring in the government wasn’t utilizing it or using it for the betterment of the country. They were using it for themselves. Taliban there was a lot of western claims when the Taliban took over that the Taliban will carry out a blood bath, it will carry reprisals and there’s a bit of history here. Generally when a new regime emerges in Afghanistan, you see the targeting and the massacre of the previous regime. This happened when the Taliban took over this happened when the America put in Hamid Karzai and his government. So the previous government was from the Northern parts of Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance and the Taliban are from the south, they emerged from Kandahar. So they’re Pushtun largely was the Northern Afghans are a mixture of Tajik, Uzbek ethnicity. However the blood bath that the Western media were presenting. It didn’t actually happen in the end. In fact the Taliban came to power and they gave an amnesty to everyone that was part of the previous regime men or women. Now, this is very, very, very unique. You don’t get this in Afghanistan and this actually led to a high degree of stability. In fact many people have said in wide interviews, that they were more confident of sending their children to schools of letting their children go out because the Taliban have a history of protecting the highways, of protecting the key routes. This was something that was sorely lacking when the previous regime was in power because they would steal, they would bribe. There was literally no law and order. The only people that Taliban went after were the senior members of the Secret Service and some Commandos and that is actually because these people actually did carry out atrocities against Taliban. So even when the Northern Alliance took over in 2001, they actually put many Taliban officials in container ships, and they basically died because of the lack of oxygen. That’s the only area. The stability had been corroborated by many Western officials who went to Afghanistan over the years. And they went back after the Taliban took over last year. And they actually shared that it’s much more safer. There’s much less security, visible security on the streets because the violence has gone down. What they all said is the primary driver of the violence was the foreign occupation and the government that supported the occupation. Now the foreign occupation has gone because it’s been defeated. The primary reason for violence has also disappeared as well. And because the Taliban haven’t gone after and gave an amnesty to all the previous regime, you can see why the violence has actually gone down.
[00:10:29] Yusuf: Another thing that we see on Western media is the Afghan economy is in free fall and it’s on the verge of a humanitarian disaster. Is that right?
[00:10:38] Adnan: So like the rest of the problems Taliban faces, they inherited an economy that was really built upon a pack of cards. 80-90% of Afghanistan was run by American aid is run by foreign money and America was prepared to do this, because they wanted to create the image that they’ve done a successful nation building project. So when the Taliban took over America stopped providing that money and America even seized the central bank currency reserves that were sitting in America and subsequently Joe Biden has said half that money will be used now to pay the victims from 9/11, who have got a lawsuit against Afghanistan. So the Taliban have definitely inherited a mess. It’s been a big struggle. We asked the Afghan Ministry what was the plan of the regime and what have they been doing for a year? And they actually provided quite a detailed list. What they said is that, yes, we inherited a mess. And actually what made it worse was the fact that they were being sanctioned by America. And restrictions were being put on them that actually made it far worse. But the Taliban again were already starting from a very, very weak position. So what the Taliban have done according to the information ministry is they’ve got some of the mines working again. They’ve tried to get some of the previous deals that didn’t go any where with the Central Asian countries to get some of the pipelines working and some of the resources working again, what they’ve also tried to do, and probably the biggest challenge they’ve got is food. So aid agencies have actually been allowed to go into Afghanistan and actually provide food. Obviously most of Afghanistan, 75% of Afghanistan is rural, only about 25% is urban areas. So majority of people live in rural areas, so they live on subsistence farming anyway, and for them, the previous regime never really provided for them anyway. So in that sense that the Taliban doesn’t need to really worry too much about feeding its population because most people live on subsistence farming anyway, they live in rural Afghanistan, but the trouble they’re gonna have really is in the longterm of becoming self sufficient. So Afghanistan does have some resources. Donald Trump used to always talk about the trillion dollar reserves Afghanistan has got, they’ve been talking to everyone, the Chinese, the Iranian, the Russians to get these projects, working again. So in the first year, the Taliban have just tried to maintain semblance of order. However, significant economic challenges do remain in the medium to long run.
[00:13:03] Yusuf: The Taliban announced in July that they would not be opening girls’ secondary schools after saying for several months that they would. Now, this is a big claim against the Taliban, a lot of people are saying that they are against women and they want to keep them as second class citizens. But it seems that the decision it’s caused wedge between the Taliban as well. How do you see that.
[00:13:25] Adnan: So the number one claim of the Taliban took over was, women’s rights is gonna go in reverse. Children’s rights are gonna go in reverse. Only the west and the Western back government actually gave women any rights as well. So this claim has continued as things have gone on and yes, the Taliban did do a U-turn. They said from the beginning, in fact, the first press conference, they said, once they’ve got their feet under the table, they want to reopen the education sector. They want everyone to go to school, men and women. So this was a pledge they made and the west constantly called them out on that pledge. When are you gonna start this? When is this gonna start to the point where you’ve got a country that’s been at war for four or five decades. I mean, education’s probably a more longer term priority than an immediate priority. Immediate you’d think it’s security, and economy. However, the picture behind this was a bit more complex not as black and white as they’ve got a issue with women. So the problem that Taliban has had is the Taliban is not one monolithic movement. Although the west likes to proclaim that Taliban is a movement and all on the same page. That’s actually not the case. What you find is since the Taliban have come to power, there’s actually been divisions on a couple of things. Firstly, the first division within the Taliban is, well actually firstly, in Kandahar, you’ve got the Supreme leader of the Taliban and that the government of Afghanistan that’s run by Taliban members from kabul. So Mullah Baradar and his deputy ministers. These are the government that operate, but the Supreme leader, he is based in Kandahar and he maintains his relations with all the different tribes and the different families. Now what’s happened is a number of areas of divisions that have occurred. Firstly, many Taliban officials feel, they don’t seem to be much difference between the government they’ve got and the previous government, the previous government, they fought and they feel we’ve just established a government. That’s completely like the previous government, like what’s different, we’re supposed to be an Islamic government. So you’ve got those people. Then you’ve got the other faction that believe that look to get international recognition. We need to be different to the way we were in the 1990s, we lost the goodwill of the people. Because we were really, really harsh and we’ve learned our lessons. And this is leading to quite a bit of tension actually between these factions. So in a famous Jirga, gathering the Supreme leader, Akunzadh, he was meeting a number of tribes and one of the tribes said to him that we fought for decades against foreign occupation. And it’s the one thing you’re gonna do yet. Don’t open secondary schools. And that seems to have led to the decision by Taliban leader to announce that secondary schools weren’t gonna open and what they shows you is a couple of things. Firstly, the tribes are not actually against women’s education. The Madressa system has historically been the Afghan system of education. The Western school system is about a hundred years old in Afghanistan, and that’s seen as a westernization attempt of the country. So when they’re stand against women’s education, they’re standing against Western schooling which they see as westernization. But what this shows you is the Taliban have domestic audiences whose needs they have to meet that’s their support base. And that’s why you find when this announcement was made the Kabul government was shocked. And even some of them spoke against it. They said we made promises to the international community , how we turning back on it. So what it shows you is Taliban unity and actually maintaining the support of the Afghan tribes. This is more important than millions of girls whether they should go to school or not. However Yusuf the World Bnak actually published a report on Afghanistan in may, where they looked at security and education, and they made some very interesting observations. According to them, there are now more girls in education than there was last year under the previous region. So overall more girls are going to schools now than there was before. So obviously you’ve got primary schools, secondary schools are not open. And then you’ve got the colleges. More people are going to schools today under Taliban rule then there were previously overall. And the reason why is, is that the people at Afghanistan trust Taliban, they honor women. They protect women. They don’t abuse them. So people are confident to send their children, their females to actual school. That wasn’t the case previously. The previous government was corrupt. Their officials were corrupt. Everyone was a law onto themselves. So what that shows you Yusuf is it’s a bit more complex, this picture. It’s not as black and white as people are making out, they hate women. They’re gonna oppress women and that’s what’s going on there. If anything, when we ask the information ministry regarding this. They actually said to us that one of the reasons they did a U-turn on this was that if they are gonna open secondary schools, they need to be able to protect the women. So that means they need coaches. That means they need Islamic school uniforms. That means they need to protect the routes and they can’t do that at the moment because a lot of their money’s been frozen by foreign countries. So that was their explanation on this. So yeah, overall women, and education’s its a more complex picture than it’s made out to be.
[00:18:28] Yusuf: Now, how have the Taliban been in terms of their relationships with other countries? Particularly America, because obviously we had the assassination of Al-Qaeda leader and basically America’s just stepped all over Afghan sovereignty. What do you make of.
[00:18:47] Adnan: Okay. So the Taliban, since they’ve come to power, they’ve been trying to talk to everybody. So Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the central Asia nations. They’re trying to show, we are not the secretive or isolation Taliban in the 1990s where a new Taliban. 2.0, and they wanna talk to everyone. Their view on America’s quite interesting. So the Ministry told us that what’s happened is they for a decade, they were talking to America. Negotiations were going on. A peace deal was agreed. Now, a lot of that peace deal we don’t know the details, we know the main detail from the peace still is America will withdraw by a certain date. And so long as Afghanistan is not used by international terrorists. America will leave. Now, eventually America did leave despite an extension to the deadline. The other details we don’t know, but one thing the Ministry did tell us was America since they took over America’s placed sanctions on them. America’s put restrictions on them. And America’s gone back on a number of the agreements they actually made. And they’re considering breaking some of the agreements they’ve even got with America as well. So what it seems to be is America is trying to isolate Taliban despite talking to them for 10 years. And as a result of isolating them, they’re hoping that they will give concessions. They will agree to some of the terms America. Now for America, Afghanistan has always been about Central Asia. It’s always been about access to Central Asia. This was an area that was under the Soviet union in 1991. When the Soviet union collapsed all this energy now had to get to the markets. So the American plan, all along was that it would use Afghanistan as a farward base to effectively shift Central Asia away from Russia and link it to the international market. So linking it to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, that’s always been the American strategy. So America it seems, it feels by isolating the Taliban. That’s how they’ll get these concessions. So the relationship America’s quiet sour at the moment with the other countries, what you find is there’s a lot of positive talk and there’s been some developments. So in the case of Pakistan, obviously Pakistan played a big role in getting the Taliban back into power, but Pakistan and Taliban they have a, it’s a more complex relationship and that’s because Pakistan’s military and ISI, they don’t control the whole of the Talian. Taliban is a its a wide group. It’s not a monolithic group. You’ve got various faction, very shura and Pakistan has influence over a couple of these Shuras who sit on the Taliban leadership. They don’t control all the Shuras. So for example, Mulla Omar’s son Mullah Yaqoob he is, he’s got a prominent position in government, but he’s actually been quite anti Pakistan. And that border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Durand line that’s always been a contentious issue. As far as the Afghans are concerned, including the Taliban, that border doesn’t exist. It should be further in Pakistan. So Afghanistan should be a much bigger country. And as a result, this Pakistan in nationalism comes about. However, it was the Pakistan military and the ISI that got the Taliban to the negotiating table and they were the ones that focred through the peace deal in the end.
So that’s Pakistan, India completely lost out. India backed the Northern Alliance government. The previous American supported, government, after they completely lost out when Kabul fell. So only last month did an official from India go and visit Afghanistan because they realise now. If they don’t get involved in Afghanistan, Pakistan will basically get the whole of the country and use that potentially against India. India has always wanted to get involved in Afghan affairs because it’s the backyard of Pakistan.
Russia has been talking to the Taliban was talking to Taliban even before they came to power, despite the Taliban and the Muahideen fighting the Soviet Union in the 1980s, what Russia realised is the Taliban will be back in power one day. So you need to talk to them. So they’ve been talking to them and obviously Afghanistan is linked to Central Asia. So what happens in Afghanistan will fall out there as all. So they’ve been talking to each other, there’s been no major announcements of any deals, but the fact that there were enemies in the past, that’s been put to the past.
Iran obviously has influence in Afghanistan in the north and the west of Afghanistan. And its been talking about having positive relations and it likes to criticize America. You’ve been defeated and you’ve gone, but Iran obviously wants the Hazara Shi’ah treated well and that’s as far as the issues got at the moment in the first year.
So I think that just leaves a Central Asian nations. So you’ve got Turkmenistan. Uzbekistan and Tajikstan. They have a border with Afghanistan. So Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan they recognised the Taliban government. They’ve been having talks. The Uzbek foreign minister actually probably the highest rank official visited the Taliban at Kabul. And they actually agree to debt payoff. I think that Taliban the previous Afghan government actually owed some money, to Uzbekistan .And that was agreed and it’s been settled. Turkmenistan will be the route for the old pipeline and that’s in negotiations again. The only country that doesn’t recognise the Taliban is Tajikistan. So they’ve actually been quite anti Taliban they’ve actually been against the fact that they’re come to power. They actually even refused to accept the Taliban as the legitimate government. And a lot of this really has to do with the historical struggles Tajikistan had with militancy, which come from Afghanistan as well. Also one of the largest ethnicities after the Pashtuns is the Tajiks, so the Northern Alliance are largely consists of Tajiks. So Ahmed Shah Masoud than these guys, they fought the Taliban historically, and they got support from Tajikistan. So it’s only natural Tajikistan would be against this. And the rumour is the opposition to Taliban they all got asylum in Tajikistan as well.
So overall, I would say the Taliban are talking to everyone and they are trying to move forward, which obviously a massive departure from the 1990s where they didn’t really talk to anybody. They were quite isolationist they’ve tried to change that. However, you know, it’s one year not much happens in one year, but they’re trying to talk to China as well. And in fact Mullah Umar actually said that China is probably gonna be our most important partner. There’s no belt and road initiative project going through Taliban. The Taliban would probably want to change that. China actually did have two agreements with the previous government on one was a copper mine, and one was another large mine. And because of the security situation, they weren’t able to do anything. So the Taliban want to start talks regarding that as well. So that’s the foreign policy positions of the Taliban regime.
[00:25:10] Yusuf: Thanks for your time today, Adnan you gave, a very interesting insight. I’m really looking forward to your deep dive. The deep dive will be published on Monday the 15th of August exactly one year anniversary. If you want to learn more about the issues raised today you can check out our website, www.thegeopolity.com. And you can also learn more about other issues by accessing our website, where you find comprehensive insights, analysis, articles and obviously the deep dive to come out. Thank you for listening.