The Western approach to Afghanistan should pivot towards embracing dialogue, diplomacy, and economic integration Image Credit: Reuters

Two years have passed since the Taliban regained control over Afghanistan following the chaotic withdrawal of US-led Nato forces. During this period, the group has established itself as the dominant ruling power in Afghanistan.

They have maintained unity by adhering to their strong leader Hibatullah Akhundzada and have managed to sustain the economy by engaging in investment talks with neighbouring nations. Additionally, they have taken measures to enhance domestic security by suppressing groups like Daesh and successfully fighting opium production.

In the last two years, internal security has improved in Afghanistan, and the number of violent deaths has drastically decreased. According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, Afghanistan witnessed the bloodiest conflict in the world between 2018 and 2021.

However, violence in the country decreased rapidly in 2022, and for the first time since 2004, the armed struggle to capture power in Kabul did not qualify to be considered as a war. Opium cultivation has reduced significantly under Taliban rule.

Read more

Reminiscent of earlier rule

This reduction in poppy cultivation has come after a decree issued by the Taliban chief in April 2022, strictly prohibiting all aspects of illicit drug activities in the country. The ban allowed Taliban units to eliminate poppy farming, which had been a major global producer of opium.

Corruption in the country has also decreased, as suggested by many reports. Even in Transparency International’s ranking, Afghanistan jumped 24 places upward in 2022 compared to 2021.

However, these successes have been overshadowed by the gender apartheid policy pursued by the Taliban. They have imposed extensive restrictions on Afghan girls and women, encompassing various aspects of public life, such as access to parks, gyms, beauty salons, universities, jobs, and participation in non-governmental organisations and multilateral institutions.

These bans are justified by the Taliban and are reminiscent of their rule in the late 1990s when they initially came to power.

Copy of Afghanistan_Protest_Education_96226--d35e0-1671753351575
Afghan women participate in a protest against the university education ban for women, in Kabul, Afghanistan last year (File)

Inefficiencies in agricultural projects

These medieval-era restrictions on women have drawn condemnation from the West, human rights organisations, and global bodies. The United Nations has labelled these bans as a significant barrier to the Taliban’s recognition as Afghanistan’s legitimate government, leading to a reduction in Western aid and support.

The consequences have had a severe impact on Afghanistan’s population. Around 80 per cent of the previous government’s budget depended on Western aid, which has now been largely cut off. As a result, essential services such as health care, education, and infrastructure development have been compromised.

Afghanistan is facing a serious food crisis, and as the UN food agency recently warned, nearly 6 million Afghans are in dire need of food aid. However, the food crisis in the country is not the Taliban’s making. The two decades of US presence in Afghanistan did not prioritise agricultural growth.

Agriculture is a critical aspect of Afghanistan’s economy; however, there was underinvestment compared to military and infrastructure spending. Insufficient focus on staple crops like wheat, along with conflict-related challenges, contributed to chronic hunger. Inefficiencies in agricultural projects were exacerbated by corruption and a lack of coordination between donors and the US-backed government.

Despite these challenges, the Taliban government is trying to prioritise agriculture and irrigation projects in the country while keeping Afghans out of poppy cultivation. The Afghan currency, the afghani, gained value against major currencies, and basic items remain available in the country.

The Taliban declared the war in Afghanistan was over after insurgents took control of the presidential palace in Kabul as US-led forces departed and Western nations scrambled to evacuate their citizens in August 2021

Taliban’s willingness to engage

As for opposition, there is currently no armed or political group with the capability to challenge the Taliban’s hold on power. They have engaged in discussions with neighbouring countries, such as China and Kazakhstan, in an effort to seek investment and alleviate the country’s suffering.

The appointment of Maulvi Abdul Kabir as the new caretaker prime minister of Afghanistan by the Taliban in May 2023, replacing Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund, possibly signals their willingness to engage in dialogue and openness. Kabir’s appointment is seen as a positive move, indicating a potential shift in the Taliban’s policies.

The timing of this leadership change is significant considering increasing open competition at the global power table; thus, the West should not overlook the opportunity it presents. Previous instances of the Taliban’s willingness to engage were missed by foreign leaders, and they should not repeat this mistake now.

Resistance to engage with Taliban-led Afghanistan reflects lack of a better understanding of Afghan culture. In the past, the Soviet Union attempted to create a secular society by force, and the West wanted to impose a liberal democracy without accounting for Afghan societies’ realities.

War, occupation, and sanctions cannot bring about political and social change in Afghanistan. Instead, the West should adopt an approach of dialogue, diplomacy, and economic integration.