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The Taliban scrapped reforms a year after seizing power

#Taliban #scrapped #reforms #year #seizing #power

A year after the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan, rifts are opening in their ranks over the crucial question of how much reform their leaders can handle.

The Islamists, notorious for their brutal crackdown on rights and freedoms during their first reign, have vowed to govern differently this time.

On the surface, at least, they appear to have changed in some respects.

Officials in Kabul have embraced technology as cricket matches are cheered in packed stadiums.

Televisions were banned under the first incarnation of the Taliban government, while Afghans now have access to the internet and social media.

Girls are allowed to go to primary school, journalists interview government officials – unthinkable when the Taliban first took power in the 1990s.

The group’s uncompromising core, made up of battle-hardened combat veterans, opposes any significant ideological shift that could be seen as a sign of surrender to their enemies in the West.

“They have one (Taliban) camp that pushes what they see as reforms and another camp that seems to think even these meager reforms are too much,” said Ibraheem Bahiss, an Afghanistan analyst with the International Crisis Group .

The United States and its allies – who had funded Afghanistan for 20 years – have locked the country out of the global banking system and billions in frozen assets abroad while awaiting Taliban reforms.

With no significant progress, it is the Afghan people who are suffering from a massive economic crisis that has left some families to choose between selling their organs or their young daughters.

– “Retrogressive Dogmatic Views” –

As for the Taliban’s ability to reform at all, analysts fear recent policy changes mean little more than “tokenism.”

“There are a few instances where we could point to a development in policy, but let’s be very clear… We’re still dealing with an organization that refuses to go beyond very retrograde, dogmatic views,” said Michael Kugelman, an Afghan specialist at the Washington-based think tank Wilson Center.

Most secondary schools for girls remain closed. Many women have been pushed out of government jobs, while many fear venturing out and being punished by the Taliban.

Simple pleasures like music, shisha and card games are tightly controlled in the most conservative areas, while protests are crushed and journalists are routinely threatened or arrested.

Western calls for an inclusive government have been ignored, and the killing of the al-Qaeda leader in Kabul last week underscored the Taliban’s continued ties to jihadist groups.

– Reform as surrender –

From the Taliban power base in southern Kandahar, the mysterious Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada rallies his powerful inner circle of veteran combatants and religious cleric to impose a harsh interpretation of Sharia.

And for them, ideological concerns outweigh any political or economic reasons to bring about change.

“The needs of Afghans are the same as they were 20 years ago,” Mohammad Omar Khitabi, a member of a council of clerics advising Akhundzada in Kandahar, told AFP.

His thoughts are echoed by Kandahar’s Vice and Virtue Director, Abdul Rahman Tayabi, another of the supreme leader’s close associates.

“Our people don’t have too many demands like people in other countries might have,” he told AFP.

Afghan families were stunned in March when Akhundzada overturned the Education Ministry’s decision to reopen secondary schools for girls.

Some analysts believe he was uncomfortable with what could be seen by hardliners as an act of surrender to the West over girls’ rights.

Hopes of restoring the international flow of money were dashed – to the dismay of many Taliban officials in Kabul, some of whom spoke out against the decision.

Relations with Western diplomats – who meet regularly with Taliban ministers but have no access to Akhundzada – suffered a severe setback.

A series of policies dating back to the Taliban’s initial rule quickly followed.

“The decisions[Akhundzada]has made so far are all based on the opinions of religious scholars,” said Abdul Hadi Hammad, the head of a madrasa and a member of the supreme leader’s advisory board.

Akhundzada has emphasized the need for unity in the movement while carefully trying to balance multiple factions – including competing groups claiming the honors for the 2021 victory over US-led forces.

While Akhundzada advisers claim the Taliban can survive without foreign revenue, unlocking billions of dollars in frozen assets abroad would be a crucial lifeline.

“We know the Taliban can be transactional, but they can’t appear that way,” a Western diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

– Economic Pressure –

No one within the movement dares openly challenge Akhundzada’s power, but dissatisfaction quietly grows among the lower echelons.

“Taliban guards are getting their salaries late and their salaries are low too. They are unhappy,” said a mid-level Taliban official based in north-west Pakistan, who asked not to be named.

Many have returned to their villages or traveled to Pakistan to find other jobs, another Taliban member added.

Attempts by the movement to shore up revenues from lucrative coal mining have led to power struggles in the north, exacerbated by ethnic divisions and religious sectarianism.

With winter just months away, food security and sub-zero temperatures will put even more pressure on leaders in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Those rising tensions have the potential to worsen the splits, Kugelman said, although likely not enough to force a dramatic change in course.

“If the Taliban leadership begins to feel very real threats, could they change?” he asked.

“Since they are ideologically oriented, that may not be the case.”


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