As the world grapples with the sudden regime change in Afghanistan, it is important to reflect on what led to this point. So far, analyzes have focused on the corruption and weakness of the Afghan state established after the invasion of the country by the United States and NATO in 2001 and the disarray of the Afghan armed forces.
But it’s important to consider another side of the story: the Taliban’s refusal to negotiate with the Afghan government, which it considered illegitimate, and its determination to destroy it. Why was the group so relentless about it?
Much of this has to do with decisions made primarily by invading Western forces and their Afghan allies in the 2000s to exclude the Taliban from the nation-building experiment they launched.
In December 2001, a few weeks after Western forces and their Afghan allies captured Kabul from the Taliban, a conference was held in Bonn, Germany, to establish the new Afghan government. Participants included the Northern Alliance, which fought alongside the Western allies, the Peshawar group of Afghan Pashtuns exiled in Pakistan, the group of royalists in Rome and the Cypriot group of Afghans with ties to Iran.
The Taliban, however, were not invited and decisions regarding the early stages of Afghan state-building were made without it.
Then in 2002, an emergency Loya Jirga (Grand National Assembly) was convened, where a transitional government headed by Hamid Karzai was elected. The Taliban were once again not invited.
In 2003, a constitutional commission was set up to initiate the constitution-drafting process, including public consultations, but again the Taliban were excluded from these proceedings. The constitution was adopted by a Loya Jirga in 2004, with its provisions guaranteeing the fundamental rights and freedoms of women, reflecting democratic principles and expressing the new government’s commitment to the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. ‘man.
The consequences of excluding the Taliban from the post-2001 power deal have been significant. The Taliban could neither tolerate this marginalization of social and political decision-making in Kabul, nor reconcile their harsh ideology with constitutional rights and freedoms.
Feeling sidelined nationally and internationally, the Taliban regrouped and relaunched offensive attacks against the Afghan government and its Western allies. Over the following years, the Taliban inflicted heavy casualties and unnecessary pain and suffering on the Afghan people. He has shown no sign of moderating his intransigent stance on religion.
One could argue that the inclusion of the Taliban in the Bonn conference would have been problematic and that the Northern Alliance would have sought to block it, while the families of the victims of the Taliban would have protested.
The presence of the Taliban in the Loya Jirga deliberating on the constitution could also have been an obstacle to the approval of provisions granting women their rights and freedoms and protecting human rights in general.
Nonetheless, it is possible that the inclusion of the Taliban in the administration of 2001 in one form or another would have been viable and would have had a positive impact. The United States and its NATO allies could have pressured the Northern Alliance to accept it, conditioning their financial support on the establishment of an inclusive government – as they are currently doing with the Taliban.
The Taliban could also have been consulted in the constitution-drafting process. In fact, their representatives would not have really stood out in the Loya Jirga which adopted the constitution since there were a number of conservative and religious figures including Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, Burhanuddin Rabbani and Skeikh Asif Mohsini present, who were also insisting on their conservative interpretations of Islamic law.
In their defeat, the Taliban leadership may have been more likely to be flexible on certain issues and more likely to engage in dialogue to resolve disagreements. The whole process of inclusion may have moderated their religious and political views and made their stance less strict. It may also have reflected their supporters among the Afghan people, who would not have felt so excluded and marginalized by the new Afghan administration.
Some officials have already expressed regret at not including the Taliban in the political transition in Afghanistan. As Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States’ special envoy for Afghanistan, wrote in his book The Envoy: “The delegates represented the diversity of Afghanistan, but the Taliban were not present. In retrospect, some have suggested that we made a mistake in not encouraging the Taliban to participate in the emergency Loya Jirga. “
Unfortunately, no serious effort was made to reach out to the Taliban until it was too late. Having achieved spectacular territorial gains over the past five years, the Taliban negotiated from a position of strength, not weakness, in the US-Taliban and intra-Afghan talks, and their leadership was therefore much more intransigent.
After returning triumphantly to Kabul 20 years after being expelled by a foreign force, the Taliban are now moving closer to other factions from positions of power. One of the Taliban’s main negotiators is Anas Haqqani, a leader of the Haqqani network, who is still on the US list of terrorist groups. Haqqani is a tough figure and is unlikely to compromise on applying a conservative interpretation of Islamic law.
In addition to the extremists in the leadership, who are pushing for Islamic law, the group’s base, as well as supporters among the civilian population, also expect a conservative religious regime to be put in place. Failure to do so would risk alienating many of these people, which the Taliban leadership could not afford to do in the early days of their government in Afghanistan.
The only course of action left for the United States and its Western allies is to try to pressure the Taliban by denying international recognition or financial aid. It remains to be seen how successful that would be. However, it is clear for now that the rights of women and minorities as well as democratic principles will suffer a setback in Afghanistan.
The Afghans have paid a heavy price for miscalculations and the failure of the policies pursued by Kabul and Washington over the past two decades. This is the sad result of the exclusion of the Taliban from the post-2001 administration.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.