Over the past year and a half, the Taliban has taken the international community and the Afghan population on a wild ride. The Taliban government has consistently backtracked on promises and stripped citizens of more and more rights. Education for girls and women has been gradually restricted, employment for women has been limited, freedom of expression has been violated, dissidents have been detained and tortured, and the intelligence directorate has only grown in strength.
While the socioeconomic failures and rights violations by the Taliban have attracted the most international attention, there is another issue that is quite important in which the Taliban has also failed to make any progress: national dialogue and the formation of an inclusive government.
To be inclusive in government is a big ask from an Islamist group that has come to power on the heels of a total military victory. And it is hardly surprising that after the initial conversations with some political groups, the Taliban announced a cabinet excluding all of them.
Since then, there has been little willingness from the Taliban to have any meaningful formal dialogue with other Afghans regarding governing the country. And yet, much of the international community has made inclusivity a condition for the normalization of relations and recognition of the government.
What is more, a national dialogue will have to take place when the Taliban decides to finally sit down and draft a new constitution. Currently, the country does not have a constitution because the one adopted in 2004, under which the previous regime operated, was suspended after the Taliban takeover. For the constitution-writing process to be legitimate, it would require the inclusion of other political actors.
That said, ongoing efforts from some quarters to push for such a national dialogue by imposing certain individuals or groups on the Taliban to negotiate with have been counterproductive, to say the least.
There have been plenty of bad ideas from the West about who the Taliban should talk to. There have been meetings between Western officials and exiled Afghan warlords in an effort to breathe relevance into them. There has been Western backing for groups like the National Resistance Front, headed by Ahmad Massoud, the son of a late anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban military leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud. His group recently organized a conference in Tajikistan, attended by Western diplomats.
Other prominent Afghans associated with the Afghan Republic have also been busy forming political parties and associations, hoping to attract Western support and eventually a seat at the negotiating table. Among them are Rahmatullah Nabil, former chief of the National Directorate of Security, Hanif Atmar, an ex-foreign minister, and a few failed warlords. Most of these “new” political parties and other groupings of Afghans are a mere repackaging of old figures that were central to the failure of the past 20 years.
If the main reason to demand inclusivity is to achieve better representation of the interests of the Afghan population in government, then these individuals and groups are the obviously wrong answer.
A quick glance at Afghanistan’s history over the past 40 years would show how most of those standing in line for an invitation to the national dialogue do not represent the Afghan population. Their participation in coups, the civil war and the failed and corrupt democratic system discredits them.
Even the leaders and parties of the Afghan fight against the Soviets, such as Hezbi Islami, Jamiat Islami, and others, who used to enjoy the support of a large portion of the population, have now lost their legitimacy.
Most of these individuals were eventually given immunity for their past crimes and were given a fresh start at the 2001 Bonn conference where Afghanistan’s post-Taliban government was arranged. In the following 20 years, they joined others in forming a kleptocratic elite and gaining positions of power through electoral fraud. The result was an unstable, inefficient regime which collapsed like a house of cards in the face of the Taliban surge.
One of the blessings of the Taliban takeover was the expulsion of these corrupt politicians and warlords. There is little wisdom in politically resuscitating groups and individuals that have been rejected by the nation and are meeting their natural political deaths.
The international community’s obsession with including those who have never done right by the country distracts us from the very few who did an honorable job inside the country. There are individuals such as former MP Ramazan Bashardost, former MP Syed Selab, and Chief Executive of the National Development State Owned Corporation Abdur Rehman Attash, who did not flee the country after the fall of Kabul and continue to serve the country through their public commentary, aid work, and governmental positions respectively.
The international community also seems to be ignoring the fact that Afghanistan has all the potential to grow a native, grassroots opposition led by the young generation. Many young people and members of civil society have decided to stay behind and work hard to make a difference. Their efforts should be recognized, and they should be given space for growth and development. They are now laying the foundations of forces that the Taliban will eventually have to recognize and engage with.
Until then, the best thing the international community – and the West specifically – can do for the Afghan people is to stop trying to impose on the Taliban unworthy partners in the national dialogue.
It should press the Taliban to agree to a national dialogue in principle and let it choose who it will talk to and include in the government. Loose conditions of ethnic and gender inclusion should be made which the Taliban should meet of its own accord. Those that are chosen to be included are unlikely to be given meaningful roles anyways.
It is better to have a national dialogue led by the Taliban with little progress than one with bad apples from the past imposed on it. The latter would just plunge the country back into bottomless corruption, but this time without any international oversight. At the same time, allowing the Taliban to lead the process will give time for an organic opposition to take root in the country so that a true national dialogue can eventually be held and legitimate political processes established in Afghanistan.