What could an Afghan government under the Taliban look like?
The decision to hand over power in Afghanistan was made without bloodshed. President Ashraf Ghani resigned from the presidency on the morning of August 15 after a 45-minute meeting with Taliban leaders.
Just as the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan 20 years later with this resignation, there has been speculation since the beginning of the coup that another Ghani, who led the Taliban to take over, would replace Ashraf Ghani as the next head of government in Afghanistan.
No matter what kind of government is formed in Afghanistan, many political experts believe that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the de facto leader of the Taliban, is going to be the next chief executive of the Afghan government.
The writing was on the wall
According to Middle East-based Arab News, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar arrived at the president’s residence on Sunday morning, August 15, for talks with Ashraf Ghani and US diplomats. However, the fall of Kabul had been in the works since the Taliban took control of Mazar-e-Sharif in the north on Saturday night, August 14.
And then they started entering the capital Kabul in groups. However, they had to stop at the entrance of Kabul on the instructions of Abdul Ghani or the party leadership. They then demanded a direct compromise with Ashraf Ghani and US diplomats. Abdul Ghani said they did not want to occupy Kabul by force. They wanted a peaceful transfer of power.
As a result, Ashraf Ghani first sat in an emergency meeting with US diplomats and Nato representatives. Ashraf then invited the Taliban leadership to a meeting at his presidential palace. There, Ashraf Ghani decided to hand over power to them and there was a discussion about who could be the president of the Taliban interim government. The first person whose name came up was Abdul Ghani.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was one of the leaders of the Taliban movement in 1994. After the US occupied Afghanistan in 2001, Abdul Ghani was in the driver’s seat of the anti-American jihad that began. He was also captured in Karachi in 2010 during a joint US-Pakistani operation. He had not been seen in public since then.
But Abdul Ghani’s name rose to prominence in the Afghan government’s 2012 release of Taliban prisoners. Abdul Ghani was released by Pakistan on September 21 of that year, although the Taliban acknowledged it in 2018. From then on, the then Afghan government took the initiative to start peace talks with him. The US claims that Pakistan released Abdul Ghani at their request.
Abdul Ghani was the second in command among the top leaders of the Taliban’s religious department when he was arrested in Pakistan. He was known to be close and loyal to former Taliban chief Mullah Muhammed Omar and even married his sister.
Hence, the Afghan government was hopeful that a compromise with Abdul Ghani, and a withdrawal of US and Nato forces from Afghanistan, would help stabilize the country.
Ghani himself repeatedly expressed interest in talks with the United States and the Afghan government. After his release from Pakistan, Abdul Ghani first took charge of the Taliban’s diplomatic office in Doha, Qatar and thus used his diplomatic skills in this regard.
Driving out the US
But Abdul Ghani’s goal had been to drive the United States out of the country since his name appeared on the UN’s list of banned militants. In a statement issued at the time, Abdul Ghani said the United States would suffer heavy losses in Afghanistan. And the Taliban would ensure that it happens. Abdul Ghani also said that the jihad would continue until the United States was ousted from Afghanistan.
Abdul Ghani continues to maintain relations not only with the United States but also with neighbouring India, China, and Pakistan. Ghani met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in July, when India was somewhat cornered over Afghanistan. At the end of the interview, Wang said: As a neighbour, China respects Afghanistan’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity. Interference from outside Afghanistan is not desirable. The Afghans think of China as a friend. The only right over Afghanistan belongs to the people of that country. So they will decide the future of Afghanistan. The hasty withdrawal of US and Nato troops proves their failure. Their departure has created a golden opportunity to restore stability and peace.”
Some diplomats believe that the Taliban co-founder took over Afghanistan shortly after the Chinese foreign minister’s remarks. As a result, all speculations of the last 20 years have come to an end under Abdul Ghani’s leadership with him recapturing Kabul on August 15 and paving the way for the Taliban to return to power.
Discussions on forming a government have begun. Mohammad Naeem, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, told Qatar-based Al Jazeera that the Taliban was ready to hold talks with all political leaders in Afghanistan. The Taliban will also provide the necessary protection for Afghan political leaders.
He said the Taliban did not want to be isolated. They wanted peaceful relations with the international community. Mohammad Naeem said the issue of governance and government formation in Afghanistan would be clarified soon. The Taliban spokesman further added that they respect the rights of women and minorities under Sharia law. The same is true of the right to freedom of expression.
So it is clear that the Taliban are talking about a new kind of government, whatever the reality.
The transfer of power
Just before the Taliban took control of Kabul, Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal, Afghanistan’s acting minister of state, said they wanted to hand over power. Ashraf Ghani’s resignation was the first step towards a peaceful transfer of power.
The president agreed at the palace to hand over power initially to an interim government in peace talks with the Taliban. A number of Western media outlets have even hinted that Ali Ahmad Jalali, a former Afghan minister of state who teaches in the United States, could be seen as the head of that interim government.
But Reuters quoted Taliban officials as saying after the news of President Ashraf Ghani’s swift departure that there would be no interim government in Afghanistan. The Taliban would take power directly in Afghanistan.
Ashraf Ghani himself confirmed the truth of his sad departure. He said in one of his Facebook posts at night on August 15 that he left Kabul to avoid clashes because millions of people were at risk there.
Thus, according to previous discussions, the issue of forming an interim government was not moving forward.
As the Taliban take power directly or form a government, Abdul Ghani will be the next head of the government of Afghanistan.
The removal of Ashraf Ghani and the appointment of Abdul Ghani as head of government will largely depend on Mullah Mohammad Yaqub, who is in charge of the Taliban’s military operations and is the son of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the founder of the Taliban.
Although his name was proposed as the next leader of the party after the death of top Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, he proposed Haibatullah Akhunzada’s name in 2016 instead of his own.
At a meeting to select Mansour’s successor, Yaqub withdrew, citing his limited military experience and young age. Therefore, we will have to wait a few more days to find out who Yaqub will support this time as president.
Fazlul Halim Rana is Associate Professor and chair, Department of International Relations, Jahangirnagar University. Email [email protected]