On September 6, the Taliban claimed that it had taken control of the Panjshir Valley. Since August 16, this enclave located north of Kabul had been the National Resistance Front (NRF)’s last holdout. The Taliban’s chief spokesman declared that “our country is completely taken out of the quagmire of war” and he warned against any further uprisings against the Taliban.
However, the anti-Taliban resistance has made no concessions. The NRF is still in control of some side valleys in Panjshir despite having suffered a major defeat when the Taliban took over the center of the region in north-central Afghanistan.
We must consider that the Taliban’s success in recently taking control of Panjshir Valley does not necessarily mean the new Kabul regime can consolidate its power in the enclave. The possibility of the Taliban having to fight an anti-Taliban battle can’t be dismissed. In fact, voices such as the UN Secretary-General are expressing serious concerns about Afghanistan falling into civil war. “In this environment, the resistance will continue, and it might turn into an insurgency,” Dr. Andreas Krieg, an Associate Professor at King's College London, told Al Arabiya.
The Taliban’s lack of inclusivity will be a driver of conflict and instability. “The exclusion of non-Pashtuns such as Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks threatens the stability of the state,” said Dr. Samuel Ramani, a doctoral researcher at Oxford University. “…[Panjshiri leader Ahmad Shah] Massoud and [former Afghan Vice President Amrullah] Saleh are not going away anytime soon and will remain a thorn in the side of the Taliban, regardless of whether they stay in Panjshir or are exiled to Tajikistan in the future.”
An important point to consider is the level of support the NRF will receive from foreign sources. For now, it has garnered little international backing. “Tajikistan is allegedly helping [NRF] and some Republicans in the US Congress, such as Lindsey Graham and Mike Waltz, are sending signals of support,” explained Dr. Ramani. “But the Biden administration remains unwilling to diplomatically recognize Saleh as president or provide military aid to the Panjshir rebels, so US assistance is unlikely. Massoud's outreaches to France and Russia have not yielded results. This means that the amount of war materiel available to the NRF, while substantial, is finite and the Taliban will be able to likely triumph over resistance pockets over time.”
But what could move the needle and result in international supporting coming in to the NRF to a degree greater enough to truly threaten the Taliban regime? According to Dr. Ramani, “a dramatic event, such as a terrorist attack that is indisputably linked to Taliban sponsorship.” Unless and until that occurs, the NRF may have next to no luck garnering real support from foreign governments, especially if the Taliban quickly consolidates its recent gains and more states do a ‘soft’ or informal recognition of the new Kabul regime.
If violence spirals out of control, all of Afghanistan’s neighbors are set to bear many heavy burdens and pay huge prices.
Since July, many Afghans have fled for fear of Taliban rule. Not only more refugees but also more weapons, terrorists, and drugs continue to pour out of Afghanistan and into other countries. Such circumstances could greatly benefit extremist forces, chiefly Daesh–Khorasan, which naturally exploit chaos.
It is easy to understand why there is a great desire by Afghanistan’s neighbors for the country to not fall into civil war. This means trying to work with the Taliban despite all the valid concerns about its return to power. Based on how much the Afghan economy relies on trade with bordering countries, the Taliban has its own interests in forming working relations with neighbors.
Ideally, the states with the most influence over the Taliban will hopefully give Kabul’s new rulers incentives to approach governance in manners that reflect its stated commitments to tolerance, inclusivity, and moderation.
Trust-but-verify describes how many governments across West Asia are currently addressing this delicate question of recognition. Based on a wait-and-see approach, global powers in the East like Russia and China plus those in the Islamic world such as Iran and Turkey are watching the new Taliban administration’s actions, and not simply the rhetoric. Depending on how the new rulers in Kabul govern and manage Afghanistan’s foreign policy, these countries will make decisions about recognition later.
While certain governments are giving the Taliban a chance to back up its positive words with actions, there are disturbing signs which must not be ignored. The reinstatement of the ministry of “vice and virtue,” the possibility of a ban on music in public and acts of violence against female protestors call into question the Taliban’s commitment to its pledges.
Perhaps the new Taliban administration may seek to push the envelope with the international community as much as it can when it comes to some of these issues.
Yet the Taliban’s military actions against the NRF in the Panjshir Valley along with the appointment of an interim government filled with figures such as Sirajuddin Haqqani raise further doubts about the new Kabul regime’s commitments to pursuing reconciliation and cutting off links to international terrorist groups.
For now, it remains unclear how the Taliban regime will run the country, and whether the new administration can consolidate power. To be sure, the road ahead will be difficult for the Taliban. As with previous Afghan governments, this current administration must face all the challenges of governing the country. If the new Afghan rulers fail to meet the demands and expectations of the population, there is every reason to expect groups within the country to resist the Taliban regime.