So, finally the Taliban 2.0 has unveiled its government. It has no surprises. It is a no show on the much-trumpeted inclusiveness.
There was brazenness though. Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, who heads what has been officially billed as the caretaker set-up for the next six months, had etched his name in record books 20 years ago by ordering the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues that date back to the sixth century.
At least 17 of the 33-member ministry in the new set-up figure on the UN sanctions list. It is an all-Pashtun team. Women have been shown the door as if to teach a lesson to the women groups which have hit the Kabul streets demanding their place under the Taliban sun. In fact, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which did pioneer work under the Ashraf Ghani regime, stands disbanded now.
Both Moscow and China are not hiding their apprehensions. Both are no longer sure of influencing Kabul, which has slipped firmly into Rawalpindi’s grip.
“No plan of negotiations with the Taliban regime,” say the Russian officials while slipping in the caveat that contacts through the embassy in Kabul would be maintained to “ensure the safety of our diplomats” et al.
In his media interaction on Wednesday, Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to President Vladimir Putin, echoed Moscow’s concerns that are as old as Hindukush mountains.
“We have talked many times about the threat that can potentially emanate from Afghanistan,” he said when he was asked if Russia sees a threat to its security from the Taliban. He identified the threats as drug trafficking and infiltration of terrorist groups.
Russia has just reinforced its Tajikistan military facility with 12.7 mm heavy machine guns, NSV Utyos. This shows that Moscow is not letting its guard down. The new guns can destroy lightly armoured targets, fortified firing points and enemy air assets from a distance of 100 metres to 5 1/2 kilometres.
China is not hiding its cold feet though it is providing emergency aid of 200 million yuan ($31 million) to Afghanistan, including food and three million Covid-19 vaccine doses.
China is worried by reports that some international terror forces based in Afghanistan are already crossing the borders into the neighbouring countries, said a front-page dispatch in South China Morning Post (SCMP) on Thursday.
“Taliban must cut its ties with all terrorist groups,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at his virtual meeting with the war torn-country’s neighbours – Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Natural corollary is the Chinese demand to Taliban: “Take forceful combative measures.”
China expects its Afghan neighbours to chip in with counter-terrorism measures.
“All parties need to step up sharing of intelligence and border control efforts, making immediate arrests of terror groups coming from Afghanistan to ensure regional stability,” Wang Yi was quoted as saying.
The message is thus clear from Beijing and Moscow.
Both are showing red card to not only the Taliban, but also their mentors in Pakistan, who are just celebrating the installation of a hardline interim government.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Muhammad Qureshi demurred as Wang delivered his punch line but offered neither a protest, nor held out a promise of action.
This is surprising since the composition of the Taliban government bears Pakistani stamp and has exposed its time-tested double-speak.
There are one too many giveaways.
Firstly, the interim team was announced within three days of the visit of the head of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, to the blood-soaked Kabul city.
Secondly, the team carries Hameed’s imprint with the all-important interior ministry entrusted to ISI protege, Sirajuddin Haqqani.
Not only Sirajuddin, several others in the ministerial team are known hardliners. All of them toe Rawalpindi Shura (Pak Army’s Corps Commanders) line.
Their dominance signals that the Taliban government would keep India at bay. It interalia means that the Taliban would help the likes of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) with local bases for renewed export of terror to Kashmir. All a part of the IOYs since LeT and JeM had rushed their armed cadres to Afghanistan to fight along with the Taliban 2.0.
The composition of the interim government has surprised the observers and diplomats alike who expected to see the Taliban don the mantle of moderation. And embrace the minority ethnic groups, which also had fought alongside the Taliban warriors all these years of American presence on the Afghan soil.
Pakistan had also gone to the town declaring that it was expecting an inclusive government in Kabul.
Prime Minister Imran Khan and his army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who is the real architect of the latest Taliban victory, have been harping on inclusive mantra.
The turn of events show that Pakistan orchestration was a deceptive game. Its real intent was installing Sirajuddin Haqqani as the real power Tsar and thus secure back seat driving rights for the ISI.
The new government supremo, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, heads Rehbari Shura, the Kandahar-based Taliban’s decision-making body. He pipped the much-fancied Abdul Ghani Baradar, who, with his Doha stint, has cemented his pro-America image.
The new ministers leave no doubt that Afghanistan would be run according to the Sharia laws. There will be no concessions whatsoever. Hopes of chastened Taliban in the driver’s seat have died with the ban on protests and slogans that don’t have ‘approval’.
As the Washington Post reports, the dreaded Ministry for Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Vice and Virtue Ministry, as it is called derisively) is back. A little-known cleric called Mohamad Khalid leads ‘the restored department’ to implement Taliban’s interpretation of medieval Islamic law in a country where the post-9/11 generation of young Afghans has enjoyed the fruits of modernity and freedom.
Frankly, the world did not expect that once in power, the Taliban would go back to their old antediluvian beliefs. But that is what they have done. They have thus put a question mark over the ability of Afghanistan under the Taliban marching ahead economically, politically or socially to meet the aspirations of its 40 million people.
Taliban cannot dream of a miracle by banking on myopic Pakistan or China’s Yuans. More so, since both demand a heavy price as trade off.
A potential for developing strains in ties with China already exists: The brutal treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority virtually on the borders with Afghanistan. Taliban’s rank and file, as also their allies in the Islamist militancy, are baying for Chinese blood.
China is aware of the ground reality. Wang-speak at the Afghan neighbours’ meet makes it clear that Beijing will not tolerate any mischief whatever be its disposition in strategic terms.
Countdown has begun for a new show! Any doubt?