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What Will Likely Be the Next for Afghanistan?
 Source:Centre for Strategic Thinking  Views:665 Updated:2021-09-09

After 20 years of occupation in Afghanistan, the U.S. completed withdrawal of its troops from the Afghan soil by 31 August 2021. This is a good news for the Afghans, as after having endured 20 years of losses and sacrifices, the Afghan people finally won back their country’s independence. It means a new chapter for Afghanistan. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t be a good news for those who for geopolitical concerns are strongly opposed the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, nor should it be a good news for those who have profited from the war. Also it may not be a good news, on a temporary basis, for a large number of ordinary Afghans, as the U.S. abrupt pulling its troops out of Afghanistan without proper coordination and arrangement has left enormous problems for the country to deal with very likely for a long time to come. Presently, the most imminent challenge for Afghanistan is a shortage of materials to feed the demands of the country and the Afghan people, led by the dramatic cut-off of aid by donors alongside the withdrawal of troops by the U.S. and its allies. Many analysts assumed that the Afghans will likely face more sever humanitarian crises in the months ahead.


What Has the 20-year “War on Terror” Left to Afghanistan?


From a broad sense, apart from human casualties and refugee crises as well as losses in other variety of areas, the Afghan economy has suffered hugely. The long-lasting war turned the country’s economy into a condition of heavily depending on foreign aid. Its economic growth relies on the pulling in of aid. Aid accounted for 43% of the country’s GDP. 1


After the war started in 2001, Afghanistan began to see a trade deficit.2 With the worsening security situation, this country’s production capacity has kept dwindling. Its exports have got less and less. Most of the Afghans’ life necessities nowadays rely on imports. The unbalanced trade, alongside the U.S. rising military operations in 2012-2013, drove Afghanistan’s deficit to its highest level.2 In 2020, its deficit accounted for about 25 to 30% of its GDP.3


With regard to other sectors, for the record, education at all levels has improved; the size of population has doubled from the 2001 level; and people’s life expectancy has increased.4 Nevertheless, the improvement in these areas all critically depends on foreign funding. Once the funding is withdrawn, the condition for these sectors will be full of uncertainties.


Upon the Taliban taking over the country, a range of conditions have been set for the Taliban to access the relevant funding sources including a $460 million in Special Drawing Rights allocated by the International Monetary Fund for Afghanistan. Besides that, the sanctions imposed by the U.S. have also restrained the Taliban from accessing Afghanistan’s own assets, some of which are stored in the U.S. at the moment.5


Overall, the above is a brief situation of Afghanistan left by the 20 years of war. Apparently the Taliban faces enormous challenges for re-building the nation. Re-assuming power also means the beginning of a new type of challenge for the Taliban. What will likely be the next steps for Afghanistan then?


For a long period to come, the Taliban’s work will constantly be centred on two aspects: winning the legitimacy of ruling, and improving governance capacity. The two aspects are closely connected and reinforce each other in reality. The outcomes led by these two aspects will be directly related to the Taliban’s future, the country’s future, and the Afghan people’s well-being.


The Legitimacy of Ruling


The legitimacy of ruling on the international level is mainly about winning regional and international recognition to the Taliban regime, which is of significance to Afghanistan’s acting space. It is closely related to the Taliban’s engagement with other governments, organizations and various actors, as well as to Afghanistan’s cooperation with other countries in relevant fields.


The starting point for gaining recognition for the Taliban, as many analysts and government officials already indicated, is to cut connections with the terrorist groups and terrorist activities. For the years to come, Afghanistan may still be one of the major locations for terrorist groups to base. Therefore, the Taliban’s anti-terror work will be of a great contribution to the global joint efforts in fighting terrorism.


In addition, on the international front from a long-term perspective, in order to win regional and international recognition, there is a need for the Taliban regime to adopt an open, friendly, and inclusive policy, actively participate in regional and international cooperation, and strive to catch the opportunities to let the country grow.


Over the past 20 years, due to the unstable security condition, the business environment of Afghanistan has been getting worse. According to a World Bank business survey, in 2020 the country’s business environment was ranked 173rd out of 190 countries.6 Thus, improving business environment to facilitate the cooperation between Afghan businesses and foreign businesses should be one of the major steps to enable the country to benefit from transnational cooperation as more possible as it can.


On the domestic level, gaining the legitimacy of ruling in the immediate future as well as from a long term basis will mainly involve in the following aspects of work including stabilizing the domestic situation, promoting national reconciliation, developing the country’s economy, improving people’s well-being, and winning the Afghan people’s support etc.


Currently, small-scale conflicts within Afghanistan are still on-going. A lot of people may haven’t been ready to accept the Taliban ruling. Therefore, promoting national reconciliation and uniting the people will always be an important issue for the Taliban, in order to win national recognition of the Taliban ruling, and further to help win back what the country has lost over the past 20 years.


To achieve tangible outcomes regarding the above mandate, Afghanistan needs an accountable government with improved governance capacity.


Governance Capacity


Improving governance capacity mainly relates to enhancing the accountability of relevant departments and institutions of the government, it also involves in the efficient utilization of both internal and external resources by the governments.


Over the past 20 years, because of the unstable domestic environment, industrial development in Afghanistan appears to have made little progress. According to a World Bank Study, 44% of Afghanistan’s total workforce works in the agriculture sector.7 Also as a result of the insecure environment, a number of projects jointly developed by Afghanistan and foreign countries, which were supposed to help generate employment and contribute to the country’s economic growth, have either been postponed or suspended. So, we can assume that the unstable situation led by the conflicts in Afghanistan has denied a large number of people’s opportunities to contribute to the country’s development over the past years.


To re-build the country and deliver the range of agendas set by the government, accountable and effective governance should be the key. There is a need for the Taliban to find a way, in accordance with its judgement to the internal and external conditions, to improve the new regime’s governance capacity.


At the current stage, the Taliban faces a very hard condition. The shortage of funding resources should be a serious constraint for the new regime to conduct the government work; implementing the relevant plans will likely encounter a lot of new challenges.


To deal with a variety of new issues under the current circumstance, on the one hand, it is in need for the Taliban government to take an active approach to consult and coordinate with the relevant regional and global powers - which are committed to jointly moving forward the Afghan peace and reconciliation process and would devote more efforts to solving the imminent crises faced by Afghanistan - through which, to seek a possible solution. On the other hand, the Taliban government will have to gather as more domestic resources and strength as possible to deal with the current series of problems. This part of the work may be involved in properly consulting and coordinating with the key figures who worked for the former Afghan government, avoiding the possible mistakes ever made by the former government, and striving to mobilize certain resources, useful lessons, and experiences accumulated by some organizations, governments, and institutions and so on.


The principle of self-reliance can never be a “past-tense”. The Taliban has to rely on its own capacity rather than any foreign powers’ to decide how to most effectively utilize the internal and external resources.


After all, the challenges for the new Afghan regime will be huge. The Taliban must have to be ready to face all the uncertainties and challenges for a long time to come in order to become the real master of the country, and to hold the country’s fate into the Afghans’ own hands.


Notes


1. http://foreignpolicy.com/2021/08/27/afghanistan-taliban-economy-aid-sanctions-united-states-west/

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. aljazeera.com/economy/2021/8/19/what-will-happen-to-afghanistans-economy-under-taliban-rule

6. http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/afghanistan/overview

7. Ibid.




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