It was the fear of history repeating that prompted former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country when the Taliban entered Kabul.

As Ghani later explained on Facebook, he didn’t want Afghans to see “the president is hanged again”-this refers to Mohammad Najibullah, the leader of the communist era. He was hanged shortly after the Taliban attacked the capital in 1996.

But the Taliban leaders who reoccupied Kabul this month are not interested in repeating the past directly. Instead of lynching the former president, the burly Taliban delegation called on Ghani’s former president Hamid Karzai to discuss the establishment of an “inclusive Islamic government” in the living room.

The spokesperson of the movement promised to respect the rights of women, not to avenge the Afghans who worked for the previous government, and not to allow Afghanistan to be used as a base for harming other countries.

In 2001, Afghan Interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai (right) met with tribal leaders in Kandahar, Afghanistan © Jerome Delay/AP

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai (middle left), senior leader of the Haqqani Group, Anas Haqqani (middle right), Abdullah Abdullah (2nd right), Afghan nation The Chairman of the Reconciliation Committee, the former government’s and Taliban negotiators and other members of the Taliban delegation met in Kabul, Afghanistan, last week © Taliban via The Associated Press

Taliban officials held meetings to appease Shiites and Sikhs in Kabul-the two communities are afraid of Taliban rule.

Nevertheless, people still have serious doubts about whether the government is truly inclusive. The United Nations has received reports of executions of civilians, restrictions on women, and prevention of protests. On Tuesday, the Taliban closed the road for Afghans to Kabul Airport.

But some optimists dare to hope that the Taliban is a changed organization. Omar Samad, the former Afghan ambassador to Canada and France, said there is no doubt that “a certain degree of change” has taken place in the Taliban leadership.

The exiled and “more secular” Taliban

Their exile experience after the fall of their regime in 2001 changed the views of traditional mullahs who only knew about rural life.

They moved to cities in Pakistan or the Gulf region. Some people spent some time in prison, including the deputy leader and co-founder of the Taliban Abdul Ghani Baradar, or they were held in Guantanamo Bay. For the past ten years, the Taliban’s “political committee” has been operating in Qatar’s gleaming modernity.

They are constantly entangled by foreign diplomats in Doha, who urge them to sever ties with Al Qaeda, support the rights norms and promise other changes to make them acceptable to the international community.

The top political leader of the Taliban in 2019, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (left), the chief negotiator of the Taliban Sher Mohamed Abbas Stnikzai (second from left) and other members of the Taliban delegation © Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

“They travel the world and are welcomed by foreign leaders,” Samad said. “They pay close attention to other countries in the Islamic world, especially Pakistan, but also Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. It provides them with a wider experience and makes them more secular.”

But despite their constant contact with the outside world, they still lack the skills needed to manage a more developed and complex country than the war-torn emirate they once controlled.

“They realized that they had no expertise”

Afghanistan now has thousands of miles of roads to maintain, imports of electricity from neighboring countries need to pay, and a population accustomed to stable exchange rates, consumer goods and general education.

Legend has it that Mullah Omar, the late founder of the Taliban, once kept the national reserve in 44 gallon barrels in his compound in Kandahar. Last week, central bank officials had to explain to a group of Taliban that the country’s US$9 billion in foreign exchange reserves could not be checked because it was stored in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — which was frozen by the US government anyway. .

A tank driven by former Taliban fighters at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1996 © BK Bangash/AP

Taliban militants took control of the Presidential Palace in Afghanistan last week © Zabi Karimi/AP

“They realized they didn’t have the expertise they needed,” Samad said. “They are reaching out to technocrats and famous Afghans. They know that their government will need these non-Taliban figures.”

In recent years, the international community has made careful efforts to help Taliban political leaders master the complexity of managing a government that relies entirely on international funds.

The results are not always encouraging. A Western official involved in the modern governance training program said that the Taliban executives do not seem to care how billions of dollars in direct financial aid depend on commitments to curb corruption and protect human rights.

The official said: “They believe that any money the West does not give them will be replaced by China, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia.”

Thomas Rutig, the founder of the Kabul-based Afghan Analyst Network, said the Taliban has always been a “learning organization” and is well aware of its past failures. Some former officials of the Taliban government in the 1990s admitted that their ruling period was disastrous.

Taliban soldiers in Kabul in February 1995 © Robert Nickelsberg/Gamma-Rapho/Getty

Last week, Taliban fighters guarded the gate of Kabul to the Presidential Palace of Afghanistan © Rahmat Gul/AP

The then leader, Mullah Omar, decided to continue hosting Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, which split the movement and ensured global isolation. The strict rules imposed also made the Taliban unpopular, including the Afghans who welcomed them in the first place.

“They now understand that they cannot rule the entire country through repression,” Rutig said. “But this does not mean that they are the Liberal Party of the United Kingdom.”

The campaign that once banned television has mastered social media, video production, and websites in multiple languages. Ruttig said it still disapproves of TVs and smartphones. But these technologies are now too common and too useful to be used.

Beyond the Pashtuns

Perhaps the most important change for the Taliban is its efforts to win support outside the traditional constituency of the Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group.

This summer, the support of some Tajik and Uzbek communities helped the Taliban achieve an astonishingly rapid territorial expansion in northern Afghanistan, which has long been believed to be mainly non-Pashtun and not affected by Taliban infiltration.

Ashley Jackson, a researcher who has interviewed many Taliban figures, said: “They have made a real effort to reach out to deprived communities and terrorize them.” “The government makes them easy in absolutely terrifying ways. It hurts the people.” The local militia is very unpopular.”

When a member of the Hazara community, who was brutally persecuted by the Taliban in the 1990s, took on a minor role as a Taliban official in an unremarkable area last year, the movement’s media gave full coverage of it.

But although the Taliban’s leadership may have changed, many of its infantry have regressed to a more radical state than at any time in the 1990s.

In the chaos outside Kabul Airport this week, they used whips on women and children. Many people are still shocked by the high-level development in Kabul, the largest city they have ever seen.

Last week, a Taliban fighter in Kabul threatened a woman waiting to enter the international airport with her family and others © Jim Huylebroek/New York Times/Redux/eyevine

The neat middle-aged leader who drinks tea with Karzai may find it difficult to sell reforms to this unkempt common citizen.

“Controlling these people will be one of the biggest challenges facing the leadership,” Samad said. “Somehow they will have to maintain cohesion while managing the extreme views of their followers.”

Creepy room

Critics say that reports of abuses in areas controlled by the Taliban have exposed the limitations of the leadership’s power. On Tuesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet described credible reports of incidents, including summary executions of civilians, restrictions on women, and the prevention of demonstrations by those opposed to Taliban rule.

The decision to hand over Kabul’s security responsibility to the Haqqani Network, a Taliban affiliated organization that has close ties to Al Qaeda and is sanctioned by the United States, highlights the factional nature of the movement.

Residents fled after the fall of Kabul © Patrick Robert / Sygma / Getty

An Afghan family who fled Kabul last week rushed to the international airport © Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

As part of the withdrawal agreement signed with the United States, the Taliban promised not to cooperate with groups that threaten U.S. security. A United Nations report in July found that the Taliban are still “closely connected” with Al Qaeda.

The Taliban gave itself plenty of leeway in its public statement. Many people worry that its commitment to “respect women’s rights within the framework of Sharia law” will fall far short of international expectations.

A Western diplomat warned that a bigger red flag is that it likes the term “Afghan traditions and customs,” which it says must be followed.

Few people expect the talk about an inclusive government to be meaningful, except for the legacy of the now-defunct republic being given a puppet role in the coming emirate.

When Mullah Baradar met Hamid Karzai at a peace conference in Moscow in March, he hinted that his enthusiasm for former enemies was limited. According to a Western official, Baradar did not respond well to Karzai’s flattery.

He said he will never forget how his children were forced to flee a raid by the US military. They “walked through the thorns of the desert barefoot,” he barked at the former Afghan president.

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