If there is one thing Afghans agree on, it is that the future is uncertain as NATO troops leave the country. Today, the fact that the Dutch military presence in Afghanistan comes to an end this month after nearly twenty years.
But whats going to happen in the country? Will civil war break out? Will the Taliban retake the country? Or do the government representatives still reach an agreement with the Taliban through the negotiating table?
latter is the most likely scenario, says Jaap van Hierden, country head of the aid organization Cordaid in Kabul. But he expects a period of intense battles to precede that. That can lead to demoralization among Afghans, he warns. “Its very important that the Afghans dont feel like the international community is abandoning them.”
Van Hierden therefore thinks it is unwise for Australia to close the embassy in Kabul due to the uncertain situation. “If we give the Afghans the idea that were running away, theyll do the same thing. And the most skilled and educated people will leave the country.”
Democracy and Gender Equality
In November, 70 countries, including the Netherlands, announced $12 billion in aid money for the next four years. However, it was said that money depends on Afghan commitment to democracy and gender equality, for example.
Van Hierden calls this requirement understandable. But he stresses that it is important to continue to provide help no matter who comes to power in the coming years. “If youre struggling with the ideology of the rulers, see who you can trust for collaboration. There is a very strong and reliable civil society in Afghanistan.”
For example, Cordaid is working to improve womens rights in areas where the Taliban has regained power in recent years.
“We do this through community and local partners. To work somewhere, you always have to be accepted by local leaders, such as religious leaders. If there is a conflict with Taliban leaders, coordination with UN organizations in Kabul will resolve this. Thats going well so far.”
For example, a sharia toolkit was written, which contains Quran texts describing equal rights for women. “We are trying to understand religious leaders and conservative Afghans, and help people with materials to engage in long-term discussions with each other.”
Is Afghanistan ready for battles?
Throughout the country, districts have been captured by the Taliban in recent years. And since Biden announced the departure of the troops, fighting has become even more intense.
Not everyone is convinced that the Afghan security forces are ready for these battles on their own. “This has contributed to the re-mobilization of local militias,” says Ali Adili, researcher at the think tank Afghanistan Analyst Network in Kabul.
Countless former warlords have been posing their own armies of men with guns lately on social media, says Adili. They call on people in their area to oppose the Taliban together. But these warlords fought not only the Taliban in the 90s, but often against each other.
“Exactly how this new dynamic will develop has yet to be seen,” Adili says. “It can lead to ethnic conflicts.” But he also sees a potential positive outcome. “If they can effectively push back the Taliban together, which government forces have not succeeded so far, then this mobilization can also stimulate peace talks.”
A full takeover of the Taliban doesnt see Adili happen. “Even if they take over some districts, I dont think it will stand, and that resistance will take place in a new form. Social changes in the past twenty years have been significant, and in some places that change is irreversible.”
As an example, he mentions girls who are now being sent to school. “In the past, many people wouldnt send their daughters to school. Now you can see that even older men in remote districts bring their daughters or granddaughters to school. Thats a radical change.”
Adili does not believe that the Taliban has a lot of support among the population. “Thats very hard to say, because fear is an important factor.”
Van Hierden also does not believe that it is the ideology of the Taliban that attracts the fighters. “There is a lot of unemployment, and thats one of the reasons we still see conflict. If youre a young man in an area where the Taliban is in charge, youre renting yourself to the Taliban. That way you can make some money. The war economy has not yet been replaced by a peace economy.”
Still, Van Hierden sees a lot of optimismyoung people. “The generation of young people around 20 and 30 years old has a very different mindset than the generation before. It cant wait for peace, and is eager to make some of the country. Huge progress has been made in that respect. That gives hope.”