On 15 August 2021 the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan and quickly declared the establishment of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Taliban representatives called on the international community to engage with the new Taliban administration, albeit with an acceptance of, and respect for, the Taliban’s laws and religious rules which would be based in Sharia law.
Key players in the de facto Taliban government
Despite initial suggestions from the Taliban leadership that any government would be inclusive and represent Afghanistan’s complex ethnic diversity, it went on to announce an all-male caretaker government dominated by senior hardline Pashtun members of the original Taliban movement and key Taliban supporters. There is no female representation in the de facto government.
Most Cabinet appointees are subject to UN sanctions and the Haqqani Network, which holds considerable influence, is a designated terrorist organisation in the US, UK and the EU. Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani is also on the FBI’s wanted list.
The Taliban itself is not a proscribed terrorist group and Supreme Leader Hibutallah Akhundzada is not subject to sanctions.
Challenges of governance
Over a year later, the acting government remains in place, and Afghanistan faces multiple crises. Since assuming power, the Taliban has focused on securing and consolidating its position, gaining international political recognition and receiving aid to deal with the growing economic, societal and humanitarian problems it faces.
Differences of opinion between the competing ideological factions within the Taliban and increasing ethnic divisions among its ranks has, however, led to allegations of opaque and inconsistent governance (PDF).
Pockets of violence also continue to exist as the Taliban struggles to combat the Islamic State affiliate group, Islamic State– Khorasan Province, and several armed militant groups opposed to Taliban rule.
The rights of women and girls
The UN Special Rapporteur says the Taliban is seeking to render women “invisible, by excluding them almost entirely from society.” Measures restricting the rights of women include encouraging them to leave their jobs and a requirement to cover their faces when in public.
Women and girls’ education has been subject to increased restrictions. The exception is in primary school: The World Bank has estimated girls’ attendance was higher in March 2022 than the Autumn of 2019 (PDF).
While boys’ secondary schools reopened in September 2021, most of those for girls remain closed. The Taliban has blamed a shortage of female teachers and a need to reform the curriculum but there are fears this represents a permanent shift. Women are allowed to return to university, but there is a shortage of female lecturers and a requirement for segregated classes.
January 2022 saw the UN launch its largest humanitarian appeal for a single country. The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, said the appeal’s size “reflect[ed] the scale of the despair.” The UK pledged £286 million for 2021/22, and the same for 2022/23.
In January, the UN estimated 59% of the country’s 42 million population was in humanitarian need. Aid agencies have also reported increasing interference since the summer. Continuing sanctions against the Taliban and lack of access to Afghan central bank funds held abroad have also complicated or limited the delivery of aid. However, some sanctions exemptions have been made and the US has committed to releasing central bank funds via a neutral agency for humanitarian purposes.
The failure of the Taliban to meet its commitments on inclusive government, the rights of women and girls and its relationship with foreign militant groups and terrorist networks, has meant that no country, to date, has awarded its de facto government with full diplomatic recognition. This lack of recognition also has implications for its ability to access funding from international financial institutions.
While the Taliban is assessed by the UN to be largely cohesive for the time being (PDF), its internal divisions and the multitude of challenges it faces in transitioning from insurgent group to functioning government has raised questions over the group’s ability to maintain unity in the longer term.