NEWS
02/09/2021 19:26 BST

What The Taliban Will Focus On In Afghanistan When The World Isn't Watching

The militants are now in control following the evacuation of western troops.

Afghanistan is now completely in the Taliban’s hands.

The US flew its last soldier out of the country on Monday night, in line with the militants’ demands.

Those left behind are afraid. Many inside and out of Afghanistan refuse to trust the Taliban, despite the new regime’s leaders suggesting that it has become more moderate in the 20 years since it was last in power. 

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab pledged on Thursday that the UK would not be recognising the militants any time soon, but noted Downing Street will need to work with the group to secure the safe evacuation of those remaining with British links.

He also admitted “we need to adjust to the new reality” of a Taliban-led nation – but most of these details remain unclear.

So what will the militants focus on now the Nato allies have left?

HOSHANG HASHIMI via Getty Images
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid held a press conference in Kabul shortly after the militants' takeover of Afghanistan

1. A functioning government

Ashraf Ghani was the US-backed president of Afghanistan until his deposition in August. When he fled overseas, the reins of power were handed to the Taliban and Ghani lost all authority with the west.

More than two weeks later, the militants are still yet to announce their newly appointed leader even though they have been in power-sharing talks since Ghani’s exit.

The new power structure is expected to be made up of the movement’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, with a president beneath him and a new governing council.

But a power struggle behind closed doors is said to have delayed the announcement and Akhundzada is yet to appear in public.

Different branches of the militant group are colliding, as discussions of a unity government have fallen silent – the militants reportedly want to monopolise power once again, rather than sharing it with different Afghan factions.

The Taliban did govern the country through unelected leadership and sharia law between 1996 and 2001 but have now promised they will be more moderate.

To maintain reasonable relations with the west and to keep its economy above water, the Taliban needs Nato to formally recognise this new government. 

AHMAD SAHEL ARMAN via Getty Images
The anti-Taliban resistance movement in Panjshir Valley

2. Pushing back against anti-Taliban resistance

While the Taliban flattened the Afghan armed forces in two weeks, there are sparks of resistance across the country, particularly in Panjshir.

The region was the last safe haven from the Taliban in 1996 and remains so today.

Ahmad Massoud, the son of the resistance’s former leader, wrote in The Washington Post in August: “We have stores of ammunition and arms that we have patiently collected since my father’s time because we knew this day might come.”

It’s not clear how strong this resistance movement, called the National Resistance Forces, is, but it’s reportedly made up of militias and remnants of the Afghan army.

The valley these resistance fighters seek solace in is just 80 miles northeast of Kabul and famous for being impenetrable. 

The group initially wanted to organise a power-sharing settlement with the Taliban.

Massoud recently told Reuters: “We do not want a war to break out.”

But, he then told Foreign Policy that anything less than the equal distribution and decentralisation of power “will be unacceptable to us”.

At least seven Taliban soldiers were also killed in Panjshir when a skirmish broke out against the resistance fighters, according to the Associated Press.

While the resistance has raised hopes, the Taliban already claim they established a siege around the region.

It’s not clear how long the resistance can hold out for.

Marcus Yam via Getty Images
Isis-K took responsibility for the suicide bombings outside Kabul airport

3. Uprisings from Isis

Isis, the so-called Islamic State, have already positioned themselves as clear opponents to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

An Isis affiliate, Isis-K, took responsibility for the devastating suicide bombings outside Kabul airport on August 26.

The extremist group are believed to be furious at the way the Taliban negotiated with the US to get into power, rather than using jihad methods.

There are thought to be 2,000 Isis-K extremists in Afghanistan, made up of former Taliban members.

It has a stronghold towards Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan and is said to receive extensive financial backing from the core Isis body, according to terrorism expert from the US Military Academy West Point, Amira Jadoon, and extremism research fellow Andrew Mines, from the George Washington University.

They told The Conversation: “Isis-K’s goal is to create chaos and uncertainty in a bid to push disillusioned fighters from other groups into their ranks, and to cast doubt on any ruling government’s ability to provide security for the population.”

It also wants to become the most central jihadist organisation.

Isis-K has already branded the Afghan Taliban “filthy nationalists” for not looking to expand a government beyond Afghanistan, which could spell more trouble ahead for the Taliban.

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Afghans line up outside a bank to take out cash after Taliban's takeover

4. Economic collapse

The UN has warned that an economic collapse looms for the country unless it takes action. 

There was already a severe drought before the militants took over, and now citizens could face starvation.

Speaking from Afghanistan, World Food Programme’s Mary-Ellen McGroarty told Reuters: “In the current context there are no national safety nets...since August 15 (when the Taliban took over) we have seen the crisis accelerate and magnify with the imminent economic collapse that is coming this country’s way.”

Food prices have spiked too after 40 percent of the wheat crop was damaged by drought.

McGroarty said this situation “could morph into just a humanitarian catastrophe”. According to the WFP, 14 million people face “acute food insecurity”.

Handout via Getty Images
Mass evacuations from Kabul airport took place up until August 31

5. Preventing the ‘brain drain’

Thousands of highly qualified Afghans queued desperately at Kabul airport in a bid to escape the militants before the deadline of August 31.

The Taliban’s spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, said: “We are not allowing the evacuation of Afghans anymore and we are not happy with it either.

“The doctors and academics of Afghanistan should not leave this country, they should work in their own specialist areas.”

Afghanistan has a literacy rate of 43 percent, and only 9.7 percent of the population are educated beyond secondary school.

The Taliban could continue to lose its brightest citizens in the coming months, meaning the nation could fall apart without key professions from doctors and engineers to former government officials and civil workers.

AAMIR QURESHI via Getty Images
The Taliban may find leading Afghanistan harder than conquering it