Afghanistan: ‘There is a lot of noise and, both unintentional and intentional, misinformation’

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL September 3, 2021

Photo by nasim dadfar on Unsplash

The truest line in a recent @ChathamHouse interview with Martine van Bijlert, Co-founder of the Afghanistan Analysts Network has to be as follows: “…there is a lot of noise and, both unintentional and intentional, misinformation”.

Quite so.

Ms van Bijlert offered the following corrective perspectives.

First, reports of the Taliban looking for people by name and going from house to house. Ms van Bijlert noted that “it is not always clear which visits are indeed menacing and really targeting people and which are just to see who is living where and if there are weapons and government cars they can take”. She added, however, that even “in the midst of the noise and uncertainty there are strong indications that people are being personally sought and reports of violence, particularly further outside the cities where there are less people paying attention. There will be a reckoning, there is likely to be revenge, as with every turn of power. There will also be a lack of discipline. The Taliban leadership will need to rein in the unruliness. We have heard reports of criminal networks posing as Taliban, particularly in the cities, as well as internally displaced people (IDPs) who had fled earlier American and government attacks in the provinces declaring themselves Taliban”.

Second, the situation as it obtains right now in Afghanistan. Ms van Bijlert says that the Taliban are in the process of figuring out the government setup and its guiding principles. “I am not saying things are good, at all,” she said, “but for a takeover this sudden, it is not overly chaotic”.

Third, how to view the Taliban. Ms van Bijlert, who lived in Kabul during the Taliban’s previous five-year stint in power from 1996, suggested that “collectively we know so much more about the Taliban now that it is not necessary to view them in these incredibly stark black-and-white terms. I don’t want to whitewash them, but I think it is better to respond to their actual behaviour going forward”. She added that “in many areas where the Taliban was in charge over the last few years, there was already a hybrid system in place, particularly in the field of health and education, where the Taliban would oversee it and the [western-backed Kabul] government would pay for it”.

Finally, she addressed the issue of women’s rights. There are examples, she said, of “people trying to create more space where they can”. For instance, in Herat. The university told the new Taliban head of the higher education department that there weren’t enough women teachers to teach female students in classrooms separate from men. So now, there is “a compromise that elderly male teachers could also teach women”.

Of course, as with most systemic jolts, it’s not clear what the actual process of change will be or when it will transpire.