The First vs the Second Regimes of the Taliban Government in Afghanistan
Photo credit: UNAMA
By Zulikha Akrami
In a world where all states are putting their efforts towards developing their countries and progress, in the form of justice, peace, democracy, economy, and security, it is hard to believe that there is one nation that is going backwards and experiencing the governance of extremism, which continuously violates the rights of women and girls. In the 21st century, you can barely find any country that bans women and girls' education and employment, but the Taliban does in fact do this in Afghanistan.
The Taliban is an armed group that emerged in the 1990s due to civil war in Afghanistan. It has now been in existence for three decades. The first Taliban government emerged in 1996 and lasted for 5 years. After the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. and its allies intervened in Afghanistan to combat terrorism and remove the first Taliban government. However, the Taliban remained engaged in insurgent activity, and were opposed to Afghanistan’s new government for almost twenty years. Now, the Taliban has returned to power, since August 2021.
Both the first and second regimes of the Taliban are radical fundamentalists who interpret Islam based on Salafism. Both are committed to ideologically strict interpretations and enforcements of Sharia law. But there are some differences between them that make the second regime more challenging than the first regime. Although it is really difficult to compare and contrast these two regimes, the strategy, structure, interaction and engagement with the international community, and perspective on women within both regimes of Taliban show some differences, yet many similarities as well.
Firstly, there are many similarities, and a few differences, between the strategy and structure of the first and second and regimes of the Taliban. Both governments of the Taliban were founded and led mainly by members of the Pashtun tribe. Here it is important introduce some significant persons in the governmental leadership structure of the first Taliban regime who are mainly Pashtun. They include: Mullah Mohammed Omar, Mullah Mohammed Rabbani (Deceased), Mullah Mohammed Ghaus, Mullah Mohammed Hassan Rahmani (known as Hassan), Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi (also spelt Mutaqqi), Mullah Berudah, Mullah Jalaluddin Haqqani, Mullah Hassan Akhund, Mullah Obaidullah, Mullah Khaksar Akhund and others.
The above-mentioned Taliban are ethnically Pashtun from Kandahar, Urzgan, Helmand, Pakitka and Ghazni, the southwestern provinces of Afghanistan (Rashid). The Taliban’s key leaders include the Amir al Momineen (Commander of the Faithful), the Prime Minister, and two deputy prime ministers who are the backbone of the Taliban government within both regimes.
Furthermore, the first and the second regimes of the Taliban declared an Islamic Emirate with an entirely male cabinet. However, Zabiullah Madjahid, the long-time spokesperson of the Taliban, in September 2021 announced the name of 33 individuals who were introduced as ‘acting’ ministers, ‘caretaker’ ministers, for the Taliban cabinet.
During the second regime of the Taliban, Habitullah Akhundzada has become the Amir al Momineen, while Mohammad Hasan Akhund, Abdul Ghani Baradar, Abdul Salam Hanafi, Serajiddin Haqqani, Amir khan Mutaqqi and others are the key leaders of the Taliban in this new government. Most cabinet members are Pashtun and former Taliban officials.
The second Taliban cabinet also has Abdul Salam Hanfi who is Uzbek and originally from Faryab. He is the only non-Pashtun who serves as deputy prime minister (Taliban Government in Afghanistan: Background and issues for Congress, 2021). In addition to Hanafi, Qair Fasahiddin, the Army chief of Afghanistan, is also non-Pashtun and is the Tajik leader of the Taliban who is known as conqueror of northern Afghanistan.
Despite the similarity in the core functioning ideology of the Taliban, within the second Taliban regime ideology is now being questioned internally. For instance, on March 24th, 2022, the Taliban promised to re-open secondary schools for girls, but at the last minute, there was an edict sent from Kandahar saying that girls were not allowed to attend secondary school. Afterwards, all educational centers, including private centers, were closed to girls. With all this, structurally the Taliban now differs from the first regime.
Further to the structure, and the perspective of the first and second regimes of the Taliban on women, they still share many things in common but face some differences. The first and second Taliban regimes denied women basic human rights, and banned women from education, employment, and leaving the house without a male chaperone. These are the primary things that both regimes have in common.
On the first day of sizing power again, the second regime of the Taliban announced that female employees should not return to their offices. Although their initial promise was that women would be allowed to exercise their rights within Sharia law, which include the right to education and employment. But women are systematically excluded from public life now. The Taliban have no women within their leadership, both now and previously, which shows the Taliban’s position on women.
Nonetheless, the women of Afghanistan, on the fourth day of the Taliban’s return, protested to inform the public that now they are facing a new generation of women who stand for their rights and prove their existence in Kabul. Following the first protest, girls from Herat province came together and protested with the slogan “Education, Work and security”. At the same time, Afghans fled to the US and European countries, supported women protesters and spread that slogan to the world. The first regime did not experience women’s protests as widescale as on their return.
In addition to women’s education and employment, UN agencies put ministries of the Taliban under sanctions due to women’s rights violations. For example, the Minister of Higher Education and Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice under the Taliban have been placed on the EU sanction list. These two ministers are under sanction because of the banning of women from higher education and gender segregation.
The EU also sanctioned nine individuals and three entities under its global human rights sanction regime. The mentioned individuals will now be subject to an asset freeze in the EU. Additionally, listed individuals will be subject to an EU travel ban and those in the EU will be prohibited from making funds available, either directly or indirectly, to those listed. (Violence against women and girls: EU sanctions nine individuals and three entities under its Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime, 2023).
On the other hand, only three countries recognized the first Taliban regime as a legitimate government, while the current regime is not recognized by any country. Not only did the international community not recognize the second Taliban government but the Organization of Islamic Cooperation also criticized the Taliban for banning women’s education.
Finally, the engagement of the first and second regimes of the Taliban with international communities are similar in many ways, yet they both stayed quite different in some respects. The first Taliban regime had unofficial relations with Pakistan, China and Iran with the purpose of economic benefits, and the second regime of the Taliban is also doing the same. Non-western countries specifically Iran, China, and Pakistan, along with Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia Russia, and Turkmenistan have accepted Taliban diplomats. Therefore, it can be inferred that the international isolation experienced by the first Taliban regime is relatively different from that of the second regime.
On another side of this relationship is western countries’ engagement with the Taliban, which is likely to slow down since the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a US drone strike in Kabul. This has led Western governments to accuse the Taliban government of failing to live up to its commitments under the Doha Agreement, which requires the Taliban to deny a safe haven to al-Qaeda and other armed groups in Afghanistan in exchange for a US withdrawal (JAZEERA).
Therefore, Western countries still remain opposed to the Taliban’s current regime. If any of them are willing to contribute formally, due to heavy sanctions, they stayed away from official recognition of the Taliban. Nevertheless, the international community is watching the second regime of the Taliban with a bit more caution, and is considering the Afghan inter-peace talks that were hosted by Qatar. On the first day of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Joe Biden, the US President, said that we count every action of the Taliban.
If the US feels threatened by the Taliban, in the form of national security, the Biden administration will use its own strategy to deal with the group. Based on the military contribution of the USA in the overthrowing of the first Taliban regime in 2001, its own strategy seems to be the use of US troops again. Moreover, the second regime of the Taliban is more organized than the first regime, in terms of dealing with the international community due to the economic situation in Afghanistan. Thus, the second regime of the Taliban is open to receiving international humanitarian aid.
To conclude, as illustrated, despite many similarities between the first and second regimes of the Taliban, in terms of structure, perspectives on women, and engagement with the international community, each government is slightly different. The ideology of the Taliban is the same as it was when it was established, and the second Taliban regime is not moderate and has not changed its purpose, but it has changed its ways of achieving its goals. It is unfortunate that after twenty years of democracy an extremist regime has returned to power and the country has regressed from the achievements of the last two decades.
Zulikha Akrami is a new writer and Afghan Refugee in the USA. She has an MA degree in International Relations. She wrote pieces for Hashte- Sahib, Rakhshani, and Nemahraikh publications in Persian. Currently, she is studying a research online program funded by Afghan Research Initiative.
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The article does not reflect the official opinion of the AISS.