As the world is coming to grips with the sudden change of regime in Afghanistan, it is important to reflect on what led to this point. So far analyses have focused on the corruption and weakness of the Afghan state set up after the US-NATO invasion of the country in 2001 and on the disarray in the Afghan armed forces.
But it is important to consider another aspect of the story – the Taliban’s refusal to negotiate with the Afghan government, which it saw as illegitimate and its determination to wipe it out. Why was the group so relentless on this?
Much of it has to do with decisions that were made mainly by the invading Western forces and their Afghan allies in the 2000s to exclude the Taliban from the nation-building experiment they launched.
In December 2001, a few weeks after the Western forces and their Afghan allies took Kabul from the Taliban, a conference was held in Bonn, Germany to set up the new Afghan government. Attendees included the Northern Alliance, which fought alongside the Western allies, the Peshawar Group of Pakistan-exiled Afghan Pashtuns, the Rome Group of royalists, and the Cyprus Group of Afghans with ties to Iran.
The Taliban, however, was not invited and decisions about the first steps of building the Afghan state were taken without it.
Then in 2002, an emergency Loya Jirga (grand national assembly) was convened, where a transitional government led by Hamid Karzai was elected. The Taliban once again was not invited.
In 2003, a Constitutional Commission was set up to start the constitution drafting process, including public consultations, but again the Taliban was excluded from these proceedings. The constitution was passed by a Loya Jirga in 2004, with its provisions guaranteeing women’s fundamental rights and liberties, reflecting democratic principles and expressing the commitment of the new government to the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The consequences of the Taliban’s exclusion from the post-2001 power arrangement have been significant. The Taliban could neither tolerate this marginalisation from the social and political decision-making in Kabul, nor reconcile its hardline ideology with constitutional rights and liberties.
Feeling sidelined at the national and international level, the Taliban regrouped and relaunched offensive attacks against the Afghan government and its Western allies. In the following years, the Taliban inflicted heavy casualties and unnecessary pain and suffering on the Afghan people. It showed no signs of moderating its hardline position on religion.
One could argue that the inclusion of the Taliban in the Bonn Conference would have been problematic and the Northern Alliance would have sought to block it, while families of Taliban victims would have protested it.
Taliban presence in the Loya Jirga deliberating the constitution could also have been a barrier to approving the provisions granting women their rights and liberties and protecting human rights in general.