Taliban forces in Kandahar rally to celebrate the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. Pic: EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
The Taliban control Afghanistan. Their insurgency is over, but their task of governing is just beginning. We don’t have to tell you that 80,000 militants aren’t up for the job.
For the 38 million people of Afghanistan, things are dire. Last year, 43 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP was foreign aid––almost all of which is threatened. 80 percent of the government’s budget came from foreign governments, which will likely fall to nearly zero. At the moment, the IMF has halted access to $440 million in aid which they planned to give to the Afghan government, and the World bank is canceling $787 million in aid. The United States has blocked the Taliban from accessing $9.4 billion of Afghanistan’s national reserves, a vast majority.
None of these choices were wrong. At the very least, they create leverage over the Taliban and could be used to force concessions. But with the Taliban in control, Afghanistan is in a death spiral, and innocent Afghans have the most to lose. Already, millions of children’s lives are threatened by hunger.
We don’t know the path forward, but it will likely entail the international community establishing some sort of working relationship with the terrorist state to minimize loss of life among innocents while ensuring maximal influence. Unfortunately, some countries seem to be pursuing their own interests first.
Who has recognized the Taliban so far?
No country has established formal ties with the Taliban and recognized its government as legitimate––yet. In the coming weeks, that’s liable to change.
China, which has long feared Islamic extremism in Xinjiang, has maintained a constant dialogue with the Taliban. As a form of reciprocity, the Taliban has decided to turn a blind eye to the Chinese genocide against the Uyghur Muslim community (as has much of the Middle East). The Chinese government hasn’t announced when they’ll recognize the Taliban, but it’s only a matter of time. According to spokesperson Zhao Lijian, “It is a customary international practice that the recognition of a government comes after its formation.”
Vying for first place is Pakistan, a long-time friend of the Taliban and one of only three countries that recognized the 1996-2001 regime (along with UAE and Saudi Arabia.) Jubilant, Prime Minister Imran Khan declared that Afghans had “broken the shackles of slavery” after US exit. Similarly, Iran’s Foreign Ministry disparaged the US and declared that they will “stand with the brotherly nation of Afghanistan.” Clearly, the Taliban will have at least a few allies.
Meanwhile, the rest of the region is standing by. India’s Ministry of External Affairs said that “the situation is uncertain.” Erdogan’s Turkey has kept its embassy open but, facing domestic setbacks, might seek to capitalize on the crisis to gain a prominent role in rebuilding the country. Countries in the Gulf, like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are taking a cautious approach.
What are Western democracies saying?
Western democracies are dragging their feet, trying to identify the least bad option.
In Canada, Trudeau’s government has “no plans” to recognize the Taliban, but that stance is almost uniquely firm. In France, Macron’s government may be willing to recognize the Taliban if it meets three conditions including respecting women’s rights and allowing asylum seekers out of the country. In Germany, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel recommends maintaining a dialogue with the Taliban. Green candidate Annalena Baerbock, hoping to replace her, stated that Germany might hold conversations with the Taliban, but would not recognize it “because it is not the legitimate government but an Islamist terror group.”
The EU’s stance seems to be much the same, with foreign affairs official Josep Borrell stating that “The Taliban have won the war, so we will have to talk with them...It’s not a matter of official recognition.” EU Commision President Ursula von der Leyen says she will propose increasing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan this year from the EU, though it will be “tied to strict conditions: respect for human rights, good treatment of minorities, and respect for the rights of women and girls.”
At the moment, the West’s stance toward the Taliban is a murky one. We’ll recognize them––maybe––but only if they stop acting like the Taliban, and even then, we might just open a dialogue without extending official recognition. In other words: we’ll see.
Afghanistan’s fate is an open question. Even the Taliban’s survival is far from certain. What we do know is that the Afghan people are struggling, and under the Taliban’s rule it will get worse. Just as the West united to topple the Taliban 20 years ago, we must unite again to save the people of Afghanistan. Whether we like it or not, millions of lives are counting on us.
When President Trump was banned from Twitter following the Capitol Riot, the left-leaning Twitteratti let out a collective sigh of relief. For years, Trump’s tweets had insulted, offended, and attacked nearly everyone who wasn’t a supporter, frequently straying from what people would consider “presidential” behavior into territory that could most aptly be described as “trollish.”
But in 2020, Trump went a step further and used his Twitter to attack the very foundations of America’s democratic system. His tweets included gems like: “This was a stolen election. Best pollster in Britain write this morning that this clearly was a stolen election” and “Most corrupt election in history, by far. We won!!!” Finally, when he called his supporters to march on the Capitol and then justified the ensuing riot by claiming that “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” Twitter had had enough. The sitting president of the United States lost his tweeting privileges.
But where do the deplatformed go?
Kicked off mainstream platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, provocateurs and their allies have created an alternative online ecosystem.
The most prominent of these platforms is Parler, an alternative to Twitter. The platform describes itself as a place where you can “Speak freely and express yourself openly, without fear of being ‘deplatformed’ for your views.” President Trump allegedly almost joined himself, but backed out as the company would only promise him 40% of their gross revenue and wouldn’t agree to ban users who criticized him. Now, it’s a right-wing safe space where famous figures, like Ted Cruz and Dinesh D’Souza (both of whom have highly active Twitters), post for an audience fed up with Twitter’s moderation policies.
But even Parler was too regulated for some, and some elements of the far-right began using Telegram, a “heavily encrypted” messaging service. Now, Gab, another Twitter and Facebook alternative, seems to be gaining traction, but not without controversy. In 2018 the site was temporarily taken down by its web host because a user who posted unregulated anti-Semetic comments murdered 11 at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
Once you get past these platforms, things start to get weird. GETTR was founded by Jason Miller, a former Trump spokesperson, and launched on the Fourth of July. A month later, Politico reported that it had developed into an ISIS hangout since their lax regulations let the militants post freely. Meanwhile, if you had logged onto YouTube-alternative Rumble earlier this week, you would’ve been greeted by its most popular video: the wholesome “Big doggy takes up the entire kitchen chasing its tail.” To its right was Rumble’s top podcast: “It’s Time For A National Divorce,” calling for secession.
So did deplatforming achieve anything?
With platforms like these filling the void of a far-right social media platform, it’s difficult to claim that deplatforming users has been a total success. Before, these people were posting hate for all the world to see. It wasn’t good, but the most extreme content could be pulled down by level-headed moderators. If someone was planning something violent, someone rational would probably notice. Now, it’s a free-for-all.
When Trump got pulled from the mainstream platforms, the effect on far right platforms was almost immediate––Gab’s traffic went up 40%. When far-right users were taken off Reddit, 79% created a Gab account. The far right wasn’t silenced when the mainstream social media platforms cracked down; most of them migrated elsewhere.
Still, decreasing the size of the megaphone we hand to radical voices may have some positive impact. Even if we can’t entirely sideline extremists, we can at least minimize their ability to recruit others from joining their cause.