Give anti-Taliban forces space to unify, say former Afghan leaders

Calling for a unified opposition to fight the Taliban, members of the former political leadership of the Afghan republic and “resistance” leaders met in neighbouring Tajikistan for a two-day conference that ended on Wednesday along with senior diplomats from the U.S. and the EU, in the first such event since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August 2021.

The ‘Herat Security Dialogue’, which included two former Foreign Ministers in the Karzai government, Dr. Rangin Spanta and Zalmay Rassoul), the NDS (National Directorate of Security) intelligence chief in the Karzai and Ghani government Rahmatallah Nabil, and a number of former Ministers and officials ousted by the Taliban, was attended by more than 100 delegates from the Afghan diaspora in exile and experts from India, Pakistan Iran and Russia.

On Wednesday, National Resistance Front (NRF) leader Ahmed Massoud, the son of the former Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, joined the conference and was welcomed by the other leaders with applause. The NRF that is based in the mountains between Tajikistan and Afghanistan controls only the Panjshir valley, but in an interview to The Hindu, Mr. Massoud said the NRF and allied anti-Taliban forces had growing support across the country.

‘They want surrender’

“The Taliban doesn’t respect Islamic principles or humanity,” Mr. Massoud told the conference. “We tried to talk to them, but they have only asked us to surrender and stop fighting them. They are only interested in the surrender of the Afghan people.”

Of particular concern, said the speakers at the conference, were the Taliban’s growing restrictions on women and girls, including the latest decrees banning women from exercising at gyms and parks. Former MP Fawzia Koofi, who was Afghanistan’s first woman presidential candidate in 2014, said half of Afghanistan’s population was being pushed out of the labour force and of schools, which would lead to more poverty and hardship.

She also called for the international community to give “political space” for those opposing the Taliban akin to the Doha “headquarters” given to the Taliban a decade ago. Ms. Koofi, who fled to London after months of house arrest by the Taliban in Kabul last year, said women are at the forefront of protests against the Taliban, but were facing “repressive” crackdowns.

The Dialogue follows a conference of Afghan leaders in Vienna in September this year, which did not include international speakers. Speaking about India’s role, the organiser of the conference, Davood Moradian, said many Afghans expected more support from New Delhi for non-Taliban forces.

“Presuming this is India’s policy, every policy has a consequence, and for India abandoning its historical allies will have consequences,” Mr. Moradian said, referring to the perception here that India is engaging the Taliban but not the former leadership.

India has sent a senior MEA diplomat to Afghanistan for talks with Taliban Ministers and has reopened a “technical” mission in Kabul this year to oversee food and medical aid, but has not yet opened visas for Afghans.

At the conference, Mr. Nabil briefed the delegates on potential security threats from Afghanistan, where he claimed that al Qaeda-Indian Subcontinent (AQ-IS) and Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) were bringing in more foreign fighters, adding that Pakistani groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad have shifted some of their bases to Afghanistan. The Taliban have claimed that violence in Afghanistan has lowered under their regime, but a growing number of attacks are being reported daily.

(The writer travelled to Dushanbe at the invitation of the Herat Security Dialogue organisers)