If we were to explain the downfall of previous Afghan constitutions and regimes by a single defining factor, it would be the exclusion of rival, mostly defeated groups by the rulers. Amanullah’s liberal constitution ignored the will of a considerably traditional society. Zahir Shah’s constitution aimed at marginalizing Daud Khan. Daud Khan tried to crackdown on Khalqis and Parchamis. Communist administrations excluded the Islamists. Islamists, including the Taliban, attempted to eliminate each other, while the Islamic Republic ostracized the Taliban. In most of these cases, the once defeated and excluded individuals and groups returned victorious only to form their own exclusivist regimes. As this vicious cycle of exclusion continued, so did the downfall of governments.
After the takeover of Kabul, the Taliban pledged to form an “inclusive Islamic government,” suggesting a departure from the destabilizing practices of previous rulers. They even held brief meetings with a few leaders of the previous administrations such as Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah as well as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who have remained in Kabul. They claimed to have reached out to other political leaders, but no other party has confirmed meeting with the Taliban. However, we have already known that, very much like the issue of women’s rights, inclusive government means something very different for the Taliban than it does for the rest of us. This was exemplified by how all the leaders of the Taliban gathered in Kandahar late in August in yet another exclusive meeting to discuss the formation of a government. Several days later, they announced a cabinet that is entirely run by mullahs, mostly veterans of the 1996 regime, some of whom are still on the FBI’s wanted list as terrorists. This begs the question, what makes the Taliban’s government inclusive?
The Taliban’s alleged inclusive cabinet must be measured against the key indicators of an inclusive government. In this regard, the literature is vast but inconclusive. Consociationalists and centripetalists, for example, differ considerably on how to form an inclusive government. Their prescriptions for political systems, governance structure, and electoral systems cannot be any more different. Experiences of countries including Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Bosnia-Herzegovina that tried to form temporary or institutionalized inclusive governments differ considerably. Despite all these differences in scholarship and the experiences of different countries, a likely consensus emerges on at least three fundamental features of an inclusive government: participatory governance, power-sharing, and self-governance.
An inclusive government is, first and foremost, a participatory government where the citizens are directly (or at least indirectly) involved in governance. To be inclusive, a government must at least fulfill these two basic requirements: (a) citizens must decide who their leaders should be and how to make them accountable, and (b) citizens must decide what laws and policies should govern them. Today, the most prevalent and popular mechanism for ensuring that is democratic elections through which the people choose their lawmakers and executives. There is hardly any discourse on inclusive governments in autocracies simply because autocracies are not participatory. In fact, the discourse on inclusive governments emerged primarily to suggest that majoritarian democracies were not democratic enough for a divided society and there was a need for power-sharing to truly account for all socio-political segments of a society.
The closest institutions to democratic elections are Loya Jirga and local shuras in Afghanistan, although they lack some important characteristics of democratic elections. These include the representation of women and accountability of the members, as well as the fact that only the elders may vote within these traditional institutions. It is true that we can reasonably expect that interim governments after a regime change are rarely elected or chosen by the people. But we can distinguish elite-inclusive governance from participatory governance, expecting the former to lead to the later. As will be discussed later, the announced cabinet is neither elite-inclusive, nor does it envision a participatory government in the future. The Taliban have repeatedly and adamantly rejected the idea of elected government.
An inclusive government, by definition, entails the end of domination by any ethno-political group and the beginning of a governance in which all groups share power. This adds several indicators for measuring an inclusive government in Afghanistan. First, in aninclusive government, especially in its Musharekati form, the Taliban are only one party to the government, not the only or even a dominant party. Political groups with different world views must also be parties to governance—otherwise, why would it be called inclusive? However, all members of the Taliban’s cabinet are from the same group; most of them had ministerial and other high-ranking positions in the Taliban regime between 1996 and 2001. Even before announcing their cabinet, the Taliban announced that they would not include members from the previous administrations in their so-called “inclusive government”.
Additionally, there is also consensus that an inclusive government must represent and reflect the diversity of a society. In the context of Afghanistan, an inclusive government must at least include representatives of women, different ethnic groups, and different religious groups. In terms of gender, the Taliban announced a male-dominated cabinet with no seat for women. In addition, they removed the Ministry of Women and replaced it with the Ministry of Amr bil Maruf, which performs religious and moral policing. The exclusion of women from their cabinet confirms their core belief that women cannot be leaders. In most sectors, they instructed women to stay home until their soldiers are trained enough to respect women at work.
Ethnically, the cabinet members of the Taliban are 91 percent Pashtun. Tajiks, who make up around a third of the population in Afghanistan, have only 2 seats, while Uzbeks only have one. The cabinet excludes Hazaras, who are the third largest group in Afghanistan. A likely explanation is that Hazaras are mostly Shiites, and the Taliban have historically shown hostility towards Shiite Hazaras. In this way, the Taliban have formed an entirely Sunni government that excludes all religious minorities. By contrast, the republic’s administrations had always allocated between 15 to 20 percent of seats to Jaafari and Ismaili Shiites.
Self-governance is another point of agreement among the vastly diverse studies on constitution-making in divided societies. Both consociationalists and centripetalists urge divided societies to distribute power vertically and horizontally for the sake of an inclusive government. In recent decades, decentralization has also been a trend among divided societies, even those with unitary systems. Spain, Indonesia, Ghana, and Sri Lanka are a few examples of unitary states that have experienced different levels of decentralization. The Taliban, however – very much like Ghani’s administration – favor a strongly centralized state in which they can dictate all rules and policies across the country. Their spokesperson referred to decentralization as creating “jazira-hai Qudrat” (islands of powers) and argued that they would not allow that happen.
The demand for decentralization has grown particularly among minorities in recent years. The anti-Taliban resistance forces in Panjshir also proposed the decentralization of Afghanistan for a peace deal with the Taliban. The Taliban rejected the proposal and invaded the province to ensure its centralized control over the entire country.
The Vicious Cycle Continues:
Afghan history tells us that Afghan political-military factions have long learned the art of challenging and crippling governments, but they have yet to learn the art of governance. By excluding political opposition, women, ethnic and religious minorities, and even educated professionals from leadership positions, the Taliban have certainly indicated that they would risk repeating history. But what does the future hold for them and the country as a whole, assuming their continuing intolerance and exclusion while exuberant in their recent victory?
The developments in recent days are not a good sign for the Taliban or even Afghanistan. The Panjshir resistance is seemingly not the end, but a new beginning. Growing non-violent movements, such as the flag movement, women’s rights protests, and the outcry of resistance across the country just days after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, have already begun to challenge the Taliban’s rule. The Taliban has responded to these movements with more violence. But as their predecessors would tell them, violence can hardly neutralize Afghan society. In fact, it will lead to military opposition and violent clashes.
But there is more at stake for Afghanistan today than there ever was. The attempts at ethnic domination in recent years has considerably damaged the long-lasting ideal of one nation, one country among ethnic groups. Bucking the urge of previous administrations for an ultra-centralized state, the call for federalization has already grown exponentially, particularly among non-Pashtuns. Ghani’s divisive and ethnocentric governance caused even more cracks in ethnic relations, as for the first time in the history of Afghanistan large group of protestors in at least two provinces have threatened to seek full autonomy. It follows, then, that the Taliban’s agenda for an ethnic domination leads to further alienation of ethnic groups and likely their political repositioning on unifying ideals, governance, and co-existence. The failure of the Taliban to form an inclusive government will automatically put the burden on ethnic masses as well as resistance forces to maintain national solidarity—not an easy task.