Former Afghanistan minister warns leniency could be disastrous

Afghanistan’s former Minister of Mines and Petroleum, Nargis Nehan has warned that leniency towards the Taliban will prove disastrous. PHOTO|Bloomberg Businessweek.

Afghanistan’s former Minister of Mines and Petroleum, Nargis Nehan has warned that leniency towards the Taliban will prove disastrous. He said such move would embolden fundamentalist groups elsewhere to stage similar takeovers.

He told European Foundation for South Asian Studies’ Director Junaid Qureshi, Nargis Nehan who now lives in Norway as a political refugee said, the ‘new’ Taliban were even more dangerous than the ‘old’ Taliban as they held political grudges against democratic elements in contemporary Afghanistan, including media outlets, political activists, and former members of the security forces.

“At the same time, this new version of the Taliban is a lot more fragmented, including lack of traditional chain of command that would allow the Taliban regime to coherently develop and implement policy throughout Afghanistan,” she said.

Describing her personal life, Nehan outlined that she belonged to a non-political family background. After her family fled to Pakistan during the Afghan-Soviet War, Nehan began attending school in Pakistan and later obtained a job in an international organization active in Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban regime.

From 2002 onwards, she worked in a variety of humanitarian positions in Afghanistan before entering the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance. In 2010, Nehan left the public sector and founded the NGO Equality for Peace and Democracy before returning to governmental affairs in 2014 in an advisory role for Afghanistan’s then-President Ashraf Ghani.

Nehan remains actively engaged in finding solutions to the problems in Afghanistan. Now based in Norway, she was invited to the recent talks between Western and Taliban officials held in Oslo but refused to attend on the grounds that the Taliban never really bought into political negotiations in the past.

She outlined that she did not oppose negotiations with the Taliban per se but that talks should be held based on the Taliban fulfilling predetermined conditions.

If these conditions were not communicated or upheld, she suggested, negotiations merely legitimized and emboldened the Taliban and its tactics of holding the Afghan population hostage.

In 2017, Nehan was appointed Minister of Mines and Petroleum, a position from which she resigned in 2019 after the Taliban and the United States began engaging in bilateral peace talks that excluded the Ghani government. Within the public sector, Nehan narrated, she faced discrimination by equals and higher-ups, further motivating her to focus on the advocacy of female rights outside of the public sector.

She was critical of the State-building enterprise that Afghan governments engaged in between 2001 and 2021. Adopting a highly centralized constitution and political system that did not devolve political power to Afghanistan’s various political and ethnic groups, she argued, was a major shortcoming of the Republic’s post-Taliban political order that further allowed the Taliban to capitalize on opportunistic elements in the Afghan population.

She contended that the responsibility for Afghanistan’s (renewed) fall to the Taliban lay with both internal and external actors. On the one hand, government-internal corruption and conflict rendered the government incapable of successfully offering the Afghan population an alternative vision for the future by failing to develop functioning public institutions and national security forces.

Corruption and issues associated with centralization were so endemic that they paralyzed the Afghan State and ultimately facilitated the government’s collapse. At the same time, a host of regional and extra-regional actors, ranging from Iran and Pakistan to the United States, are responsible for using Afghanistan as a staging ground for proxy wars and ideological conflicts.


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