One Year Later: Taliban Reprise Repressive Rule, but Struggle to Build a State
While they have yet to establish a formal government, the Taliban have emphatically suppressed free speech and organized political activity.
When the Taliban swept into power last August, many expected they would reprise the draconian governance of their 1990s emirate. Despite pledges of moderation and reform from some Taliban factions, one year later those predictions have largely turned out to be prescient. The group has yet to establish a formal governance structure, with the interim cabinet appointed early in their tenure still intact. But the Taliban have swiftly reinstated many of their harshest policies, pushing women out of public life and brooking no dissent. USIP’s Andrew Watkins explains how the Taliban government functions, who’s really in charge and how the Taliban have dealt with challenges to their authority.
What is the structure of the Taliban’s government? How does it function?
The Taliban’s political system, in the words of one legal analyst, is “highly underspecified and undertheorized.” The Taliban refer to their government as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the title of the first regime they established in the 1990s, which they used to refer to themselves throughout their two-decade-long insurgency. The emirate is organized around a supreme leader, the emir, believed to be endowed by God with authority to oversee all affairs of state and society. Yet since their takeover, the group has only offered vague insistences that they will rule in accordance with “Islamic law and Afghan values,” and has rarely spelled out the legal or political principles that guide their rules and behaviors.
After their takeover of Afghanistan, the Taliban quickly moved to assume the authority of the state. Within weeks they announced “interim” appointees for all but one ministry under the structure of the previous government (the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was left vacant and later disbanded). All acting ministers were senior leaders within the Taliban; no outside political figures were appointed, the overwhelming majority were Pashtun, and all were men. Since then, the Taliban made various changes to the internal structure of various ministries, and they revived the Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, made notorious under their 1990s tenure for operating as a harsh “morality police” enforcing strict dictates on social behavior: gender integration, dancing, music and even TV and radio were banned. While thousands of civil servants fled after the takeover, the vast majority returned to work, now serving under Taliban appointees.
In spite of labeling their government an “interim” cabinet, the Taliban have taken few steps to establish a more permanent government, and they seem far off from drafting and formalizing a constitution (an exploratory committee was appointed months ago but offers no public reporting on its status). Currently Afghanistan lacks any basis for rule of law; Taliban security forces determine what is criminal on the spot, and Taliban courts issue judgments.