The Taliban gave its first proper press conference yesterday where they didn't not just say the right things, they said exactly the right things. There were promises for an inclusive government that will reach out to former leaders under the US government, respect for women’s rights including their right to work, an end to narcotic production, no door knocks or retribution – but all within the framework of Sharia law.
This has led to some speculating that the Taliban is getting professional PR advice (from Pakistan?) as it was all too perfect.
There are a couple of possibilities here. One is that after 20 years the Taliban really has moved on and realise they need to set up a real country and will have to do things like attract investment. (BTW our list of Central Asia/Afghanistan economic projects on the table from yesterday is the top performing story on the site at the moment: in case you missed it, find it here.)
Another and more sophisticated explanation is the Taliban leadership has changed but they will struggle to control their own foot soldiers, who are largely uneducated, brutal and more radical than the leadership. A version of this is that the Taliban is actually fragmented and even if the leadership intends to set up a functioning, more moderate state, not all the factions are on board with these ideas. This version is the most probable in my book.
And finally that the leadership realises the Klieg lights of international media attention are fully trained on Afghanistan at the moment, but they will soon shift their attention elsewhere – probably as soon as evacuation is over – and then the Taliban will be left to do as they like in peace and quiet. There must be a big dollop of truth to this one too.
The reason everyone is so sceptical is while Kabul is quiet and the foot soldiers have clearly been ordered to do absolutely nothing that would make bad PR there are plenty of reports of atrocities in the regional cities already captured and even some from Kabul itself. The difference is the international media is in Kabul and not in the regions.
All said and done this is probably a very clever strategy. The Taliban have to do nothing for say a month. If they start shooting people in Kabul now the pressure to at least bomb them will be overwhelming. If they start shooting people in a month’s time the “caravan will have moved on”, as they say in Central Asia, and there will be zero appetite to restart military operations in the region – especially after the scale of this debacle. I think this is pretty obvious to everyone in the game. Besides, it will be hard to do as one of the practical upshots of the collapse of US support for Afghanistan is all the Central Asian countries are openly giving the US the cold shoulder and they don't have a base anywhere nearby.
The Americans are planning to lift all their people out by August 31, which is almost certainly the deadline for the end of the first part of this story. From September 1 Russia will be in charge of security in the region and in control of the Afghan story. By then the international media will have left and bne IntelliNews takes over again as the main source of information on the region. We will follow the economic project story closely as that is where this story is headed next.
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