March 21, 2022:
The new (since late 2021) Taliban IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) government is forming an army. This force won’t be as large as the former IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) force, which had a paper strength of 300,000 and was subsidized by the Americans. The Taliban defeated the IRA force via bribes or threats to key commanders and government officials in charge of supplying the troops with food, fuel and other supplies. American aid supplied over a billion dollars a year for this and over the years more and more of it was stolen.
Before the IEA the Taliban budget was much smaller because most of it came from criminal activity; mainly extortion plus payments from the heroin cartels for protecting the heroin production and smuggling routes to the borders with Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan. The heroin cartels also bribed some government and security officials. Giving and taking bribes is an ancient Afghan tradition, as is extortion and all manner of what most other nations consider bad behavior.
Part of the process for forming the IEA army was the establishment of a RCC (Ranks Clearance Commission) to determine which members of the IRA force would be useful and willing to serve in the new, smaller, IEA force. Most of the IRA military senior officers and technical specialists got out of the country before the Taliban gained complete control in late 2021. The IEA declared amnesty for all members of the IRA military and police but few formally accepted, with most just walking away and going back to civilian life. At least a hundred of these former troops and police were killed by vengeful Taliban gunmen and it took the IEA leadership months to bring that under control.
The RCC did find some reliable IRA officers and tech specialists that were still in Afghanistan and willing to take a job with the new, much smaller IEA force.
The IEA does need an organized, disciplined force to deal with internal security problems. This includes Islamic terrorist groups who see the IEA as an enemy rather than an ally and provider of sanctuary. These problems come from some ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) factions, the non-Pushtun resistance (Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara) groups, and a growing number of Afghan Taliban factions that oppose Pakistani control of the IEA. In many ways the IEA faces more internal resistance than the original Taliban government that lasted from the mid-1990s to late 2001. The American intervention after September 11, 2001 allowed the Northern Alliance (the non-Pushtun alliance) to go on the offensive and drive the Taliban out of the country by the end of 2001.
The 2022 IEA has more income from the heroin cartels and a much wealthier Afghanistan to tax. That prosperity is fading fast and even many Pushtun are angry about that. When the IEA took power, the national population was at least 33 million, which is 57 percent more than 21 million late 2001. Kabul is still the largest city, but with five million residents. That includes about half the urban population in Afghanistan. In late 2001 Kabul had a population of half a million. Despite the population growth, over two-thirds of the population still lives in the countryside.
The biggest problem the IEA has is the national economy. Until 2020 the GDP has grown continuously since 2001 with average family income increasing noticeably each year until 2020 when GDP declined 5 percent because of the covid19 world recession. In 2001 there were only 10,000 phones in the country, all very expensive land lines in cities. Now there are over 22 million inexpensive cell phones with access even in remote rural areas. Back in 2001 less than ten percent of the population had access to any health care, under the IRA at least 80 percent did and life expectancy has risen from 47 years, the lowest in Eurasia, to 62. This left Bangladesh to occupy last place. This is apparently the highest life expectancy has ever been in Afghanistan and the UN noted it was the highest one decade increase ever recorded. Afghans have noticed this even if the rest of the world has not.
While GDP declined five percent in 2020, the decline abated and economic activity is growing worldwide. Afghanistan was on its way to three percent GDP growth in 2021 before the covid19 recession appeared. GDP growth was expected to resume in 2022, by about three percent. With the Taliban takeover, GDP is expected to shrink 20-30 percent in 2022 and not recover for years, if ever as long as the IEA is in charge. Most Afghans expect the situation to get worse than just the GDP decline because no donor nations believe Taliban assurances about being peaceful. There is already violence on the Pakistan border, mainly about where the border actually is. The Iran border is still violent because of continued drug smuggling and violence against Afghan Shia.
The neighbors still believe the IEA will collapse after a few years because of internal unrest and growing poverty which most Afghans will compare to the previous two decades. The main cause of an IEA collapse is the economy that, since 2001, has more than quadrupled. This was much faster than population growth as per-capita GDP nearly tripled. At the same time growing government corruption and growth of the drug cartels distorted income distribution. By 2021 the drug cartels represented nearly 10 percent of GDP and only benefitted ten percent of the population, including the Taliban payroll plus bribes paid to political leaders and security forces commanders. Heroin and other drugs were by far the most profitable economic activity in Afghanistan. Despite that most Afghans are hostile to the drugs and the many local addicts it created. Neighboring countries have the same attitude.
Generous foreign aid took care of most government expenses and that led to a lot of foreign investment. This foreign aid and investment averaged over a hundred billion dollars a year since 2002 and most of it was not spent in Afghanistan, but in the countries delivering the aid. This is normal, but there was enough being spent in Afghanistan to keep the IRA government in power and the GDP expanding.
Foreign aid and investment declined considerably after most foreign troops were withdrawn in 2014. The Taliban expected to quickly take over but that did not happen because most Afghans now had something to fight for and they kept the Taliban out of power until 2021. At the end the IRA government had an annual budget of $6 billion with about four billion dollars going to pay government workers. Most of the government employees were in the security services and the corruption was greatest there.
The IEA has to deal with more Afghan anti-Pakistan violence than the IRA had to. The IEA is more pro-Islamic terrorist than the IRA and tolerates the presence of the TTP (Pakistan Taliban) that seeks to impose a religious dictatorship on Pakistan. The IEA appears to have made a similar deal with ISIL, or some of the ISIL factions in Afghanistan, because the number of ISIL attacks in Pakistan have increased this year and these attacks are often coming from ISIL factions operating across the border in Afghanistan. The Pakistani military apparently underestimated the degree of anti-Pakistan attitudes among IEA leaders.
The IEA army won’t be large enough to deal with all the local unrest and the only source of help is the Pakistani military. The heroin cartels are a major source of income for the Pakistani military because the Pakistani generals provide export of most of that heroin via the port of Karachi and several major airports. Then there are the vital chemical imports needed for the conversion of opium to heroin. There are twice as many Pushtuns in Pakistan than Afghanistan and in 2022 these Pakistani Pushtuns are getting organized to oppose the Pakistani military and its control over the elected Pakistani government and the unelected IEA in Afghanistan. Because of this, getting troop reinforcements from Pakistan is not a practical solution to the inadequate size of the IEA army.
The IEA took power but it turns out that holding onto it will be far more difficult.