The Taliban have personnel problems. They are looking for help in Pakistan.
KARACHI, Pakistan — Twenty years ago, the jihadist, a Defense Ministry official in the first Taliban government, fled Afghanistan as US troops invaded the country. He settled in southwestern Pakistan with other Afghans, bought a house and became a baker.
Then, after Kabul fell to the Taliban last August, Khyal Mohammad Ghayoor received a call from a stranger who identified himself only by the double honorary title, Hajji Sahib, which roughly translates to a distinguished man who made a pilgrimage to Mecca. The man told Mr. Ghayoor that he was needed in Afghanistan, not as a baker but as a police chief.
Today, Mr. Ghayoor oversees 1,450 people as Kabul’s traffic police chief.
“I am very happy to be back in a free and liberated Afghanistan,” he said.
Five months after taking control of Afghanistan, the Taliban are grappling with governance challenges. Leaders promised to retain civil servants and prioritize ethnic diversity for senior government positions, but instead filled positions at all levels of management with soldiers and theologians. Other government employees have fled or refused to work, leaving many vacancies in this fragile state.
To help fill the gaps, Taliban officials are traveling to Pakistan. For years, Pakistan has officially denied the existence of Mr. Ghayoor and thousands of other ex-Taliban fighters living quietly within its borders. Now the Taliban are privately recruiting them to come back and work in the new government.
It is not known how many veterans have returned from Pakistan, but there have already been several high profile appointments, including that of Mr Ghayoor.
Arsala Kharoti, who worked as a community organizer in a refugee camp in Pakistan, is now deputy minister for refugees. Mawlawi Saeedullah, a preacher at a mosque in a Karachi slum, has been appointed a district judge in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Paktika, taking over a post he left in 2001.
The new recruits are headed for growing disaster. Hunger is endemic. Many teachers and other public sector employees have not been paid for months. Millions of dollars in aid that helped prop up the previous government are gone, billions in state assets are frozen, and economic sanctions have led to a near collapse of the country’s banking system.
“Leading the insurgency and the state are two different things,” said Noor Khan, 40, an accountant who fled Kabul for Islamabad in early September, among hundreds of other Afghan professionals hoping to gain asylum in Europe.
Afghanistan under the Taliban regime
With the departure of the American army on August 30, Afghanistan quickly fell back under the control of the Taliban. Across the country, there is widespread concern about the future.
In the first weeks of the Taliban takeover, around 120,000 people – including civil servants, bankers, academics and doctors – fled through airlifts organized by the United States and other foreign countries. . Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, acknowledging the personnel problems the new government would face, tried to convince the United States to suspend its evacuation process in August.
“Afghanistan needs the expertise of its trained personnel,” he said. “They shouldn’t be taken to other countries.”
A similar mass exodus of the Afghan professional class occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, when the Soviets withdrew and the Taliban wrested control from warlords filling the leadership vacuum.
Then as now, the Taliban preferred to fill the ranks of government with jihadists and loyalists. But this time, some civil servants have also stopped showing up for work, several of them said in interviews, either because they aren’t being paid or because they don’t want to taint their claims. ongoing asylum in the United States or Europe while working for the Taliban.
With any new regime, new people are appointed, but the difference in Afghanistan is that the new government has operated as a radical Islamic insurgency for two decades, so the group of people whose leaders it chooses are soldiers and scholars. religious, rather than politicians. allies or technocrats.
Many of the selected theologians are graduates of Darul Uloom Haqqania Madrasa, one of the oldest and largest Islamic seminaries in Pakistan.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the Haqqani militant network and labeled a terrorist by the FBI, was named acting interior minister, overseeing police, intelligence and other security forces.
The new head of administrative affairs at the Ministry of Education, also a mullah, wore a bandolier during his appointment ceremony in December.
Gaps in governance began to emerge, notably at Salaam, a state-run telecommunications company which, prior to the takeover, the Taliban regularly threatened and accused of providing information about them to the former government.
“They don’t have any experience running departments,” said Basir Jan, an employee of the company. “They sit in offices with guns and mistreat departmental employees calling them ‘corrupt’ and ‘enablers of the invaders’.”
Enayat Alokozai, a spokesman for the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, denied the accusations and said Salaam’s service had improved under the Taliban. “All technical staff are in place and doing their routine tasks,” he said.
Taliban leaders blame the United States for the collapse of the economy. But some analysts say that even if the United States releases Afghan state assets and lifts sanctions, the finance ministry lacks the technical know-how to revive the country’s ailing banking system.
“Their response to the dire economic situation is ‘It’s not our fault the internationals are withholding the money.’ But the reality is that they don’t have the capacity for those kinds of day-to-day technical operations,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
“One of the motivations for bringing people back from Pakistan is to counteract the image of a brain drain,” she said.
Wahidullah Hashimi, a senior official with the Taliban Council for Soldier Training and Education, said the staffing problems stemmed from corruption in the last administration and a foreign plot to deprive the Afghanistan of talent – rather than the Taliban’s shortage.
“Foreigners intentionally evacuated Afghans, especially educated and professional people, to weaken the Islamic Emirates and undermine our administration,” Hashimi said.
“We are in contact with Afghans in different parts of the world and encourage them to return to Afghanistan as we desperately need their help and expertise to help their people and their government,” he said.
Former government employees say they fear that conditions in Afghanistan, already dire, could become catastrophic. Some of the Taliban returnees share this concern: up to several dozen new government officials are guarding their families and belongings in Karachi, according to Afghan refugee community leaders in the city.
Saeedullah, 45, did not completely raise the stakes upon his return to Afghanistan. Only half of his family came, according to Matiullah, a relative who remained in Karachi and has only one name.
“The situation is still uncertain in Afghanistan and therefore we have advised Saeedullah not to sell his properties in Pakistan,” he said. “Saeedullah’s two sons live with their families and run clothing stores in an upscale market in Karachi.” Saeedullah could not be reached for comment.
Abubakar Siddique, a journalist and author, said the Taliban remained dependent on Pakistan, despite their new grip on power in Afghanistan.
“They still see it as a safe haven to retreat to if things go wrong in Afghanistan,” Mr Siddique said. “Obviously Taliban leaders and mid-level officials don’t want to risk it all by bringing their families to a country that many Afghans are eager to leave.”
Mr Ghayoor, the baker-turned-police chief, said Kabul had changed significantly in the two decades of his absence. As part of his duties, he tries to bring order to a busy produce market in Kabul as vendors tout fruit and vegetables and taxi drivers call stops, looking for fares.
“There’s so much traffic, so many street vendors, and the drivers don’t even listen to me when I ask them to move,” he says exasperated. “When I ask a street vendor to leave this place and move on, he’s like, ‘What should we eat?’ I asked them, ‘What did you do with all the dollars the Americans were pouring into this country?’ »
Mr Ghayoor said in December that neither he nor any other member of the Kabul police had been paid for months. Nonetheless, he said he decided to sell his bakery in Quetta, a city in southwest Pakistan, and move his extended family, including nine children, to Kabul.
“The international community used to say that it would be impossible for the Taliban to fight these powerful forces, let alone seize power,” Ghayoor said, adding: “Still, our operation is going quite well. “.
Zia ur-Rehman reported from Karachi, Pakistan, and Emilie Schmall from New Delhi. Sami Sahak contributed reporting from Los Angeles, Wali Ariane from Istanbul and Safiullah Padshah from Kabul, Afghanistan.