Taliban return seen as unlikely threat in reshaped Afghanistan


Among the snippets in a secret NATO report detailing the hopes of jailed Taliban militants to retake Afghanistan was news that the Taliban movement had set up telephone hotlines for Afghans to report anonymously on failures of its shadow government.
Clearly a decade of war with NATO has not dented the ambitions of the Taliban rank and file, or those of their one-eyed leader Mullah Omar, to again govern the country they ruled for about five years before being swept from power by US-led forces in 2001. But reclaiming Afghanistan, however persistent the insurgency has proved for NATO on the battlefield, would be no easy task for the Taliban after 10 years in which the expectations of many Afghans have undergone a seismic shift. While Afghans routinely bemoan the state of their country, its endemic corruption, lack of security and crippled development, Kabul’s potholed roads are now choked with cars, high-rise developments dot the city and people crowd a small but growing number of internet cafes to connect to the world.
The Taliban sprang to power in the wake of a vicious civil war that itself erupted in the Soviet rush to get out of the country, leaving behind a power vacuum in Kabul. In the fighting that set former president Burhanuddin Rabbani and his military commander Ahmad Shah Masood against the forces of rival anti-Soviet warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, two thirds of Kabul was razed and about 50,000 civilians died. Thousands of women and children were raped and tortured.
The austere Taliban, with their medieval system of justice and punishment – including hangings, oppression of women and amputating the limbs of thieves – swept away the chaos of warlord rule with a brutally effective brand of law and order. President Hamid Karzai, whose government has been tarnished by accusations of corruption, incompetence and autocratic rule, has repeatedly said the key to preventing a Taliban re-emergence is creating jobs and opportunities for the poor. And while Afghans largely feel they have seen little improvement, gross domestic product growth exceeded 12 percent in 2007 before slipping to 3.4 percent in 2008, and roaring to 22.5 percent in 2009 and 8.2 percent in 2010, albeit off a low base.