The Taliban’s Attacks on Diversity Undermine Afghanistan’s Stability

  • Afghans of all backgrounds want more than the end of violence. They want true peace built on coexistence and reconciliation.
  • Instead, the Taliban are imposing their views on Afghanistan’s diverse ethnic, cultural and religious groups.
  • The international and regional community is notably united on pushing for a more inclusive government in Afghanistan.

Each year, the U.N. International Day of Living Together in Peace reminds us that true, sustainable peace is achieved not simply by eliminating war, but rather by building tolerance, inclusion, understanding and solidarity among and between communities.

In Afghanistan, this day holds immense potential. For more than four decades, the country’s resilient yet diverse population has endured cycles of political turmoil, violent conflict and civil war. After so much suffering, Afghans yearn to transcend the mere cessation of violence — to establish true peace built on coexistence and reconciliation. However, while Afghanistan is no longer in an official state of war, the Taliban’s grip on power has made the prospects of seeing real, positive peace appear faint.

The End of War Does Not Ensure the Promise of Peace

Many in the international community were quick to praise the Taliban for ostensibly ending the war. And while security has improved throughout much of the country, this view overlooks critical context: The Taliban were the primary instigators in the first place, and they routinely employed tactics like insurgency and suicide bombings to instill fear and weaken opposition.

Moreover, their failure to reach a peace agreement with the Afghan government further underscores their responsibility for the prolonged conflict. It’s important to acknowledge these factors to grasp the complete picture and avoid inadvertently legitimizing actions that have caused immense suffering.

It’s true that the war is officially over. But that does not mean Afghanistan is at peace. And as the country’s now-de facto authorities, the Taliban are responsible for cultivating an environment that allows the Afghan people to reconcile their differences and begin the process of healing the deep wounds inflicted upon them.

Instead, the Taliban continue to brutally suppress dissent — resorting to harsh punishments, detention and torture for those who oppose their ideology. In December 2023, the Taliban’s Ministry of Economy issued a letter calling on local and international organizations to refrain from implementing projects focused on peace, conflict resolution, advocacy and public awareness. According to the Taliban, these projects are not considered a need. But the ban hinders efforts to address past grievances and envision a better future for the country.

Afghans should not be forced to choose between their fundamental rights and safety from violence. They deserve a chance to live with dignity, to have their rights respected and guaranteed, to rebuild their lives, and to have influence over their own future or that of their government.

Inclusion is a Foundation for Lasting Peace

When a government strives to include all voices of society, it creates a more sustainable foundation for peace. Take, for example, Colombia’s 2016 peace accord. In an extremely diverse country, all members had a stake in the peacebuilding process — whether it was a former guerilla group, women or Indigenous populations. The peace accord ended 50 years of violence, where one of the roots of the problem had been political exclusion.

Afghanistan is also home to a diverse and vibrant population. The country is home to a vast number of ethnic and cultural identities — such as Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkman, Baluch, Pachaie, Nuristani, Aymaq, Arab, Qirghiz, Qizilbash, Gujur, Brahwui and other tribes — and many religious groups such as Sunni and Shia Muslims, Sikhs, Baha’is, Hindus and a small population of Christians. Afghanistan’s future cannot and should not be dictated by any singular group. That means all Afghans should be included in decision-making processes at every level, be it local, national or international level.

In February 2024, however, the Taliban made it clear they did not want other non-Taliban representatives of the Afghanistan to attend the U.N.-convened meeting on Afghanistan in Doha. They even made it a precondition for their own attendance — terms the U.N. secretary-general deemed unacceptable.

But the Taliban’s rejection of inclusive governance and decision-making is at odds with much of the international community. Notably, the United States, the U.N. and many European countries have all made recognition of the Taliban conditional based on the need for an inclusive government, among other things.

Inclusion is also one of the few consensus positions among Afghanistan’s contentious neighbors, many of whom do not always see eye to eye. Foreign ministers from Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran have all called on the Taliban to have a more inclusive government and a national reconciliation process.

Meanwhile, the Kazan Declaration, which was released at the culmination of the 5th Moscow Format last year, claimed that there had been no progress toward a more inclusive government in Afghanistan. Furthermore, the declaration — which was put forward by representatives from China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — pushed for a more constructive dialogue with different ethnic groups within the country in order for there to be a more “inclusive, accountable, and responsible government.”

Despite this consensus both internationally and regionally, the Taliban have rejected the need for inclusion and responded to the Kazan Declaration by stating they already had “religious and national legitimacy.”

The Taliban are Undermining Social Cohesion

Some parts of the international community claimed that the Taliban have become more moderate since their first rule — but the opposite has proven to be true. In addition to eschewing calls for inclusion, the Taliban have also made every effort to erase what glued Afghanistan’s diverse population together.

The Afghan constitution that recognized equal rights for all citizens has been suspended, robbing the population of their rights and the government’s responsibility to protect those rights.

The Taliban also replaced the country’s centuries-old solar calendar with the lunar calendar and cancelled the widely celebrated Nowroz public holiday in March 2022. A year later, in March 2023, they declared Nowruz as an act against sharia. What once was an opportunity for communities to come together to celebrate the beginning of spring has now been trampled into an eerie silence.

Meanwhile, the Taliban have made it mandatory that people speak Pashto in government offices, one of many languages spoken in Afghanistan, depriving people from engaging the government in their own native language freely. This imposition includes renaming government and educational signs and titles.

Finally, in January of this year, the Taliban started confiscating books, starting with 20,000 books in Kabul related to Afghanistan’s ethnic history, Tajik history, Shia sects, religious enlightenment, identity and other topics. They also ordered that universities exchange all books about the Republic era and replace them with the Siraat (the biography of the Prophet Muhammad). Such actions not only erode the fabric of Afghan society, but also represent a grave threat to the nation’s cultural heritage and collective identity.

Learning From Past Mistakes

While other global issues undoubtedly command attention, history shows us that it’s important to sustain focus on Afghanistan and craft policies that prioritize the well-being of its millions of citizens.

Following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, international attention drifted elsewhere, and the Afghan people lacked the support needed to rebuild their nation. This inadvertently fueled further conflict, as it left Afghanistan fragile and vulnerable to the rise of extremist groups. The consequences were dire: Afghanistan became a breeding ground for terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda. To ensure the Afghan people are not alone in the aftermath of yet another major geopolitical shift, the international community should sustain its commitment and support for Afghanistan’s stability and development.

And while the Doha agreement marked the conclusion of direct U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, our responsibility to our strategic allies persists. The sacrifices made by the Afghan people — of their lives, their liberty, and their future — warrant our continued support.

U.S. engagement with the Taliban regime should prioritize principled, outcome-driven approaches. In doing so, our guiding principle should be to avoid causing harm to women and men who are exercising their right to find true peace and live free from persecution and oppression from the Taliban. Upholding this principle of “do no harm” is crucial in navigating engagements with the Taliban, ensuring that our actions prioritize the protection of vulnerable populations and promote inclusive, equitable outcomes.

Furthermore, Afghanistan’s pivotal geopolitical position makes it susceptible to exploitation by violent extremist and terrorist groups. History has taught us that instability in Afghanistan reverberates far beyond its borders. Our continued support for Afghanistan is not merely a moral imperative but also a strategic necessity in ensuring regional stability and averting potential threats to international security.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). 

The Taliban’s Attacks on Diversity Undermine Afghanistan’s Stability