An Afghan man works on a poppy field in Jalalabad Province, in 2014. Afghanistan is the world’s top cultivator of the poppy, from which opium and heroin are produced. (Parwiz/Reuters) Not even heroin, opium, and methamphetamine will be able to solve the problem.
No government — particularly one with only a shaky claim to legitimacy, none of it democratic — will ever enjoy a sudden drop in its country’s standard of living. That is something the Taliban may shortly discover as they try to consolidate their hold over a society famously fragmented along ethnic lines. Terror reinforced by purloined American weaponry may work, at least for a while. And yes, the universalist pretensions of the Taliban’s Islamism will win over some hearts and minds, as will the order, however harsh, that their form of Sharia brings with it. Nevertheless, if the Taliban, a movement still strongest in its Pashtun heartland, come into too abrasive a conflict with the traditional loyalties of other Afghans to their kith, kin, and tribe, they may struggle.
Now throw in the rural–urban divide as another potential stumbling block for the Taliban in certain places — notably greater Kabul, an urban agglomeration that is home to over 4 million people, up from 2.5 million when the Taliban were driven out of power in 2001. That said, Kabul may, culturally, be less “urban” than those millions suggest. Many only moved there — often from the countryside — fairly recently (or are the children of such arrivals). Meanwhile, only 25 percent of Kabul’s population is Pashtun, and a large percentage of the city’s inhabitants (Afghanistan’s population skews very young) spent their formative years in the freer atmosphere that developed after the Taliban had been routed. Many will be too young to make a difference (41 percent of Afghans are 14 and under), and young enough to be reprogrammed. But there are plenty, too, in their late teens and twenties, who will remember what life was like before August 15.
That is not to say that the now-lost era was a paradise. It was anything
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