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 Sohail Inayatullah, Satya Tanner, Jose Ramos, and Kiran Ahmed

While there is considerable commentary on the current politics in Afghanistan, this short piece focuses on alternative futures. The futures presented are not radical, rather they take a macro historical structural view understanding the conservative nature of Afghanistan. There is certainly the danger of reification in this approach but by using different lenses we hope that we allowed agency in this formulation. As others we have been stunned by the speed of the Taliban victory. We despair at the loss of women's rights. We despair that Afghanis have been attacked by outsiders in this iteration since the Soviet invasion in 1979.


We despair at the politics of opium, used by each regime as a weapon against others and the world. Ultimately, while we engage in alternative futures thinking we are transparent with our politics: we hope for a peaceful, inclusive, pluralistic future for the nation, particularly the rights of women, all tribes, and nature.

The first scenario derives from the work of Pitirim Sorokin. The second from the works of P.R Sarkar. The third is from the historical narrative of the Pashtuns. The fourth is from the linear and cultural narrative of technological and informational globalization. The final is from a mixture of visions of progressive forces within and outside the Islamic world, inspired by the work of Zia Sardar and Johan Galtung. It moves from history as defining to imagination as leading.

As we think about the future, along with the deep patterns there are numerous uncertainties. First, are the role of external players, with Tajikistan now entering the battle in support of the Northern Alliance, the great game has a new added level of complexity. Second, are the internal battles in the nation. This is being framed as the battle between the good and bad Taliban (this is partly about marketing) but equally important are the tensions between Kabul vs the regions; women and men; the Afghani and Pakistan Taliban; Sunni-Shia and Pushtuns, Hazaras and Uzbek sand the role of Al-Qaeda and Daesh (IS-K). Third, questions over the nature of the economy, if the nation can move beyond development assistance, terror funding, and poppy production - can new models of economy flourish that localize and are connected to the global economy.

1. THE ENDLESS PENDULUM - BACK AND FORTH. The long pendulum between secular (Kabul, modernist but generally focused on approval of the West) and religious (rural, command and control, conservative, man over nature and women) continues. It goes in one direction, moves toward the principal of limits and then rebounds. This approach is derived from Pitirim Sorokin. He argued that systems reinforce particular views of social reality (truth is ideational or truth is material, with the midpoint of integrated).

This is more than an Afghanistan issue as in the region from Iran to India to Myanmar, the right-wing rule (as well as throughout the Western world). Bangladesh appears to be the exception, so far. Afghanistan joins other conservative nations in the region. However, a swing is possible with youth and women leading a pluralistic cultural shift. Ie with external powers out, an endogenous development pattern can emerge ie integrating both aspects of social reality. A swing back to the modernist is also possible if the Taliban cannot create a unity government, and if terrorist groups attack the Taliban (for being not pure enough, too international, and too soft). What happens with the brewing conflict with the Northern Alliance will be telling. The brother of the former President of Afghanistan, Hasmat Ghani suggests integration is possible. He writes: Ghani said it is important to bridge divides in Afghan society; which means the Taliban finding a way to accept modern amenities and advancements, and younger Afghans and opponents of the group being able to engage with the Taliban, whom many of them had likely never seen up close until last week.
“When you haven’t been around certain kinds of people, appearances can be deceiving or even frightening,” Ghani said.
2. MONEY WINS OVER THE TEXT. This scenario is based on the macrohistorical work of P.R. Sarkar. In Sarkar’s perspective, there are four types of power, with each taking turns in power. The workers give way to the warriors who give way to the intellectuals (inclusive and dogmatic) and then to the capitalists. Human history is a narrative of this eternal cycle. In Afghanistan the current phase in the cycle is run by intellectuals (conservative Islam using warriors - young Taliban) to conquer others through ideas and military power. They thus use religious ideology and weapons to hold on to power. However, in the interaction with the world economy, to rise, to continue to gain power, they need to embrace capitalism or other historical systems of finance. This next stage is as India, the capitalist. To advance their economies they will need to accumulate wealth, play by global financial rules, trade etc…as we see in Qatar, Emirates retains its traditiona warrior tribal structure along with Islam as its ideological framework, but in reality it is capital that runs the show. In Afghanistan, the current debate remains ideological ie types of Islam and using ideas and weapons to challenge Western models of reality. As they become capitalist then they will need to ensure efficiency and productivity, thus, the rights of females and minorities will initially grow to give access to a larger labour market. Governance, predictability of law, and open markets will become far more important. Of course, given that the rest of the world isan advanced stage of capitalism, Afghanistan could easily become a dumping ground of cheap products i.e. continued peripheralization (and then the resultant return of the old Taliban). As Ramos adds, hypercapitalism dismembers traditional culture, so a backlash is inevitable. They will need to learn to regulate markets and police the internet to keep markets palatable to the old guard.

3. THE PAWN THAT ROARS. This is the scenario driven by geo-politics. The site of the great game – the endless battles between nations (Expansionist Russia and expansionist USA; Pakistan vs India – Pakistan's need for strategic territorial depth). Thus, Afghanistan is the pawn that roars, playing a role in ending the Soviet Union and certainly playing a role in ending Pax Americana. Is Pakistan next? Pakistan knowing that possibility is doing its best to control what it can. In Pakistan’s view, they are the lynchpins. Writes the former ISI director, General Hamid Gil: “when history is written, it will be stated that the ISI defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan with the help of America. Then there will be another sentence.The ISI, with the help of America, defeated America.
Afghanistan sensing danger still around, uses its narrative as the graveyard of empires to maintain national identity and unity. Patriarchy continues. Challenges to the Taliban come from the usual suspects.

4. SELFIES AND AMUSEMENT CARS - THE GOOD TALIBAN Following on from viral videos of Taliban men enjoying amusement park rides after taking over Kabul, the good Taliban wins out. Ie Taliban remains conservative ie men first, traditional tribal feudal rules but honor, serving guests, etc dominate. However, given the need for vaccinations, the globalization of news, the internet, the youthful demographics, they adapt to a changed world. Their skills at negotiation and influencing over social media become more important than arms. Trump negotiates a hotel deal as payment for his part in the Doha negotiations. Step by step there are surprising changes. Generational change allows this shift, indeed, suggests Ramos, playfulness and irony create the door for new narratives. Of course, this is premised on a localized flourishing economy outside of Opium and developmental assistance. The trillions of dollars from minerals create an Islamic socialist type state where basic needs are better met, as in Brunei, example.

5. SOFT ISLAM AND A REGIONAL CONFEDERATION. As Galtung has argued, the battle is not between religions or civilizations but between the hard and soft in every religion/nation. In this future, a progressive soft Islam leads and a regional confederation emerges. This reduces costs, develops markets, and is a way to counter the threats from Russia, China, and others. A universal basic income, maxi-mini economic structures, Islamic cooperative platforms develop. The female warriors of Islam, the forgotten Queens as Mernissi has argued, such as the fabled Malalai of Maiwand or the latter day leaders such as Fawzia Koofi, Zarifa Ghafari, or Salima Mazari - becomes a counter narrative. Jose Ramos imagines this as a Gaia of civilizations, even going so far to see the development of an eco-cultural tourism in the nation in the medium term. Kiran Ahmed imagines: Women from Pakistan who feel beleaguered by rising violence and slackness by the state join hands with women in Afghanistan. Access to the Internet and social media make these connections possible. Given the fear of backlash, they decide to co-create productions in the form of children’s stories. These seem innocuous enough, so they stay under the radar. However, their messages overturn the us/them dichotomy by espousing self-hoods that go beyond identities of nationhood, gender and religion. This narrative gradually gains momentum, creating a niche especially in the new generation of South Asians. States and reactionary forces realise their narrative of divisiveness is no longer ‘sellable’ to the youth and adapt, paving the way for regional cooperation. As Ramos argues, this is a mode of being beyond the battle of the who is the purist. Instead of primordial purity (as we are seeing in the USA and India), it is interconnectedness that is defining.

Which future will result? None of us know. However, the main intent is to loosen the straitjacket of history and imagine alternative futures. Afghanistan's future is far from being written in stone or blood.


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LATIFI, A (21 August 2021). Afghans need to accept Taliban rule, says Hashmat Ghani. Aljazeera. Retrieved from
Sorokin, P. (1957). Social and Cultural Dynamics. Boston: Porter Sargent.
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