US President Joe Biden had assured of keeping Afghanistan functional under President Ashraf Ghani’s government even after American and NATO troops’ withdrawal. However, his word soon evaporated into thin air when the Taliban walked into Kabul on August 15. Mr Modi’s National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, also had to chew his words uttered with such confidence in favour of the Afghan government and its well-equipped 300,000 strong army, which was steamrolled without any military action by Taliban forces. Finally, Kabul fell to the Taliban, who have now taken over the reins of the country; proving yet again that Afghanistan is the “Graveyard of Empires.” While taking over Kabul may have been a walk in the park, the Taliban are now going to face enormous challenges. To rule Afghanistan is no piece of cake. They will soon be exposed to many difficult and unfamiliar paths. Therefore, it will be prudent to draw a roadmap for the smooth running of state functions and international acceptance. It will also be just as equally important to get themselves cleared of all emerging allegations/controversies so that they can be recognised as a legitimate political force. As per the Joint Declaration signed in February 2020, there remain several outstanding matters after which the Taliban would be removed from the sanctions list. They need to have a clean chit to interact with the international community and organisations. Additionally, Taliban 2.0 must show maturity and dispel the impression of being a coercive force. As of now, they have been very responsible and shown no signs of displeasing the international community. They are cooperating and negotiating with all stakeholders. In fact, they need to be given some credit for fulfilling their promise of avoiding bloodshed at all costs. The post – 8/15 era may prove many wrong if they continue to work in a civilised manner. To rule Afghanistan is no piece of cake. The Taliban will soon be exposed to many difficult and unfamiliar paths. Experience in Statecraft The one weakness that the Taliban 2.0 have displayed is their lack of experience in statecraft. Till now, no decisive and distinct leader has been brought forth from its ranks to demonstrate clarity and give confidence to the world that it has the wherewithal to govern. While one can give them the benefit of the doubt for being inexperienced, their actions show a lack of expertise in administration/management. The silver lining even here is that these Taliban 2.0 have an advantage: they have inherited functional governance and infrastructure. Without wasting any time, they should settle down in the saddle quickly before it is too late and the system gets disintegrated. Political and Economic Stability Political stability is a top priority to run any state. This must be attained at the earliest by sorting out differences with all stakeholders. Only when this happens, will there be economic stability, which is critical for the smooth functioning of state-owned matters. Right now, government offices are closed. No financial institutions are open. In the absence of a functional state mechanism, an already volatile economy is bound to collapse. There is a need to immediately have a system in place to avoid economic catastrophe. It is important to understand that economies in aid-dependent countries is always fragile and need delicate handling. Afghanistan, being a conflict zone by legacy, does not have a strong economic foundation. The private sector is very weak and does not provide many opportunities to the workforce except in the agricultural sector, that too, with very low yields. However, the country is rich in natural resources, with a wide range of minerals that offer a prosperous future, if tapped properly and on good terms. Currently, the Taliban need access to their reserves and aid to address the state’s economic requirements on priority. It is also vital to generate other activities/opportunities to revive the economy. It is practically impossible to run a country without having money at the disposal of the government. Role of Neighbouring Countries To rescue Afghanistan from sinking economically, the international community needs to play a positive and practical role to save the downtrodden country. But it also appears to be clear that previous players in the Afghan theatre, after the fall of Kabul, are not likely to show any interest. Now, others have an opportunity to step in. China has been very forthcoming. Its interest to invest in Afghanistan and take it under its fold has long-term benefits for both. Afghanistan naturally falls in line with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects. The caveat here is that while China may continue to help Kabul in its development schemes, it will do so cautiously. Being one of the biggest investors in mineral extraction projects, Beijing has an immense opportunity to explore untapped resources and is likely to stay committed given its geostrategic and security interests. Russia would also like to support Afghanistan as it will open trade opportunities with the world through the Central Asian Republics (CARs) through Iran and Pakistan. Constructive Foreign Policy and India’s Nefarious Role Afghanistan should seek support from Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran and Turkey as they are her genuine well-wishers and have supported her with an open heart. Afghanistan-Pakistan relations should be the cornerstone of the country’s foreign policy, as the latter is the only country that has sacrificed more than 68,000 lives; spent over PKR 5000 billion, directly and indirectly, still has over 1.4 million refugees and faced a devastating internal situation created by instability due to the Afghan war. India’s exit from Afghanistan in shame is an opportunity for Afghan relations to flourish with its neighbours. It can be the beginning of a new era for peace in the region. End of Indian machinations and using Afghan soil for terrorism, with no more “US do more” demands, may be a breath of fresh air, needed to create a pressure-free neighbourhood. India’s exit will also reduce the venom in the terror outfits. As long as the Indians are out of the terror equation in Afghanistan, there will be space for regional peace. Instability in Afghanistan suited New Delhi’s interests, especially by abetting terror operations in the immediate neighbourhood, i.e., Pakistan. Now, perhaps under the Taliban, Afghanistan will be able to mend fences on its terms, reality, and fair dealings. Presence of Other Militant Groups The security landscape in Afghanistan has changed drastically; making many stakeholders vulnerable. The Afghan government fell very quickly; virtually leaving everything for the Taliban to handle. It will take time for most international and domestic players to accept this change. While the Taliban are trying to take all concerned parties on board to maintain peace and stability, it is not a simple proposition. They also have to deal with the Islamic State and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), amongst others, operating from Afghan soil. The recent attack on Kabul Airport is a stark example of the internal challenges they are likely to face. They will have to work hard to put their house in order. They will be blamed for any such incidents as they are at the helm of affairs. Opposition in Panjshir Valley Earlier, there were strong concerns about a civil war. But the internal situation seems to be heading towards an amicable resolution regarding the governance under Taliban leadership. The troubles coming out of the Panjshir Valley may also be settled soon if the Masouds agree to Taliban 2.0 governance–inferring allegiance and not alliance–unlike the last time when they enjoyed autonomy. Masouds are limited in number and will not be able to resist the Taliban force. Therefore, they are likely to submit or seek a safe passage. The Taliban should continue with such peace efforts to avoid military action at all costs. Mass Exodus and Brain Drain A final test for the Taliban is the evacuation of Afghan personnel and their families from Kabul Airport. For some, it may be a genuine transit to independence or safety while for others, a dream come true for a bright future. The Taliban are genuinely concerned that under the umbrella of this evacuation, an exodus of trained professionals and technical manpower is being facilitated to create governance issues. In this regard, they should seek immediate human resource support from neighbouring countries to handle management and counter this brain drain on a short-term basis. To conclude, the Taliban should immediately put a government in place and address the above-envisaged impediments. There is a strong feeling amongst some analysts that if governance matters are deferred and not handled with maturity, infighting may disrupt development in Afghanistan. The writer is President (Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies). He can be contacted at email@example.com.