By Ameer Ali –
After twenty years in political wilderness, the Taliban has recaptured Kabul, established its hold over entire Afghanistan and routed the US from the country, perhaps forever. Once again Afghanistan has kept its historic reputation as a graveyard for imperialists. The speed of Taliban’s return with relatively less bloodshed and the total collapse of US-trained Afghan forces indicate that it was a pre-negotiated affair. Tribal solidarity rather than Afghan nationalism won at the end. The pandemonium at the Hamid Karzai International Airport relayed by TV reporters showing thousands of people scrambling to get out of the country is expected. Horrid memories of Taliban rule before 2001 are still haunting thoughts and minds of Afghan minorities and women in particular. One can expect more pictures and reporting of this type as part of the loser’s propaganda war. However, what about the future of Afghanistan under Taliban rule after twenty years? Conquering is one thing, but governing is entirely another. Taliban is a Pushtun dominated group and Pushtun are only 42% of Afghan population. During its first regime they controlled around three quarters of the country and that may be the case even now. Will there be peace once the Americans leave at the end of this month as Biden promised? The longer Americans stay thousands will rush to the airport chancing their luck to get out of the country. Not all of them are going to be evacuated. Taliban has warned already that beyond 31st it will take matters into its own hands, and one could expect more bloodshed.
Time is a great healer reformer, and experience is the best teacher. To take one example from closer to home, JVP’s bloody insurrectionary past under its founder Rohana Wijeweera is still remembered with shock, awe and fury at least by the generation that lived during 1970s and 1980s. However, that party’s current avatar and its new image under Anura Kumara Dissanayake is radically different from its predecessor. To paint AKD’s JVP also with the same brush as of Wijeweera is therefore irrational and malicious. Unfortunately, that is what happening in Sri Lanka today. The same sort of propaganda has started in the Western media about Taliban too. This is to ignore and dismiss outright any possibility of a transformation in the thinking Taliban’s new leaders.
It is twenty years since Afghanistan was misruled by this group and since then several of its founder mullahs have disappeared, and those who were in their teens, twenties and thirties at that time must have attained maturity not in age alone but in thought and experience also. The new generation of leaders must have learnt some hard lessons from the bloody past and also must have learnt from the horror experience of their counterparts elsewhere in the Muslim world, who also ventured to establish Islamic rule through jihadism and terror. Since the 1980s and until the present nowhere in the world where Islamic rule was proclaimed, including Zia’s Pakistan and Muslim Brotherhood’s Egypt, had there been prolonged peace let alone prosperity. In contrast to what was advocated from the pulpit and advertised through Jihadist propaganda, governance in the name of Islam and sharia has brought oppression to many and misery to the majority. Given this horror history has Taliban leadership changed for the better? There are some feint signals that it might have.
During talks Qatar for example, Taliban representatives claimed that they were moderates. During the latest round of fighting Taliban announced that they have no objection to allow Muslim women to continue with their education – whether they meant secular or religious was not clear – and would not prevent them from seeking employment. It was also heartening to see one Taliban leader being interviewed by a Muslim woman in front of the camera. Two prominent leaders are repeatedly talking of an “inclusive” regime. In short, there seems to be a desire to win popular support at home and as many friends as possible abroad. Yet, these are early days and there is still no formal government and a cabinet. However, as in every political party and faction, Taliban too will have its share of moderates and hardliners. What is not known is which faction would have the upper hand in the echelon. One cannot also rule out the possibility of an internal struggle between the two factions, which would provide opportunities for outsiders such as Iran, Pakistan, India, US, Russia and China to fight a proxy war by supporting either of them. There are also enough war lords in the country to sell their allegiance to any one for money and recognition.
If the Taliban were to repeat its previous experiment with the Islamic Emirate, Afghanistan would once again become a cauldron of blood and mayhem, and a pariah state internationally. For the moment it would be wise for world powers to grant Taliban the benefit of doubt and reserve their judgement for now.
N.B: When just about to post this piece to the editor, news reached that a terror group suspected to be an offshoot of ISIS had struck and killed several including US personnel. As pointed out earlier, an internal struggle within Taliban is possible between extremists and moderates. Is this incident a sign of that?
*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business & Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia