While most of the Afghans, shell shocked by the stunning military advances of Taliban militia, have been groaning under their brutal rule during the last four days, the Taliban leaders have been gripping with the crises of legitimacy. It was with this challenge in mind that the main Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid addressed his first press conference in Kabul on 17 August to unveil the de facto Taliban rule. This shadowy figure who used to telephonically claim responsibility for Taliban attacks, including suicide bombings for the last many years, made his first physical appearance before the Afghan media. He was keen to whitewash the terror-tainted past of the Taliban militia and project it as a moderate force prepared to “forgive” its opponents.
He carefully responded to the questions on women’s rights claiming that Taliban’s Islamic Emirate would allow girls to get an education and let women work provided they do it according to Sharia. It goes without saying that for Sharia Taliban insist on their own rigid and literal interpretation. For media freedoms, Mujahid laid down three conditions. One, the media freedom shouldn’t be violative of Islamic values; two, media should be neutral (implying that it shouldn’t be anti-Taliban); three, media freedom shouldn’t insult national traditions.
While projecting the overarching role for Taliban’s Emirate, Mujahid referred to the talks with “others” for inclusion in their proposed government. He also assured the region and the world that the Taliban wouldn’t allow Afghan soil to be used against any other country.
Despite Mujahid’s soft and articulate tone the journalists covering the press conference were conscious of the presence of gun-toting Taliban surrounding the building and couldn’t ask difficult questions, including the question about international and regional terror networks embedded with them in their current fighting.
Pakistani generals have been extremely keen to use Taliban as an instrument for implementing its policy of acquiring “strategic depth” in Afghanistan
In 1994, when a group of Taliban led by Mulla Omar first appeared in Kandahar they didn’t have any past political baggage. They had jumped into the fray to challenge the unpopular Mujahideen warlords who had made life hell for common Afghans by their infighting, killing, torture, extortion, and abductions. At that stage, Taliban also pretended to be a grassroots movement not interested in power games. But once the Pakistan-supported militia captured Kabul in September 1996, it unleashed a reign of terror in Afghanistan without promulgating any constitution or proper state system. That’s why this time around they face a serious challenge of credibility, at least on the three counts. First, the brutally oppressive and intolerant rule of Taliban’s Islamic Emirate in the 1990s was widely condemned by the majority of Afghans and the wider world for its atrocities against women and ethnic and religious minorities. How can it now do justice to ruling a country which has taken strides on the path of socio-economic and cultural development?
Dozens of urban centres have appeared in every nook and corner of the country. Afghan media has been the most independent media in the region in recent times. Afghan women have started asserting themselves in every walk of life including politics, economy, diplomacy, art, and culture. There are close to 10 million students in educational institutions of different levels. How can these segments of society be pushed back to the dark ages again? Taliban’s Pakistani and western apologists make tall claims about a “changed Taliban” but Taliban has neither uttered a word of regret about their past atrocities nor have they expressed any change in their worldview during their current military campaign.
Second, the Taliban right from their inception developed strong bonds with foreign terrorist networks as they inherited the presence of Al-Qaeda, some Pakistani and Central Asian terror outfits from the former Mujahideen era. Actually, this factor turned Afghanistan into the hub of international terrorism and subsequently an international battleground. Interestingly, the US justifies its controversial Doha deal with the Taliban on the ground that Taliban have promised to cut off their relations with Al-Qaeda and they have assured the US to not allow any terrorist organization to use Afghan soil against the US or its allies. But as the UN reports show Taliban has taken along Al-Qaeda, IMU, ETIM, TTP and others not just as its guests but also embedded in Taliban fighting machine. These networks are obviously not there for a picnic.
Third, the most difficult question for Taliban’s credibility in Afghanistan is their connection with Pakistan. The absolute majority of Taliban fighters originate from Afghan refugee families living in Pakistan for the last four decades. In fact most of them were born in Pakistan. Their links with the Taliban developed in several religious seminaries (madrasahs) out of about 36,000 seminaries founded by dollars and petrodollars during the Afghan Jihad in the 1980s. The poor Afghan refugee families can’t afford to send their children to modern schools. Unfortunately, despite its tall claims Pakistani state has not reformed the system of religious seminaries, particularly the curriculum which is aimed at brainwashing the youth for religious militancy. Up till 9/11 Afghan Taliban offices openly operated in Pakistani cities like Peshawar and Quetta. Subsequently, Taliban leadership went into hiding and reportedly went under the protection of Pakistani intelligence agencies.
After the overthrow of Taliban regime, its leaders and camp followers came to Pakistan where they were not only allowed to regroup but were also fully supported in their new war against the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Taliban’s parallel government functioned in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province of Pakistan, the loud denial of the successive Pakistani governments notwithstanding. Mullah Omar the founder of the Taliban was reported to have died in Karachi and his successors, the late Mulla Akhtar Mansoor and Haibatullah Akhunzada (the current Amir) were based in Quetta. Taliban leaders have been travelling on Pakistani passports and known to have properties in Pakistan. Pakistani generals have been extremely keen to use the Taliban as an instrument for implementing its policy of acquiring “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. Can they break their umbilical cord with Pakistan is a million dollars question.
Afrasiab Khattak is a former Pakistani Senator and analyst of regional affairs.
Courtesy: Originally published on prothomalo.com