Recently, Pakistan's liberal daily Dawn published two articles in which the authors discuss the likely scenarios unfolding in Afghanistan and the countries surrounding it after the Islamic Emirate (the Afghan Taliban organization) took control of Kabul on August 15, 2021.
Taliban leaders held talks with former President Hamid Karzai in Kabul
In the first article, titled "A Reformed Taliban?" Pakistani physicist and liberal writer Pervez Hoodbhoy noted that the Islamic Emirate, when it was in power during 1996-2001, had rejected a liberal interpretation of Koran and enforced strict shari'a rules that went against the rights of women and minorities. He also mentioned the new challenges from the Taliban toward their traditional allies, such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and toward China, whose government perceives that it faces an extremist threat in its Xinjiang province, which is near the Afghanistan-China border.
In the second article, titled "A Big Test For The Taliban," security affairs expert Muhammad Amir Rana discussed the Taliban's thinking on a constitutional framework for Afghanistan. Rana argued that previous documents attributed to the Afghan Taliban organization, the Islamic Emirate, reject democracy and elections on the grounds that they are man-made and not based on the Koran. Rana's view is that the Taliban could adopt an Iranian-style theocracy.
"The Taliban Under Mullah Omar Disagreed Emphatically With... [Liberal] Interpretation; They Carried Out Stoning Of Adulterers To Death, Amputation Of Limbs For Theft, Public Floggings, Closure Of Girls' Schools"
Following are excerpts from Pervez Hoodbhoy's article:
"After capturing Kabul the Taliban want to be seen as rulers rather than just as a religious militia. Eager to secure legitimacy – internationally and among Afghans – closed door negotiations are afoot for a government inclusive of non-Taliban Afghans. Will these actually work out? And what lies ahead for young, urbanized, internet savvy Afghans seeking to live in the 21st century rather than the 7th? This choice had been denied just a while ago.
"Under [Afghan Taliban founder] Mullah Omar, the earlier phase (1996-2001) of Taliban rule had single-mindedly concentrated upon rigorous enforcement of the Koranic injunction amr bil ma'roof wa nahi 'anil munkar (promote that which is good and approved, and forbid that which is evil and disapproved). Imbibed from madrassas scattered across Pakistan, this was understood in the sense of a demand for strict religious policing.
"Liberal Islamic scholars, however, say the injunction merely enjoins believers to seek piety through self-control. The Taliban under Mullah Omar disagreed emphatically with this interpretation. They carried out stoning of adulterers to death, amputation of limbs for theft, public floggings, closure of girls' schools, extreme limits on the mobility of women, and destruction of the 2,000-year-old Bamiyan Buddhas. Similar actions do not exist in the living memory of older Afghans.
A Taliban official lashes a woman as punishment in 2015 (image: Hrw.org).
"The new face suggests that amr bil ma'roof will henceforth be more liberally interpreted. Whether rank-and-file fighters will see eye to eye on this cannot presently be foreseen. But some leaders of this religious militia – one that thrived for decades on foreign aid and extortion – have become aware that economic reasons demand change.
"This is understandable. Those [Taliban] accustomed to the comfort of Doha's luxury hotels, and of their bungalows in [the Pakistani cities of] Quetta and Peshawar, are unfit for returning to the mountain villages from where they fought against an invader. Instead they now want the good life the invader has invented. In time they, or maybe the generation that succeeds them, will send their children to regular schools instead of Pakistani or Afghan madrassas.
"For this to happen, the spigot of international aid must be turned on again. Still more urgent: under Afghan soil lies a trillion dollars ready to be scooped up. But to extract these minerals, technology and organization have to come from outside. Many countries are eager, China and Russia particularly. This implies complicated geopolitics and much wheeling and dealing."
"While The Chinese Are Said To Be Capable Of Eating Everything That Moves, They Cannot Stomach An Unreformed Taliban; This Would Create Hellish Indigestion Within Xinjiang"
"In this new game Pakistan hopes to play a big part. While the Chinese are said to be capable of eating everything that moves, they cannot stomach an unreformed Taliban; this would create hellish indigestion within Xinjiang. Former Taliban allies, Saudi Arabia and UAE, are wary of Taliban radicalism spilling over and wrecking attempts to liberalize their countries. Much needs to be thrashed out.
"That Pakistan may be accepted as a mediator is possible because the 'Naya Taliban' [political slogan of New Pakistan used by Prime Minister Imran Khan's party] – an evocative term first used by Dawn's columnist Niaz Murtaza – feel ideologically comfortable with the leader of Naya Pakistan. The commonality lies in shared opposition to western dress, education, and language. Both place high value on symbols such as shalwar-kameez and turban, and both equate morality with regularity of prayers and fasting. Indeed, unable to contain his joy at the Taliban takeover of Kabul, PM [Imran] Khan declared that Afghanistan had 'broken the shackles of slavery.'
"In creating a new dispensation, the Naya Taliban will naturally turn toward those who made their ascent possible. But here caution will kick in. Even if pragmatism presently forces them to deal with those [i.e. the Pakistani military and political leaders] they know to be hypocritical, the Taliban are not hypocrites themselves. They also know full well who packed off their comrades to Guantanamo Bay – from where some are yet to return.
"To quote from the back cover of [former Pakistani ruler] General Musharraf's autobiography, written in 2006 while still in office: 'We have captured 672 and handed 369 to the United States. We have earned bounties totaling millions of dollars.' Memories cannot disappear easily although the freshly victorious [Taliban] may not dwell upon such betrayals for now.
"On the other hand, the Taliban have fully trustable allies inside Islamabad. When some days ago the white Taliban flag flew – albeit briefly – from Jamia Hafsa [radical female madrassa in Islamabad], this sent across an important message from [radical cleric] Maulana Abdul Aziz and his likes to their victorious Afghan colleagues: we were with you when you were being bombed in Tora Bora. And we are with you now that you have won."
"Fears That The Naya [New] Taliban Are No Different From The Purana [Old] Taliban Has Made Millions Of Afghans Desperate To Flee"
"Like it or not, AfPak [Afghanistan-Pakistan joined together] has become reality. Despised in Pakistan because of its American origin, this term rings true. Geographical proximity is now augmented by the ideological proximity of rulers in both countries. Taliban-style thinking is bound to spread through the length and breadth of Pakistan.
"Now that the Indians have been chased out of Afghanistan, Pakistan's dream of strategic depth [in Afghanistan] stands fulfilled. So have we reached nirvana? Well, almost, but not quite.
"Fears that the Naya [new] Taliban are no different from the Purana [old] Taliban has made millions of Afghans desperate to flee. But there is opposition to accepting these refugees into Pakistan even from those who might have on their lips [Pakistan's Islamist national poet Muhammad] Iqbal's couplet: butan-e-rang o khoon ko tor kar millat mai gum ho ja; na toorani rahay baqi na irani na afghani ("Smash the idols of blood and color, become Muslim; be not Turani nor Irani nor Afghani, be just Muslim").
Key player: Taliban deputy emir Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (center)
"Subcontinental pan-Islamism – that which created Pakistan [in 1947] – ends at the Durand Line [dividing Afghanistan and Pakistan] for most Pakistanis. But the Naya Taliban could think differently; Afghan nationalism has come into its own. The cultural and ethnic continuity from ages past cannot be eliminated by fencing [by Pakistan along the Durand Line]. Indeed, after booting out the mightiest power of all times why should the Taliban consider as sacred the arbitrary straight [Durand] lines drawn by a long dead, stuffy old Englishman?
"Pakistan must open its doors for fleeing Afghans; to not do so is immoral. Using its considerable influence it must also impress upon Taliban victors that the world will not accept their old-style barbarity. This is not the age when women should be confined to their homes and shoved into burqas, or where religious and ethnic minorities are persecuted and killed. For this message to get across, we might first have to get our own house in order."
"The Hardest Part For The Taliban Would Be To Digest Democracy"; "The Taliban Will Not Accept The Existing 'Man-Made' Constitution And Electoral System"
Following are excerpts from Muhammad Amir Rana's article:
"After assuming control of Kabul, the Taliban have apparently initiated a consultation process to form a new government. They are communicating to the world that their government will be inclusive and the rights of all Afghan citizens, including women and minorities, will be protected. But the world may remain sceptical unless the Taliban act on their pledges soon.
"The Taliban view of the state is well known. But the recent international efforts of politically reconciling with the Taliban have put the latter in a changed environment. It will be a great challenge for the Taliban leadership to relate their ideological vision to the real-time political imperatives of inclusiveness and diversity.
"Some media reports hint that the Taliban may agree to the constitution of a ruling council to govern Afghanistan, but there is little information available about the composition and modus operandi of such a council. Nor is it clear whether the proposed council will take up the country's affairs for an interim period or serve as a formal governing body. Most importantly, how will the council be made more inclusive to ensure that all stakeholders have a fair share in power?
"At present, the world is concerned about the presence of terrorist networks in Afghanistan and the likelihood of human rights violations there. As the Taliban seek to reassure the world that the rights of women will be protected, they add 'shari'a-compliant.' When they link rights with shari'a laws, many doubt their intentions. Some analysts might argue that the Taliban can negotiate with the world on human rights, transnational terrorist networks and related issues.
"But the hardest part for the Taliban would be to digest democracy. Their idea of a state built on a religious order could negate the concept of democracy. Therefore, the Taliban will not accept the existing 'man-made' constitution and electoral system. We also don't know if they have any alternative framework in mind which can appeal to Afghans and build a consensus on the type of state system."
"Two Constitutional Documents Are Attributed To The Taliban [Dastur Emarat Islami Afghanistan And Manshur Emarat Islami Afghanistan]"; "Both Documents Oppose Elections Or Electoral Democracy"
"Two constitutional documents are attributed to the Taliban. The first, Dastur Emarat Islami Afghanistan, was prepared by a group of Islamic scholars when the Taliban were in power in 1998. The second is a charter titled Manshur Emarat Islami Afghanistan, which was leaked in 2020 though the Taliban never acknowledged it would be their constitution if they came to power. However, both documents oppose elections or electoral democracy because, they claim, the practice has no origin in shari'a law.
"Experts on Islamic jurisprudence suggest the core value of the Taliban's constitutional view is 'unitary authority' which also makes them an effective war machine. Elections are needed when one has to accommodate different political and ethnic stakeholders. Now as the Taliban control Kabul, they will have to accommodate other stakeholders. This will require a clear vision and new approaches to statecraft. They have started seeking advice from senior religious scholars in Pakistan and a few other Muslim countries.
"The Iranian model with some amendments is close to their vision. The Taliban system could have three institutions. The existing Taliban shura or advisory council may become Afghanistan's Guardian Council and also include an assembly of experts. Parliament and executive bodies may have a similar status as in Iran to accommodate other stakeholders in the power set-up. They can call it a 'jirga,' making a few minor amendments.
Radical Pakistani clerics like Maulana Abdul Aziz have hailed Taliban rule
"It is interesting that [some of] the Taliban's opponents, with whom they are negotiating, are mostly the mujahideen of the 1980s, who had introduced a constitutional draft Usul Asasi Dawlat Islami Afghanistan, which was not very different from the drafts introduced by the Taliban, except for the election clause. The Taliban have replaced the phrase 'political entity' with 'emirate.'
"Another major challenge will be to accommodate Taliban fighters and field commanders. The Taliban will not abandon their fighting force, which is their sole source of power and legitimacy. They may have armed forces consisting of the Taliban and regular forces. The regular forces may not get a leading role and may function as a paramilitary."
"The Taliban Have The Advantage That In Their Immediate Neighborhood, Democracies Are Fragile And States Don't Have Strong Human Rights Records"
"However, the development of a future state structure also depends on the negotiating powers of the non-Taliban Afghan leadership. If they become content with their share in power and leave critical issues undebated, then the Taliban will introduce a system which may not be compatible with the aspirations of most Afghans.
"Pakistani religious scholars are enthusiastic about the statecraft of a Taliban-led Afghanistan, and the Taliban are also ready to listen to their advice. But the Taliban have other sources of inspiration too, ranging from Iran to the Middle East despite having theological differences with them. As the Taliban work on their constitution, they would welcome any advice which will suit their interests. But, for Pakistanis, the Taliban will become the sole source of inspiration. Religious institutions, confused youth, and the paradoxical interests of power elites will nurture the process of Talibanization in Pakistan.
"Anti-Taliban protests in parts of Afghanistan reflect the expansion of the middle class. They will present the real opposition to the Taliban. According to some estimates, the Afghan middle class may have grown from almost zero in 2001 to as much as 15-to-20 percent of the population today. This is a big number as around five million Afghans now fall into various levels of the middle class. It remains to be seen how the middle class will interact with the Taliban.
"However, the Taliban have the advantage that in their immediate neighborhood, democracies are fragile and states don't have strong human rights records. If these states support bringing economic stability to Afghanistan, the Taliban can easily avert Western pressure and execute their model of an 'Islamic emirate.'
"Afghanistan is on the verge of a clash between modernity and conservatism and both tendencies are at their extreme. The clash can trigger a process of synthesis or fusion, but the Afghan leadership should be mindful that this transition does not take a violent turn."