After 20 years of US/NATO/Afghan Puppet Army’s brutal and illegal occupation of Afghanistan, Kabul, the capital city finally fell on August 15, 2021, at the hands of the reclusive but a defiant new Taliban.
The Fall has turned all military calculus upside down – world’s mightiest have been defeated by the world’s smallest, a jungle army, the new Taliban!
Pundits have put down the cause of the defeat to – new Taliban’s undeterred fighting spirit and their superior local level battle tactic, which reported to been bolstered further by the support of the ordinary Afghans who were angry with the US/NATO/Afghan Puppet Army’s indiscriminate bombings, murder of civilians, kidnappings and rapes and corruption which also contributed to their low morale and depleted occupying Army’s willingness to fight, triggering collapse.
However, soon the US/NATO/Afghan Puppet Army retreated, scenes of chaos at the Kabul’s Hamid Karzai airport of fleeing troops, expatriates and their local collaborators filled the TV screens and the print media. At the same time, hegemon’s corporate media worked overtime and went into their usual troves, predicting dooms day scenario – dangers of imminent “terrorism”, “human rights violence”, “loss of democracy and freedom”, “erosion of rights of women” etc. etc. in the ensuing new Taliban-run Afghanistan, while conveniently forgetting that “in 2019, the U.S. and Afghan forces killed more civilians than the Taliban. Or that U.S. and Afghan forces are under investigation by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, including rape and torture. Or that a staggering number of deaths and injuries have been inflicted by U.S. drone operations and airstrikes throughout the region. Or that the National Security Agency had been spying on virtually every Afghan with a cell phone.”
Let us not waste our time on West’s morality depraved corporate media rants. Instead, let us pay attention to the new Taliban and their thoughts and ideas for a new Afghanistan.
‘Inclusive Islamic Governance System’
The new Taliban have declared general amnesty and announced that inclusion and rebuilding Afghanistan and not revenge is their main mission. These ideas are a welcome shift. However, the new Taliban leadership are yet to ensure that these ideas have reached the rank-and-file Taliban, as well.
The new Taliban have also indicated that they would be guided by Shariah and at the same time they have also explicitly rejected ‘democracy’ especially West’s representative democracy as their governing model.
They have announced that they would govern through some sort of an Inclusive Islamic Governance System (IIGS).
However, at this stage, the new Taliban have not quite defined in concrete terms the key tenets of the proposed IIGS nor have they explained whether their notion of ‘inclusion’ is limited to ethnic minorities only; or whether the proposed system would go beyond ethnicity and include religious, class and gender dimensions of inclusion and furthermore, whether the Sharia Law, their guiding tenet of governance would be conducive to and/or compatible with the internationally agreed human rights stipulations especially the rights of women?
These are important questions and soon the new Taliban clarify these better it is.
Furthermore, as the new Taliban is not trained in legislative processes of governance, situating the proposed IIGS within the legislative processes both at central and at local levels would be challenging but not insurmountable.
Why, no ‘democracy’?
As mentioned before, the new Taliban have been quite explicit in rejecting ‘representative democracy’. Their aversion to the representative democracy seems to have come from the US/NATO’s application of the system in Afghanistan during 2001-2020 occupation period – the experience has been anything but inspiring.
The model deepened divisions among different ethnic groups, made election fraud a routine affair and in the process, institutionalised, in the name of democracy, a system that consistently produced governments that were outright plunderers, looters and killers.
Indeed, West’s model of democracy, the representative democracy, does not seem to have worked in many parts of the world, either. For example, in countries that are ethnically, and religiously diverse, the model: (i) has promoted if not legitimised majoritarian sectarianism and racism, contributing to suppression, oppression, marginalization and brutalization of the minorities (as in India, Israel); (ii) in countries where election fraud occur with impunity, and where governments pass laws to legalise suppression and repression of dissents, has produced ‘electoral autocracy’ (as in several Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American and African countries) and (iii) yet in others, the representative multi-party democracy has divided people along ethnic/tribal affiliations, fomenting conflict, deprivations and tensions in these countries (as in many African countries).
Therefore, representative democracy’s claim that it enhances representation, empowers citizens, and ensures their participation in decision-making processes of the state equitably is not true, not in every situation.
This is not to say that democracy is not important. On the contrary, democracy is important, but the concept should be treated more as a means and not an end, meaning that operational arrangements of democracy should be linked to the social and cultural context of a society and secondly, designed to suit a country’s desired outcomes and not the other way round. For example, China, a country that has lifted 1.0 billion people out of poverty in just three decades, has designed their governance and decision-making processes such that it is tied to the fixed objective of guaranteeing basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, health, education, jobs etc.) of all its citizens, equitably and accountably and the processes of decision-making have been designed accordingly – voices of cross-section of citizens have been incorporated into the policy and budgetary processes of the state. Chinese call their system, ‘participatory democracy’.
In other words, when it comes to democracy, goals must drive the processes and each country must choose its own model of democracy to suit its own situation. Just the way one-size shoes do not fit all, one model of democracy may not suit all conditions – after all, “democracy is not Coco Cola that it must taste same everywhere”.
Afghanistan which is a multi-ethnic country where majoritarian representative democracy has the risk of excluding the minorities from the legislative processes is certainly not the best model of democracy to adopt.
Inclusive democracy is key to Afghanistan’s equitable and accountable development and more importantly, in promoting unity and stability.
Therefore, new Taliban’s idea of an inclusive governance process where citizens would be empowered to engage cross-sectionally in shaping policies is indeed innovative. Hopefully, they would also incorporate within the IIGS, Islam’s key underpinning in governance, “Insaaf” (justness), to guide the processes.
However, implementation of the IIGS in a half literate country like Afghanistan where ethnic relations are dictated more by rivalry than by mutual trust may not be easy. The new Talban must use great deal of patience, empathy, and organizational skills to implement their proposed new system.
Another issue that worries the West is Taliban’s misogynist treatment of women and given its past record, the concern is legitimate.
The old Taliban confined women in homes, curtailed their rights and treated them with disrespect and cruelty and stifled their access to education and jobs.
The new Taliban seems to harbour a different attitude towards women. They have announced that women would be allowed to pursue education and jobs but “they would have to conduct themselves within the tenets of Sharia”. However, the new Taliban have not specified what this means though Mr. Balkhi, foreign spokesperson of current Taliban has stated that “Islamic law is known to everyone and there are no ambiguities about the rights of women…. hopefully during the consultations there will be clarifications about what those rights are.”
It is important that the proposed ‘open consultations’ take place soon and rights of women are articulated and upheld fully.
Afghanistan’s economy is in shambles. It is worse than what it used to be in mid-eighties. Currently, close to 50% Afghans live in poverty and its GDP growth rate stands at -0.48% and with “…the US refusing to hand over Kabul’s dollar reserves, the Afghan currency is likely to collapse in value, sparking a price spiral”.
In other words, the situation is dire, a scenario that no one let alone the cash-strapped inexperienced new Taliban would like to be confronted with.
Furthermore, threats of rebellion and international meddling and fomenting of factional strife within Afghanistan loom large. Recent IS bombing in Kabul airport that killed and injured many is a reminder that violence in Afghanistan is far from over. On the contrary, the United States, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Russia, and Uzbekistan have their own agenda in Afghanistan, and each wants their own slice of the cake and therefore, chances of Afghanistan returning to peace remains as elusive as ever.
Hopefully good sense would prevail, and all parties would appreciate that a violent Afghanistan is bad for everyone.
Although the new Taliban looks different and that their ideas are noble, neither time nor experience is on their side.
Moreover, the new Taliban would have to appreciate that if they are to function as a part of the international community and not as a pariah state, they will need to incorporate within the proposed Inclusive Islamic Governance System the universally agreed human rights stipulations including the rights of women meaning that the new administration would have to do great deal of consensus building within its own ranks and the good news is that the new Taliban leadership are aware of this and taking necessary steps to build consensus, within.
Clearly, the path ahead is challenging and if the recent rise of IS and their suicide attacks in Kabul airport and for that matter the US/NATO coalition’s 20-year long fight are any guide, bringing peace and abating violence in this fractious and violent nation is anything but easy.
Therefore, the new Taliban need to be patient and cautious and given the cultural sensitivities and mutual suspicion that dictate this war-torn country’s social relations, they would need to invest huge in trust building and more importantly, initiate changes incrementally and not hurry.
The international community especially US and Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours need to be aware of these difficulties and be sensitive. Alarmingly, there are war mongers in the US who argue that Mr. Biden’s decision to withdraw all U.S. forces “…destroyed an affordable status quo that could have lasted indefinitely at a minimum cost in blood and treasure” without explaining to what effect. This is imperialistic arrogance at its worst.
Let this be known that it is in the best interest of all parties that the international community deal with the new Taliban with respect and come forward and provide economic, security and humanitarian assistance urgently and help building institutions to operationalize the new Taliban’s proposed inclusive Islamic governance system and, in the process, bring peace and prosperity in the new Afghanistan for, the alternative is too horrific to fathom.
Afghans have suffered much too long, they deserve better!
M Adil Khan is an academic and former senior policy manager of the UN