By Dhananjay Tripathi
On 15th August, when India was celebrating its independence day, an unexpected event started unfolding in its neighbourhood. The Taliban that was chased out of Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance, with the support of the United States of America (USA), in 2001, surprised everyone with their return to Kabul after conquering much of Afghanistan. The armed Talibs, wearing rugged army jackets, sunglasses and holding modern weapons, arrived in the national capital of Afghanistan without an iota of resistance.
Over the years, the international community was flooded by narratives of the modern Afghan army backed by the US and trained by NATO. All of it appeared as a farce because the Afghan army was nowhere in the scene. Triumphant armed Talibs entered the Afghan Presidential Palace, took charge of the international airport, issued a public statement, and addressed international media. The Taliban leadership, who appeared on screen were quite confident. They appealed to the international community to recognise the new reality of Afghanistan. In other words, accept the regime of the Taliban.
Thereafter, internationally, the Taliban dominated the headlines. Some experts have also written that this is a Taliban 2.0. Although most have elusive logic, three critical factors can help us judge if this is the Taliban 2.0. First, we have to examine the Taliban’s effort to make itself an inclusive organisation. Second is the question of civil and political rights, particularly of women, and third is Pakistan’s influence. We will analyse all three factors to understand if this is Taliban 2.0.
Apart from being recognised as an orthodox fundamentalist Islamic organisation, the Taliban is also known as a Pashtun organisation. Pashtun are in the majority in Afghanistan; the other three numerically strong ethnic communities are Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbek. Afghanistan also has ethnic groups like Baloch, Turkmen, Nuristani, Pamiri, Gujar, Kyrghyz, Brahui, Qizilbash, Aimaq and Pashai. Considering this ethnic diversity, how can a Pashtun organisation be regarded as the true representative of Afghanistan?
The proponents of Taliban 2.0 theory reason that this time, the Taliban is not merely a Pashtun organisation; it has accommodated leaders from different ethnicities. A prominent Pakistani journalist wrote a piece where he mentioned Qari Din Mohammed, Qari Fasihuddin (Tajik leaders), and Abdul Salam Hanafi (Uzbek leader). He argued that all these non-Pashtun leaders are now given more prominence in the Taliban. Interestingly, Qari Din Mohammed was always a prominent leader of the Taliban. He was under the UN sanction list. Qari Din Mohammed was the minister of Planning and Education in the last Taliban regime (1996-2001). Qari Din Mohammed was also part of the Taliban team when it opened its new office in Qatar in June 2013. Qari Fasihuddin has also been with the Taliban for a long time and is not a new recruit. Qari Fasihuddin is now in charge of the Taliban’s attack on Panjshir Valley from the Badakhshan side.
As per an old Afghan government report, Qari Fasihuddin was killed in 2019, but he is still alive. Likewise, Abdul Salam Hanafi was part of the Taliban from the beginning. Hanafi was the deputy minister of education of the Taliban during its earlier rule and was on the UN sanction list. Thus, those telling the world about the Taliban 2.0 based on these names citing their ethnicities are misleading the people. All these leaders supported every inhuman act of the Taliban from 1996-2001, including atrocities committed by the Taliban on their ethnic communities. Though a few leaders from other ethnicities have been given responsibilities by the Taliban, it is still far from being a reformed inclusive organisation.
Civil and Political Rights?
We are yet to see the Taliban’s approach towards the people. The first major test is the formation of the government. We know that Ashraf Ghani’s government had several competent individuals. Is the Taliban going to accommodate them for the benefit of Afghanistan? Secondly, what about the general amnesty for people who were part of the earlier government. Some may not like to join the Taliban. Will they be allowed to decide their political path, in a compassionate manner? As of now, there is no indication of the Taliban agreeing to any type of compromise; it is even restricting Afghans’ migration. We recently noticed Taliban guards not hesitating to shoot peaceful protestors for carrying the Afghan national flag.
There is utmost apprehension on what will happen to women’s rights under the Taliban rule. Remember, Afghanistan had women politicians like Fawzia Koofi. Fawzia Koofi was part of the Afghan peace negotiating team and an outspoken critic of the Taliban. She was shot in the arms last year in August. However, the Taliban denied its role in this attack. In the post-Taliban rule, there was a good representation of women MPs in the Afghan parliament. Until today, we have not publicly seen even one woman leader who is part of the Taliban.
From its inception, the Taliban was backed by Pakistan in every possible way. One of the prominent Indian Afghan experts even believes that the Taliban’s special commando unit ‘Badri 313’ is nothing but consists of Pakistani army personnel. Even if we disagree with this assessment about the ‘Badri 313’ special unit, one thing is certain that the Pakistani military vigorously trains them.
Pakistan in the past had been shy to acknowledge its role in helping the Taliban but boldly celebrated the return of the Taliban to Kabul. Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi even showed keenness to visit Kabul. All these are indications that it is like a mission accomplished by Pakistan. Let us not forget that several anti-India terrorist organisations like LeT, JeM etc, were part of the Taliban’s armed campaign to re-capture Afghanistan. Thus, there is hardly any change in the overall support base of the Taliban. The million-dollar question is, will the Taliban attempt to get out of Pakistan’s control. As of now, there is no clear answer to this question.
The world is waiting to see how the Taliban manages political and social affairs in Afghanistan. Action speaks louder than words, so just press conferences and statements are not enough. At present, there is no solid piece of evidence to conclude that this is the Taliban 2.0.
(The author is Senior Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, South Asian University)
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