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Will Afghanistan end up like Iran?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

The sides that are betting on the Taliban should rethink their logic. Most religious regimes collapsed due to their incapability to separate between their ideologies and running the state affairs. Although the Taliban this year seem different from the Taliban that took over in Afghanistan back in 1996, they still contains the same hazardous self-destructive factors, which are a feature of all ideologically-indoctrinated regimes; regardless if communist, Baathist, or Islamist.

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In the same vein, one notices several similarities between the recent developments in Kabul and what happened in Teheran back in 1979. When Taliban’s Mullah entered the city, it evoked memories of Ayatollah Khomeini returning to Teheran while extremely popular - as manifested in the millions of Iranians who took to the streets to welcome him and cheer the toppling of the Shah regime. Most of these people were Iranian nationalists, leftists, or just ordinary citizens who were eager for political change, with only a minority that belonged to the Islamic oppositionist movement that was led by Khomeini and the clerics. None of the Iranians who cheered the return of Khomeini were anticipating the religious ruling system the man was bringing to them when his Air France plane landed in Teheran.

A Taliban fighter holding an M16 assault rifle stands outside the Interior Ministry in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. (File photo: Reuters)
A Taliban fighter holding an M16 assault rifle stands outside the Interior Ministry in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. (File photo: Reuters)


The first Iranian President Abolhassan Banisadr was moderately religious. It is true he did not wear a tie, but he also wore no Turban. He was neither a sayyid nor a shaykh. His most prominent minister Qutub Zadah appeared so frequently in TV stations worldwide.

In the West, it was hard to define who Khomeini was. His ascetic lifestyle, resembling that of several Muslim clerics, made some think of him as a new Gandhi, a tolerant and humble human being. However, through the three following years both the Iranians and people in the West realized that he was an extremist world-hating character. Benisadr escaped from the country, Zadah was executed, and the clergymen seized power up till this day. The lifestyle in Teheran, which was a famous hub of arts once described as the most civilized city in the Middle East, has deteriorated. The savages of Qum took over, setting up gallows that executed tens of thousands until the Iranian leftists ceased to exist.
Women were forced to stay home, and the doors of theaters, cinemas, and art galleries were closed.


The Taliban are not a new phenomenon, and the senior citizens of Kabul know it well since they lived under its rule back in the 1990s. Last week during the movement’s takeover, its gunmen appeared with the same old outfit, but with a different rhetoric. However, after the media outlets have echoed the tolerant statements made by the Taliban, the world is gradually finding out that all the movement has said was nothing more than a public relation campaign meant to prepare for its return and seizure of power in Afghanistan with the least possible losses. The fact is that the Taliban have not and will not change, and it is difficult to believe anything else. We will watch the developments as they emerge until the end of this year.

The leaders and gunmen of the Taliban in their outfit and impression give a clear-cut image of an Islamist group, unlike other groups that attempt to add a modern appearance, but just like these groups they divide people according to clear-cut lines of “those who are with us” and “those who are against us” or “Muslims” and “infidels.” The al-Nahda Party in Tunisia, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the National Islamist Party in Sudan, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and the Houthis in Yemen are all likewise religious-political groupings.

However, the Taliban seem to be more similar to the Houthis of Yemen, as in both groupings tribal affiliations play a key role in the movement’s dynamics, but it remains encapsulated inside a religious ideological mindset that is hostile to civil openness. A number of Afghans whom I listened to do not think that the Taliban which is making appearance on TV stations is the real one, pointing out that most of its gunmen are young people who graduated from extremist Islamist religious schools, and they are the ones now in charge of the country with its streets, schools, mosques, and media outlets.

Evacuee children wait for the next flight after being manifested at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 19, 2021. (Reuters)
Evacuee children wait for the next flight after being manifested at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 19, 2021. (Reuters)


This gives us an indication of how the country will look like in the few forthcoming years. Most probably, the old leaders will disappear with the rise of the extremists. Most Islamist movements that seized power or shared it suffered from this conflict where the extremists inside the movement seize control of all the decision-making mechanisms and exclude the moderate leaderships – supposing that such groups might bear some variety among its members.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

Read more:

The great battle in Afghanistan

Taliban and the mysterious questions

The return of Taliban and the future of radicalism

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.