Problems abound in the Middle East, but the Afghanistan issue steals the spotlight, given its impact not only on the country’s neighbors, but also on Arabs in the whole region.
I will begin with a story that a friend of mine told me. A self-made Kuwaiti trader, he went to Afghanistan in the 1960s looking for trading opportunities. He was a humble man who only wore traditional Gulf clothing. While walking down the street, a middle-aged Afghani man stopped him to ask whether he was from Hejaz (where the Holy Islamic cities of Mecca and Medina are located). Not wanting to drag on, he replied that he was from a nearby region. The Afghani man began kissing my friend’s hands, weeping and begging my friend to pray for him, because his prayers will surely be heard since he speaks the language of the Quran.
The moral of this story boils down to two things: the fragility of religious sentiment among the masses, and the Middle Easterners’ acceptance of hardliners given their supposed proximity to Islam.
The Taliban want to impose sharia law, but what exactly is meant by sharia? Interpretations of the sharia abound and vary according to the person or entity doing the interpretation. For instance, the stances on women, elections, and modern education are all adaptable, but the Taliban resort to interpretations made several decades ago, contradicting even the interpretations of the Hanafi school, which it claims to follow.
Like many countries and Islamic states in the east, development in Afghanistan solely targeted the elite and failed to reach other parts of the population, despite their significant weight. As such, some remote villages and areas remained in the same state Adam and Eve left them. Protracted conflicts and foreign interference by both major and small states drove the Afghani elite to exile. All that was left for warring countries, especially the West, to stand up to what they considered to be a Soviet expansion in the 1980s, were those peripheral, socially isolated communities with medieval mentalities. Then, like all primitive tools, the tool backfired in the face of its maker, because it ignored its purpose and raison d'être.
Since its inception, the Taliban hasve had three emirs: Mullah Omar (dead), Akhtar Mohammad Mansour (killed), and the current emir, Hibatullah Akhundzada. Of the three, the latter is the only “mawlawi,” which is a higher title of Muslim scholars than “mullah,” the title that his two predecessors held. In its first years, between 1996 and 2001, the Taliban committed horrible massacres and murders against the Afghani people that are as far from justice as could be. Girls were taken from their homes in urban areas, handed over as war trophies to Pakistani Pashto fighters, and taken to Pakistani towns. During that period, the Taliban took the country back to the Middle Ages, as corruption spread, the rule of law disappeared, and millions fled to nearby and faraway countries.
Today, all the statements of Taliban leaders are only words without action, perhaps to buy time. Today, ideology conquers, and Amir Akhundzada has the final say in everything that happens in the country. What this means is that Afghanistan will soon turn into a safe haven for all radical groups in the region, especially Arab ones. This is already evident in the statements of many radical figures, leaders, and organizations in the Middle East welcoming the developments in Afghanistan, thrilled to see the seeds of the long-awaited “Islamic Caliphate” burgeoning in the country. Pilgrimage will soon begin to Afghanistan from these countries, which are well on the way to regression, and naturally, it is the Taliban’s duty to welcome these groups that share their ideology.
The facts on the ground belie the Taliban’s proclamations on tolerance. Not even two days after the movement entered the capital, Kabul, its fighters disbanded an Ashura celebration in one of the city’s Shia neighborhoods. The abominable killings that the world is watching today are only the tip of the iceberg and a preliminary indicator of what kind of sharia the Taliban believe in and seeks to implement. The movement’s understanding of Islam is not only inadequate, but also foreign to any sharia interpretations, modern and old. When it first ruled the country, the Taliban left many Afghans terrorized. Clearly, this terror has not gone anywhere, if the scenes of people risking (and losing) their lives to hang onto the wheels of departing planes are anything to go by.
Eventually, pointing fingers is not what matters here. What matters is what the world will do. States may have enough on their plates already, but these developments in Afghanistan will spare no one, neither in Russia (whose proxies host large Muslim communities), nor in Europe, nor in the Middle East, which is the most vulnerable, as the seeds of this ideology are already woven into its social fabric.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Lebanese news outlet Annahar al-Arabi.
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