Taliban between extremism and search of legitimacy

Moner Adib

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Is it still too early to judge the Taliban Movement which took over in Afghanistan following the US withdrawal? What makes the international community bet on a change in the movement’s ideology? Which differences could one deduce between the 2001-Taliban and the current movement? To reply to these queries, one should only grasp the nature of the movement and its ideological construct, since these two factors will surely reflect in its general conduct, as well as in its political, societal, and economic actions. Meanwhile, it is also essential to further analyze the complex international methods in dealing with the Taliban.

Two groups with two perceptions are betting on the movement’s change. The first group searches for a common ground with the Taliban through which it aspires to change the movement and then achieve a normalization of relations with it. That group consists mostly of the five neighboring countries that had to face the reality of the chaotic US withdrawal.

The second group wishes to advocate for political Islam, and it is undoubtedly betting on the success of the Taliban, as well as on its reshape to a model that earns it international legitimacy. This group exploits the extent of US’s approval of the movement and its willingness to recognize it, beside US’s European allies that have no problem in sharing Washington’s recognition of the movement.

It should be mentioned that some countries, such as China and Russia, accepted to deal with the Taliban not because it is a moderate movement, but to avoid falling into the US trap, although each of them might taste the hell of war with the movement if some confrontation takes place. It is clear that international consent to ignore the Taliban’s usurpation of power in Afghanistan will definitely create a genuine crisis and obstruct antiterrorism efforts, especially as several indications point to Afghanistan as the new safe haven for violence and terrorism groups.

The US has a major problem with the rapid rise of China, particularly in the economic and military fields - where Washington failed to contain that rise. Rather, all indications say that the future will be China’s, and that it will dominate the world in a few years, especially after its attempt to revive the ‘Silk Road’ through the initiative of ‘One Belt, One Road,’ which will enable it to export all its goods to the world’s six continents and all its countries. This economic advantage will enable Beijing to achieve its supremacy faster than some people assume.

The speedy rise of China, along with Washington’s continuous wrangling with Russia - or what might be termed a new cold war, made the US withdraw chaotically and legitimize Taliban in an attempt to drag Beijing in the Afghan mud. Washington knows best of all that the Taliban is an extremist movement, but it wishes to see a conflict arising between it and China, and to see a contact between al-Qaeda and other extremist organizations that might settle in Afghanistan on one side, and the indigenous Chinese Uyghur Muslims on the other side. Such a contact might inflame China for the next 50 years, probably erasing its dream of dominating the world.

Through attempting to involve China in Afghanistan, the US tries to repeat its successful experience with the Soviet Union, when it dragged the latter to a 9-year war in Afghanistan where Washington assisted the Arab Mujahideen who, following the Soviet troops withdrawal, formed al-Qaeda Organization. US’s assistance to the Mujahideen was a factor in the collapse of the Soviet Union, and this is the motivation behind US’s attempt to involve China and respond to Russia’s cyberattacks on Washington.

China, Russia, and their allies are aware of the extent of challenge and of Washington’s intentions. Thus, they rushed to support Taliban and defend it. It might even happen that, amid the international conflicts and the desires of confrontation and of exploiting Taliban along with some extremist groups, Taliban’s Afghanistan might become a member state in the UN.

The international community’s crisis lies in its lack of a unified counterterrorism and counterextremist strategy that should be agreed upon and constantly updated, so that each country can perform its role in the confrontation with terrorism. This also constitutes a guarantee to ban the exploitation of extremist and violent organization in political conflicts between world countries. The latter point is of utmost importance that is never less significant than banning the recruitment of mercenaries or children for military confrontations. Otherwise, global, transnational, and intercontinental terrorism will remain a serious threat that looms in the horizon with no serious confrontation that eradicates or contains it.

Taliban is in search of international legitimacy. However, it is also exploiting international conflicts, as each major country is making use of the violence and terrorism groups in its conflicts with other countries, never falling short of fabricating justifications for that use. Anyhow, the legitimacy Taliban is expected to get will definitely be incomplete. It might be termed as the legitimacy of major powers political conflict, or the legitimacy of investment in violence and terrorism groups.

We are judging Taliban based on several files, and regarding its takeover of Kabul as a status quo, although recognizing it is not imperative, as it is rather subject to the movement’s actions and positions that reflect extremist, especially when it comes to the rights of women, minorities, human and public rights. Since its takeover, the movement has been oppressing women in the same authoritative manner it practiced back in the 90ies.

During the early days of the movement’s rise to power, its statements regarding women were rather flowery, claiming to respect the other gender, and calling on ladies to participate in governance and all walks of life, and to receive their education. Such statements proved later to be nothing but hollow phrases when Taliban banned women from work, excluding the jobs where there are no male substitutes.

Things worsened when the movement started to prevent girls from going to the school and female schoolteachers from working, meantime claiming that it has plans to erect girls-only schools. Media anchorwomen were as well deprived of their jobs, first ordering them to wear the hijab and then banning their media appearance altogether. Furthermore, Taliban abolished the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, reinaugurating it as the ‘Ministry of Promotion of Good Deeds and Prevention of Sinful Acts,’ which indicates its desire to seal the file of women for good since it wishes to see no presence whatsoever of women, and no presence of any institution that defends women’s rights.

Earlier, some Taliban leaderships declared that their government will include female and minority representation that extends beyond the Pashtun ethnicity - to which Taliban belongs. The events afterwards have proven to be contrarywise, as women had no presence whatsoever in the Afghan political public life. Most of the Taliban government’s members have a military background, and some are listed terrorists, such as Mulla Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network, or Mulla Yaqub, the son of Mulla Muhammad Omar who was Taliban’s first leader. Hence, instead of ethnic diversity we have a full control of Taliban’s falcons in this government.

The criterion of assessing Taliban’s moderation degree is to examine the extent of its respect of human freedoms and human rights, and it clearly dispensed with these two factors as it did with women’s and minorities’ rights. All this happened while some world countries were tending to grant legitimacy to the movement – in a contradiction that eliminates the chance to eradicate terrorism, instead granting violence and terrorism groups a new material and psychological opportunity to thrive. The core of the crisis is not in Taliban’s search of legitimacy, but in the consent of several countries to grant it that legitimacy – in spite of its extremist nature.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Lebanese outlet Annahar al-Arabi

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