Col (r) Ikram Ullah Khan
Amid the growing international concerns of Taliban’s possible retaliatory action against the former members of the US backed government and all those who aided with the occupation forces under the US command in different capacities like translators/interpreters, embassy guards, contractors and soldiers who fought against the Taliban and bled them, the Taliban after assuming control of Afghanistan have given a pleasant surprise to the international community by granting a blanket amnesty to all and sundry.
A final takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban was a writing on the wall and a foregone conclusion with a frenzied US withdrawal followed by a demoralized Afghan army sans an ideology and cause to fight for, surrendering before the Taliban fighters thus leading to the ultimate collapse of Ashraf Ghani’s government. The fall of Kabul marks the formal end of the US longest war spanning over two decades. The Taliban despite their intentions not to enter Kabul till some political settlement was reached and an interim set-up was put in place, had to take unintended compulsive control of Kabul in order to protect the lives and properties of the citizens that had been put in jeopardy after the Afghan government collapsed with Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country and leaving Kabul in utter turmoil. The Taliban fighters deployed across Kabul and taking over abandoned police posts, pledged to maintain law and order during the transition. After taking control of Kabul, the Taliban entered the Presidential Palace and announced the restoration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the official name of the country under Taliban rule during 1990s.
The Taliban’s main spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid in a maiden press conference explained the salient features of the blueprint of Taliban’s future strategy and plan of action that is summarized as follows:
- Taliban don’t want any internal or external enemies.
- They wouldn’t form part of any block despite enjoying good relations with certain countries like Pakistan, China and Russia.
- Taliban seek no revenge and grant blanket amnesty to all including former members of the Western backed government, translators/interpreters and contractors who worked for international forces, and soldiers who fought against us. Everyone is forgiven.
- Women’s rights would be honoured and protected and they would be free to act and participate in activities within the framework of Islamic Sharia. They will be allowed to study, work in offices and will play active part in society within the framework of Islam.
- Taliban want private media to remain independent but at the same time they expect the media not to work against their national interest.
- Afghan soil will not be allowed to be used against any country. No one will be harboured for targeting other nations – a key demand and a sore point with the US in the Doha deal struck with the Taliban in February 2020 that led to ultimate US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
- Afghanistan will be a narcotic-free country. Taliban expect the international community to help the Afghans grow alternate crops that could supplant poppy cultivation.
- Foreign embassies and consulates would be protected.
- Rights of minorities will be protected and they would enjoy equal rights as citizens of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
- A new government in consultation with friends would be formed as soon as the situation stabilizes.
From the reconciliatory tone of Zabihullah Mujahid’s press conference, it’s not very hard to infer that the Taliban’s approach towards life, governance and mundane affairs has undergone a huge metamorphosis and sharply contrasts with the typical belligerent, extremist, rigid and conservative approach adopted by them during late 1990s when they ruled Afghanistan.
It’s important to note that Taliban’s press conference came at a time when a scene of pandemonium and utter chaos was witnessed at Kabul airport where fear-stricken and desperate Afghans with a palpable signs of fear on their faces abandoned by their Western backers and overrun by the Taliban fighters in a matter of days that came as a shocking surprise to the US and its allies, swarmed Kabul airport in a bid to flee Taliban rule. They were seen trying to embark the military planes that had arrived from different countries including the US, Britain, France, Poland, Australia and other NATO countries to pick up their nationals and Afghan colleagues who worked with them. Thousands of Afghan rushed boarding gates hoping to find a flight out of the country. Fearing that the Taliban could reimpose their brutal rule with draconian laws, Afghans rushed to leave the country.
The state of sheer desperation can be imagined from the scene wherein a panicked crowd ran alongside a departing US military plane ready to take off, with some Afghans clinging to the side of the aircraft, some of them died and some seriously injured after falling from the plane when it took off. Despite a blanket amnesty announced by the Taliban and assurances given by them of safe passage, still there were ominous signs of fear witnessed on the ground. Many are still scared of Taliban.
According to Western media reports, in Kabul, some residents tore down advertisements that showed women without headscarves. According to BBC, a young woman in Kabul told them that the city was wearing an ominous silence with many people hiding in their homes due to fear of Taliban’s possible punitive actions. She was quoted as saying, “I am just seeking for a way to get out of Afghanistan because there is no hope for women under the Taliban control.” However, the Taliban have termed it as part of Western propaganda and a smearing campaign against them to tarnish their image in front of Afghan people and also in front of the international community.
In Kabul, the Taliban spread out across the streets of Kabul city driving police vehicles and Humvees left by the Afghan police and security forces and taken by the Taliban, in a bid to safeguard the lives and properties of Afghan citizens which they thought had become necessary in the absence of police and other law enforcement agencies. According to Al-Jazeera, Taliban fighters after taking control of Kabul without any bloodshed took selfies with passers-by, a rare gesture of friendly posture by the Taliban towards the public, and told them not to fear them.
Here it would be pertinent to mention that a striking similarity between the fall of Kabul and the conquest of Makka is observed as in both the cases there was no bloodshed and that a general amnesty was granted to the adversaries. At the same time it’s important to note that the adversaries facing each other in the case of the fall of Kabul was different from the adversaries facing each other at the time of the conquest of Makka. In the former case, the adversaries pitted against each other happened to be Muslims whereas in the latter case, the believers (faithful) faced the non-believers (the infidels of Makka).
As for the capacity of Taliban to rule Afghanistan, the anti-Taliban security and political analysts take the victory of Taliban, their capacity to govern and keep a unified control with a pinch of salt. According to them, the Taliban may face formidable challenges far bigger than the difficulties which they faced before the fall of Kabul. Among these challenges, the most daunting challenge according to them, would be keeping the unity among the different Shuras (consultative body) in tact. There have been a long history of dissension among the Quetta, Peshawar and Miran Shah Shuras that control Taliban activities. Under their founding leader, Mullah Umar, who was killed in 2013 in a US drone attack, there was an open revolt against the Quetta Shura. Moreover, there has always been problems with young, aggressive field commanders going their own way who need to be disciplined. It may also be noted that in the past the Taliban have remained closely affiliated with al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Even Haqqani group is generally thought to be a quasi-Taliban entity. Given all these issues faced by the Taliban, the anti-Taliban forces would try to exploit this situation to their advantage by creating rift between them.
Lastly, critics of Taliban, however, are of the view that the change of heart in Taliban and great transformation in Taliban’s policy and mental attitude didn’t come by choice rather it came by default as they were left with no other option to earn international recognition and political legitimacy without which they can’t survive for long. Taliban having undergone through difficult times have learnt the hard way. They seem to have realized that in order to get themselves recognized by the international community, they will have to adopt a balanced and accommodative attitude without compromising their fundamental policy that remains the bedrock of their struggle and belief.