During five years in power until 2001, they banished women from their homes, banned music and most sports, and inflicted ruthless punishments on offenders. Adulterers were stoned in public; the thieves had their hands amputated. The criminals were hanged in full view.
Anything that didn’t fit their austere interpretation of Sharia law was a target. They blew up the centuries-old Bamiyan Buddhas because they viewed art that portrayed the human form as an affront to God.
The Taliban came from a deeply conservative rural background – where their perception of religious purity and pious cultural traditions outweighed anything the modern world could offer: education, technology, speech, the very idea of choice.
They believe their success has been given by God. Anas Haqqani, member of the most powerful family in Afghanistan, told CNN that the Taliban “succeeded against 52 [countries]. It is not due to the worldly plan; it’s because of the blessing of faith. ”
It follows that running the country would only have one inspiration. Khalil Haqqani – Anas’ uncle and minister in the interim government – told a tribal summit in Kabul: “The aim was to create a purely Islamic government in Afghanistan, a government centered on justice and whose laws are divine.It will be based on one book, that of God and his prophet.This book is the holy Quran.
The Taliban also see themselves as the vanguard of a national uprising in which Afghans shed a foreign culture imposed by foreigners. Anas Haqqani told CNN that the West “must not try to impose its culture and thoughts / beliefs on Afghans”. A frightening message to the many Afghans who have enjoyed the freedoms of the past 20 years.
The Taliban truly believe they have defeated America – and that strengthens their ideology tremendously. Haqqani compared the Taliban to George Washington, telling CNN he had “freed[d] his homeland; he had defeated the British; he had acquired his independence from them. Here, our elders are heroes for their nation … they liberated their land; they defended their religion and their honor. “
Claiming popular roots
The Taliban spokesman said on August 15, as the group moved to Kabul, that they could have surprised the world but not themselves “because we have roots among the people.”
In their southern hearts and among small farmers, it is true. In the cities, and especially in Kabul, less. Despite all the corruption and nepotism of US-backed governments in Afghanistan, the health, wealth, and education of Afghans have improved by almost every indicator in the 20 years since the Taliban came to power. . A dynamic independent media expressed a wide range of views; private universities flourished. A whole generation of Afghans have tasted freedom.
As they surged from province to province, the Taliban raised the possibility of a more tolerant reincarnation. The word “inclusive” came from the lips of their spokespersons; they let most of the soldiers go home rather than kill them. They promised amnesty for all opponents.
On the day the Taliban invaded Kabul, Suhail Shaheen, now the proposed Taliban envoy to the United Nations, assured CNN that the girls would be educated until college age.
And in the days that followed the eviction of the previous one government, there was a great demonstration of talks with former President Hamid Karzai and former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. There were tribal gatherings in Kabul.
The reality looked very different. Talks with Karzai and Abdullah have evaporated. Their personal security remains precarious. The interim government was filled with hard-line veterans. There were no women in government, nor in any public office; the ministry of women becomes the ministry of the protection of virtue.
Very quickly, protests were quelled – and banned unless authorized by the Home Office. Afghan sportswomen made the outings, by the dozen.
The Taliban offered the promise of security instead – in response to the insecurity they themselves had created. Their latest publication is titled “Security and Stability Prevail Across Afghanistan”.
As Anas Haqqani rhetorically asked about the years of civil war: “Is it better that 200 people are killed every day?”
Murders – and kidnappings
This is justified in the name of social peace. “Now peace has come – what the people of the world wanted,” Haqqani said. “100% peace has returned, there is security, the thieves are gone, not the ceasefire but the war is over.”
Thieves may be disappearing, but ISIS obviously isn’t. IS Khorasan – which regards the Taliban as an apostate regime – has carried out attacks in Jalalabad, Kabul and Kunduz since the Taliban came to power – in an attempt to show that the Taliban cannot provide security and that they are “lenient” to minorities such as the Shiites. IS Khorasan has no such qualms, as evidenced by last Friday’s attack on a Shia mosque in Kunduz. The Taliban’s reputation for bringing peace and security will depend on their ability to cripple ISIS – Khorasan, a group that has defied intense efforts to destroy it over the past five years.
They also pledged an end to corruption, claiming that the United States had “ceded the reins of power to the big thieves and corrupters, who intimidated and levied royalties on vendors and farmers.”
As for the beautiful promises of August, there has been a “recalibration”. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told CNN in August? September? : “We haven’t made a decision on business or women’s rights yet, but we are discussing. Different modalities of transportation and education were needed, he said.
Simply put, their worldview is diametrically opposed to that of Western democracies.
Anas Haqqani argued that the freedom women have elsewhere is not true freedom, telling CNN: “Women are our mother, sister and daughter. The respect this nation has for women – no one in the world. no one has it. Look – in the West, you forced them to be servants. ”
The Taliban’s military victory has been so complete that they are reluctant to compromise or negotiate with Afghan warlords. They have acted quickly to quell dissent, whether it emanates from social activists, Panjshir Valley rebels, or Salafists who practice Islam differently from the Taliban.
But the group is not a monolith. The long internal debate over forming a government has revealed disagreements, while the lingering tensions between pragmatic political leaders and doctrinaire military commanders are won by die-hard militarists.
This in itself may limit the room for maneuver of leaders on women’s rights, elections and media freedom, even if they wanted to make a moderate gesture. In the past, some Taliban have defected to join even more militant groups – and in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, ISIS awaits the chance to recruit the malcontents if the Taliban softens their fundamentalism.
There is a good chance that the Taliban elite in Kabul will make emollient noises when challenged on these issues by the media and foreign governments, when the reality for the Afghan people – far from the eyes of the international community – will be much harder.
Two months after entering the presidential palace, the evidence suggests that it is not so much a Taliban 2.0 who rules Afghanistan as a Taliban 1.1.