Legitimising Taliban Rule in Afghanistan

Legitimising Taliban Rule in Afghanistan

Afghanistan rarely enters the news cycle these days. However, for those privy and indeed willing to locate news outside the omnipresent U.S. market, an interesting story is developing in Doha, Qatar. On June 18th the Taliban – Afghanistan’s ousted political leadership – opened a political office in Doha, Qatar.

The launch of this office coincided with formal ‘peace talks’ between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which were facilitated by the ubiquitous U.S. and sought to develop a roadmap for the future of Afghanistan. This development is interesting for several reasons, none more so than the opportunity for Afghanistan to have a legitimate government, something it has been missing for over a decade.

Afghanistan has been crippled by war for the past twelve years, which has had less to do with Afghanistan’s internal politics and more to do with the geopolitics of the powerful. When the U.S. entered the region, under the tutelage of President George W. Bush, they were hunting for Osama Bin Laden and the perpetrators of 9/11, and aiming to overthrow the Taliban with what the U.S. government called its ‘radical form’ of rule.

During this period, the U.S. media machine was in high gear and created the theme that Al-Qaeda and the Taliban were the same evil. Admittedly, for a westerner some of the Taliban’s practises — such as those described below — seem harsh, hard to fathom, and counterintuitive to the relationship between citizen and government. That said it remains important to discern between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, a critical, but uphill battle against powerful U.S. narratives telling this story very differently.

The Taliban, also referred to as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, ruled Afghanistan from 1996 till 2001. It was during this time that life in Afghanistan was governed by a strict adherence to Shariah, Islamic law. Some rules implemented by the Taliban were indeed harsh and included “very oppressive policies of women, banned television and related forms of entertainment, banned music, banned the trimming of men’s bears, eliminated images of living things, [and] banned kite flying.” As uncomfortable a thought as this may be, the Taliban were committed to building a functional state apparatus that could provide services to the population.

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is ideologically committed to an individual duty that is ethical, rather than political. In this sense, Al-Qaeda’s philosophy would coincide with a utopia, much like that associated with communism, which inherently seeks to transcend the state and depoliticise life. As a result, Al-Qaeda does not seek to rule through building international partnerships and strong institutions that will help serve the people, but rather through a deep ideological commitment.

Governing any country can be an incredibly tall task, which becomes all the more difficult in a place with as complex a past as Afghanistan. Afghanistan remains a place that is deeply divided with one side interested in introducing highly westernised practices, often derived from powerful external forces – NATO, the UN, the NGO community – and powerful individual states, while the other side struggles to maintain its traditional way of life. This way of life remains hierarchical, divided along gender lines and does not promote education, personal freedoms or human rights that remain entrenched in western identity.

Arguing that the Taliban will provide ‘legitimate’ rule in Afghanistan is a difficult contention and seemingly runs counter to western values. Moving past practices that include oppressing women, banning kite flying among many others seem harsh. Yet, legitimising the Taliban is not about promoting the right party to rule Afghanistan, but rather promoting a legitimate form of rule that is not backed by western powers, which rarely understand or seek to understand the nuances of difference. The future in Afghanistan is distinct and unique. This relationship to foreign powers ought to be ‘hands-off’ until a request comes for assistance.

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