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Taliban in the saddle

M. Ziauddin

Switching roles is never easy. More so, if it is a switch from a 20-year long role of waging a resistance carried out almost with bare hands against the occupying troops of world’s sole superpower armed to teeth with the most sophisticated weapon systems to the role of running a government without money and civil administration.

That is exactly what is being expected of the victorious Afghan Taliban who only a month or so ago had taken back their country from a disintegrating Afghan Armed Forces after the foreign occupying troops started withdrawing following the signing of a peace accord between the US and the incoming new rulers.

The Taliban say they want to engage with the wider world, but on terms that are true to the group’s political and religious beliefs. These are based on their strict interpretations of Sharia.

The acting Prime Minister Mohammad Hasan Akhund in a written statement said that the leaders will “work hard towards upholding Islamic rules and Sharia in the country, protecting the country’s highest interests, securing Afghanistan’s borders, and ensuring lasting peace, prosperity and development”.

“We want to have a peaceful, prosperous and self-reliant Afghanistan, for which we will strive to eliminate all causes of war and strife in the country, and [for] our countrymen to live in complete security and comfort.”

Furthermore, the Taliban wanted to have “strong and healthy” relations with all countries based on mutual respect, he said.

“We are committed to all international laws and treaties, resolutions and commitments that are not in conflict with Islamic law and the country’s national values,” Akhund stressed.

He also emphasized that the interim government will take “serious and effective steps” to protect human rights as well as the rights of minorities and underprivileged groups within the framework of the demands of Islam.

The next big step is expected to be the drafting of a new constitution. And it has also been promised to take people from other parts of the country – implying positions for women and Shiites may still be open, but not at the top level.

The so called free world led by the US is being seen using the purse strings to blackmail the new rulers in Kabul to shape their country in the image of a modern, democratic entity adhering to the global rules set by the world’s sole superpower.

However, the US can hardly claim to be a pure player in the arena of human rights. Friends get a pass; in the Middle East, Egypt and Saudi Arabia leap to mind.

Perhaps if the Taliban let remnant US citizens leave, stop short of wantonly persecuting US-friendly Afghans left behind and permit no terror attacks to be launched from its territory, the US would find it not so difficult to live with the Sharia ruled Afghanistan.

Russia, China and Iran seem ready to live with such an Afghanistan but with guarantees of non-interference in their internal affairs by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Understandably, India would like to see the outcome of the blackmailing pressure being mounted by the US before making up its mind on how to adjust socio-politically to the Talibanized Afghanistan.

Pakistan falls into a totally different category. A unique one too because of its multidimensional relationship with its neighbor with which Islamabad shares a 2,640 km long border, the two are also mainly Sunni Muslim countries and ethnic Pashtun live on both sides of the border, predominant in Afghanistan (43%) and make up 20 percent of Pakistan’s population. Being a land-locked country most of Afghanistan’s external trade is conducted through Pakistani ports.

And socio-politically the relationship between the two countries have remained most of the time too far from being ideal. Kabul had delayed for too long officially recognizing independent Pakistan. Over the first two decades of its existence Pakistan had suffered a separatist movement called “Pakhtunistan’ which was aided and abetted by the rulers in Kabul.

In the first Afghan war (1979-89) Pakistan aided by the US helped Afghan Mujahideen defeat the Soviet invaders. Then Pakistan aided Taliban in its power struggle against Mujahideen. Next, in the second Afghan war (2001-2021) Pakistan helped the US-led NATO troops in ousting the Taliban from Afghanistan. In the first 10 years of this war, Pakistan was confronted with the spillover as enraged pro-Taliban elements in Pakistan brought the country to a bloody pass with its terror attacks. Pakistan successfully countered the Threek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) mounting military campaigns like Rah-i-Raast, Zarb-i-Azb and Radul Fassad.

The threat of TTP has become all the more ominous since the seeming defeat of US at the hands of Afghan Taliban. One cannot rule out the possibility of the TTP inspired by the success of Afghan Taliban try to take over Pakistan using terror tactic. Pakistan, especially its military should be on guard.

And over the 20- year war, Pakistan has also at the same time provided sanctuaries to Afghan Taliban fleeing the occupying troops and also allowed it to hold Shura meetings in Quetta and Peshawar. And now it is strictly guarding the fenced borders but without disrupting much the essential two-way flows of traffic and trade.

All this has won Pakistan a lot of friends in Afghanistan but these very events have also earned it a lot of bitter enemies in that war torn country.

So, Pakistan’s first task should be to bend backwards to create the impression of being completely neutral vis-à-vis the various Afghan factions and groups contesting in the country’s political power play. Next, all decisions such as recognizing the new government or helping it in any way should be taken along with the other regional players, preferably via the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Also, possibility should be probed for the setting up of a Free Trade Zone comprising the Afghanistan’s Southern provinces and Pakistan’s KP province. And induction of Afghanistan in the CPEC should also be pursued earnestly.

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