The hardline Islamic Taliban movement has proved to be a formidable fighting force in Afghanistan and a major threat to its government. The Taliban also threatens to destabilize Pakistan, where they control areas in the northwest and have been blamed for a wave of suicide bombings and other attacks. Talibanism is a thought; it is not a political party. It is an ideology related to some kind of Islamic thought which may or may not be true. But it is a reality that it has thousands of believers who have accepted this ideology and obey it. How can we ignore it and its followers? They are Afghans and are citizens of Afghanistan and it is a fact that they established a government in Afghanistan and ruled between 1995 and 2000 until the US attacked the country. Would we be able to remove all of them from Afghanistan and Pakistan? This is an important question before the world community. In a decade of fighting with foreign troops, not only have they not been destroyed, but have also emerged stronger than before with the result that they are able to threaten the capital city and indulge in terror activities like Burhan-ud-din Rabbani's assassination in Kabul. After a decade of fighting, the international coalition forces concluded that they have to negotiate with the Taliban. Many observers now believe that peace in Afghanistan can only be achieved if the government in Kabul negotiates with the Taliban. The announcement of the Taliban’s plans to open an office in Qatar is seen as a positive step towards negotiations, but distrust on both sides’ remains. There are also unconfirmed reports stating that some of the Taliban-linked groups in Pakistan have held talks with the government in Islamabad.
In recent times, some proposals of dealing with the Taliban including military operations and soft diplomacy have been discussed. In the 1980s Afghanistan was occupied by Soviet troops, but within 10 years of Soviet presence, there was instability in Afghanistan. By the end of the Cold War, Soviets had to leave Afghanistan. After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, the Mujahedeen appeared, and began governing the country. But due to clashes between different Jihadi groups, the Taliban occupied most of the country. Clashes between the Taliban and the Mujahedeen continued. They ruled Afghanistan till September 11 2001, by which time considerable damage had taken place in the country. The attacks on the US on September 11th
2001, signaled the arrival of Al Qaida. All the tactics employed by the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) coalition forces with the help of UN Security Council resolutions, pushed the Al Qaida back. But the problems of terrorism, drugs, arms trading, and the Taliban still remain.
While taking into account several models and methods practiced in Afghanistan, it is clear that not even one of them has succeeded. The regional model comprising of the Islamic countries and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) can be considered as an experimental model in this regard. Their efforts and resources towards social and economic development after taking care of security issues are susceptible to get used by the warring groups to their advantage. To deal with such a situation, peacekeeping forces comprising troops from Islamic countries, could replace the NATO coalition forces. The borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan (the Durand Line), are one of the most dangerous places in the world. The drugs, arms and human trafficking are being carried on from these borders. If these boundaries are controlled by military and police forces, it may reduce instability. To do so, more manpower and resources are needed. New technology can be used besides manpower. A coalition of armed forces must be created under the aegis of the UN, and the OIC comprising only Muslim countries. Neighboring countries should be excluded, because all of them may develop economic, ethnic, political and cultural vested interests in Afghanistan. The Taliban then will not be able to seek an excuse or pretext to be armed and fight with non-Muslim soldiers. In this regard the local tribes, institutions and individuals will not be forced to support the Taliban fighters on the basis of the pretext of fighting with non-Muslim forces that have captured and occupied their country or as a right to fight against them in a holy war (Jihad). Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh and some other volunteer OIC member-countries, could participate in such peace keeping operations.
As we know, Afghanistan is a land-locked country. Recently the Taliban reacted to the presence of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and coalition forces, by closing the communication route and logistics for NATO from Pakistan. They blocked the Khyber Pass and burnt many fuel tankers and did not allow free movement for international forces. NATO requested Iran to provide a road from its territory, but due to friction in US-Iran relations the request was rejected. Support to the ISAF forces could have come from Russia and the CARs. This has its own problems and directly depends on Russia’s relations with West, mainly with the US, from time to time. In the case of the OIC forces there will be a chance of Iran providing a connecting route to the international forces and much more, because Iran’s security is directly related to security in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is suffering from the lack of a legitimate central government, drug trafficking, nomadic structure of society, an extreme form of Islam along with, more importantly, the rule of the mafias and the warlords. It has been repeatedly said that while the drug mafia is active, the situation will not improve. Money from drugs is considerable and it is an easily earned capital that has no substitute. While there are a few advantages for those who are dealing with agricultural activities and have an income from cultivation of poppy, the traders make a big profit. So it is beneficial to those who are on the other side and the conditions are stable for them. For fulfilling these aims, the farmers should be kept in a closed, traditional and tribal society. A closed society helps the drug mafia to carry on its activities undisturbed. One reason for the continuation of the present situation could be found here.
It is clear that in tribal society, the traditional hierarchical system is functioning. Nobody has rights to act independently. The leader and head decides on behalf of the others. So, when those leaders and heads of clans and tribes are ready to join the process of drug cultivation and trade, there will be no protest and obstacle and all members of the society will obey. The reason is that agriculture alone, in small plots that the peasants have, is not able to meet their livelihood costs. So, given the comparative weakness in relation to other economic sectors such as industry and trade, the best and easy source to earn money is drug cultivation and trafficking. But according to Islamic law if any production such as alcoholic drinks and materials which damages health, are ‘harӑm’
and those who engage in such activities, their incomes are defiled and the occupation should be given up. The ‘Moftis’
(a Sunni Islamic scholar who is an interpreter or expounder of Islamic law (Sharia
) can issue ‘fatwӑ’
(a holy commandment directed to Muslims). But the recent and contemporary history of Afghanistan does not highlight usage of this law. This procedure could be employed in an Islamic country such as Afghanistan where the faith and beliefs of rural societies are more powerful than urban areas.
In a traditional society like the one mentioned before it is possible to carry on these tasks. Many Afghan peasants and villagers are under the influence and authority of clerics. So in the framework that has been outlined, the social structure can prohibit the cultivation, trafficking and trading of drugs in the society. But there are no experiences of such a controlled influence. But it should be practiced at least once. When the production of drugs decreases, it means that the revenue of the drug mafia will reduce and they will not have enough funds to carry on. The Sunni Islamic leaders in Mecca, Medina, and Cairo, and Shiite centers such as Najaf and Qom, could approve fatwa
about prohibition of all processes of production of opium and heroin by any means and anywhere, and the fatwa
should be implemented. It is natural that those persons who are engaged in drug trafficking and whose life depends on it, should be financially supported by rich Muslim countries till they find new sources of income. Investment in economic infrastructure to introduce new jobs is an important issue. In the years that have passed after the withdrawal of Soviet troops, we were witness to increasing drugs production by 8-9000 tons annually.
In early Taliban rule the production of opium decreased. But it increased substantially after the attack of the coalition forces. It was clear that some groups could exploit the opportunities to their benefit. Their pretext was that an Islamic country was occupied by foreign and infidel forces and they should protect the country’s independence and rescue it from invaders. But, in fact, the coalition forces disturbed the autonomy leading to instability which continues to this day. The tribal system and traditions complemented the traditional way of life. It is hoped that after 2014, when the coalition forces leave Afghanistan, with simultaneous peace negotiations with the Taliban, the proposals enumerated above can be implemented.
Parallel to these initiatives, cultural activities should be carried on to prepare the much needed atmosphere for change which will take place in behavior and habits. Mass media, especially radio and television, have an important role to introduce the initiatives to the masses. The local leaders should be well trained about the importance of changes, to influence the view of their people for change.
Bahram Amirahmadian, an assistant professor at University of Tehran, is the senior fellow at IRAS.
The above is based on the author’s book chapter ‘Afghanistan’s Political Institutions: A New Approach
’, which is published in ‘The Political Future of Afghanistan: Issues and Perspectives’, edited by Arpita Basu Roy and Srimanti Sarkar (KW Publishrs / 2016).