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Afghanistan: Taliban, US, India and the democracy vs Sharia law

By FnF Desk | PUBLISHED: 19, Aug 2021, 11:26 am IST | UPDATED: 19, Aug 2021, 11:28 am IST

Afghanistan: Taliban, US, India and the democracy vs Sharia law Kabul: New council may govern Afghanistan, with Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada taking overall charge.

Afghanistan may be governed by a council now that the Taliban have taken over, while Islamist group’s supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada would likely remain in overall charge, a senior member of the group said.

Many issues regarding how the Taliban would run Afghanistan have yet to be finalised, Waheedullah Hashimi, who has access to the group’s decision-making, said in an interview. But Afghanistan would not be a democracy, he added. “We will not discuss what type of political system should we apply in Afghanistan because it is clear. It is Sharia law and that is it.”

He said, “There will be no democratic system at all because it does not have any base in our country.”

Regime changes are capricious events, since there are many variables in play. It explains their mystique. The latest one in Afghanistan, third in the past two decades, is no exception. The Mujahideen takeover in 1992 was a preordained event choreographed by the United Nations, which slipped out of its hands. The 1996 Taliban takeover was like a slow-motion talkie with Ahmad Shah Massoud simply disappearing from Kabul without a fight. Last Sunday’s dramatic developments lead to a sense of deja vu.

However, there are major differences, too - three, in particular. Unlike previous occasions, the Afghan state structures are largely intact, which was highlighted by the Taliban’s dramatic press conference in a grand setting, with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, within 48 hours of their march into Kabul.

Second, the regime change is still playing out sedately and it may take days or even weeks before its final contours emerge in the form of a transitional government. There are signs that the victor is amenable to persuasion to accept a consensual outcome.

Third, and most important, unlike the previous two occasions, the international community, especially regional states, is midwifing the transition. Again, the victor is willing to take help from the world community to assist in a sweeping national reconciliation that accommodates the widest possible swathe of opinion in that hopelessly fragmented country. Setting aside great-game impulses in new Cold War conditions, big powers are constructively engaging the Taliban.

Truly, it is incomprehensible why India shut its embassy in Kabul. A great opportunity was at hand to plough a new Afghan policy independent of American tutelage. The only plausible explanation for such unseemly hurry to retrench could be that the government takes a zero-sum view that if Pakistan has a sense of triumphalism, then India must be the “loser”. But we were never really such one-dimensional people previously. We had a profound understanding of the Afghan nation’s ethos, traditions and culture and their enduring affection toward India.

Then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao didn’t have an iota of doubt that India shouldn’t lose time to launch a conversation with the Mujahideen groups (“Peshawar Seven”) notwithstanding their close association with Pakistan. Suffice to say, the Indian narrative is deeply flawed. We are riveted on archaic notions of “strategic depth” and regard the Taliban as a plaything of the Pakistani establishment.

Meanwhile, Hashimi said he would be joining a meeting of the Taliban leadership that would discuss issues of governance later this week.

The power structure that Mr. Hashimi outlined would bear similarities to how Afghanistan was run the last time the Taliban were in power from 1996 to 2001. Then, supreme leader Mullah Omar remained in the shadows and left the day-to-day running of the country to a council.

Akhundzada would likely play a role above the head of the council, who would be akin to the President, Mr. Hashimi said.

“Maybe his [Mr. Akhundzada’s] deputy will play the role of President,” Mr. Hashimi said, speaking in English.

The Taliban’s supreme leader has three deputies: Mawlavi Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar, Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the powerful militant Haqqani network, and Abdul Ghani Baradar, who heads the political office in Doha and is one of the founding members of the group.

The Taliban would also reach out to former pilots and soldiers from the Afghan armed forces to join its ranks, Mr. Hashimi said.

On recruiting soldiers and pilots who fought for the ousted Afghan government, Mr. Hashimi said the Taliban planned to set up a new national force that would include its own members and the government soldiers willing to join.


“Most of them have got training in Turkey and Germany and England. So we will talk to them to get back to their positions,” he said.  “Of course we will have some changes, to have some reforms in the army, but still we need them and will call them to join us.”

How successful that recruitment is remains to be seen. Thousands of soldiers have been killed by Taliban insurgents over the last 20 years.

Former President Hamid Karzai met a Taliban commander and senior leader of the Haqqani network militant group, Anas Haqqani, for talks on transition, a Taliban official said on Wednesday.

Karzai was accompanied by the old government’s main peace envoy, Abdullah Abdullah, in the meeting, said the Taliban official. He gave no more details.

Timeline of Afghanistan bloodshed

Almost 20 years after the U.S. started its war on terror driving the Taliban out of power, life is back to square one for millions of Afghans.

2001

On September 11, al-Qaeda carried out attacks on the World Trade Center in what was the deadliest terrorist attack in American history.

While al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was identified as the one responsible, the Taliban refused to hand over Bin Laden, who was in Afghanistan at the time.

On October 7 U.S. launched air strikes against Afghanistan in retaliation.

Some 1,300 US troops arrived in Afghanistan in November and by December, the Taliban was removed from power, and its fighters melted away into Pakistan.

2001-2009

Between 2001 and 2009 the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan topped 67,000.

2009

In 2009 U.S. President Barack Obama announced a troop "surge" and the number of American soldiers in Afghanistan increased to over 100,000.

2011

Osama Bin Laden was killed in a U.S. special operations raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011 and in June 2011 Obama announced a withdrawal plan from Afghanistan.

2013

In 2013 at least three key figures of the Pakistani Taliban, including the then-leader Hakimullah Mehsud, were killed in U.S. drone strikes.

2015

U.S. troops in Afghanistan declined to about 9,800 by 2015.

2017

But in August 2017 U.S. President Donald Trump deployed additional troops increasing the total number to around 14,000.

2018

In September 2018, Trump appointed veteran Afghan-American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad to negotiate with the Taliban.

The Taliban gradually regained and then extended their influence in Afghanistan over the years.

2019

On September 9, 2019, after a particularly intense escalation in Taliban attacks, including a Kabul bombing that killed a U.S. soldier, Trump scrapped talks.

2020

The U.S. and the Taliban signed a peace deal in Doha, Qatar, on February 29, 2020.

Senior members of the Afghan government and countries surrounding Afghanistan were concerned that the United States could abandon Kabul much like it was perceived to have left the region after the Soviet Union exited Afghanistan decades ago.

The American focus was on getting their troops and diplomats out of Afghanistan safely.

In the deal, the U.S. agreed to withdraw its troops by May 1, 2021, in return for assurances from the Taliban that they would not let transnational terrorist groups operate from Afghan soil.

The accord also came amid a fragile political situation in Afghanistan.

The Ashraf Ghani administration was internally divided and the last two presidential elections — 2014 and 2019 — were disputed.

2021

Well before the American withdrawal started, the Ghani administration looked like a loose confederation of different fiefdoms. What glued them all together was the American troops.

Once it was clear that the Americans were leaving, the cracks in the administration started widening.

On April 14, U.S.President Joe Biden announced the U.S. troops' withdrawal from Afghanistan starting on May 1 and ending on September 11, bringing America’s longest war to a close.

Biden withdrew not just American air support but also the intelligence agents and contractors who were serving Afghanistan’s war planes and helicopters.

The Taliban launched their offensive on May 1. The Taliban strategy was to take the rural districts first and then lay siege to the cities, allowing them to fall.

By August 15, after taking the key eastern city of Jalalabad and with cities under their control, the Taliban encircled Kabul.

Ashraf Ghani left the Presidential palace and flew out of the capital and by nightfall, the Taliban were in the Presidential palace.
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