Recently, several former prominent Afghan political figures have been observed engaging with the Taliban, either secretly or openly. This development has sparked considerable discussion within the online sphere, dividing exiled Taliban opponents into two distinct groups. One group questions why individuals who were once fervent advocates of freedom and justice have now seemingly shifted their allegiance, engaging in personal dialogues with Taliban officials. Critics argue that these individuals neither held a clear stance regarding political and social upheaval in the past nor do they present a clear political agenda today. In essence, it is suggested that these individuals have been recruited by intelligence networks from nations that have been denouncing the Taliban for the past two years while simultaneously providing financial support.
On the other hand, a contrasting group opposes this viewpoint, asserting that the interactions between these individuals and the Taliban are a result of the coercion they are subjected to. However, it begs the question: who is compelled to endure the current situation in Afghanistan? Does tolerance of the status quo equate to active engagement with it?
If we were to frame the relationship between all members of society and the Taliban within the context of prevailing coercion and inevitability, it would indeed serve as a potent tool to legitimize the concealed and overt agreements struck between society and the Taliban. Such an approach threatens to blur the distinction between those who oppose and those who support the Taliban, ultimately undermining the pursuit of justice. In such a scenario, discussing the validity of fundamental human values such as freedom, justice, and equality, and trusting their advocates, may become an arduous endeavor.
What is existing coercion?
To gain a proper understanding of “coercion,” which stands as a fundamental element of authoritarian regimes, one can readily grasp why people are compelled to engage with oppressive regimes. Moreover, it becomes challenging to differentiate between those who endure oppression due to coercion and those who do so willingly. While there are exceptions, this issue can, to some extent, be addressed and briefly categorized. It is essential to unequivocally state that, given the current political coercion, no one should misconstrue the Taliban’s satisfaction or enthusiasm. The term “political coercion” accurately portrays the raw power wielded by authoritarian regimes, invoking fear and eroding the moral fortitude of individuals who stand against them. The crucial point to consider is that “political coercion” should not be wielded as a means to justify individuals’ affiliations with the oppressive regime, even if they are victims of oppression who have secretly opted to align themselves with the existing regime.
Two years since the Taliban’s return to Kabul, numerous documents have come to light, revealing that several former archenemies of the Taliban—individuals who once staunchly opposed chauvinism and fundamentalism while advocating for freedom and justice—have brazenly joined the Taliban ranks, extolling and pledging allegiance to them. While everyone retains the right to make choices, it is simplistic for individuals lacking a nuanced understanding of political dynamics to rationalize these individuals’ meaningful connections with the Taliban solely as a response to existing coercion, placing them in the same category as those genuinely constrained by compulsion.
Some opponents of the Taliban in the virtual sphere are quick to condemn the presence of certain individuals among the Taliban while simultaneously justifying the presence of others. Regrettably, they fail to recognize that the Taliban skillfully manipulate this dual approach. There is a pressing need to differentiate between those enduring imposed coercion in Afghanistan and those who are not. Failing to do so could lead to opponents of the Taliban daily justifying the presence of their relatives within the leadership of this group under the guise of “coercive rule.” This is precisely what the Taliban aspire to achieve.
Who are under the yoke of Taliban’s coercion?
This group encompasses diverse individuals. In less developed societies, a significant portion of the population is invariably subjected to oppression, often lacking the means to address societal chaos. Those under the sway of the Taliban can be categorized into four distinct groups:
1- The first group consists of individuals who either lack the capability or the desire to resist the prevailing situation for various reasons. This group represents the majority of society.
2- The second group comprises merchants and traders who, by necessity, must weather any circumstances. Beyond their own financial interests, this group plays a crucial role in fulfilling people’s daily needs and promoting entrepreneurship. Consequently, expecting them to engage in political resistance against the established determinism is unrealistic.
3- The third group encompasses civil servants, media professionals, students, businesspeople, and the middle class of society, all of whom are compelled to endure the existing situation. This segment of society tends not to adopt a critical stance toward governments and political regimes, opting to continue their daily lives while bearing the burden of suffering and ennui.
4- The fourth group consists of women, who bear the brunt of the prevailing compulsion. Despite the challenges they face, they persist in their struggle for liberation.
Who are exempt from Taliban-imposed compulsion?
1- Individuals like former political leaders, such as Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, who pursue complex long-term goals, making their presence in Afghanistan a matter of intricacy.
2- Those who return to the country through the Taliban Contact Commission and pledge allegiance to the Taliban.
3- Individuals who are encouraged and enticed to return to Afghanistan via the security channels of neighboring nations. This return primarily involves new political actors and is not the result of coercion.
4- Those with ethnic and ideological ties to the Taliban. More than anyone else, these individuals seek to legitimize the Taliban’s rule.
In my opinion, those subjected to existing constraints are unlikely to find the opportunity for meaningful dialogue with the Taliban, or they may not be willing to engage in such dialogue. It would be grossly unfair to equate the circumstances of those who suffer under Taliban oppression with those who establish relations with the Taliban. For proponents of freedom and justice, the focus should not be on specific individuals or groups but rather on a single principle: the choice between freedom and tyranny. Anyone who consciously and willingly seeks to rationalize their relationship with an authoritarian regime under the pretext of political compulsion effectively becomes complicit in oppression. If participation in oppression becomes widespread, society as a whole will be tainted. Consequently, moral and human values such as freedom, equality, and justice will lose their essence, plunging society into profound darkness. Everything will lose its meaning, and individuals will yearn for freedom within the confines of tyranny. This is the very outcome that totalitarian and authoritarian regimes anticipate.