By: Mohammad Ali Nazari
The Taliban’s desired society is not something that the people of Afghanistan want, making it difficult for them to build it. Since the beginning, the Taliban have used violence such as sticks, bullets, and prisons to try to create their ideal community. However, the Afghans have been resilient in their resistance to the Taliban. Women and girls have started online classes, schools, and universities, and some have worked hard to get scholarships to study abroad. Despite a year and a half of oppression, women are still protesting against the Taliban’s misogyny, refusing to give up their country or their rights. They do not expect the Taliban to change and respect human rights and women’s rights to education and work. The Afghans are hoping for an end to the ‘second Emirate’ era, when they can enjoy their rights and have a society free of the Taliban.
Despite using all the mechanisms to maintain their power, the Taliban are beginning to doubt the survival of their regime. They are making efforts to push the country backwards, unaware that progress is an inevitable part of all human societies. This lack of desire to adapt to the present era means that they cannot prevent civilization from progressing, as no power can stop the development of a society. Even the most backward societies, including Afghanistan, have made significant progress in the past few decades. Therefore, regressive powers can delay the development process, but they cannot eliminate it. This hostility to modern phenomena, such as books, universities, media and art, is the wrong choice. This kind of behavior comes from someone who does not have a clear vision of the future.
This report will examine the Taliban’s vision for an ideal society, their actions to achieve it, and how their external relations have impacted Afghanistan.
The issue of how to handle the Taliban is a difficult one for both Afghans and countries involved in Afghanistan-related matters. The Taliban’s conflict with the Afghan people is clear, as they have taken individuals hostage. Currently, they are behaving more like a terrorist organization than a government. On February 21, 2023, a teenage boy and another relative of commander Qand were kidnapped from Parwan province, leading the former police commander to surrender. We usually see hostage-taking in movies, but not in politics. With the Taliban in power, systems such as health, industry, trade, mines, banking, agriculture, and social and cultural life have been hindered. Over the past 20 years, as well as the Taliban’s one and a half years of their second rule, the Taliban have killed Afghans and imposed restrictions on them.
Additionally, their interactions with other nations have been peaceful. Therefore, many countries that had previously supported the Taliban either openly or covertly are now facing difficulties with them. In recent years, Iran and Uzbekistan had a close relationship with the Taliban, and Iranian weapons were often given to the Taliban to use against government forces. Uzbekistan also hosted Taliban officials before and after the fall of the republic. Now, both countries are dealing with border disputes and are threatened by the Taliban.
Pakistan has been the main backer of the Taliban for almost three decades, but now they are facing their own issues with the group. Diplomatic and military efforts to resolve the conflict have not been successful, and the fighting continues, with borders sometimes being closed.
A tense future awaits us. The Taliban, led by Hibatullah Akhundzada, have spoken of a global jihad, which would involve establishing a caliphate throughout the world, beginning in Islamic lands, and targeting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Islamic countries, including Pakistan. Hibatullah, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, has once again called Pakistan’s laws un-Islamic, which led to the formation of Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other extremist Islamist groups that advocate jihad. On the other hand, the Afghan Taliban cannot ignore TTP, which carries out heavy operations against the Pakistani government.
Pakistan supported the Taliban in the second half of the 1990s because Islamabad thought the Taliban could serve its interests in the region. However, the interests of Pakistan and the Taliban have become conflicting due to the presence of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). This has caused Islamabad to reduce its support for the Afghan Taliban. The more the TTP carries out operations in Pakistan, the more strained the relationship between Kandahar and Islamabad becomes. This conflict of interest is unlikely to go away in the near future.
The Taliban accuses Pakistan of being a puppet of the West. In Images from Guantanamo, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef describes his arrest by Pakistani forces and his subsequent handover to American forces, calling the Pakistani government officials traitors and mercenaries. He also calls the Pakistani government a tyrant and a human trafficker, and sarcastically states that Pakistan is obligated to obey the Americans. The Taliban does not show gratitude to Pakistan or any other country, no matter how well they have treated them.
Zaeef then introduces a Pakistani government agent, saying that the agent was dismissive and stated that the law and Islam were not relevant in the present situation, as only Pakistan’s interests mattered. This excerpt from the Taliban official’s book demonstrates that what is most important to both sides is their own interests, not Islam or anything else. The interests of both sides clash and compete over the Taliban. It is reasonable for governments to prioritize their own interests, given their responsibility to their countries.
Taliban and People
The Taliban have violated people’s private and public privacy, and even implemented laws related to sexual intercourse, such as prohibiting women from taking contraceptives. They have a strict control over all aspects of people’s lives, but this report will focus on three in particular: religious, political, and cultural.
Taliban and Religion
The Taliban identify as Hanafi, but they do not follow the teachings of the Hanafi religion or the tradition of the Deobandi school, despite the fact that many of their leaders studied in Deobandi religious schools in Pakistan and are closely related to the Deobandi political currents in Pakistan. Mawlana Fazal-ur-Rehman, the mainstream leader of the Deobandi School in Pakistan, is a pillar of Pakistan’s democracy and has accepted female leadership in his country, yet the Taliban are against these demonstrations. They consider women to be intellectually disabled and democracy to be a system of blasphemy. Currently, Mawlana rule on Pakistan with the support of the Nawaz Muslim League and the Pakistan People’s Party, and one of the members of the Supreme Court of this country is a woman.
In contrast, the Taliban holds the view that women cannot be lawyers or judges. The Deobandi of India is even more moderate and considers secularism to be essential for India (Ansari, 2011: 37).
The Taliban are attempting to create a religiously unified and radical society. The current leader of the Taliban stated in a meeting with the heads of the human resources group that people should become Muslims in order to eliminate any opposition. This process of Muslimization is actually a form of radicalization and is leading people towards the Taliban’s path. The Taliban do not recognize the official religions of the country, including Shia. Although they claim to be followers of the Hanafi religion and emphasize the implementation of Hanafi jurisprudence in their mandates, they do not actually follow it. According to Amin Ahmadi, there is an element of tolerance in all Islamic religions, however, the Taliban are not tolerant or patient in either religious matters or political and military affairs. Therefore, the Taliban cannot be considered the rightful followers of the Hanafi nor the appropriate representatives of the Deobandi school.
In his book Religion of the Taliban, Bashir Ahmad Ansari examines the Taliban’s ideology and states that the religious roots of the Taliban can be traced back to one religious group in the history of Muslims, known as the Khawarij, who were present during the Prophet of Islam’s era. He goes on to say that the Taliban are essentially a copy of the Khawarij, regardless of whether they acknowledge this religious lineage or not.
Ansari continues to provide examples of the extreme attitude of the Khawarij, a group that believed they were more Muslim and more just than the Prophet. They often disobeyed the instructions of the Qur’an and the Prophet of Islam. Ansari believes the Taliban also behave in this way. He identifies “arrogance, anger, bigotry, violence, pride, intolerance, bloodshed, looting, and captivity” as the main components of a primitive spirit, which he claims the Khawarij added to (Ansari).
The Taliban’s treatment of women is much stricter than what the Prophet prescribed. According to Ansari, the Taliban exhibit many of the same characteristics as the Khawarij, such as bigotry, violence, pride, intolerance, and bloodshed, all of which are presented as religious. Therefore, the Taliban’s ideal society in terms of religion is similar to the society the Khawarij wanted to create in the first century of Hijri, but were unsuccessful. Despite the Taliban’s use of all available resources to build such a society, they have also failed due to resistance both inside and outside of Afghanistan.
The Taliban have been very harsh to followers of Salafism and have killed their Mullahs multiple times in the past year and a half, yet they still strive to bring Islam to the forefront and return to the past. They are very similar to Salafism in this regard.
From a religious perspective, the Taliban’s ideal society seeks violence and global jihad, similar to what the Khawarij wanted, according to Ansari.
Taliban and Politics
The Taliban have repeatedly declared their desire for a religious society and a country without laws. Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, the leader of the Taliban, stated in a meeting with the governors of his group on July 27th, 2023 in Kandahar that man-made laws are no longer applicable in Afghanistan and that the Taliban make decisions based on Sharia. Subsequently, the Ministry of Justice declared that all political parties were prohibited from operating. The following day, the Ministry announced that when the people of Afghanistan become more knowledgeable about politics, the parties will be allowed to operate again. The Taliban’s lawless country is one in which every soldier of the group can be the law, the general, the judge, the law enforcer, and the court. Therefore, there should not be any competing political groups or opposing forces.
Younus Negah believes that the Taliban cannot transition from a militant and jihadist group to a political organization because they lack a clear political vision and cannot abide by the rule of law. The rule of law requires that people be given academic ranks and degrees based on their qualifications, not the number of bombs they have deployed. This means that the Taliban cannot give out degrees as gifts to people who have not attended school or university. Furthermore, the law does not allow someone without a bachelor’s degree to become the president of a university, which is something that the Taliban do. Therefore, the existence of the law is the end of the Taliban’s rule.
The Taliban have not been able to create a clear political future for themselves or the country. They lack a satisfactory background and a clear vision of the future, which is why their leaders and officials rarely speak of these two topics. When they do talk about history, they discuss the formation of other groups’ agitation, not their own political performance. Their speeches on the future are also vague and ambiguous, usually ending with a few prayers and wishes for a religious society. Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan and a Guantanamo prisoner, wrote a book called ‘My opinion for solving Afghanistan’s problems’. In it, he discusses slogans of unity, mutual acceptance, endorsement of religious values, national traditions, and other wishes. He then states that these wishes can only be fulfilled under an Islamic system. Even people like Zaeef, who are relatively literate and thoughtful, have failed to plan for the future of Afghanistan.
In his book, Asif Zheman includes a note from Abdul Hai Motamain, the spokesman of Mullah Omar, summarizing two speeches given by the founder of the Taliban in Kandahar. The first speech was given the day after 1,500 Mullahs pledged their allegiance, and the second was about the gathering of Spin Boldak scholars. Motamain said he was present at these speeches and wrote a summary of them. The note focuses on how the Tehreek-e Taliban began, its origins, and the dreams of the Mullahs. However, it does not discuss the future. Although Mullah Omar has recently become the Amir al-Mu’minin of the Taliban and has formed a government, he has not spoken about the future or the upcoming order. According to the memoirs of Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, part of the fate of the Afghan society depends on the dreams that the Taliban leaders envision or create.
Hibatullah gave a speech at the Loya Jirga (high council) of religious scholars who support the Taliban. There was no clear plan for the future of Afghanistan discussed. The only thing communicated was a 17-minute speech on “Jihad continues until the Day of Judgment.” He also mentioned the end of the war in the speech, but he quickly emphasized that Jihad will continue until the Day of Judgment. This contradiction suggests that the Taliban are following a global jihad program, which explains their connection to international jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda.
The Haqqani network, whose leader is now the Taliban’s Interior Minister and demands 50% of the power, is part of the Taliban. He has taken the title of ‘Caliph’ to express his global ambitions. Since the Caliph’s authority is not limited to one country, it appears that, like Hibatullah, he is aiming for a worldwide Jihad.
In an interview with Tolo News TV, Inamullah Habibi Samangan, the former Deputy Spokesman of the Taliban and now the head of the media center of the group’s regime, stated that the leader of the Taliban is the Amir al-Mu’minin of the entire world and that Iran and Pakistan are his Emir’s territories. He further added that due to their current strength, they do not consider other countries as their enemies.
The Taliban’s attitude towards the media is one of alienation. Despite claiming to accept the freedom of the press that was in place under the previous government, they censor news and reports before they are published. The Taliban expect the media to support their regime, and in a meeting at Kabul University, Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s spokesman, said that media outlets operating from abroad and reporting on the Taliban’s weaknesses and mistakes are considered enemy media. He accused these media of espionage, a tactic that is widely used and stereotyped in Afghanistan. Mujahid went on to explain the Taliban’s policy towards the press, saying that it should be independent and free, and set out several frameworks for it. Finally, he said that the media should support the Taliban’s ‘Nizam’ (regime).
The Taliban’s attitude towards the media is the same as it was in the late 1990s. Wahid Mozhda recounts a meeting he had with Mohammad Hassan Akhund, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of the first round of the Taliban regime, in which Hassan planned to speak to Mullah Omar about stopping the publication of Hewad and Anis newspapers. According to Mozhda, Hassan believed that the majority of Afghans were illiterate and that Radio Sharia was enough to guide them, so there was no need for newspapers and magazines. He also said that he had never read a newspaper article in his life, instead preferring to read a few pages of the Quran. Now, this same person who “did not waste time reading the newspaper” is in control of a country and is imposing restrictions on the media.
The Taliban have stated that media outlets are free to publish content in support of their group, but if it is against them, they must be destroyed. As a result, Afghan society must remain silent. The media should not reflect the people’s voices and should instead be controlled by the Taliban to justify their actions. The Taliban want a completely silent society, but the digital era has made this impossible. They can no longer control cyberspace or the free media, as citizen journalism has enabled the freedom of the press and weakened the Taliban.
Taliban and Culture
The Taliban do not recognize or accept cultural, religious, or political diversity. One of the most extreme examples of this is the destruction of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan. Recently, they have also destroyed sculptures such as the statue of Abdul Ali Mazari in Bamiyan, the bust of Shirin in Daikundi, the statue of Mother and other sculptures in the Faculty of Fine Arts of Kabul University, and the sculpture of Amir Ali-Shir Nava’i in Mazar Sharif.
The Taliban oppose anything that could weaken their power, even if it is education. During both regimes, they have taken an anti-cultural approach by banning women’s education. Where they do allow education, they have imposed their own beliefs and values on it. Examples of this include hiring mullahs to preach to professors and students, dismissing university leadership, changing university syllabuses, tripling the amount of religious studies, changing the syllabus of education, building many mosques, and prohibiting or burning schools and libraries.
The Taliban leaders have not changed their views on modern concepts such as modern education and human rights. The same arguments that Mullah Omar made in an interview with a magazine in 2000 are still being echoed by the Taliban’s spokespersons. They continue to claim that they are not against women’s education, yet their actions suggest otherwise. It appears that the decline in women’s rights will continue as long as the Taliban regime is in power. This is because during their first regime, they used the same excuses for five years and never provided any opportunities for women’s education until their regime was overthrown.
The Taliban are also interfering in private and cultural matters. In their official documents, they are telling people whether they should shave or grow their beards a certain length. Additionally, men must wear hats or turbans and women must wear burqas or hijabs in all public places and institutions.
The Taliban have a culture of their own which they practice; they sleep in government offices, provide selective education, censor and restrict the media, ban art and music, and disregard non-Pashto languages. Despite the Ministry of Information and Culture of the Taliban claiming to respect linguistic diversity in the country on Mother Language Day, they have removed all plaques written in the Persian language from universities and government offices. Reports have also stated that in Nimroz, tablets written in Balochi were changed to Pashto tablets. The Taliban leaders deliberately avoid speaking Persian, even for a single sentence. For example, Mullah Hibatullah, who considers himself the Amir of Afghanistan, does not communicate in Persian (the majority spoken language), meaning millions of people who do not understand Pashto cannot understand his conversations, thus ignoring them.
They have prohibited the publication and sale of books in order to encourage society to adopt Taliban ideology intellectually. The society of the ‘Emirate’ should have aspects of the Taliban from a cultural perspective, think like the Taliban, and be resolute when making decisions. However, they should not have the right to read, think, or act independently.
The Taliban’s relationship with the rest of the world will not be positive. They view all non-Islamic countries as flawed and reject them, except for their money. Even with their closest allies in the Islamic world, such as Pakistan, their relationship is not good. This tension is likely to increase due to the activities of terrorist groups in Afghanistan.
The Taliban envision a future for Afghanistan that is too similar to the situation in the 90s, where women have no rights and are expected to stay in the kitchen and have children in the name of “respect for women”. Non-Taliban men will be deprived of all services and will only interact with the government out of fear, not offering services or participating in power. This deprivation of resources will lead to increased poverty and hunger. Fear will be the primary tool of Taliban rule, with violent consequences for the people, as we have seen in the past year and a half. The Taliban will monopolize resources and use them to spread their ideologies and establish religious schools, while wasting money on show-offs and defending their regime, funded by the poor people of Afghanistan in the form of taxes. Justice in this future will be determined by the Taliban, and the only right that Afghans will have is to be punished, as described by Mullah Zaeef.
Since the Taliban fight with everyone regardless of religion or ethnicity, differences between groups will become more intense. The concentration of power is often a major cause of conflict in Afghanistan, so the fighting will not end until this is addressed. Appointing non-Taliban figures to the current regime, whether from external or internal sources, will not solve the problem. What if the system itself is the main issue? Adding a few non-Taliban figures will not break the monopoly or change the nature of the Emirate to make it modern and efficient.
In the Taliban’s ideal society, the government has a one-way relationship with the people, where the people are expected to serve the government and not the other way around. Taxes are not paid in exchange for services, and those who do not comply with the government’s wishes are labeled as warriors, rebels, and spies and are removed. Although it is not possible to create such a society, even in the short term, the Taliban are doing their best to make it a reality, using all the resources available to them.
In Taliban society, relationships are based on orders and obedience, which is something that is taught in religious schools. In these schools, students have no rights and are expected to simply obey. By building thousands of religious schools, the Taliban are attempting to create social relations between students and clerics or sheiks. They want a society that is free of criticism, where people have no voice and are expected to remain quiet and compliant, not seeking rights, education, services, political or civil liberties, and always paying taxes to the Taliban. In a report of a meeting of human resource heads, Mullah Hibatullah also said that the Taliban have trained rural people and assigned them to the service of jihad, and now is the time for urban people. Paragraph 14 of the report states that “as you were in the deserts, where you performed Imamate and Jihad, knowledge was with you, and this existence is great.” You familiarized the people of the deserts with religion through your preaching and advice, and they fell in love with it to the point that they were willing to make any kind of sacrifice for it. They supported you until their support and sacrifices made you powerful enough to defeat disbelief and establish an Islamic system. Now that you have come to the cities, invite people to the religion of Almighty God and introduce them to it so that no one in Afghanistan remains without it. Help them to create an Islamic system throughout the world. These orders of the Taliban leader are in line with the unification and Talibanization of the society, which is currently being pursued through various methods, including the construction of religious schools. It also shows that the Taliban are aiming for global jihad.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban are not using their money to provide services to the society or develop the country. Instead, they are using it to manage the society. This has caused poverty to become widespread, with 97% of the population facing starvation. Rather than creating job opportunities, the Taliban have shut down some businesses that they deem to be illegitimate, and have used resources to do what they call “enjoying the good and forbidding the evil”.