The Economist’s Attempt to Whitewash the Taliban; Is the West Recognizing the Taliban?
When the Taliban first appeared in southern Afghanistan in 1994, many people were unaware of their primary ideology, expecting that the group had come from the religious centers of the Tribal Areas on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan to bring an end to lawlessness and establish order and peace. The Taliban‘s theorists and policymakers had planned so effectively that even many politicians of the Mujahedeen government were deceived, or perhaps they were weary of the perpetual war, choosing to envision a positive image of the Taliban.
Former Afghan President and Mujahedeen leader Burhanuddin Rabbani welcomed the Taliban, referring to them as “doves of peace“ and students of religious sciences who were attempting to bring peace to the country. As a result, he ordered his commanders in Kandahar and its surrounding areas not to oppose the Taliban and to allow them to take control of the provinces one after another. When the Taliban arrived at Chaar Asiab district and MaidanShar, Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was in charge of the Mujahedeen government‘s military fronts, along with some of his bodyguards, hastened to meet the Taliban‘s prominent leaders in their territory in MaidanShar to converse and negotiate with them.
Rabbani and Massoud initially thought they could use the Taliban to eliminate their rivals and reach a dignified reconciliation with them. However, events soon showed that the Mujahedeen government leaders‘ expectations and the people‘s approval of the Taliban‘s emergence were wrong and not based on facts. This has been revealed in various ways. Western governments, weary of the long war in Afghanistan, are attempting to redefine the Taliban and present a more favorable image of them in order to convince themselves and their people to accept them as a regime. When people cannot change reality, they often manipulate their mental image of it, either consciously or unconsciously.
The hasty withdrawal of American and Western forces from Afghanistan in August 2021 had devastating consequences for the country, leading to widespread reactions from some media and political circles in the West to the event and the U.S. government‘s action. These reactions described the actions of the United States and other Western countries as hazardous. It soon became apparent, however, that the withdrawal of these forces from Afghanistan, despite its hasty appearance, had been planned and implemented following a comprehensive agreement with the Taliban. Since the Taliban seized power, Western critics have continued to criticize what they perceive as the hasty withdrawal of Westerners from Afghanistan. Now, evidence suggests that Western governments are attempting to gain recognition for the Taliban, and are being aided in this process by a number of Western media outlets. These media are publishing numerous reports and analyses in an effort to whitewash the Taliban, highlighting the group‘s strengths of governance and obscuring the negative and disastrous aspects of their track record. They are attempting to create the mentality that the Taliban regime is efficient and its durability is not only in conflict with the interests of Western countries, but also serves their interests, and thus engagement with the group should be prioritized when formulating the foreign policy of the concerned countries.
The London edition of The Economist recently published a report on the Taliban‘s governance method in comparison to the previous government, with the intention of using usual media measures to improve the Taliban‘s reputation. The Western media has been gradually attempting to portray the Taliban in a more positive light, and this report discusses the issue in detail. The report begins with the statement: “For twenty years, the United States and its allies have killed thousands and squandered about two trillion dollars in Afghanistan to prevent the Taliban from taking power. Despite this, it appears that the country‘s situation is largely not as bad as it has been made out to be.”
The report further stated that the Taliban‘s governance has been better than that of previous governments, particularly in terms of their handling of terrorism, which has exceeded expectations. Currently, Al–Qaeda is at its lowest level of global activity. In this regard, Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation, recently commented that terrorism in Afghanistan has not increased. This is despite the fact that the Taliban, in contravention of the Doha agreement, provided shelter to the leader of Al–Qaeda, Ayman al–Zawahiri, in the center of the Afghan capital, and his presence in Kabul was made known to the world after he was killed by a U.S. drone strike.
The Washington Post brought to light declassified documents from the U.S. Department of Defense, which revealed that officials in the department had concluded that Afghanistan had become a hub for international terrorism coordination following the Taliban‘s return to power, and that the group had not fulfilled its commitments to combat terrorism.
The Economist report highlighted the “positive works“ of the Taliban, going so far as to suggest that the Taliban‘s punishment of amputation of thieves‘ hands had led to a decrease in administrative corruption in the country. The report quoted one of the advisers of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban Deputy Prime Minister, as saying that the punishment of amputation of the hand of the thief had caused customs officials in the Taliban administration to refuse to accept bribes. However, according to Islamic teachings and particularly the Hanafi Jurisprudence, the punishment of hand amputation is not applied to the crime of stealing from the treasury and accepting bribes, which contradicts the assertion of Mullah Baradar‘s advisor.
In order to avoid being judged for condoning the Taliban‘s severe punishment, the Economist maintained that it did not approve of the amputation of thieves‘ hands, but rather denounced the corrupt government backed by NATO.
This publication should have addressed the issue that a significant portion of the economic and administrative corruption in Afghanistan during the two decades of the republican government was perpetrated by the foreign entities who were expected to transform Afghanistan into a paradise. If individuals and institutions are to be held accountable, then Westerners are more culpable than the insiders in this regard.
The publication has praised the Taliban‘s governing abilities, citing the vaccination of stray dogs as a sign of their positive image. It has also noted that there are now clear indications of improved law enforcement in the Afghan capital, such as the removal of vendors, sending drug addicts to rehabilitation centers, and the closure of restaurants with poor hygiene. Additionally, it has been reported that 30,000 stray dogs have been vaccinated.
The Economist report also described the state of media freedom in Taliban–controlled territory as satisfactory. This report quoted the head of a non–Taliban–run media company operating inside the country, stating, “Afghanistan is currently better managed than Pakistan and the country‘s television stations are operating with more freedom in publishing news than the media in India.”
Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, the former governor of Nangarhar, was quoted in the report as saying, “The Taliban are on the right track now. However, Afghans outside the country may not agree with me, as they are not present here and do not know the truth. I, however, am present here and understand the facts.”
The Economist implicitly suggests that the Taliban‘s return to power has been detrimental to women, as they prohibit girls from receiving an education and entering the workforce. This publication states that 80% of the two and a half million girls who would have been educated are now deprived of this opportunity. This issue can help us to comprehend the severity of the disaster that has occurred and demonstrate the inappropriateness of the regime since its return to power in Afghanistan. However, since the Taliban are currently viewed as allies of the West, any destruction they cause can be overlooked, and even a publication that is considered to be a proponent of radical liberal thinking in Europe is careless in addressing these disasters.
Recently, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released an annual report ranking countries based on the freedom of media and journalists, which discussed the gradual change in the West‘s attitude towards the Taliban. The report described Afghanistan‘s media situation as better under the Taliban‘s rule than countries such as Turkey, India, Oman, Kuwait, Egypt, and Russia. RSF‘s report was not intended to paint a positive picture of the Taliban, but rather to mock the people and exacerbate their wounds, as hundreds of journalists and media activists have fled the country, many media companies have been shut down, and hundreds have been detained and tortured by the Taliban for expressing opinions on social media.
Recently, the Deputy of the Supreme Court of the Taliban announced that 175 people were to be subjected to retributive justice, 37 to be stoned, and four to be buried under a wall, with the decisions to be implemented gradually after the confirmation of the Taliban leadership council. It is inconceivable what kind of uproar would be created in the Western media if similar judicial decisions were issued by the judicial authorities in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. However, since the Taliban, the “new partner of the United States and the West“, has begun to take such actions, the Western media has largely ignored it and shown little desire to respond. One can only imagine what the Western media would say if there was even one case of stoning for adultery or being buried under the wall for the crime of sodomy in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.
Despite the importance of protecting human rights as one of the most valued modern achievements, it has been demonstrated over the years that Western governments, who view themselves as the guardians of human rights, have a two–faced approach to matters concerning human rights. Therefore, as Westerners are expected to interact with the Taliban, they are prudent not to bring up the human rights record of the group. Instead, they must present the face of the group in a manner that facilitates further interaction between Westerners and the Taliban.
In conclusion, two points should be noted. Firstly, the nature of media is at odds with neutrality, which contradicts the claims made about the necessity of media impartiality. Those who run the media publish content that is in line with their interests and beliefs, as well as defending the interests and values of donors. Secondly, the media in the West have a significant presence in the decisions of the power centers, and thus any report or news that is published through such media reflects the aspirations and desires of at least part of the decision–makers in the power centers. Therefore, observing what is going on in the influential Western media can help us to speculate what might be happening behind the scenes. The Economist‘s report on Taliban governance, as well as the recent annual report of RSF, indicate the start of a process that is likely to lead to the recognition of the Taliban.