Another civil war threatening Afghanistan?
With a power shift in Afghanistan, more and more international experts fear the near future of this country. So Secretary-General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization Stanislav Zas claimed that the arising pockets of resistance to the Taliban* can lead to a long-term civil war in the country. In an article for our newspaper, Realnoe Vremya’s columnist Karim Gaynullin reflects on how real such prospects are.
Who are the Taliban*?
The word Taliban* comes from Arabic and literally means “students.” The “students” means disciples in Pakistani madrasahs. During the war against the Soviet Union, a lot of Pashtuns emigrated to Pakistan. There, they got an education in local Muslim educational establishments. But they studied in a deliberately created network of educational establishments. For instance, the “university of Haqqani” that many famous activists of this movement finished is one of them.
In 1992, the pro-Soviet communist regime didn’t withstand the departure of the Soviet contingent and fell. Then those who are usually called mujahids in Russian historiography came to power. In fact, it was a number of tribes and groups. While they fought between each other for control over resources, the new movement Taliban chaired by Mullah Mohammad Omar, which was much more consolidated and united by a common ideology, started to easily advance from Afghanistan’s eastern territory adjacent to Pakistan and got control over the whole territory of the country.
In 1996, the movement entered Kabul, announced the creation of the Islamic Emirate and named its leader Mullah Omar, Amir al-Mu'minin, that’s to say, the commander of the Muslims. Today the movement claims this title applies only to Muslims in Afghanistan. However, at the moment, there was at least a widespread stance that Mullah Omar was to be all Muslims’ leader.
In general, this story would remain very local and wouldn’t concern the world community if not for the terrorist attack on 11 September 2001 after which Osama bin Laden hid in Afghanistan. Before this moment, nobody had been interested in the “state of Afghanistan’s women” and human rights. Yet, after forming an alliance with the terrorist movement Al-Qaeda and hiding its leader, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan became the number one enemy of the society that was in shock after the biggest terrorist attack in America’s history. Then the 20-year civil war that claimed tens of thousands of lives began.
However, like 20 years ago, as soon as the foreign contingent left the territory of Afghanistan, the Taliban came into Kabul within 10 days and announced the Emirate after toppling the government of Ashraf Ghani.
This is how blogger Ilya Varlamov who was in Kabul during the events commented on this: “I am speaking with people a lot, and the people aren’t really concerned. “The Taliban will come, what’s the difference? Nothing will change for me, the most important thing is that they stop shooting and peace come,” such an opinion can often be heard from ordinary people. The countrymen won’t notice in general what has changed. Sharia laws? Many consider them supreme justice. They live by them.”
Today the Taliban say that they have changed a number of their positions. So this group has been long warring against ISIS who consider the Taliban non-believers. They claim their readiness for dialogue with Turkey, America and Russia. However, the countries are still cautious: even Turkey hasn’t yet recognised the new government of Afghanistan even though it made several statements insinuating a desire for partnership. At the moment it looks like what happened is a surprise for everybody and nobody simply understands what to do with it.
The Taliban’s religious beliefs
Regarding their convictions in general the Taliban can be compared to the force that’s more familiar to the Russian-speaking leader, the so-called Basmachis who were at war against the Soviet state in Central Asia early last century.
The Hanafi school in the wide sense of the word was the foundation of the Basmachi convictions as well as the Taliban’s beliefs. In other words, both as a legal school and conviction (Maturidiyya). Structurally, the Basmachi like the Taliban consisted of more modernist (Shura-i-Islam) and conservative (Shura-i-Ulema).
Their religious identity allows them to be a more flexible force in dialogue with different groups: both with the Shia including Iran and other countries in the region. They rest on religious traditions accepted in the region, therefore they won’t have to run campaigns of terror, the population will likely simply accept the novelties.
As for the state structure, they claim the country must be completely based on Islamic law, without any secular restrictions. Sharia is used in many Muslim countries in civil and sometimes administrative law. The Taliban believe Sharia must be used in criminal law too.
When it comes to women, the Taliban will highly likely rule they will be obliged to wear the niqab, a type of hijab covering the face, and the traditional Afghan blue burka. However, they recently gave an interview to an opposition TV channel where a woman without a veil was the interviewer.
They will unlikely be against women’s education in special female educational establishments. A series of the group’s statements confirmed that they aren’t against female education as such, they were against mixed education. Also, they will unlikely be against the woman leaving the house without a custodian, though trips outside a settlement will be limited.
Norms promise to be stringent in the Islamic Emirate. This means not only a ban on alcohol. Restrictions will likely spread to music, dance and films. The mass media have received messages that the Taliban prohibited Wahhabism on its territory. Separate groups of Wahhabis can be members of the Taliban, but they notably separated from this movement because a lot of Wahhabis started serving for ISIS when they entered Afghanistan. By the way, the skeleton of ISIS in Afghanistan stems from the groups of the so-called Islam Movement of Uzbekistan.
However, statements about this vary. Also, Wahhabis account for a considerable part of the population of several regions representing religious minorities. And they will likely have more rights there than in the regions dominated by Hanafis.
The cooperation between the Taliban and international Jihadi networks remains the main question, of course. Today the Taliban say they severed links with Al-Qaeda* and changed their attitude to it. The Taliban traditionally included the extreme group Haqqani network that had suicide bombers and was famous for extreme methods. The Taliban’s new foreign intervention and another civil war will depend on how the new Afghan government will cope with radicalism inside.
*ISIS, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Haqqani network are organisations banned in Russia.