How will the Taliban govern Afghanistan? It may be up to us.
The U.S. is out, but what the Biden administration and its Western allies do in the weeks and months ahead will have a big influence on whether the Central Asian country reverts to the insular, medieval barbarism of the 1990s or modernizes in order to conform to major international norms.
The Taliban is far from monolithic. They have common values: adherence to Sharia, resistance to foreign interference, the traditional Pashtun tribal code of Pashtunwali. How those general values manifest into specific policies and laws will be subject to interpretation through the movement’s fluid internal politics.
Divided along regional and tribal lines, an alliance between anti-imperialist Afghan nationalists motivated to protect the country’s sovereignty and Islamic fundamentalists, and partly composed of former Ashraf Ghani regime soldiers and policemen who defected under pressure, the Taliban is a highly decentralized movement whose desperate leadership could tilt it toward the hard-liners, or more liberal and modern.
Right now, the Taliban are saying the right things and sending positive signals about keeping girls schools open, allowing women to work as well as amnesty for Afghans who worked for the NATO occupation force. Clearly the order has gone out from the Taliban shura to their fighters to behave correctly. Images from a Taliban press conference reveal that the presidential palace has not been vandalized or looted. In a signal that this is not your father’s Taliban, high-ranking Taliban official Mawlawi Abdulhaq Hemad sat for an interview with a female television journalist whose face was uncovered. Former President Hamid Karzai is safe despite having remained in Kabul. While Western news media made much of the Taliban firing their guns outside the airport, firing over people’s heads was clearly an attempt at crowd control.
Americans would not have voted for the Taliban to govern Afghanistan. But we don’t get a vote. For the foreseeable future, what seemed inevitable to anyone who was paying attention over the last 20 years is now a fait accompli. The question now is: Which Taliban will we and, far more importantly, the people of Afghanistan be dealing with?
The Taliban who are allowing French, British and other nations’ troops to travel inside the capital in order to escort their citizens to the airport for evacuation â who even risked their own lives to evacuate Indian embassy staff â and who have left unmolested old Afghan government posters of ousted president Ashraf Ghani and iconic Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud,