Afghanistan Today

Sameer Arshad Khatlani

The Taliban claim to have retaken 85% of Afghanistan as they threaten to recapture power in Kabul two decades after being ousted from power following the 9/11 attacks. The Afghan government has disputed the Taliban's claims that are in any case unlikely to be verified indepen-dently. With the exit of the western forces, the Afghan army is putting up a valiant fight to prevent the Taliban from overrunning Afgha-nistan again, turning the clock back to the 1990s and reversing the gains such as a degree of women em-powerment achieved over the last two decades. The Taliban may well be unable to take power again. But the usual suspects have found a fresh handle in their imminent return to power to stoke Islamophobia by emphasising the Taliban's obsession with their form of “Sharia”.

Afghanistan is a deeply religious country and can clearly do without the Taliban's brand of religiosity, which in reality is more about tribalism than the actual practice of Islam. It is also about the power tussle between the Pashtuns and other ethnic groups in the country. Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns have long jockeyed for political power in Afghanistan. A non-Pashtun Afghan is unlikely to be a Taliban sympathiser no matter how religious she may be. The American invasion titled the balance of power in Kabul in favour of non-Pashtun ethnic minorities at the cost of Pashtuns. The Taliban resurgence is also about a political assertion of Pashtuns, who are the single largest ethnic group in the country.

Beyond the political realm, the Taliban’s literalist ideology is obsessed with criminal law and violates the basic Islam mandate of the creation of an egalitarian system based on kindness, forgiveness, and mutual respect. Taliban’s way of functioning is a recipe for instability, disruption of economic and social lives that makes their position untenable under the Sharia they claim to be fighting for. They are at best outlaws as per Islam that has no place for Taliban's kangaroo courts. Islam mandates ensuring the creation of a society where people have no reason to resort to any punishable offense. It seeks to cater to the needs of the people first before inflicting punishments as a last resort that too in a manner that is benign and merciful. The Taliban conflate Pashtunwali, the pre-Islamic Pashtun tribal code, with Sharia. The idea of revenge, counter-revenge, denial of inheritance rights to women, seeking to confine them to their homes, and denying them education are the elements of code and utterly un-Islamic.

Sharia, which means the ‘way’ in Arabic, is not uniform either as the Taliban and those of their ilk make it out to be. It has been subjected to much debate and has different meanings for different people. For many, it means the Quran, the Prophet’s Sunnah (way and manners), and early interpre-tations of divine sources. Various sources of Sharia have to be interpreted in each context. The interpretations depend on the particular interpreter’s ideological and theological position.

The Taliban are literal followers of Fiqh, formulated a thousand years ago with little change thereafter. Fiqh includes statecraft and international relations in detail. But all that belongs to another era and is incompatible with modern statecraft, international relations, and international law. Taliban’s ideas are primitive, outdated, and parochial. They are products of dogmatic adherence, which contradicts the Quran’s universal and inclusive spirit. The Taliban are essentially non-state actors and have no legitimacy to implement Sharia. Sharia is associated with the state authority and a legally constituted entity. Imposition of the sharia, including punishments, is a sovereign state’s prerogative acceptable to the masses. No individual or group can inflict barbaric and tribal punishments in the name of Sharia without ensuring an environment where one does not have to resort to crimes to fulfill legitimate needs. It is the state’s duty to ensure there is no need to commit a crime. Only after bringing about such a society, it can start implementing the punishment. Taliban are outlaws and as such need to be treated like that. Any attempt to engage with them legitimates their distortion of Islam and empowers the menace of Islamophobia globally.

[Sameer Arshad Khatlani is an author-journalist based in New Delhi.]

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Vol. 54, No. 9, Aug 29 - Sep 4, 2021