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The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “When a Muslim visits a sick brother, he continues to pick the fruits of Paradise till he returns.” [Muslim]

Post-Taliban Afghanistan

By Kamal Matinuddin

There was a time when the Taliban were considered invincible. Being in control of 90% of Afghanistan they were poised to push Rabbani and his men out of the remaining sliver of land in the north-east corner of their country. They were a ground reality which could not be wished away. Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan had continued to recognise the Taliban regime despite their intransigence, which had isolated them from the rest of the world.

Religious parties in Pakistan belonging to the Deobandi school of thought supported them to the hilt. To them the Taliban were a role model who had established a truly Islamic state. They demanded that Pakistan too must adopt their interpretation of the Sharia and enforce the strict Islamic code. But after the suicidal aerial attacks on the World Trade Centre and on the Pentagon in which thousands of innocent lives were lost, the tide began to turn against them. Riyadh and Abhu Dhabi broke off diplomatic relations with Kabul. General Musharraf agreed to provide unstinted support to the United States in its war against the Taliban.

It is true that neither the aerial bombing of Afghanistan nor the raids by ground forces nor the psychological warfare not even the food drops have weakened the resolve of the Taliban. But despite the religious fervour of the Taliban the military balance will have its impact on the result of the "war" in Afghanistan. Sooner or later the Taliban regime will be toppled and a new political set up will replace them in Kabul.

The Taliban are not a monolithic outfit as is generally believed. Osama brought with him a large number of dissidents from various Arab countries when he returned to Afghanistan in 1995. They presently number around 4000. Since they are in the forefront of the conflict with the United Front (Northern Alliance), they have a greater say in running the affairs of the state. This is resented by the locals.

Among the Taliban leadership there are differences between those who come from Qandahar and were the founder members of the Taliban movement and those who defected from the Afghan Mujahideen factions and come from provinces other than Qandahar. Omar places more reliance on the 30 or so Qandharis, who will lay down their life for him. This cannot be said of the later Taliban, many of whom were erstwhile communists or from Afghan factions who were initially opposed to the Taliban.

Then there are the moderates within the Taliban who do not agree to the strict interpretation of Islam, particular the attitude of the religious police. The late Mulla Mohammad Rabbani, though a Pushtun from the same general area as Mulla Omar, had to leave Afghanistan as some of his actions were not appreciated by Omar. However, after some time he was reinstated. Foreign Minister Abdul Wakil Mutawakkil, though unlikely to defect, is not very happy with the actions of the religious police whom he blames for being overly sensitive. His recent visits to Pakistan raised hopes among some circles that he may defect. Mutawakkil, however, appeared on Al Jazera TV and reposed full confidence in the leadership of Mulla Omar.

Despite the fact that the Taliban have disarmed the various militias there are still important erstwhile commanders who are not happy at being controlled by Mullah Omar. Jalaluddin Haqqani, who holds the portfolio of Minister of Tribal Affairs in the Taliban regime commands a great deal of respect in the south-eastern provinces of Afghanistan. Though, during his meeting with Maulana Samiul Haq recently in Akhora Khattak, he has denied that there are rifts within the Taliban regime and is determined to resist the US forces, he is not fully under Omar's control and could be won over.

To ensure durable peace in Afghanistan and to bring the unfortunate country into the fold of the international community once again there is a requirement for the Taliban regime to be removed; a broad based multi-ethnic government acceptable to the majority of the population to replace the Taliban regime; de-militarisation of Afghanistan; rehabilitation and reconstruction of the war torn country and the return of the millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran.

It will not be easy to achieve these objectives. Even the might of a super power possessing state-of-the-art weapons in its armoury has so far not been able to make a dent into the Taliban leadership.

The first contender for power in Kabul is the Northern Alliance, which is still recognised as the lawful government of Afghanistan. It is presently supported by Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Russia and India. Russian President Putin met Burhanuddin Rabbani in Tajikistan recently and would like to see him reinstated as president of Afghanistan as he is deadly against the Taliban. However, the Northern Alliance alone will not be acceptable to the Pushtuns, which form the single largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and have been ruling the country for over 250 years. The ethnic minorities have also given a great deal of sacrifices during the Afghan jihad and will justifiably claim a larger share in the governance of their country than heretofore.

Former King Zahir Shah who is presently living in Rome is another contender. He is a Pushtun and has ruled Afghanistan for over 40 years and is still very popular in Afghanistan despite his advancing age and his absence from the country. He presently is the only one who can hold a loya jirga and ask the Afghans to elect their own leader and form the government they wish to have. He will probably not be accepted as the king any longer because of the opposition by Hikmetyar and the Taliban.

He has the support of the royalists in Pakistan and the expatriates and will be able to form a government using the technocrats and the former military officers of the Afghan Army.

The next step after the new government is in place would be the de-militarisation of Afghanistan. The various factions fighting today are all very heavily armed. To ensure the writ of the government these private militias will have to be disarmed. Mojeddedi tried to do this when he was the head of state but failed. Rabbani was also unsuccessful in taking away the weapons from the various warlords. The Taliban did mange to demilitarise the areas, which came under their control. But the Taliban themselves are now very heavily armed.

The government that replaces the Taliban regime must have at its disposal a law-enforcing agency accountable to it. Ideally it should be the blue helmets, which can be relied upon to remain neutral. Another alternative is peacekeeping force from Muslim countries acceptable to the various factions.

Unlike 1989 the Americans must not walk away from Afghanistan after the Taliban have been removed. The Soviets and the Americans have both destroyed Afghanistan to meet their own ends. It is, therefore, incumbent on them to rehabilitate Afghanistan. Mines have to be cleared. Infrastructure has to be rebuilt. Agricultural activity has to be promoted. Work has to be generated. Billions of dollars will be needed to bring back economic activity in that war ravaged country. Millions of Afghan refugees will have to be resettled in their own country and it is time that refugee camps are established in Afghanistan rather than in Pakistan.

It is very important that the political dispensation be worked out and agreed upon before the removal of the Taliban regime. The cobbling up of the Afghan Interim Government by Pakistan in a hurry led to a civil war in that country after the fall of Dr Najibullah. The internal conflict, which followed because of lack of a government acceptable to all, brought about the Taliban regime. United States and Pakistan must not make that mistake again.

The writer is a retired Lt Gen and has authored the book 'The Taliban Phenomenon'

[republished with permission by the author from www.jang.com.pk]

Date/Time Last Modified: 6/2/2004 3:06:03 PM

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