People standing on a vehicle hold Taliban flags as people gather near the Friendship Gate crossing point in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman. PHOTO: REUTERS

Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan should not be celebrated

Instead of rejoicing we should be vigilant and extremely critical of the situation as there is too much at stake

Raza Habib Raja August 24, 2021

Kabul fell on August 15th, leading to the collapse of the Afghan government and widespread elation amongst various sections of Pakistani society. In fact, it seems that Pakistan has gone into jubilation overdrive. Just when the world’s media was showing images of desperate Afghans trying to flee Kabul even if it meant clinging on to a departing airplane, our prime minister was gloating and declaring that Afghans had “broken the shackles of slavery”.

Many TV anchors are rejoicing and framing the return of the Taliban as some kind of victory of a poor and humble people over a mighty superpower. Their joy is shared by a huge majority of Pakistan’s educated urbanites and the social media is abuzz with posts about an “Indian defeat”. Even before the full collapse of the Afghan government, there were viral trends such as “#TalibanOurGuardians” eulogising the Taliban.

Broadly those who are supporting the Taliban can be divided into three types.

Firstly, those who support the collapse of an India-American backed Afghan government. For them this defeat is more than enough to gloss over any concerns pertaining to the Taliban. They don’t care what happens to millions of Afghans, who are fearful about their future. In fact, such people think that civilians who supported the now fallen Afghan government deserve Taliban’s brutal retribution.

The second consist of self-proclaimed moderate supporters. Who are also jubilant over the defeat of the Afghan government but at the same time are experiencing a cognitive dissonance emanating from Taliban’s brutal and well documented past, particularly with respect to treatment of women and minorities. Since the world has well founded concerns over the Taliban’s brutal style of governance, to resolve this cognitive dissonance they try to paint the Taliban as kind individuals who are misunderstood and reject every concern as western propaganda. They also label those Pakistanis who are voicing concern as armchair theorists and western media influenced individuals, naive about ground realities.

Some have gone to the extent of saying that even urban Afghans misunderstand the ‘kind’ Taliban. Their biggest proof for this claim is that after taking over, the Taliban have offered general amnesty and have not mercilessly killed people like they had when they took over in 1996.

The third type of supporters are religious hardliners, who think that Afghanistan needs a Taliban regime, as it is apparently according to their interpretation of religious principles. While they defend the Taliban against allegations of undue brutality against opponents, they have no qualms at their treatment of women and imposition of strict and often public punishments. They glamorise the Taliban’s style of governance and many of them think that the same should be adopted in Pakistan.

To be honest, I am deeply disappointed by all this jubilation .We are simply forgetting the havoc the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have wrecked in Pakistan over the years, including the Army Public School (APS) massacre. While it is true, that the TTP is a different group, it is ideologically akin to the Afghan Taliban and is also purported to have connections with the latter. In fact, after getting into power, the Afghan Taliban have reportedly started to release TTP prisoners.

Moreover, even though the deposed Afghan government was backed by America and India, the Taliban takeover is nothing to be celebrated. In fact, this celebration besides showing a complete lack of empathy also portrays a misleading romanticised image of the Taliban.

Those who are rejoicing because Indian ambitions have been defeated in Afghanistan are overlooking the impending misery which the entire country will be facing and by doing so, they are also creating permanent hatred for Pakistan amongst a large section of the Afghan society.

Individuals who are celebrating and claiming that the Taliban is misrepresented by western media are deluding themselves. They are completely forgetting the Taliban’s history of an extremely brutal rule, widespread persecution of religious minorities and complete erosion of women’s rights. Whatever the shortcomings of the ousted Afghan government, there is no denying the fact that both women and minorities, felt more secure. Women, in particular enjoyed much more freedom than they did in the previous Taliban regime. Right now, they are fearful, and as I write these sentences, some have started coming on the streets as well.

In response some are pointing that Taliban have allowed women to come on TV after their takeover and citing this as a proof that they have become more moderate in their approach. Likewise, many are also comparing Taliban’s current and relatively “peaceful” takeover with the extreme brutality shown in 1996 and claiming that the group has changed completely.

While the Taliban have not shown the kind of barbarity they showed in 1996, this by no means can be accepted as a permanent change. In all likelihood, this is nothing but a short-term strategic attempt to show a soft face to the world as they desperately need international recognition and legitimacy. This strategic maneuver cannot be considered a proof of permanent change. In fact, their initial soft attitude has already started to wane as they face growing protests.

One problem, with such extremist groups is that even when they seem to become more moderate, they don’t do so permanently and can revert to their old ways when the initial objectives have been achieved and the public and media attention has shifted. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to assume that this apparent change is going to be permanent. The world should be vigilant and demand that the Taliban further soften their stance and it should be tied down with their demand for acceptance.

Right now, instead of rejoicing and portraying a misleading image of the Taliban, we should be vigilant and extremely critical of the situation as there is a lot at stake.

WRITTEN BY:
Raza Habib Raja

The writer is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the Maxwell School of Public Affairs, Syracuse University. He regularly writes for the Express Tribune, HuffPost, Daily Times and Naya Daur.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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