Do Not Whitewash the Taliban
Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF

The dastardly twin terror attacks at Kabul airport and a nearby hotel killed more than 160 people, including 13 US soldiers. The attack, claimed by Islamic State Khorassan (ISK) was a grim reminder of the dystopian future that awaits the country. US President Biden vowed to ‘hunt down the perpetrators and make them ‘pay’. The return of the Taliban has pushed the world towards another cycle of violence and counterviolence.

Taliban sympathisers were quick to point out that IS-K is at loggerheads with the Taliban. The idea was to show the Taliban in good light and as victims of terrorism!

Since the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban on 15 August, there has been a concerted effort in many quarters to project them as the ‘saviours’ of Afghanistan and lay the blame for the collapse of Kabul and the ensuing anarchy on the US and the former President Asharaf Ghani who fled the country abruptly on 15 August. The argument is that had the Taliban not taken charge, the country would have been plunged into anarchy and bloodbath.

Taliban’s first press conference in which they made the right noises about forming an inclusive government, and allowing women access to education and work within the framework of the Sharia law has been cited as proof of the Taliban’s reformed character. It is being argued that the Taliban have changed and should be given time to walk the talk.

Another argument in favour of dealing with the Taliban being advanced is a massive humanitarian crisis is building up in Afghanistan. The country, which is in a grip of a drought, is suffering from food shortages. The governance system has broken down. There is no money in the coffers of the government. The argument is that the international community should not abandon the people of Afghanistan at this hour of need. It should urgently come to the aid of the Taliban so that humanitarian aid can be reached to the Afghan people. The isolation of the Taliban, it is being said, will multiply the misery of the Afghan people.

These are self-serving arguments. They are designed to normalise the Taliban by ignoring their abominable record. Until a few weeks ago they were at the forefront of killing people in terror attacks. Their misogynist, medieval, brutal mindset has not changed. Atrocities are continuing in many parts of the country. Fear has gripped ordinary Afghans. Otherwise, why would so many people risk their lives to flee if the Taliban were reformed and become so nice?

The Taliban are not saviours by any stretch of the imagination. They are close to realising their dream of setting up an Islamic Emirate to be governed as per their interpretation of Sharia law. They have come after committing massive violence over the years. They are a violent terrorist organisation. They figure on the UN list of global terrorist organisations. They still have links with Al Qaeda, as a UN report mentions.

Pakistan's role in the creation and sustenance of the Taliban cannot be forgotten either. The world knows that the Taliban could not have come to power without help from Pakistan. They were educated in Pakistani madrassas and created by the Pakistani establishment. Their leaders live in Pakistan and are supported by the establishment. TheHaqqani network, a global terrorist organisation and a formidable constituent of the Taliban has carried out numerous terrorist attacks including the 2010 attack against the Indian embassy in which more than 50 people were killed.

The IS-K is closely linked with the Haqqani network. The Americans know full well that the Haqqani network is the veritable arm of Pakistan's spy agency ISI. The Haqqani network is now in charge of the security of Kabul. They cannot escape responsibility for the airport attack. For the Taliban to distance themselves from the IS-K is a bit rich. The head of the IS-K has been under the tutelage of the ISI.

The Taliban, despite their public utterances, has not formed a genuinely inclusive government. In Doha peace negotiations they have repeatedly shown deep distaste towards sharing power with anyone. The world cannot be fooled by their utterances.

The most serious repercussion of the Taliban takeover is the rejuvenation of the global jihadi networks. Even if some groups are at odds with the others, it is of no consolation to the victims.

The Taliban assurances are hollow. They have not unambiguously cut their link with the past. The Taliban will make no compromises on the Emirate or the sharia law. The International community cannot ignore that.

The looming humanitarian crisis should of course be tackled. The UN humanitarian mission cannot proceed if the lives of UN aid workers are at risk. The safety of UN aid workers is paramount. There is no guarantee that they will not be targeted. Let those countries who are thrilled at the Taliban victory take the lead.

The ISI is the mother of most of the terror in Afghanistan even if some of them have a sour relationship with it. Pakistan cannot escape responsibility for the flowering of terror groups by claiming that it has been a victim of terrorism. The fact is that it created Frankenstein in the first place.

The US definitely cannot escape blame when they legitimised jihad and Al Qaeda like groups to fight the Soviets. The US was even willing to do business with Taliban 1.0. Only after 9/11 did the US turned its back on the Taliban 1.0. Taliban 2.0 were given legitimacy and visibility by the US when it concluded a deal with them in Doha for its exit.

The ground is being prepared for the Taliban's soft landing as new rulers of Kabul and their eventual recognition by the international community. Legitimising the Taliban and recognising their government will be a mistake. The Taliban have to come clean and reject their pernicious ideologies and do a complete break with terrorism.

The Taliban are being whitewashed. The international community should be cautious. The Taliban should earn their recognition and not be given on a platter. They should not be rewarded for having taken over the government through terror, fear, deceit and media manipulation. Their sins cannot be forgotten so easily.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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