As Afghanistan has fallen back into the hands of the militant Taliban group, what does this mean for civil and political rights of people in the country?
After the United States led a mission to dispel the original Taliban regime from governing in 2001, the organization has regrouped and now retaken control of the Afghani government. The Taliban have seized most major cities including the capital of Kabul and the United States has fully evacuated their presence in the country. The Afghani previously conducted government after the United States assisted takeover through a presidential system with a parliament including old warlords and faction leaders. Now, the Taliban has an interim government led by their main military commanders that are staunch Muslim conservatives. The government includes no women, minorities, or opposition members. The group has announced a general amnesty for civil servants and pledged to ensure the safety for residents of Kabul. However, previously they have claimed that they would conduct an “inclusive” government but have shown no strides in this area. This authoritarian reversion will prove to have major consequences for the government and people of Afghanistan. This begs the question when looking towards the future, will Afghanistan be a country that upholds and maintains rights for its citizens or an oppressive regime that relies upon traditional Islamic practices that include oppression of women with a government that silences minority opinion?
Why the Taliban Fight
The Taliban are a revolutionary movement that are deeply opposed to the tribal structure of Afghanistan. Their main goal is to take control of Kabul and Afghanistan and from there build an Islamic Emirate based on Sharia Law (Dorronsoro 2009). The Taliban reject large foreign forces and have efficient leadership, are quick to exploit the weaknesses of their adversaries, and have a strong and efficient communication network (Dorronsoro 2009). The Taliban build on growing discontent of Afghans through a relatively sophisticated propaganda apparatus which employ a multitude of strategies to reach their massive support base. The propaganda feeds on the widely perceived corruption of the Afghan government in its lack of basic services for people and the belief that the government does not take a strong stance against foreign invaders. The Afghan government was largely distrusted by their people and was viewed by many as a puppet of Western actors. Their biggest support base is in rural Pashtun areas and among mullahs and fundamentalists that wish to see Sharia Law in effect (Dorronsoro 2009). This belief in the government catering to foreign and particularly western interests shows the opposition that the Taliban hold to western progressive ideas of civil and political rights in favor of traditional Islamic law. If the Taliban maintain total control, this could have devastating effects on the civil and political rights of citizens.
Taliban’s Political Platform
The Taliban focus heavily on traditional Islamic principles and Sharia Law. Under Sharia Law, the governing principles for spiritual, mental, and physical behavior must be followed by all Muslims. However, the Taliban have militarized Sharia law into a tool to assert their will over citizens through their conduct (Hozyainova 2014). Shariah law is totalitarian in character and is viewed by many westerners as incompatible with constitutions that merit civil and political rights that are separate through secular government. The Taliban and Afghani governments were both largely rooted in religious reverence of Islamic principles. Under the Taliban’s new government, their hardline leadership is in control with many local warlords serving as provincial governors. The idea of an Afghan state built on an Islamic order, as defined by the Taliban, contradicts the concept of a liberal democracy. The Taliban have proclaimed opposition to electoral democracy and intend on imposing an oppressive theocracy centered in traditional Islamic law. It is unsure whether the Taliban will end up holding elections and they still have yet to prove tolerance of any minority or opposition group within the country.
While western countries have strongly shown their distrust of a Taliban government in Afghanistan, there are also internal anti-Taliban protests occurring in some parts of Afghanistan. In particular, Afghans have taken to the streets in Asadabad and Jalalabad protesting this new regime. It is too early to tell however whether there will be any internal resistance to Taliban rule as they now control a majority of the major cities in Afghanistan including Kabul. It is still unsure whether foreign western actors will be able to play upon internal insurrection to prevent the Taliban regime from total control or whether international intervention will occur. With increasing tolerance of western progressive ideals, especially after their implementation of the democratic government in 2001, it will be a marquee point to observe how the citizens respond to the governmental provisions of the Taliban regime.
The Taliban have pledged to show tolerance towards women, minorities, and opposition parties but it is easy to make baseless claims and not back them up when not held accountable. As the main governmental institution now in Afghanistan, the Taliban are exerting their will on the people for traditional Islamic law that rejects many of the notions of civil and political liberties that are the basis of western democratic ideology. The Taliban with their anti-western sentiment and reverence for Sharia law do not seem likely to be a progressive force for democracy and civil and political liberties. However, there is hope based on their previous claims that they may be more tolerant than when they were previously in power up to 2001. As globalization is increasing and people are demanding more civil and political liberties worldwide when considering their government, it will be interesting to see whether the Taliban are tolerant of western progressive ideas or assert traditional, relatively oppressive Islamic law while silencing minority opinions in government.