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Have the Taliban really evolved?

The Taliban are now the de facto leadership entity in Afghanistan. They have managed to reverse 20 years of democratization of Afghanistan in a matter of a month to be precise. The group has become more pragmatic, and it has become much better at public relations. But that does not mean the Taliban have altered their worldview or their goals, and their victory this week may reinforce that.

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After the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and the establishment of the Taliban government, new concepts like “evolution of Taliban” or “changed Taliban” emerged in the media. People started asking questions of whether the Taliban have really evolved after all these years of conflict and whether they’ve matured enough to handle Afghanistan as rulers.

It is inevitable that Taliban authorities cannot behave in the same ‘medieval’ manner they used to during the time of their first regime in the 1990s. Yes, some of the elements of the Taliban have considerably changed but not their basic and core fundamentals, one of which is the enforcement of Sharia law in the country.

Read more: How US is taking note of Russia’s pragmatic stance towards the Taliban?

Taliban and Shia community

One indicator that shows a glimpse of evolution in Taliban mindset is that during the holy month of Muharram Taliban authorities did not just allow Hazaras to preforms their mourning, rallies, and gatherings but provided security to them and some senior Taliban members even attended their events to show solidarity and unity with them.

This was something that was not highlighted in the media as much as it should have been. Whether call this rare incident a public relations stunt or have the Taliban really evolved, is unknown but it was surely going in favor of the Taliban in the context of their international recognition efforts.

Formation of an inclusive government

Another indicator that might show whether the Taliban have a changed mindset is the formation of an inclusive government. Although both the Taliban and the international community agree to the fact that Afghanistan’s future government will be inclusive in nature but the exact definition of “inclusive” seems to be a rather subjective term. On multiple diplomatic levels and peace meetings, Taliban officials have endorsed the formation of inclusive government but according to them, an inclusive government is where every ethnicity’s representation is present in the government which to some extent the current interim government is comprised of.

On the other hand, according to the international community, an inclusive government means the inclusion of other political parties in the Taliban government. Many reporters and journalists have asked Taliban authorities about the matter but the Taliban seem to hold the same position that, we have an inclusive government with Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Nuristanis, and many others’ representation but if you expect us to include opposition political parties, wherein the democratic world is opposition part of the government? A rather fair argument.

Read more: Taliban style diplomacy: From militants to diplomats

Taliban and women rights

Women’s rights such as the right to education and the right to employment are also some of the most speculative topics in Afghanistan. During an intra-Afghan dialogue hosted by Moscow back in 2019, a female journalist asked then head of Qatar political office Sher Mohamad Abbas Stanakzai about women’s rights. Stanzaki stated that “we (Taliban) have no problem with women rights such as the right to have education, right to employment, right to property, right to have family and so on but it all must be given under the supervision of the Islamic Sharia law”.

On the topic of women’s rights to have jobs, according to the interim government, 70% of female health workers are back in hospitals and clinics and are actively performing their duties. But other jobs have not yet been resumed due to security issues in the country according to them.

In early September streets of Kabul were seen full of rallies participated by female protesters raising slogans and placards against the Taliban government. Surprisingly Taliban authorities showed no intention to forcefully remove the female protesters, it was something out of the ordinary. Comparing this incident to the 1990s Taliban, one can certainly see a huge change of approach in the Taliban mindset. The Taliban authorities however assured the protestors of female representation in the future Afghan government.

During recent Taliban’s foreign minister’s visit to Pakistan, in a public talk, a female journalist asked a question about why are not all the schools being reopened as you assured, they would? The foreign minister replied that because the US has frozen all the assets of the Afghan central bank, almost 9.5 billion USD, it is impossible for the Afghan interim government to pay for the salaries of teachers, therefore there is not much of a choice. This also explains the hypocrisy of the international community, expecting the Taliban to honor their promises while creating financial difficulties for their government.

Will the Taliban cut off ties with other militant groups?

An integral part of the US-Taliban peace agreement was that the Taliban would cut off their ties with internationally declared terrorist groups such as Al-Qaida, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), Jamat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Uzbekistan Islamic Movement (UIM), Tekrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and many others operating in the region and beyond. From time to time the Taliban authorities have assured the international community and its neighboring countries that they would not let the Afghan territory be used against any of its neighboring countries.

Read more: Understanding the lethal fiction between the Taliban and Haqqani network

It is no secret that the Afghan territory for the past 20 years has been used for India’s proxy war against Pakistan. There is substantial evidence that suggests there were training camps of Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), and TTP across the border. Pakistan government however is giving the new Afghan government time and benefit of the doubt and is optimistic that the Taliban will take action against such non-state actors which historically has been the reason for mistrust between two neighboring countries.

China on the other hand is also ready to work with the new Afghan government but security in the region is a prerequisite for peace and stability. China’s security concerns are related to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement’s activities in the south-westernmost province of China touching the Wakhan Corridor. Iran and Central Asian republics are also very concerned with border security issues. The hasty US withdrawal from Afghanistan has no doubt created a huge power gap which has now been filled by the Taliban but ISKP seemed to have challenged the Taliban dominancy. Several high-level terrorist attacks have been conducted by ISKP since the Taliban takeover.

Nonetheless, it is inevitable for the Taliban to cut off ties with other militant groups and take action against them to honor their promises to its neighboring countries, international community for legitimate recognition and in order to provide peace and stability to the Afghan people. As for now, it is too early to speculate whether the Taliban have really evolved or not but one can surely see a considerable amount of change in them over the years. The real question now is, whether the international community will encourage and appreciate this change and give them the benefit of the doubt, or is their lack of trust in them going to continue.

 

The writer has a master’s degree in Mass Communication from the National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad who often writes on geopolitics, international developments, and strategic affairs with a special focus on Af-Pak affairs, Asia, and the Middle East. He currently works at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. He tweets: @THEGUERRILLApk. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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