Imran Jan |
I am a Pashtun straddling both Pakistan and America. The US-Taliban peace talks have reached a point where an elementary understanding of Pashtunwali is a key to move forward. Zalmay Khalilzad is using his negotiating skills to reach an agreement with the Taliban for a settlement on the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.
He is a Pashtun and he should know better but for reasons best known to him, he might be speaking Pashto with the Taliban representatives but with an American accent. The peace talks have shown signs of unprecedented hope. There is verifiable progress. However, one of the central issues slowing down, in fact thwarting the progress is a disagreement between the United States and the Taliban over the definition of terrorism and terrorists.
Zalmay Khalilzad is using his negotiating skills to reach an agreement with the Taliban for a settlement on the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The United States is demanding from the Taliban the commitment that the Afghan soil would never be used as a place for planning and launching attacks against the United States by “terrorist” groups. The Taliban do not mind not allowing their land for such an attack against the United States, however, they do not like the label “terrorist”. They are rather in favour of saying that the Afghan soil would not be used for ‘international attacks’.
How to define Terrorism?
The Taliban contend that there is no universal definition of terrorism. Two important yet obscure facts about Afghan war need to be highlighted. First, the definition of terrorism is the calculated use of violence in order to achieve goals that are ideological or political in nature. Applying that definition makes many powerful countries leading terrorist states in the world. Perhaps, that is what the Taliban were hinting at. The second fact almost down the Orwellian hole is that when 9/11 happened, the Taliban had condemned the attack.
Yet, the Bush administration pressured them to hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States. Taliban didn’t give into the American ultimatums and asked the Bush administration to submit the evidence at an international court that the attack was planned in Afghanistan. That was not an unreasonable demand. The Bush administration that called itself the civilized world went berserk with this demand of the Taliban and invaded the country.
The Taliban contend that there is no universal definition of terrorism. Two important yet obscure facts about Afghan war need to be highlighted.
The bearded barbarians asked for a civilized way to deal with the issue, but the civilized world that famously asked, “Why do they hate us?”, chose to act like barbarians. Everyone who wanted to be viewed as civilized repeated the mantra; “we don’t negotiate with the terrorists.” Secretary Pompeo recently said, “I have a team on the ground right now trying to negotiate with the Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan, trying to find a way to achieve an Afghanistan that’s not at war.”
So, now in negotiating with the “terrorists”, the language that America wants to sneak in there hits at the central theme of Taliban’s 18-year resistance against the mightiest army in the history of mankind. Taliban do not see themselves as terrorists but rather as freedom fighters, no different than the freedom fighters of the yesteryear when the eastern superpower had rolled their tanks onto the soil of Afghanistan on the eve of Christmas of 1979. The Soviet Union was no different an invader and a military occupier.
Who the Taliban Really are?
Taliban are Pashtun. Their code of life is Pashtunwali more than the extremist Wahhabi Islam. This is a fact not many understand. Taliban are not like the Arab Takfiris or Jihadists who fight for martyrdom. They rather believe in living another day to fight more for the motherland. Their adherence is very strict to Pashtunwali, a code of life they hold supremely dear. The story of giving shelter to the murderer of one’s son, only because he was a guest, is not a myth.
Guests are never turned away. Enemies are not fought or killed as long as their status is that of a guest. There are countless other examples and stories of hospitality and other features of the code of Pashtunwali. Taliban would never relent to their own insult. They wouldn’t accept being disrespected and called names. The Americans fought this war for revenge but the Taliban fought it for respect and dignity. That’s what’s called nung in the Pashtunwali code. They fought this war not for money or revenge but for honor and respect.
The Bush administration that called itself the civilized world went berserk with this demand of the Taliban and invaded the country.
What they didn’t accept in the face of the most lethal military machinery is not something they’d accept in the face of a stroke of a pen. People have heard revenge stories of the Italian mafia glamorized in Godfather but Pashtuns’ revenge and fight stories are very real. The folklore in the Pashtun society goes that a young man’s father was killed. He took that revenge 40 years later in the typical Pashtun eye for an eye style. That, by Pashtun standards, is considered quite swift revenge.
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The point is, revenge, which is a central part of the code of Pashtunwali, is a badge of respect and dignity. They make adherence to that code a life aim. The American mindset is that the Taliban have got nothing to lose from this language of the agreement and it is a win-win situation for them to force the American and NATO troops to leave their land. However, that would be a profound mistake. The Americans need to keep their friends close but enemies closer. Taliban, being Pashtuns, would rather die with dignity than live in humiliation.
People have heard revenge stories of the Italian mafia glamorized in Godfather but Pashtuns’ revenge and fight stories are very real.
Fight for dignity and respect is preferred over life in peace in humiliation. For the Taliban, it’s not about the flag, money, and the economy primarily. It’s plainly about their honour. Put simply, Taliban are not going to relent to the American demand for labelling themselves as “terrorists”. On another note, it is beneficial for the United States that the word “international” attacks be used because that way Afghanistan wouldn’t be allowed to be used by countries such as Russia and China in installing, for instance, missile defense system, which the United States says could compromise closely guarded military secrets.
Likewise, the Taliban should celebrate the fact that the United States is seeking their guarantee for never allowing the Afghan soil for attacks against the United States, because that is an indirect language ascertaining Taliban’s legitimacy in a future Afghanistan and also a stamp on their real power. Also, let us also pay some attention to this American demand. Meticulous plans of attack could be made anywhere and jihadist training in weapons and bombs could be done in ample cesspool provided by Libya and Syria, thanks to American intervention in those places.
So what is this drama about then? Perhaps, it is to show the American people that they were able to extract something out of the Taliban. Lastly, the United States must realize that ending this war means just ending the war. In other words, it would be the end of active hostilities and battle. It wouldn’t be the end of the ideological differences between the Taliban and the United States.
Imran Jan is a political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter @Imran_Jan. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.