Assessing Religion, Law, Reform, and Human Factors in Afghanistan 2035

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Civil Affairs Association and Divergent Options Writing Contest which took place from April 7, 2020 to July 7, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here. Title: Assessing Religion, Law, Reform, and Human Factors in Afghanistan 2035


Date Originally Written: July 6, 2020.


Date Originally Published: September 9, 2020.


Author and / or Article Point of View: The author is an independent analyst who believes that the Afghan Taliban (Taliban) need to be studied with level of scholarship that is independent of polemic.


Summary: The Taliban, since being toppled by the U.S. following the 9/11 attacks, has evolved from violent insurgency to achieving political legitimacy. This evolution was not an admission of weakness, nor that violence is not a valid instrument to achieve their desired ends, but part of a longer term strategy for the Taliban to once again achieve power.


Text: In 2004, one act of the Taliban’s resurgence following the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, was the launching of a web based magazine, Da Mujahed Zhagh. The July 18th issue contained a satirical article called “An Interview with Satan[1].” The interview began by describing the physical appearance of the subject:


“…the eyes of Bush, the cap and gown of Karzai, the waistcoat of Mr. Qanuni, the beard of Sayyaf and the nose and trousers of the Father of the Nation.”


Da Mujahed Zhagh viewed Satan’s outward form as comprised of the U.S. President, the newly installed Afghan President, a powerful politician, warlord and power broker, a Cabinet Minister, and the last Afghan King.


This brief, ironic article is worth noting because it shows that the Taliban were not only highly aware of Twentieth Century Afghan history, but the real target of the satire was the 2004 Constitutional Loya Jirga. It also shows that the recently revitalized Taliban were aware that as a seemingly defeated force, they were excluded from the “new” Afghanistan. This new country was being built by a coalition of Western powers, the Taliban’s long-term enemies, and members of the expatriate elite.


The ratified Afghan Constitution, and its implicit tension between Islamic law and Western human rights, would continue to be problematic[2]. Both Afghan and Western secularists would point to the Constitution as being the real barrier to Afghan progress towards a democratic society. One example of that view can be found in “Afghanistan: Apostasy case reveals constitutional contradictions” by Amin Tarzi[3].


In the years leading up to talks between the Taliban the Afghan Government, one argument that was offered, as evidence that the Taliban may grudgingly accept the existing Constitution was that much of their leadership lived in Pakistan, a country with a democratic Constitution (but with a strong component of Islamic Law.) This assertion of the Taliban’s intentions was problematic; they defined themselves as a government in exile, fighting toward the goal of returning and ruling Afghanistan, and so referred to their movement as The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Objecting to the structure of Pakistan’s Constitution would make little sense.


The Taliban were deeply aware that as a movement that arose from conservative, village roots, their conflict with the Western human rights standards was a process. They arose as antidote to chaos, and they employed extremely harsh methods to contain that chaos, in a climate of occupation and war.


The Taliban’s fatal decision to provide a safe haven to Osama bin Laden allowed their failings to assume mythic status. Their villainy became legendary and boundless in the post-9/11 rhetoric. Ultimately, the U.S. desire for punitive actions focused solely on the Taliban ended up being a bad model to follow, for winning a war[4].


In such cases, what happens when warring parties try to make peace? A good clue can be found from an informal meeting that occurred in Chantilly, France in 2012. During this “test the waters” gathering of Taliban and Northern Alliance groups, two Taliban participants, Mawlawi Dilawar, and Dr. Naemm, presented a statement that outlined what the Islamic Emirate regarded as an ideal Constitution. It would “not contain any articles and clauses opposing Islamic principles, national interests and Afghan mores[5].” The speaker made a point of adding: “The current constitution of Afghanistan is illegitimate because it is written under the shadow of B-52 aircraft.” This speech also mentioned women’s rights, although always stressing that it would “abide by all those rights given to women by the noble religion of Islam.”


These examples provide background on why the Taliban would never consent to any unconditional acceptance of the 2004 Constitution without reform, according to their religious views. But, there was a certain caveat. The Taliban were entirely aware of the need for development, economic assistance, good relations with countries and an Afghan defense system.


By fully recognizing the realities of governance, the previous model of the nineteen nineties was in no way a tenable guide for any success for the Taliban as a political entity. This was the first step in accepting comprises, not as an admission of weakness, but rather as a long-term project in both strengthening and reforming aspects the Taliban movement. The move from a violent insurgency to political legitimacy is a vast subject. The very narrow scope of this paper will examine how, in this case, Civil Affairs could exert an influence over reshaping the identity of an insurgent movement, while retaining its core aspect. In the case of the Taliban, this would be their reputation for resisting corruption.