Taliban’s priorities to govern: reconciliation, devt, recognition
New govt ‘won’t be more moderate’ than existing Sunni Islamic nations
Published: Aug 23, 2021 12:45 AM
Afghan people stand in a queue as they wait for their turn to collect money from an ATM in front of a bank along a roadside in Kabul on Saturday, days after the Taliban's astonishing takeover of Afghanistan. Photo: VCG

Afghan people stand in a queue as they wait for their turn to collect money from an ATM in front of a bank along a roadside in Kabul on Saturday, days after the Taliban's astonishing takeover of Afghanistan. Photo: VCG

As international community is watching closely the development of Afghanistan situation, to what extent the Afghan Taliban will honor its promise to make its governance inclusive and to respect women's rights is a question in focus, which is key for relevant parties to consider whether to recognize the Taliban government and  restart investing in the country.

Chinese observers said there is no denying that the Taliban has so far shown the world that it has changed compared to 20 years ago, such as claiming that girls and women can receive education, but observers also cautioned that it will be unwise to expect the Taliban to reform its religious ideology. The policy of the Taliban's regime in the country will unlikely be more moderate than the existing Sunni Islamic emirates in the Middle East, said the observers.

The Chinese Embassy in Afghanistan issued a warning on Saturday to Chinese nationals in the country to strictly abide by Islamic habits and pay high attention to what clothing they wear and food they eat in public places.

In some Chinese observers' eyes, it is unrealistic to expect the Taliban to be modernized and secular in all aspects immediately, as individual rights can only improve after economic development is realized and sustained, and then the modernization and secularism will follow gradually. 

But to Afghans, if not the Taliban, who else could stop wars and return stability to the country, Liu Zhongmin, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of the Shanghai International Studies University, told media.

During this process, external powers should not interfere as only the Afghan people have the right to decide what to do in their own country, said the analysts. The international community can set conditions with the Taliban to make sure it brings no harm to its neighbors and fulfills its promise to cut off ties with terrorist groups. By restarting economic and trade activities, the Afghan people could at least regain development and stability. 

Being cautious  

A local Afghan living in Kabul told the Global Times that there is no broadcast of entertainment program on TV and radio since Taliban returned. Salman Raha, an Afghan who is doing business in Yiwu, China's Zhejiang Province, told the Global Times that his friends in Afghanistan told him now there is dramatic change to the TV program.

Yu Minghui, a Chinese businessman in Kabul who runs the China Town in the city, told the Global Times that the Taliban still allow females to wear different types of clothes, but they should strictly follow the Sharia law.

In addition to women's rights and internal governance policies, neighboring countries of Afghanistan and world's major powers are urging the Taliban to be inclusive and moderate, and cut off ties with all kinds of terrorism, separatism and extremism.

Responding to concerns and worries among Afghan people and the international community, the Taliban has promised that it will respect women's rights, forgive those who fought against them and ensure that Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for terrorists, according to a Taliban spokesperson at a press conference on August 17.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban's longtime spokesperson promised it would "honor women's rights within the norms of Islamic law," without elaborating. The Taliban has encouraged women to return to work and have allowed girls to return to school, handing out Islamic headscarves at the door. A female news anchor interviewed a Taliban official Monday in a TV studio, according to the AP.

Pan Guang, a senior expert on counterterrorism and Afghan studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said that in exchanges with the personnel from the Taliban in the past, "they told me that they have changed a lot, and they hope the world will abandon the negative stereotypes about them."

"We must acknowledge that the Taliban is, at least, different from 20 years ago. It at least promises to allow women to work, girls to receive education, and even accepted interviews conducted by female journalists… all of these are unimaginable 20 years ago," Pan said. 

But we should not forget that the Taliban is a Sunni Muslim political force with an fundamentalist religious ideology, and this nature will remain unchanged, and the measures it promised are more likely to be temporary, Pan noted, in the long term, the Taliban's nature of adhering to extreme Sunni Muslim ideology will resurface.

Chinese experts believe that the promises the Taliban made are not about a deep reform in their religious ideology but serve a pragmatic purpose to win recognition and gain external support. The Taliban needs to legitimatize itself by realizing better development, but if it fails to implement the promises and wins no assistance and investment from other countries, it could abandon these promises.  

Zhu Yongbiao, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies in Lanzhou University, said reforming to embrace modernization would spell disaster to an organization like the Afghan Taliban, because this will cause serious disunity and even bring internal struggles and separations, so such reform is almost impossible.  

Being pragmatic?

The treatment of women across Islamic countries worldwide is very different. For example, Pakistan, which neighbors Afghanistan, had female prime minister, but in Saudi Arabia, the government only recently allowed women to drive.

It is therefore unrealistic to expect the Taliban, if it assumes power in Afghanistan, to have a better record in terms of women's rights than other existing Islamic emirates in the Middle East, said analysts.

Zhu said "there is no chance that Afghanistan will have a new government that is more moderate than Saudi Arabia, it's just impossible. 

Sometimes even within the same Islamic country, rural areas tend to be far more conservative. Even if the Taliban spokesperson pledged to uphold certain norms, how can it ensure these will be implemented across the whole country, the experts said. 

Yu, who runs the China Town in Kabul, said he is being cautious and keeping a close watch on the situation. Yu has many complaints against the former Ghani government as it was too corrupt, which made doing business extremely difficult.

Some other Chinese businessmen said that if the new government can be more efficient and less corrupt, and is able to restore public order, international investments will return.

Pan said the biggest test for the Taliban is how to realize economic development and improve the livelihood for the people. The most important tasks are reconciliation and development, and if the people are starved, they will resist the rule of the Taliban.