If Taliban head Mullah Omar’s recent Eid ul-Fitr (marking end of Muslim holy month Ramadan) speech serves any indication – it is Taliban’s latest strategy to regroup and enhance its prospects to rule Afghanistan but in a new format…Besides some of the high sounding and oft repeated slogans such as establishing Islamic rule, Omar’s call for a multilateral framework within Afghanistan but without any foreign intervention, and his declaration of intent of not ‘monopolizing power,’ implying according due space to diverse communities and their aspirations, are some of hitherto unheard watchwords in Afghanistan’s recent political process. In the fast flow of events in Afghanistan things remain highly unpredictable and thus as of now it is difficult to foretell whether Taliban will opt for an inclusive and peaceful Afghanistan subsequent to the departure of foreign forces, or will drag the society back to violent years of 1990s. It is difficult to say whether the tiger has changed its strips in a camouflage to attract wider participation in its radical schemes, or if there is an emergence of a nonviolent and devout leader in the name of Mullah Omar towards peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan.
Omar is known to be a radical leader to invoke religious sentiments of Afghan people towards establishing Sharia law. But Eid speech of Mullah Omar appeared more political and less religious, and sounded as if the radical cleric has emerged as a political reformer to transform state and society in Afghanistan under his benevolent guidance as Amir-ul-Momineen. Omar exuded confidence that soon ‘occupation’ of Afghanistan will be over, and unlike the past cases of ‘slavery’ there will be a peaceful Afghanistan. He made it clear that in the new format Taliban will not go solo in ruling Afghanistan but take along other stake holders in the affairs of the country. In this context, he might have struck the right cord in not pronouncing scorn against any particular ethnic community. While Taliban represent sections of Pashtun voices, there are significant ethnic communities like Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara which have explicitly expressed differences over Taliban strategy. The days of brutalities of Taliban rule in 1990s wherein extremists butchered people belonging to other communities have not been forgotten.
Omar minced no words in his vehemence towards the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan. Though he expressed his interests in talks, which is undergoing in the context of freeing prisoners, he was confident that the negotiations alone cannot bring peace in Afghanistan. He visualized diminishing morale of western forces, and displayed pride in seizing their ‘tactics’ to weaken them. In his words, “All people are now witness to the tremendous life casualties of the enemy as well as the downing of their aircrafts.” Perhaps in an attempt to create differences amongst NATO partners in Afghanistan, he singled out the US and pointed out how ‘terrible problems’ in its economy is beneficial for Taliban’s ‘sacred jihad.’ He pointed out how in the last one year, Taliban could inflict heavy damages by targeting western installations, killing a significant number of US soldiers, in comparison to previous years. His tone was moderate towards the NATO members, which are withdrawing their forces from Afghanistan as they could ‘know realities of the war of Afghanistan.’ Towards regional neighbours Omar’s tone appeared conciliatory and harmonious but not without warnings. While he solicited cooperation of neighbours towards reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, he warned them not to interfere in domestic affairs of the country. Taliban have already the experience how they found themselves in a violent fix due to divergent policies of neighbours towards internal turmoil in the country in 1990s. For instance, while the Uzbeks enjoyed support of Iran, the Pashtun Taliban was backed by Pakistan. Repetition of history can be counter productive in terms of the grand scheme of an Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan. Omar does not want revival of past tragedy, diversely affecting his grand strategy of an Islamic Afghanistan, governed by Sharia law.
He blamed foreign powers for misfortunes Afghan people are undergoing. He pointed out, “The aggressors of our land haven’t completed mega and strategic projects … Contrarily, they have openly and secretly flared up geographical and racial conflicts and encouraged the youth to involve in lingual and geographical controversies.” He accused, policies of foreign powers pushed the country towards poverty. He predicted a prosperous Afghanistan because the country has ‘vast arable land, rich mines and high potential of energy resources’ and invited businessmen and industrialists and common people to join his scheme of development. It was interesting to note Omar called upon his followers not to use force, consider strangers as members of family, not to collect money by means of force, take permission of the native people before embarking on any action, so on and so forth. In his words, “When you face a common man, think if you were a commoner in his place and if you had no weapon, what you would expect him to behave with people. In other words, think if that given person whom you are confronting with, if he was your father, brother or another close relative, how would you behave with him? … No one affiliated with the Islamic Emirate is allowed to extort money from people by force… protection of life and property of people is one of the main goals of Jihad.”
In his lengthy speech, he nowhere mentioned the role his organization played in dragging Afghan society towards dogmatism and poverty and underdevelopment. It appears, if one believes Omar’s speech as his matters of faith and action, all the incidents reported in media such as forceful tax collection by Taliban ranks, distribution of pamphlets for jihad, and application of medieval principles such as public execution, are just canards against Taliban. Omar emerged as a clever politician and strategist in his attempts towards dispelling any such image of Taliban as this speech indicates. It is likely that he was suffering from selective amnesia and could not recall how the Taliban rule in 1990s achieved nothing constructive but sectarian violence, orthodox rule and religious intolerance. It was his regime which bombarded and destroyed the magnificent Bamiyan Buddha unheeding international appeals.
The Afghan bomb is already ticking, and foreign powers will have to leave the country sooner or later. However, when same Mullah Omar promises pluralism, inclusiveness and development, it is but natural to be sceptic. But the options are limited. As Omar envisages in his Eid speech and if his proclamations are to be taken seriously, it may be possible that future Afghanistan will be peaceful and stable. Engaging Taliban is an essential for a stable future of Afghanistan. But words have to match action. Taliban leaders have not provided any clear roadmap of governance in Afghanistan of tomorrow. Hence, whether future will witness return of violent turmoil or peace and prosperity is subject to fragile guess work, at least for now.