ON THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY of 9/11, two remarkable young women, Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez, played the finals of the US Open tennis championship. Both were born after the terrorist demolition of New York's twin towers traumatised America and wounded the world. On September 11th, 6,728 miles away in Kabul, many thousands of their sports-sisters, also born after 9/11, were in abject fear of their lives for no greater a sin than their desire to play football or cricket.
The stars of New York can look forward to well-deserved fame and millions of dollars in prize money. Their sisters in Kabul have diminished into lost phantoms, their lives ruptured, their dreams strangled, their existence forgotten, as obscurantist ideologues spurred by regressive religiosity and brutal gender oppression seized power in Afghanistan by the middle of August. The Taliban, once again armed and trained by Pakistan, were also abetted by Western powers who had lost the plot. America was the principal negotiator in this Faustian bargain, but the stench of this deal spread to many other capitals.
It is difficult to get the correct answer if you ask the wrong question. There is much scratching of heads in the international community over a conundrum: Have the Taliban changed? We might be closer to clarity in the year of the fog if we ask a different question: Has Afghanistan changed in two decades?
We can junk self-serving chatter about a new Taliban into that huge receptacle familiarly known as the dustbin of history. An ideological movement cannot alter its foundational doctrine without weakening its structure and inviting self-destruction. Tactical variables can at best be marginal and temporary. Corruption of core beliefs and values becomes fodder for those ready to punish deviation. If Afghan women are not relegated to the prison-walls of a tightly veiled existence, Taliban leaders will be accused by their own followers of having succumbed to the West. The Taliban alliance is an umbrella held together by the spine and spindles of a purist mindset. No intellectual writes an alternative thesis, for everything has already been written; there is no Lenin after Marx, let alone a Trotsky after Lenin. The one query permissible is whether those who have been given power by the Almighty have lived up to their version of the faith. The world errs if it believes that the Taliban can be adjusted into the framework of a negotiable instruments environment that infuses regular diplomacy.
Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, the guardian of Islamism, has made this abundantly clear: "In future, all matters of governance and life will be regulated by the laws of the Holy Sharia." Not just governance, but the whole of life, although his interpretation of the Sharia is quite different from the sense accepted by most Muslims. This might not be imposed in one swoop, but it is critical to the very survival of the Taliban.
We can junk self-serving chatter about a new Taliban. An ideological movement cannot alter its foundational doctrine without inviting self-destruction. If Afghan women are not relegated to the prison-walls of a tightly veiled existence, Taliban leaders will be accused by their own followers of having succumbed to the West.
The 18th century Swiss essayist Jacques Mallet du Pan has been forgotten, but his observation that every revolution, like Saturn, devours its children, has not. In the case of the Taliban, the opposite is true; the children, such as the older Al Qaeda and the younger Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), are waiting to pounce upon their fathers at the first sign of weakness. We heard the first, dramatic alarm bell when an anonymous suicide mission on August 26th killed nearly 200 Afghans and 13 American soldiers at Kabul airport. That was a warning, not the start of an offensive. The thinking heads of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Taliban have doubtless admonished hotheads, pointing out that such killing is now counterproductive. But if terrorists. But if terrorists were rational, they would not be terrorists.
(MJ Akbar is an MP and the author of, most recently, Gandhi’s Hinduism: The Struggle Against Jinnah’s Islam. The article has been excerpted from Open web portal. The full article can be accessed here.)