Interviewer: Ferdaws Kavash
Greetings to all who watch us. I am Ferdaws Kavash, in an exclusive conversation with Aziz Royesh, which Sheesha Media will publish. Royesh is one of the cultural and civil elites of Afghanistan. Lately, he has put forward the thesis of nonviolent civil struggle in social media, which has become highly controversial. In this interview with Mr. Royesh, we will explore the details of his view of nonviolent civil struggle. It is worth mentioning that Dr. Mohammad Amin Ahmadi explained the theory of nonviolent civil struggle in an interview with Sheesha Media, published on August 15, 2022. Following him, Mr. Royesh put it forward in virtual media, which caused different types of reactions. In this conversation, we will discuss the issue for more clarification.
Sheesha Media: Mr. Royesh, you put forward the thesis of nonviolent civil struggle on social media. Do you consider the armed struggle against the Taliban illegitimate, or do you see it otherwise? I ask this question because when you brought this up on social media, there was a lot of reaction, and some were highly outraged. Some users deduced that you doubt the legitimacy of the armed struggle against the Taliban. Initially, I want you to elaborate on your view that the armed struggle is legitimate or otherwise.
Royesh: Greetings to you and all who follow the program. The legitimacy and illegitimacy of a combative approach is a big issue that I and many others would not be in a position to debate. The nonviolent civil struggle is an all-out struggle in every sense. Your goal is to overthrow the system you consider unfavorable and feel does not respect any of the human rights and freedoms and norms of civility. You want to replace this system.
However, you subtract violence and armed struggle from the nonviolent civil struggle approach. This approach, in no way, means surrender. Avoiding violence in this combative approach has its reasons. In short, the question of submission conflicts with the spirit of struggle. When you talk about a battle, you declare that you are not surrendering to the brutal enemy. Sometimes if you talk about submission, you mean that you are not fighting. Therefore, nonviolent civil struggle, in no way, means surrendering or submitting to the enemy. On the contrary, the nonviolent civil struggle challenges the enemy’s authority and questions his sovereignty. The goal is explicitly the overthrow and replacement of the system.
The principle of self-defense
Sheesha Media: Well, changing the system is a separate issue. Currently, in Afghanistan, the non-Taliban areas, the liberals, the women, the Hazaras, and the non-Pashtun ethnic communities are the victims of the Taliban. For example, the Hazaras are subject to systematic massacre and genocide. Recently, we witnessed powerful protests worldwide and in hybrid space. Other non-Talib areas are also victims of repression, torture, and deprivation of freedom. Those who support armed struggle emphasize the doctrine of self-defense. The legitimacy of the armed struggle comes from the principle of self-defense, mentioned in constitutional rights and international laws. It is the legitimate right of nations to determine their destiny. Your thesis seems to have overlooked the ground conditions of Afghanistan too. Look at the non-Taliban areas’ suffering: indiscriminate torture, deprivation of freedom, and even massacres. Can you use the techniques of nonviolent civil struggle to prevent slaughter, violation of freedom rights, and application of torture?
Royesh: Look, defense is a legitimate right. Before legitimacy, defense is an intuitive and natural action that all living beings resort to for survival. Therefore, we cannot deny our rights to defense as intelligent human beings when facing the enemy and danger. Naturally, the more human aspect is your legitimate right of defense. My point is not about the principle of defense but the ways and mechanisms of defense. It is about the approach we take in defense. The two are not the same, I assume.
I aim to separate the nonviolent civil struggle from the element of violence. We don’t choose the gun, the battlefront, or the trenches. Apart from that, this struggle includes all the aspects of the defense. You do not surrender to your enemy and do not obey your enemy. You blame him for his cruelty and brutality. So, you’re getting defensive. The fact that the enemy kills and oppresses the people is another issue. That is why you stand against this enemy. That is why you blame and accuse the enemy and say that his rule is unacceptable. Your struggle arises from the evilness of your opponent. If the other party does not kill, suppress, or torture, what claim do you have to fight against it? Therefore, it is not about your defense. Instead, it is about how to defend. I think violence is not the answer to violence, especially against the enemy we are facing. This enemy does not stop violence with similar violence.
Contextual conditions and threats to the right to life
Sheesha Media: You said the issue is not about the defense itself but how to defend. The question is that life, i.e., physical life, the right to live, is in danger. All non-Taliban people’s life is in danger. An embossed example of nonviolent civil struggle was British India in the 1930s and 1940s. It was in America in the 1960s. For these victims, their physical lives were not in danger of systematic racial discrimination in America and the British colonialism of India. Gandhi wanted to gain the right of national sovereignty for India and become an independent republic. In America, Martin Luther King wanted equal rights for blacks and whites. There was no debate about the right to life of blacks. The American system did not kill them. Likewise, the British did not massacre the Indians. Afghanistan and those examples are two very different contexts. In Afghanistan, as I said earlier, the anti-Taliban areas are in danger of their lives. The right to life of a large group of people is at risk, and the Taliban have denied them the simple right to life and freedom. I mean, all prerequisites of the context are different. Considering this situation, do you still think the nonviolent civil struggle will work and save the lives of the victims?
Royesh: Look, your emphasis on the contextual requirements of Afghan society makes it more vital for us to focus on the nonviolent civil struggle as a combative approach. Because when you talk about the struggle, you show that you have an unfavorable situation you can no longer bear and want to change it. The magnitude of the pressure on your shoulder is a separate issue. Anyway, you have reached a point where you must stand up and change the situation. You ought to be prepared to pay for this stand. In societies with the semi-rule of law, like British India, or the America of the early 1960s that you mentioned, there was a certain amount of legality. There, you had a system that respected democratic values and principles. Hence, your cost was a little less, and you had more confidence about your achievements. But this does not mean that in another society, for example, Afghanistan, you cannot follow the same model as a successful approach to change and transformation. Afghanistan has an entirely unfavorable background. The country has become a collection of tribal islands that have always been at war. That is true. However, you cannot claim that the nonviolent Civil struggle is not a practical approach to long-lasting conflict.
Look, in the places with the semi-rule of law, you have a structure that can take the pressure of the detracting struggle. In Afghanistan, you don’t have a system. Hence, any form of pressure on the ground can lead to more division and fragmentation, which naturally affects the people in the bottom layers of society. By referring to this bottom layer, I mean those who have fallen marginalized for various reasons and are among the deprived and vulnerable. Therefore, if you want to reform society and eliminate its disintegration, chaos, and strife, you must allow yourself to linger, reflect, and find the best and most effective approaches. It would help if you were mindful of achieving your goal of creating stability, harmony, peace, and justice in society without causing it to suffer further back-breaking and severe wounds.
We did not adhere to this principle during our fight for reform in Afghanistan. As a result, we created more division and discord within society every time we came up to bring about reform with violence and pressure. You are correct that we live in a horrible situation and that the lives, dignity, and freedoms of our citizens are in danger in various ways. This tragedy is like a hard fact on our hands. It has happened, and we must think, what is our solution to overcome it? How can we get out of this situation?
War and armed struggle are not the most effective ways. In the last 43 years, in our personal experiences of two-three generations, we have undergone the ramifications of war. We have learned that the war and the fighters did not solve our problems. They did not solve our ideological, political, ethnic, social, or cultural disputes. They did not solve any issues but made them more complex, turning each into an insoluble puzzle.
Sheesha Media: Well, those who promote the armed struggle, as I said before, their argument is the right to self-defense. According to them, we have massacres, torture, disappearances, forced displacements, and deprivation of security, freedom, and commutes. Now, if, according to you, armed struggle is not a practical approach to stop or at least slow down the process of repression and massacre, what is the alternative? What should the victims do to protect society against genocide, oppression, deprivation of freedom, torture, etc.?
Royesh: Look, you don’t have any alternative with immediate impact. Because if you have such an alternative, you are not facing a challenging, complicated problem. We have disputes and conflicts, which are partly internal issues; Ethnic, tribal, religious, and cultural issues, land disputes, and the issue of forced settlers in northern regions of the country. All of these have historical roots. They are within the Afghan society. But another part of the conflict is external, which makes it more complicated. The enemy of Afghanistan or the Afghan people is different from all other struggles in every corner of the world. In my reflection and searches, I am still looking for an example of this situation in other parts of the world, which is weird and unique.
International terrorism is deeply and widely involved in the conflict in Afghanistan. Terrorism only moves with terror and intimidation. Therefore, for terrorism, killing, massacring, suppressing, and keeping people in chaos and terror is the fundamental goal. Because terrorism has come from outside, it has come from different countries. With different motivations, it has brought different approaches to Afghanistan and complicated the issue of internal disputes and violence.
Another problem is foreign intelligence. Unfortunately, during the last 43 years and in these recent years, the role of foreign intelligence in Afghanistan’s conflicts has become very serious and far more complicated. Most enemies and hostilities are the product of foreign intelligence agencies that follow foreign powers’ interests and goals. Therefore, this enemy can always camouflage to achieve the goals set by the intelligence agencies. It can always change the face and appear differently. So, with this kind of enemy, if you want to stand by gun, weaponry, front, and hot battle, you must figure out where you want to hit. Which target do you destroy? By destroying which target do you feel like you are victorious?
Your enemy is constantly equipped from the outside to commit violence and atrocity without any discrimination. That is a hard fact. However, you also have a context that digests and sometimes reproduces such violence and atrocities within itself due to historical and cultural reasons. When this is the case, you, as those who consider yourself the architects of your society, should pause and think that violence or the use of force and violence would not be a reasonable way to deal with such a situation. You should pay attention to this point. This argument is not convincing to say that now when people are being tortured and harassed, we cannot stop it with a nonviolent civil struggle, and we must fight and start an armed struggle. My point is that if we can’t prevent people from being oppressed by nonviolent civil struggle, we can’t do it by creating fronts, war, and violence either. Because the creation of a battlefront and raging war inflames the situation, raises the level of tension, and provides the ground for more repressions, tortures, and arrests.
Taghlib or Conquest and Dominance by Force
Sheesha Media: Well, the question of those who favor armed struggle is that you cannot create immunity with a nonviolent civil struggle. An example is the recent hybrid and street protest movement against the genocide of the Hazaras. They disagree that resorting to war increases repression. As I said at the beginning of this conversation, it is true that the anti-genocide movement of the Hazaras has been launched and has been very successful. Journalists, educators, famous artists, and some of the world’s celebrities and politicians supported the call to Stop Hazara Genocide. They informed a part of the public opinion of the world. They told everyone that an ethnic and religious community in Afghanistan is a victim of genocide or an attempt to act genocide. However, this nonviolent civil struggle has not created immunity for the vulnerable Hazaras in Afghanistan. It is not unlikely that tomorrow another gathering of Hazaras in Kabul, Herat, Mazar, or Kandahar will be safe, and a dozen more people will not lose their lives again. The supporters of armed struggle believe that based on the principle of self-defense, you should fight armed struggle and free a place so that some of the victims of Taliban and ISIS can go there to find relative immunity for their survival. At the same time, it will also increase the cost of war for the enemy. In your opinion, where is the weak foundation of this argument?
Royesh: The weakness lies in the structure and content of the argument. Look, none of those who attacked the Kaj educational center or hit another place where people gather have an official address. The Taliban do not openly accept that they have committed an attack on the Kaj center or another particular mosque. It is a terrorist group that acts secretly, and no one takes responsibility. Now, if you want to fight against this hidden group, build a front, and have a stronghold, you have to say, who are your targets? You cannot find invisible forces. You must attack a checkpoint, a police station, or a government office.
When you shoot these places, you will inevitably challenge the established ruling system. The same thing is happening in Panjshir now. There is a front, and the Taliban are fighting with an overt address. But they don’t have an address in Khairkhana, Dasht Barchi, or Bamyan. Now, if you go and create a front in these places to attack the Taliban, you are calling them for revenge at the exact address. When you have a stronghold to name your opposition address, you inevitably have to attack the Taliban. When you attack, you have directly ignited the hostility of the ruling system. This measure will not only fail to protect you against the danger of terrorism but will double the risk.
Look, you already have a hidden terrorist group. You blame the Taliban that they manage the acts of terror, but they would not officially accept it. The hidden terrorist group will continue its function, but by forming a front against the Taliban, you also give this system an excuse to suppress and kill you more as a rebel. Those who prescribe armed struggle do not answer the question, whose side are we on? Whom do we want to hit? If we are supposed to eliminate the entire Taliban system through armed struggle, we should not raise the issue of Kaj or the terrorist groups that move here and there. Because these groups operate in secret, and the Taliban do not take responsibility for their actions. By creating an anti-Taliban front and bastion, we are putting ourselves in front of a regular army and saying we will attack this army.
Fighting against the Taliban is a separate discussion, different from terrorist acts against the Hazaras. And when you raise this argument, you have to answer a few more questions; For example, tell me where you get your military equipment and weapons. From where do you get your funding for logistics and other warfare costs? Naturally, the poor foundation of the Afghan economy cannot bear the burden of war. You have to go and join another country. Whatever country you depend on, you must satisfy that country and tell what the Taliban have not been able to do for them that you want to accomplish. What obligation do you give your mercenary and dependence more than the Taliban so that country will provide you with money and weaponry you use in your country’s civil war? All those who propose armed struggle must answer such questions as a result-oriented approach to justify their armed battle against the existing enemy.
Sheesha Media: Well, those who favor armed struggle have counterarguments. They say you will find a supporter for yourself when you create a will and power. The history of insurgency in Afghanistan also shows that rebellion against an established order or a dominant force starts in a primitive way with very primitive weapons and a limited number of people. But gradually, this rebellion spreads and attracts strong support for itself. An example is the Taliban, which started in 2003 and has assumed power against all superpowers.
When the neighboring countries see a powerful force in the scene, they step to establish a relationship with that power. The Taliban have problems with many countries. They have provided shelter to the enemies of many nations. Some countries will likely help the enemies of the Taliban and form a type of interaction based on the enemy of my enemy is my friend analogy. Afghanistan is a typical country of the region where the rules of the game are the same. The situation of 19th century of Europe is currently existing in Afghanistan. You can also see in the political culture of that region that the governments change by force. One party has come, and another power has gone. In our region’s cultural and religious narratives, the issue of “overcoming” has been recognized and accepted. When this is the case, and people get killed, why is it necessary to question the legitimacy of the armed struggle and its effectiveness?
Royesh: You see, the excellent term you used, ‘Taghlib’ or overcoming, or taking power by force, at least in our Islamic culture, has its roots for fourteen centuries. We started from the same process until we got here. As civil human beings living in the 21st century, we must give ourselves this authority or the right to stop this process that has brought us unending murder, looting, killing, destruction, takfir (ex-communication), and Tafsiq (desecration). Let’s put a period and a full stop to it. What does Taghlib mean? It means that it is the force that speaks first. Please take it as the first point to pay attention to.
The second point is that if we want to create a balance of power with force in Afghanistan, we must have a tool representing our force. That means we must have weapons, equipment, and resources. None of these are inside Afghanistan. They come from outside Afghanistan. As you say, are you ready to become a soldier in a proxy war for foreign powers in your country? Are you prepared to fight for the goals and interests of foreign countries inside your nation? No government gives you money for the sake of God, and no country gives you weapons for the sake of paradise. They expect something in return. For example, if it is Iran, Central Asian countries, America or Pakistan, all expect something. What are you doing for the goals of that country which is giving you arms and funding? Please take this one as the second point to pay attention to.
The third point is that we reach a comparison in the real world. Whether you like it or not, the Taliban are now the defacto rulers of the country. Where they found money and weapons and what kind of commitment they made to other countries and regional powers is a separate issue. Anyway, they found the necessary support for themselves when they came and overthrew the 20-year-old system of Afghanistan, which enjoyed the full support of the international community. The Taliban beat them, although they boasted of three hundred thousand troops. They destroyed all of the armies and took over the power.
Now tell me, what do you do? Which power will you rely upon to back you against the Taliban? What kind of deal will you make that will come and provide you with a force that is higher than the force of NATO so that you can rely on it to confront the Taliban or find a strength that will satisfy the government of Pakistan, Iran, and the countries of Central Asia? How can you persuade them to come to invest in you instead of the Taliban?
Be careful that sometimes the comparison we make from past periods is highly misleading. The Afghan Jihad started in a completely different situation. At that time, there was a cold war, and in the cold war, many countries – Islamic and non-Islamic – came to support the Afghan Mujahideen, and all became sources of support and funding for the Afghan Jihad. We had some of these aids in our pockets during the civil wars. All the powers involved in the civil war had dragged their Jihad era supports and influences. Those supports and forces were in place. In addition, they had kept the weapons, ammunition, and equipment they had from their fourteen-year war. In addition, they also obtained Russian military equipment. These facilities were sufficient for a war front at that time.
However, those ammunitions and weapons did not last more than two or three years for the forces involved then. Now you are at the end of the road. You have spent twenty years in the era of democracy and the age of system building; You have experienced DDR; Many communities have given their weapons. You have done excessive exercises in the period of democracy that keep your mental distance from war and militarism. When you come back after twenty years and talk about the war, you must define yourself in a new field.
You would better not equate yourself with the Mujahideen of the 1980s or those who were the warriors of the 1990s. Each of these is an experience. Past experiences can be misleading and create mental delusions. So, I feel that engaging in a violent armed struggle where you take a gun and build a front and a trench is very sterile, costly, and dangerous. Having witnessed the four decades of violent developments in my country, I will not allow myself, as a person, especially as a civic educator, to sit quietly and turn a blind eye to this very costly experience and let it repeat in our next generation. This experience should become the consciousness of our generation. We must tell people not to re-experience our failed journey and find it counterproductive. We were a generation full of ideals, capable of doing unbelievable tasks, and highly motivated. We were a generation that quickly found cohesion. These characteristics are all necessary for an armed battle. However, we have not won any victory in any of the military conflicts that would grant us a moment of peace and relief. We won the Afghan Jihad but fell into the pit of civil war. We had not yet calmed down from the civil war when we fell into the mouth of the Taliban.
Just passing the Taliban reign of terror, a new period came in which we had another half-term experience of democracy, civil society, and a short season of construction and aspirations. After August 15, 2021, we are going back to the past. Therefore, violence, war, and armed struggle seem good answers for those who are enraged and fed up with oppression. Still, it is not a reasonable and justified answer to satisfy your critical thinking and ensure your productivity at length.
War and Narrative of war
Sheesha Media: Well, a critical discussion is the experience of the last 43 years that you also mentioned. Precisely, the wars in Afghanistan in these 43 years did not stabilize the country, did not save it from the authoritarian regime, or improve its homegrown economy. However, we should also differentiate between the war and the narrative of the war. In the past 43 years, the war narrative was what we witnessed in the aftermath of the war. The fight against the Soviet Union, in which most Afghan villagers were involved, was neither a patriotic war nor a to protect the people. That war was Jihad, which you also used in your words. That war was Jihad, a religious war with a fanatical narrative. When Jihadist forces prevailed, a religious authoritarian government emerged from the heart of their Jihadi movement, finally reaching the first period of the Taliban. Today’s Taliban have their roots in the same war. What the war narrative was, we finally got to it.
Their narrative was still not patriotic when the Taliban fought with NATO in the recent period. It was a religious narrative. They claimed to implement a religious government and expel the non-Muslim forces from Afghanistan. Now they have achieved their goals. Those who are currently fighting against the Taliban claim the narrative of immunity. They say that we are under threat of being killed. It doesn’t matter if we fight; they will kill us. Just like a chicken, at times of slaughter, kicks its feet, we should also kick our feet. According to them, relative immunity will come by armed struggle when the narrative is immunity. We have examples in Afghanistan and other places where a group fights and secure a specific region. What do you think about this argument?
Royesh: What you said is accurate, but the ongoing war, contrary to your opinion, lacks a narrative. The claim that we present immunity falls in an outer layer of argument as an intuitive and natural action noting that our fight is a survival struggle. But the question is, what do we do after that when we reach a particular line area? Here we remain unanswered. That’s why the ongoing war sways between different narratives.
Sheesha Media: But the narrative of immunity is a dominant solid point. What do you think about it?
Royesh: As I said, our war wanders between different narratives. Immunity is the natural impulse that a group of people in danger struggle to save themselves. Still, when you ask them in private, you will see they are confused about what they want when they take one step forward. We can’t move just by asking for immunity. We must continue the struggle. The question is, what is our narrative for the persistence of the war? Is it a Jihadi narrative? Ethnicity? Is it to seek materialistic fortune? Is it economic advantages? Is it a geographical issue? Is it a cultural issue? Or is it an amalgamation of different narratives?
As you can see, the literature on resistance against the Taliban is not mono-sided. Especially those who represent the war front have no narrative at all. I am asking for a description that motivates you, makes your struggle meaningful and creates a voice for you in the world so that everyone regards you as the faithful fighters of the Afghan people. The place of such a narrative still needs to be occupied.
For example, you need a narrative that relies on the citizenship rights of the Afghan people. You have never heard a hint from anyone to point at the Constitution of Afghanistan as a document that was a joint product of the Afghans and the international community, which underlines a large part of democratic values and principles. Of course, this document needs amendment. We need to amend the elements of this document that weakens the citizenship rights of the Afghan people in an institutional form; We need to amend the centralized power and ensure its devolution to the benefit of the grassroots citizens. We need to create an institutional system of control and check and balance. Institutions must have the power to monitor each other. Well, these are the discussions you may have within the framework of the Constitution; but none of those currently speaking in the opposition front of the Taliban touch it in their words. Every day they produce a new charter, a declaration, or a resolution, but they don’t mention the Constitution, which shows the lack of their narrative.
Look, you cannot build global credibility without a readable democratic narrative. As far as you go within these swaying narratives, you create a sense of uncertainty about your image and future. Everyone would ask about tomorrow, the day after a victory, or reaching a stage of power balance between warring factions. No one can claim to wipe out the Taliban completely. Even those who resist would not have such a notion in mind. The ideal scenario would be to reach a point where the Taliban are willing to accept others in an inclusive form of government. Then the question is the structure and content of this inclusive government. This question will echo the voices of the Afghanistan people, not the wishes of ethnic privilege holders or the NGO mafia. The ongoing armed struggle continues at the cost of people’s blood, homes, and lives. Even when there is a balance of power, the power brokers will rush to make their power deals and compromises. There will be no change in people’s life if the corrupt mafia stays to present the narrative of ongoing war too.
Abdul Khaliq’s Experience and Nader Khan’s Assassination
Sheesha Media: Well, it’s accurate to think about the structure and overall format of the future system. It is also true that those fighting against the Taliban still need to clarify their narrative. Of course, other than immunity, they have yet to define their vision and mission in their alternative government. But if we consider the issue of safety and survival, for the time being, we would accept that the right to life precedes the use of other rights. In the absence of life, there is nothing else to focus on.
Here, I will give a historical example and an example of today’s situation: when Nader Khan came to power, the entire civil society of Kabul fell subject to repression, torture, and imprisonment. The regime arbitrarily executed many intellectuals or imprisoned them without any trial. Ghobar has detailed the subject of Nader Khan’s assassination, followed by the brutal execution of his killer, Abdul Khaliq, in the second volume of his book. Abdul Khaliq’s goal in assassinating Nader Khan seemed to be creating immunity for the civil activists of the time, including constitutionalists, intellectuals, and some nationalists. After Nader Khan’s assassination, the court family executed Abdul Khaliq and several of his friends, colleagues, and relatives. Then, the monarchy system stopped the suppression of the civil activists of Kabul. Ghobar has assessed that the dynasty concluded that if it continued to suppress and physically execute the civil activists, other Abdul Khaliqs would appear. The situation would get out of control. Abdul Khaliq’s action created physical immunity for the civil activists of the time. According to Ghobar, Shah Mahmood Khan’s softness was the outcome of this deliberation. Hence, the political space opened up, bringing about the freedom of the press and the first parliamentary elections. That was a historical example. Lately, you can see that the Taliban leaders are constantly making announcements and asking their fighters to treat the people of Panjshir friendly and behave with compassion and kindness. This example also shows that immunity, life insurance, or whatever you call it, is created relatively, if not absolutely, by armed struggle. How do you rate this argument?
Royesh: Let me say that both analogies you made are wrong. If we believe the story of Ghobar, which reflects a mentality within the royal family of the time, that is a story related to something about seventy years ago. At that time, Afghanistan was a very closed society, backward and small. The country had just come out of the era of Amir Abdul Rahman and his bloody suppression falling into the hands of the Nader Khan and Ali Yahya families. It was a family that managed a society as a tribal chief. Their members were known to each other: Shah Mahmood Khan, Hashim Khan, Dawood Khan, Zahir Khan, and the like. This opinion might have emerged in the royal family that we have suppressed enough and taken revenge. However, if we continue, maybe someone else will come forth to kill Hashim Khan, someone else will kill Shah Mahmood Khan, and someone else will kill Zahir Khan.
They might have thought that in such a series of assassinations, they would lose all their arms. They might have concluded that let’s give this society some freedom so that they can feel comfortable as our subjects and we can rule. That was an opinion at that time raised in the royal family, and apparently, Shah Mahmoud favored it. But Hashim Khan argued that we should suppress the society, and these people will not surrender without suppression and fear, and we should suppress them so they do not cross their line. They should not feel free. They should not raise their heads against authority. These were two opinions that may have risen in the royal family, but both stemmed from the same thought: the thought of tribal clanship. A tribal chief had come and controlled the system. Afghanistan was a closed society in the very early stage of its development. The number of its schools was not more than the number of your fingers. You had countable intellectuals.
None of those facts is comparable to the present time. Today, society is very different. It has nothing to do with the era of Hashim Khan and Shah Mahmoud Khan. The forces involved in the country’s affairs as influential variables are numerous and scattered. At the same time, those who rule the country as your enemies are not a family or a small tribal clan. A vast and expansive network operates across the country with various faces. What will change if you find someone to kill Mullah Sirajuddin, Mullah Muhammad Yaqub, or Mullah Hebatullah? What will change?
Not only does this action affect the Taliban network, but it also does not affect the international terrorism network behind the Taliban. It does not affect the foreign intelligence that supports the Taliban. What would change by killing some people in today’s situation? See, your argument is a kind of generalization, which is wrong, leading you and us astray.
Regarding your second analogy, I think it is not the resistance of Panjshir that has urged some Taliban to tolerate and hinder. If the Taliban leaders have reached the point of honestly giving their soldiers the type of advice you mentioned, it is a significant development. Still, I doubt it is true. That seems a bluff and a political trick to moderate the atmosphere. But even if they have reached this point, such transformation is not due to war and military struggle.
The Taliban has a tribal background and attitude. They have a tribal psyche and mindset. In a tribal society, as you mentioned, you can oppress the other party only by force, repression, malice, and revenge. If you fall short and tolerate it, you have shown yourself a failure. Even if we accept that the Taliban leaders have come to hinder, it is because of the solidarity of the Afghan people in their citizenship and human rights call, not because of the Panjshir war.
Now the voice of solidarity of the Afghan people has crossed the line of ethnic groups. All the people of Afghanistan are in it, especially with the pioneering of Afghan women, which has created a significant turning point. This new hashtag for Stop Hazara Genocide has mobilized a new power at the level of the Afghan civil forces. The Taliban feel their only folder of religious and ethnic rhetoric would no longer work. This folder is breaking, and the Taliban must submit to the minimum standards of civil life in governance, administration, and dealing with people. Therefore, I hesitate to say that military resistance can force the Taliban to submit.
Experience of the Taliban: Return to Power Through War
Sheesha Media: From the facts, you pointed out, another argument supports the claims of those who favor armed struggle. As you said, the Taliban have a religious and traditional mentality and don’t care about their image. The hashtag, protest movements, and women’s civil motions would only tarnish the picture of the Taliban to the outside world. When you study the ideology and structure of the Taliban, you will see that they do not care much about their image. If they did, the first thing they would do would be to allow girls’ schools to operate. Their rigid policy toward girls’ education proves that they don’t care much about their so-called image.
Also, look at the Taliban’s own experience. Their government fell in 2001. After the Bonn Agreement, the Taliban leaders offered Mr. Karzai they were ready to surrender. The story is set in December of that year, narrated by the Americans, Mr. Karzai, and the Taliban. The Taliban leaders had a letter written by Mullah Mohammad Omar, their leader, and gave it to Mr. Karzai. In the letter, they had expressed their willingness to surrender. They wanted to go home without being harassed and wanted Americans to release their prisoners.
But the Bush government, at that time, did not accept the surrender of the Taliban. They were in the psyche of the situation that developed in America after 9/11. Not only they rejected to accept the submission of the Taliban, but the tribes to which the leaders of this group belonged were expelled from power in Kandahar and Helmand by the people belonging to the Popalzai and Barakzai tribes. It seems that powerful commanders of these provinces suppressed their tribal enemies in the name of Taliban and al-Qaeda with the help of the Americans.
All those affiliated with the Taliban tribes came under severe pressure. No one would accept their submission or allow them to run everyday life. They imprisoned and killed the Taliban. The Taliban fled to different countries, hid, and turned to war.
Today, we have reached a point where they have secured their own life, taken over a nation, and restored their government. All those leaders, who were imprisoned and humiliated, became ministers, chiefs, and commanders. This example shows that you can defend yourself by war and even defeat a tremendous military power at length. The argument to justify the armed struggle against the Taliban points to the history of the Taliban. They name it as an example of the success of such a struggle. Don’t you think their words are worthy of consideration?
Royesh: Once again, this is not a realistic analogy. An analogy of comparing two contrasting facts. First, the failure and weakness of the Afghan government have many other factors in which you find the strengthening of the Taliban’s tendencies. For example, Ethnic Politics formed the basis of Afghanistan’s political system, which strengthened the Taliban’s narrative claiming that the Pashtuns have lost their supreme power or lack their all-out supremacy over other ethnic communities. Ethnic Politics gave the Taliban a strong voice within their Pashtun audience. Ethnic Politics doubled the political system’s corruption dividing it between warring ethnic mafias.
Besides, those who came from outside as technocrats and bureaucrats did not belong to Afghanistan. They used Afghanistan as a political and economic asset for their wealth, prestige, and fame, which also increased the problem.
NGOs that entered Afghanistan with a dangerous mafia culture made all the structures of the Afghan political system a funding project. They also played a destructive role in corrupting the Afghan government.
The business people profited from the atmosphere created by windfall dollars to collect colossal wealth. They made their mafia movements and behaviors and played a significant role in corrupting Afghanistan. Those were all the critical elements to weaken the foundation of the system.
Our political leaders also played a decisive role in the system’s failure. Each of them came with their ethnic and religious background and turned government into political, material, and family pursuits. When we put all these together, adding the mafias that entered Afghanistan from four corners of the world, they all made the Afghan political system vulnerable to the Taliban.
On the other hand, when we talk about the Taliban, we should also consider the intelligence support behind them. This support drove the Taliban from a weak, defeated group to a powerful force. The situation becomes more understandable if you look at the role of Pakistani intelligence here. The part of Pakistan’s intelligence is enhanced because they can use the Taliban as a penetrating and influential proxy force. The opposite side of the Taliban is a combination of corrupt mafias reduced to individuals. The most diminutive narrative created by the Taliban will overcome them.
Scan this situation since the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan started its movement. You can see that everything that happens on the side of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan strengthens the narrative of the Taliban on the other side. With their firsthand knowledge of Afghanistan and the mental and psychological condition of the Afghan people, the Pakistanis took advantage of the situation until the war gradually escalated and reached a point where the people felt that all of Talebi’s narrative was true.
Therefore, now the Taliban opposition forces, with no exception, are the losers of the Jihad era, the losers of the civil wars, and the losers of the Republican era. They have gained and lost many privileges and opportunities in different periods. One should be mindful of the same case with the Taliban and their return and reassumption of power. This time too, if the Taliban are defeated and thrown away, their fate would be no different from that of their jihadist counterparts. They are in the same cycle where they reveal their true face and nature to others, even those who use them for their proxy war and interest. Those who use the Taliban can use them well only once, not twice, thrice, or four times. After all, intelligence agencies also rely on a series of variables to protect their interests.
Your point about the image issue is an entirely different matter. I never said that the Taliban are worried about their image. Taliban are the most shameless force in history. They are liars. Whoever lies to God lies to God’s people very simply; If someone lies to himself, he lies to his family very quickly; Whoever lies to his family lies to his tribe. The Taliban know that they lie every moment, every word they convey. There is no time that the Taliban can confirm their authenticity and honesty. Therefore, the Taliban are shameless. Because of this shamelessness, the Taliban do not relinquish militancy with the most basic norms of civil life. The Taliban do not shy away from violence; they do not shy away from misogyny; They do not shy away from the humiliation and insults; Even they are not ashamed of their appearance. They don’t feel that in the 21st century, running a government system in this way is ridiculous. It is a kind of insult. It is an insult to history, an insult to a nation, an insult to all the values that you can have in a country.
The Taliban do not care about anything. They don’t even care that they have stalled the government as a caretaker guardian for more than a year. They want the world to have a relationship with them, but they need to create the most basic governance norms acceptable to the world. Taliban have a leader who never comes out from behind the curtain, which is exciting and ridiculous. Everywhere in the world, victorious leaders boast of their relationship with their people. One feature of this relationship is the leader entering the mass and talking to them. At least he should come in and, like other traditional mullahs, extend his hands so people can kiss him, bless his clothes, and benefit from his prayers.
Well, a mullah who sits behind a curtain and no one sees anything from him and still claims to be Amirul Mominen, the commander of the faithful and the leader, shows that the Taliban are incredibly shameless. Taliban massacre innocent people, loot people’s houses, burn people’s lands, commit genocide, and force people to migrate, but they are not ashamed of any of these acts.
The reason is that the Taliban do not believe in the image. Therefore, their image is not relevant to my point of discussion. We see the pressure on the Taliban. In any case, the Taliban are in control of Afghanistan. This group will finally realize that the pieces they have arranged and played with will fail. The forces behind the Taliban are worried. For them, their image is their interest. They feel that the Taliban are losing the prestige they were expecting. So, starting hashtags or civil campaigns will change all these equations globally. When it changes the equations globally, the Taliban will be under pressure as the force in the field.
The civil struggle is not limited to hashtags. A hashtag is the easiest thing to do, and now with the help of digital technology, it is the cheapest thing. In contrast, the civil struggle has many other ways. It would help if you acted in your external lobbying. You have to adjust your communication. You have to launch broad movements at the level of your nation so that the dialogue starts. All those suffering from the pressure of the Taliban should sit down and explore what they have in common. They should not discuss their differences, which is their natural right to enjoy. They should discuss what they have in common. At which common points do they assemble to secure land in the name of Afghanistan to which they belong?
Well, these are all essential steps of a nonviolent civil struggle. Because we deal with issues with an elementary mind, our perception of resistance is either war or surrender; When we say civil resistance, we think that it means demonstrations, strikes, and playing with hashtags, and that’s it. These are all some of the techniques you currently have and are using.
As a more evident example of a nonviolent civil struggle, pay attention to the civil uprising of the Iranian people, which has been going on for more than two months and shows a different manifestation daily. They have remained on the streets at very high costs. Schoolchildren stand up and take part in the struggle. Drivers, workers, University professors, and artists participate in this struggle. Those inside and outside take part. You see that this struggle goes on for months, with all the costs it incurs. They have challenged the Iranian regime with a big dilemma. This example is more of a civil struggle than Afghanistan’s pattern.
Sheesha Media: Iranians have a dispute and conflict over modern laws and Sharia. The government implements Sharia by force, and the society, which has now become different and liberal, does not want Sharia. Unlike 43 years ago when they rose because of Sharia law. This change is evident in Iranian society. All wishing for modern rights in Iran are liberal, and there is no need for war. There is no area in Iran subject to the massacre. All discussions are over civil rights and Shariah. Iranian activists are against the Shariah law, and what happened there is not abnormal. It is the continuation of Iran’s history. The constitutional revolution, the 1979 revolution, and other movements in Iran all have a share in the current uprising.
In Afghanistan, however, the situation is different. The Taliban had gone as a defeated force. The United Front, whose constituent groups were defeated, took power in 2001. Dost Muhammad Khan and Shah Shoja were also defeated. They came back and resumed control of power. Those still fighting against the Taliban claim that just as the Taliban returned and regained strength by war, they will also win and ensure their security by war. Isn’t there a big difference between Iran and Afghanistan and their conditions?
Royesh: It is different, indeed. But there is no difference in one thing: the nonviolent civil struggle as an approach to change the undesired situation. Iranians voyaged other long ways with many ups and downs. The Mojahedin Khalq, the Komleh, the Tudeh party, and the pro-King circles all spread in different parts at various times in history, particularly in the recent forty years of the country. Each of them tried their muscles in different ways to change the situation. The reform and reformist movement, the national-religious circles, and even the division of society into fundamentalists and reformists are the methods of the Iranian struggle to reform and improve their lives. Now, this struggle has reached another critical point that shows the evolution and growth of their civil movement.
If we see, we have gone through different stages of struggle in Afghanistan. Unlike Iran, we have lived in the war for 43 years, which is why we know more than the Iranian people what dangerous consequences war has. In particular, if war spreads in houses, villages, and between clans and tribes, it becomes more challenging. Therefore, we are more in a position than the Iranians to say no to armed battles and violent struggles. We can even warn the Iranians and say that whatever they do, make sure not to push their fight toward violence that will lead to civil war. We should convey this message to the Iranian nation.
If we convey such a message to the Iranian nation, why not recommend it to ourselves? Afghanistan is wildly fragmented and discarded, and any excuse can divide it into opposite poles. We have a society with a low level of cultural development. There is no guarantee that we will take charge of the situation with the gun we put on our shoulders. The gun dominates us quickly, and the gun barrel becomes the primary source of our voice. If our society is as vulnerable to violence and the domination of a gun, why should we not be cautious?
Mazari’s Experience and Armed Resistance
Sheesha Media: Well, I would like to quote from one of the talks you gave on another occasion. As I explained and you confirmed, the conditions of Iran and Afghanistan are entirely different. In Afghanistan, the main question is security and immunity, but in Iran, the central conflict is Shariah and modern law, which shows that the situation is not the same. In one of your speeches, you said that Mazari’s main characteristic was that he taught Hazara people how to kill. Of course, you explained the context when Afghanistan had just emerged from the war with the Soviet Union and Dr. Najib’s government had collapsed. Jihadist forces were dominant, and various jihadist groups were fighting each other. In that situation, Mazari searched for a way to protect his community. It was an armed struggle.
There was another quote referred to you in social media that before the fall of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, you said, “If the war reaches the gates of Kabul, I, my friends and students will join the ranks of the security forces and fight.” This quote shows that, at some point, you regarded armed struggle as necessary to protect people against physical elimination or face a situation where enemies come to kill you. Why don’t you feel that need now?
Royesh: You raised some excellent points. These two words express two separate cases. My word related to our experience of Mazari goes back to the Jihad era ending the civil wars. Hazaras had gone through a period full of humiliation and oppression after the massacre of Amir Abdul Rahman in the 1890s. People had lost their self-confidence. No one felt like moving into society with a little sense of pride. The very insulting nicknames represented the Hazara people’s identity in the social relations of the Afghan nation. Then the time of Jihad began, and the Hazaras were armed and realized the power of their weapons. Firstly, it was against the occupying forces of the Soviet Union, but they used it in their internal fighting too. Then they united and entered Kabul with a strong power of self-trust and affirmation. In Kabul, they faced another serious question: the division and distribution of power between forces gathered from four corners of the country crowded in Kabul.
Before 1992 and the victorious entry of the Mujahideen into Kabul, no one discussed the issue of fair distribution of power and people’s participation. As you said in your earlier remarks, the thesis of Taghlib or forcefully assuming power was a common issue in the Islamic culture and tradition. Anyone who took control by force became the ruler, and others changed into his vassals.
Hazaras were one of the ethnic groups that entered Kabul in 1992 with a particular claim. Mazari was the leader who announced the call of the Hazara in Kabul. His demands contained three SMART items:
- We want participation in political decision-making.
- We want our Shiite religious codes officially recognized in the Constitution.
- We want an equal share of the public treasury.
These three demands were manifestations of the civil and citizenship rights we are elaborating on now. Mazari’s words were unambiguous and transparent. Mazari did not hesitate to clarify his demands regarding the cabinet posts and said, “I don’t care if there are two or ten ministries; for me, the critical point is to be present behind the decision-making table. Whether we obtain one or more posts, we must be present in the decision-making process.”
There is a famous story about Mr. Sediq Chakri and Dr. Shahjahan, who came with a generous offer from Mr. Rabbani, the president of the Islamic State. According to them, Mr. Rabbani was ready to give several ministries to the Wahdat Party. Mazari said that Mr. Rabbani made a very generous offer. We don’t ask for five or ten cabinet posts. Instead, we ask where Mr. Rabbani sits and how he feels when he distributes these posts. He underlined that they wanted to be in the circle of deciding on the due share of the parties in having one or more cabinet posts. Mazari said he wanted to sit where Mr. Rabbani was sitting and distribute power. This word expressed his desire to participate in the country’s decision-making process.
When Mazari raised the issue of the legitimacy of the Shiite religion, he was touching on a citizenship right. He said that we live in a country with particular religious beliefs and communicate with each other based on these beliefs. If you talk about Islam as a religion, we are also Muslims, and we do not quarrel with including it in the Constitution. We fully agree to write in the Constitution that the faith of the people of Afghanistan is Islam. But if you raise the issue of jurisprudence and claim that jurisprudence must be Hanafi, you should be mindful that ours is Jafari which should come in the Constitution. He stressed that the dispute between Jafari and Hanafi jurisprudence was a historical issue, and they could not resolve it in politics. He said it is our right to act in our personal affairs according to our Shiite jurisprudence.
Mazari emphasized the equal share of all ethnic and social groups in the treasury. According to him, all the country’s facilities belonged to all the people of Afghanistan, and everyone should enjoy their equal share. When Mazari raised these words, he faced reactions and sensitivities showing that his claims were not acceptable in the political culture of Afghanistan at that time. The harsh response led to the bloody civil war in Kabul.
When the war broke out, there were no more than two options left:
A) the Hazaras should give up their claim and return to the same situation of oppression and humiliation;
B) to stand up and say NO to the past unfavored life and destiny.
The Hazaras chose the second option. They said no and were unwilling to accept the repressive and humiliating history. They stood up and launched a challenging resistance. In my book, I named this movement “An uprising at the end of history.” The Hazaras announced that they would not let this history last anymore.
Mazari said that being a Hazara should no longer be a crime. The history of disrespecting human beings in this society must stop. It is no longer acceptable for a large group of people in this society to be insulted and humiliated in the name of Hazara, a flat-nosed scumbag and a mouse-eater. Hazara stood up against this history of tyranny and humiliation under the leadership and command of Mazari.
This uprising took place at the end of an oppressive account in Afghanistan. This is where I say that Mazari taught Hazaras to kill. That is a harsh word and an awkward admission. However, he broke the taboo of killing people in the mind of Hazara. Mazari took killing out of monopoly and said that killing was not the exclusive heritage of someone’s father that he passed on to his children, and the share of others is only to be the victim. He taught Hazaras that they could also stand up and tell others that if the killing was terrible, they should stop killing.
In one of his words, which happens to be his last speech, Mazari says to the people in simple language that when they decided to defend their destiny, their enemies marched from everywhere but took their dead bodies back. He mentions the names of provinces and says they stormed from Kandahar, Helmand, Takhar, and Badakhshan and got nothing but a fatal defeat. Mazari meant that people stood up to tell others that if the killing was not a good choice, they should not kill to avoid being victims themselves. However, this is a situation related to our historical experience. After that, we in Afghanistan, unfortunately, did not think over that experience to turn it into a great awareness and lesson and prevent its repetition.
Mazari not only corrected this experience in the minds of the Hazara but also corrected many other convictions in their belief system. Mazari brought the Hazaras into a new world and a new history. He taught them how to get along with each other around a common destiny regardless of all ideological constraints. Today, Mazari is called Baba (Papa) by all the Hazaras. They respect him because he created an umbrella for common accord and taught them how to join around a common platform for political life. He introduced the Hazaras with a new set of beliefs that united them despite the differences in their personal life or ideologies. He removed the barrier between a mullah and an enlightened intellectual. With this movement, the Hazaras entered their new history.
I have underlined in my speeches, particularly in what you also mentioned, that all should know that Hazaras have passed those experiences. It is not a difficult task to accomplish if someone wants to return. I have consistently named myself as an example. I was in the war. When I talk about nonviolent civil struggle, it does not mean that I have not experienced violence and I do not know anything about violence. Indeed, I was not personally in the armed conflict, but I used to have a gun under my head when I slept. I have even experienced the trajectory of the bullet in my body. I know how a shot goes through a person’s body. I know all these from firsthand experience.
Nevertheless, I have worked hard to get through this period. All Hazaras have gone through a long walk to change a man of war and someone who lives with violence, smoke, and gunpowder to turn a teacher who teaches his students the lessons of civility, freedom, humanity, justice, and nonviolent civil struggle. It is not difficult to convert such a person back into a warrior.
I had this argument, and many people got the message. I had this word, firstly, in the circle of my non-Hazara friends and intellectuals who had questions about the lessons Mazari had taught to the Hazaras. I told them that Mazari taught many lessons, among them that he broke some rigid taboos in the minds of the Hazaras; The taboo of monopoly, the taboo of religion, the taboo of faith, the taboo of politics, including the taboo of killing. He meant that when someone else wants to manipulate killing as a means of repression, the other should not be afraid of killing.
Your second point raised as an example relates to a different period. It is related to the era when we had a system in which I believed; we had a constitution, which defined the relationships of the people and institutions in a legal framework. After years of suffering, deprivation, and struggle, we reached this system and the Constitution as a document giving foundation to our social contract. This system had many flaws, but it could fix them and make them correctable. I assumed that within the framework of this system, we could continue a constant reforming process. We had an army, police, and three hundred thousand security forces. I was talking about the war reaching the gates of Kabul, and we had to defend Kabul as the country’s center of power. In that case, I expected the National Army, National Security, and National Police to go and protect the city.
When I expected them, I was one of those who had to go and stand on the front line of the war. Because it was about defending the city, my student and faculty team should also go and stand. My friend, my colleague, everyone must stand up. Why? Because we were inside the city and had to contribute to the defense.
An example is what the people of Ukraine are doing now. I consider the defense of the people of Ukraine a legitimate defense because they have a system. Everyone, including the president and the lowest ranks of people, stood up and said they could not ask their soldiers to defend the land while just sitting and watching under the shelter. I thought the same. I could not ask my neighbor’s son to go and sacrifice his life, but my children and I would stay safe and calm on the shore.
But now, you see that the army dissolved, the structure of the security forces shattered, the system fell apart, and the country turned into separate islands with different poles of power. Thus, if you resort to violence or turn to armed battles, you should say where your address is. If there is an address that is the legitimate national authority of the Afghan people and can issue orders from the position of a constitutional system, I would be one of those to stand in the trench. There is no difference between another soldier and me. But if there is no system, my armed battle would be just the skirmish of a squad or a militia. This military group can be legitimate for people in a certain circle. Still, this popularity does not mean it is equally valid and acceptable for all Afghan people. Hence, we are going to war again. People should ask who is leading such armed combat: Khalili or Mohaqiq? You or me? This group or that group? One must answer these questions before resorting to an armed battle.
Before entering the war, those who want to lead an armed struggle should think about the unity and political cohesion we need in society. This question naturally leads to the first step of civil action to create cohesion.
It is not a good act to pick a piece of speech from a specific time and occasion and use it in a completely different context. We must understand and follow the context of the word. The people of Afghanistan still need a nonviolent civil struggle to dwell on these issues and try to understand each other’s language. We still need to get used to listening. We have yet to get accustomed to speaking. Many of us have our words hidden under our tongues. They are afraid to talk.
In contrast, we must say our words and let others hear our voices. Either the word is right or wrong. If right, others should listen to and follow it; if wrong, we should give room for its corrections. In any case, let it be said.
Sheesha Media: Well, you said that because we had a system, it was a legitimate defense…
Royesh: Yes, when you have an army, and you expect police and army soldiers to go, fight, and sacrifice their lives, but you run away from the scene, you show that you are an awkward fake person.
The Difference Between the Struggle Approaches of the New and Old Generations of the Hazara
Sheesha Media: Okay, now, in the absence of a legitimate system, you either have anarchy or absolute tyranny; either way, your life is in danger. The supporters of armed struggle believe that, in both cases, they have the right to defend themselves based on self-defense. Do you still reject armed defense as necessary in addition to nonviolent civil struggle?
Royesh: Look, if the argument is about the right of individuals and groups to defend themselves, whether we prescribe or not, they will not wait for our fatwa. The one who is in trouble will end up in war. Someone who feels that he has a gun and that a person has invaded his home does not wait for me to tell him whether or not to shoot the burglar in his home. He does his job. My question is on a macro level, at the larger scale of society. When we want to give a solution for the whole country, we should be cautious. The nonviolent civil struggle is for the entire country. It is for all of Afghanistan. The nonviolent civil struggle is for those who advocate establishing a system, not those who want to create a defense force for themselves at the local level.
I don’t have the authority to control or stop someone in their everyday life. If the same person asks me, I will, of course, show him a solution. I advise them that in their individuality, they should also refrain from the armed struggle because they will inflict a lot of damage in facing an organized group or system. They will not get reliable results from individual violent reactions. I would advise them to leave the country if they feel insecure and unsafe, which is a more feasible option.
But for the elderly politicians, if they consult me, I will say that they, as advocates of politics in society, have a responsibility to be honest with their people. They should refrain from repeating the experience they have achieved at a very high price, and they must take advantage of its ramifications.
A few days ago, Mr. Mohammad Mohaqiq, the former Hazara leader and warlord, announced that he would start an armed struggle throughout the Hazara region. It was shocking news. Someone who wants to do an armed struggle at least does not announce it on Twitter. I thought he was lying and playing with the people’s emotions. That was why I asked him a series of questions on social media. He raised the issue publicly, and I also presented my questions in public and said I was ready to debate over his armed struggle thesis. I had doubts about the armed struggle and asked him to answer my questions. I am sure that he still needs an answer to those questions. I know him, and since he does not have an answer, it was irresponsible to announce an armed struggle on Twitter.
Likewise, a few months ago, I wrote a letter to Ahmad Masoud in which I proposed he devote most of his energy to a political movement, political cohesion, and creating links between political forces. He should consume less energy and resources primarily to maintain his soldiers’ safety.
Now I feel that all Afghan political activists need a pause on their approaches. As a teacher, I cannot talk from the position of a political activist. However, since 43 years of my life have been spent in periods of war and violence, I regard it necessary to share my experiences with my younger audience. My argument is that rushing into a violent battle leads to destruction. Significantly the armed struggle accelerates the destruction. When you take a gun, it has one sound: a bullet, which is the sound of death and human obliteration.
That is why we must linger and give opportunities to our new generation, especially to recreate their own experiences. With nonviolent civil struggle in the form of hashtags and protests against the Hazara Genocide, the new generation showed that they understand the world and their battle approaches far better than their previous generations. Afghan women are much more reasonable and capable of understanding how to fight and make it successful. Therefore, we should give room to the new generation and refrain from burdening them with our failed experiences.
We should be patient with the new generation if sometimes they get angry and protest harshly. They do not deserve the humiliation that they are now facing. They have inherited this humiliation from the political leaders, much more and earlier than the Taleban. The political stakeholders controlled the political fate of the society for twenty years and devoured all the facilities and privileges showered by the international community. Still, they never thought about creating institutional safeguards for the achievements that were the product of the work of millions of honest people and dreamers of our society. So, we’d better grant them the right to be enraged. They are not sinful if they rely on the armed struggle or propose it as an option. We, as the elderly generation, are responsible for telling them our impression of the four decades of wartimes.
They should know that the simple price of warfare is sacrificing their life without creating immunity for themselves and the generations afterward. We should help them realize much better means and approaches in the modern world through which they can generate immunity for themselves and their children.
The nonviolent civil struggle does not need war and guns for its success. Even we should not try to frighten our enemy with war and guns. They will not be afraid of our fight and guns. They live with a weapon and war and feel not ashamed of being labeled as warmonger or trigger-happy. We must challenge the enemy with civility, and nonviolent civil struggles, not war, guns, and violence.
Anger and the Power of Anger Management
Sheesha Media: In this part of the conversation, I want to raise another relevant issue: Afghanistan is geographically close to India and Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, two places with examples of nonviolent civil struggle. In India, we had a charismatic figure like Gandhi, an organized, long-standing, grassroots organization like the Congress Party, and a participatory culture enriched by the long British colonial rule in the country. These three main factors in India in the early 20th century made Gandhi’s struggle successful. Despite Gandhi’s extraordinary efforts, Congress had a significant role in forming the Republic of India. However, the partition between Pakistan and India led to massive bloodshed and displacement. There were millions of people, unprecedented in history, who suffered. The Khudayi Khedmatgar movement couldn’t sustain itself and was defeated in its missions in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Given the lack of those three factors of Gandhi’s struggle and the failed experience of Khudayi Khimatgar, will we overcome our complicated challenges with a nonviolent civil struggle in Afghanistan?
Royesh: Look. We should not see Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Nelson Mandela, or Martin Luther King as sacred taboos, as if there is no void in their life or legacy. Each of them is a pattern in a movement. They only proposed nonviolent civil struggle, and each had different experiences in different contexts. Gandhi’s experience is different from Martin Luther King’s. The experience of Martin Luther King is different from that of Nelson Mandela. The experience of all three of them is different from Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and us. Civil human beings have the right to revise and correct all related to their own and others’ experiences and see which elements are working at their end.
I do not favor Gandhi’s nonviolent civil struggle called “passive resistance.” Why did they give this name to that type of struggle? Perhaps, the reason traces back to Indian culture and its practices. Anyway, you are proactive in the nonviolent civil struggle. In this type of combat, you don’t sit around waiting for events to come to you and challenge you to react.
On the contrary, you are active and challenge your enemy at every moment with any technique at your disposal—civil disobedience, non-cooperation, or the like, in different ways, challenges the ruling system. The methods used in the Iranian civil struggle reached hundreds and thousands of patterns. You see what each student uses in their classroom, showing that it multiplies and grows as large as the number of people involved in the struggle.
A nonviolent civil struggle includes the element of civility: rationality and measurement. The most important thing is to measure profit and loss. You may reach a point in your battle where you even prescribe using weapons in exceptional cases and with a unique mechanism. It does not mean violence. When you have a system, you can determine the use or points of violence within the system. Even if you have a party or an organization that can democratically make decisions to eliminate a particular person who causes an amount of harm to the people, you can recommend it. But this decision must be taken by a democratic organization whose decision-making process is transparent and democratic. Such an organization determines how to act against a harmful person in the rankings of the enemy. You are safeguarding your comrades and eliminating a specific enemy agent to protect them. In that case, you have the right to resort to violence, which is reasonable in the most rational culture of the modern world either.
It is not a norm, even in the politics of the most democratic countries, to reveal every bit of politics in public. There are many things hidden. However, all those hidden issues pass through democratic channels in the ranking of a transparent system. No one has the arbitrary power to use dangerous tools to overthrow countries or governments or eliminate competitors. The democratic system is the authority to legitimize the most challenging decisions.
The nonviolent civil struggle allows us to rationalize our efforts in Afghanistan. I favor political cohesion and collective decisions between all civil forces of the country. Let’s reach collective rationality and run collective wisdom. We should have the opportunity to transfer all these issues to our minds and, as informed people, turn them into a joint problem and seek collective solutions.
Everything related to our communal life and destiny should be transparent. There is nothing hidden. I am not in favor of secrecy in the civil struggle. Nothing should be covert. The budget should be evident; the policy should be public; the words should be straightforward; the plans and strategies should be clear and understandable to everyone in the country. Everything should be checked and balanced through a particular system of structured hierarchy.
Being transparent means presenting everything to the public through constitutional lines of authority. There must be an institutional mechanism that legitimizes the process of decision-making. Although based on the authority granted by the law, a person or a group of people makes a decision, it must be a legitimate decision delivered to the decision-maker authority. For example, the law must have said that a person can decide in a specific situation and circumstance.
At Marafet School, on August 15, 2021, we decided to cut the programs and close the school. It was the day we heard about the Taliban’s intrusion into the city. According to the school’s Constitution, only a number of us had the right to make such a decision. We had a “code” that signaled four plans in four emergency scenarios. At around 10 am, when I heard the emergency and passed the code to a colleague, the entire school was evacuated within half an hour. No one questioned why somebody removed the sign from a wall, deleted the motto from the auditorium, or destroyed a specific device in the warehouse. No one challenged the order to end the exams on the students, which was going on throughout the school campus.
It was an example of a legitimate system that allowed us to make the ultimate decision in a specific emergency. Therefore, in nonviolent civil struggle, you consider your enemy as your enemy. You seek to overthrow their government and eliminate the unfavorable situation ruling over you. However, it is a practical, rational, and measured resolution.
Sheesha Media: Well, at the end of this conversation, we will return to the hashtag campaign as civil protests against the Hazara Genocide through a hybrid platform. As you said, this pattern represents the evolution of the Hazara combat methodology. The previous generation did an armed struggle. Some believe that, although the hashtag campaign and protest is a more successful experience, going to an armed struggle is also necessary because this method creates physical immunity. What is your take and view on this proposition?
Royesh: If I want to point out a difference between the Hazara generation of the 1990s and today, it would be in the manifestation and management of anger. Let’s look at the civic capacity of the Hazara from another angle, which is a perfect model that all other Afghan ethnic communities should embrace as a civic gift. The Hazaras were extremely angry after a hundred years of humiliation and deprivation, and I saw their anger in the Kabul wars of the early 1990s.
I closely felt how angry the Hazaras were. Especially when Mazari indicated that being a Hazara should not be a crime, the Hazara waves of anger came to the surface. With my knowledge of Mazari and his psychological and intellectual characteristics, I saw his statement as a cumbersome pain. Mazari did not feel guilty personally. There was no one to humiliate Mazari or underestimate his positions and words during his life. But when he saw his community in the context of the social relations of the Afghan nation, this bitter word came to his lips, and he said that being a Hazara should not be a crime.
Mazari felt that the Afghan context listened to others’ talks and looked at their plans with a straightforward and typical attitude. But when he spoke as a Hazara, people looked at him as guilty or someone who had committed a crime. This speech conveyed a strong message for the Hazaras, who were the primary audience of Mazari in the west of Kabul.
On the one hand, this speech was an expression of the pain and suffering of the Hazaras that flowed from Mazari’s mouth. On the other hand, this speech also sparked the anger of the Hazaras in Kabul. That is why the struggles of the Hazaras in the west of Kabul were indescribably complex and shocking. The Hazaras were confined and enclosed in that small geography west of Kabul. The Hazara fronts of Western Kabul did not receive help from anywhere, even from Hazarajat. They were not many in quantity but showed a strange audacity, resistance, and stubbornness.
Especially after the Afshar massacre in February 1992, Mazari’s statement about the crime status of Hazara became much more scorching. After Afshar’s massacre, which claimed the lives of hundreds and uprooted thousands from their homes and livelihood, the Hazaras felt that their crime was extremely heavy because no one would have mercy on them. After this tragic incident, a dramatic change happened within the Hazaras. In the subsequent wars of Kabul, the Hazaras, step by step and moment by moment, expressed the same power of anger in their resilience, voices, and weapons.
After the resistance in the west of Kabul, the Hazaras made a huge comeback. I mentioned in my book that the night of the defeat of the West Kabul resistance, the night when we heard the news of Mazari’s death, was a slow-moving night for me and probably for most Hazaras. That was a turning moment. No matter if our cause and demand were right, if a resistance like the one in West Kabul was breakable, what kind of resistance could keep us victorious? If someone like Mazari was killable, who else would survive?
Mazari was fearless, and no one imagined that he would be killed. That was the reason no one thought of serious protective measures for him. That made us hesitate. It was true that after that hesitation, Hazaras from everywhere came to Hazarajat, Bamyan, and other places and gathered around Mr. Khalili to fight. But those movements were more nostalgic. The Hazara people had lost Mazari and were looking for him in any face who acted or impersonated him.
Meanwhile, that turning moment provided the ground for a delay. Everyone thought about the approaches so that the price of the struggle would no longer claim someone like Mazari. That was the wave that brought the Hazara into a new era.
After Mazari, the Hazaras showed another feature of their capacity: Anger Management or Overcoming Fury. The Hazaras in the west of Kabul were angry. They used their anger as a powerful weapon: The anger that created a shelter of defense and a power of resilience and warmongering. But the Hazaras, who came after Mazari and the west of Kabul resistance, overcame this anger and managed it elsewhere. At least they decided to express Mazari’s voice worldwide differently.
Being a Hazara is no longer a crime. For the post-Mazari Hazara, anger remained within each individual. No one among the Hazara forgot Mazari’s word. No Hazara forgot the humiliation, deprivation, and failure. But they tried to figure out where to vent their anger. The Hazaras have understood that their anger should not turn into a poison that burns both inside and outside.
For this reason, when they managed their anger over time, the Hazaras turned to the healthiest, most humane, and most civil approach in their relationship with others. No Hazara said that Pashtuns fought with them and they would not be friends with Pashtuns. When I speak of the Hazara, I mean the cultural capacity of the entire community, which led to the attitudes of the individuals. Many Hazara individuals joined the parties with a fascist Pashtunist image in the Afghan context. They gave everyone a hand in friendship and became their members. For example, Hazaras became members of the Afghan Mellat Party or Hizbi Islami. They joined the National Islamic Movement Party of General Dostum. They became friends with the Tajiks on a large scale without limitations on their cooperation and companionship. The Hazaras bade farewell and said goodbye to hatred, darkness, and anger. They passed the era that restrained them and felt they needed another period.
To distinguish between the Hazaras and the Pashtuns as a comparative argument, the Pashtuns are a community that shows little power to overcome their anger. It might be due to the historical background of war and the continuous violence this community has gone through. When they get angry, they turn out of control. Look at the story of Ahmad Shah Durrani and his anger when he attacked India. He didn’t pause to slaughter his rivals, whether inside the tribe or outside. That was the manifestation of anger. The story of this dynasty continues with the same brutality. Shah Zaman and Shah Shuja were his successors who tore their family members into pieces of bones and flesh. They blinded their brothers with a hot rod.
Take the trend and continue until Amir Dost Muhammad Khan, Amir Muhammad Afzal Khan, Amir Abdul Rahman Khan, Nader Khan, and Dawood Khan. The same story continued with the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan and the Hizb Islami, both in contrasting Communist and Islamist ideologies. Finally, look at the Taliban.
All these stories show that the Pashtuns get out of control wherever they gain power. They cannot manage their anger; it doesn’t matter for any reason. They get furious against their tribal enemies, someone they feel has spoken blasphemy, questioned their religious belief, undermined their ethnic authority and dominance, or has not accepted some of their traditional customs. They deal with their so-called opponents in the most brutal way they can. Stoning, massacring, burning the lands, and blowing up the idol of Bamiyan are each examples of anger outbursts.
The Pashtuns need a pause, I assume. They need to overcome their anger if they want to serve themselves, change the fate of their society or help the people of Afghanistan to reach peace and stability. The Pashtuns need it more than anyone else to overcome their anger. If they do not overcome their anger, you will never find safety from their avenge, an act of brutality. That is my experience as a civic educator, which is extremely painful and dangerous.
Sheesha Media: You point at the anger of the Pashtuns, but you mentioned the infamous stakeholders and the kings. Perhaps, you address the kings and individuals, not the entire Pashtun community. Pashtuns are a nation like Uzbeks, Russians, Tajiks, and Punjabis, who have rural and urban people, secular and religious, with modern thinking and traditional beliefs. Of course, you cannot judge an entire community that way. None of the kings you mentioned, from Ahmad Shah Durrani to Zahir Shah, were Pashtuns in today’s sense.
Royesh: Quite the opposite. I have no compliments here. What I am saying is related to the cultural capacity of the Pashtun community. I mean the characteristics formed throughout history that direct people in different ways. I am not saying there is no civilized person, healthy person, philanthropic person, or kind person in the Pashtun community. There are and always can be. Still, the cultural capacity of the community is something different, which shapes the general attitude of the individuals on particular occasions.
As for the Pashtun community, whoever gains power gets a temper and comes short of controlling his anger. Let me give Ashraf Ghani as an example. He is a civilized person. He is calm, and whenever you talk to him, he listens to you for hours. But as soon as he gains power, he gets angry and out of control. In the position of power, he neither controls his language nor his behavior. During the Tabasum Uprising in 2016, when Ashraf Ghani saw hundreds of thousands of people who came to the Presidential Palace carrying the victims’ coffins on their shoulders, he considered this lawsuit an insult to the authority of a “Tulwak” (Arbitrary Monarch) or a “Walosmeshr” (the Lord of the Clan) and became angry. He lost this wisdom to realize that people’s coming to his Palace was a sign of respect for his authority, and they had called upon him out of this respect. Ashraf Ghani failed to appreciate those who acknowledged his jurisdiction. He missed being polite enough to tell them he had heard their voice.
Contrary to this logical behavior, Ashraf Ghani adhered to the power of “Welsmasher” and “Tolwak” as a Pashtun standard for himself. He spoke to the mourners in a furious and uncivil language. At that time, I was with the mourners when I heard Ashraf Ghani’s voice on Tolo TV. When I listened to his voice, I felt that he was angry. When I saw his anger, I concluded that we should end the negotiation with Arg.
We had sent a delegation inside the Palace to negotiate. When I heard Ashraf Ghani’s voice from Tolo TV, our negotiation team was inside the Palace. Until then, I was hopeful that the Palace would respond positively to our voice and civil will. I was in contact with influential figures in the Palace, including the President’s chief of command. They all assured me the president would accept our humble and reasonable demand.
However, when I felt the anger in Ashraf Ghani’s voice, I decided we should be prepared to leave the fortress before our delegation left the Palace. We bid farewell to the security forces stationed all around the circle. We thanked them for establishing security and for their hard work done with a professional attitude and thoughtfulness. We talked to the youth who had summoned around the coffins. It was a challenging moment. We hardly convinced them to leave the scene and return home in the West of Kabul. It was challenging to satisfy them. Why did I do this? Because I saw Pashtun’s anger in the voice of a “Tulwak” that had run out of control and could lead to a big disaster.
We had the same experience the second time in the Enlightenment Movement, where we made a lot of effort to reach a good end. Nader Naderi is one of those who tried his best to the rational agreements. We toured a long way and got reasonable plans. Still, whenever these same plans came against the authority of Ashraf Ghani’s “Tulwaki”, he was not ready to cut corners and say that the nation’s voice was more respectable to him than the image of a Pashtun who was now in power. He emphasized that he had already uttered his word and was not ready to take it back. For this reason, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai turned the Enlightenment Movement into a failure, while it could have turned into a great victory for Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and the people of Afghanistan.
When I talk about cultural capacity, I see it as separate from the people as individuals. There may be individuals among the Hazaras who are violent, furious, and out of control. But the cultural capacity of Hazara has shown, at different times, that it overcomes the anger of its individuals. The fury of warlords such as Mohaqiq, Khalili, or other powerful commanders of Hazara has been restrained and controlled by the cultural capacity of the community.
We need anger management in the whole country. That is not a political statement. Instead, it is the compassionate words of a teacher who knows how different forces within human beings play a role and how productive they can be if managed humanely and civilly.
We have to put our anger on the humiliation, insult, and brokenness that our nation has suffered; that our girls crawl inside their homes out of fear and are afraid to speak; that we bury our mothers in their homes every day with tears; at the humiliation that is heaped upon us every day throughout the world; about the very shameful runaway we had at Kabul Airport; about the escape of our president and every one of our political leaders, who abandoned the people alone and helpless on a difficult day. That is a fit of worthwhile anger, and we should find a solution.
If we embrace such a fit of anger and manage it properly, I am sure that the experience of the Hazaras will spread throughout the country. Hazaras were angry about the massacre of their children at Kaj, but they started a hashtag campaign. They were mad about the terrorist attack on Mawooad and all other schools and universities. Still, the next day they went to school and university and wrote freedom, civility, and equality with their burnt pencils.
We should not compliment each other when discussing human, moral, or conceptual issues. Let’s not reduce these issues to political discussions. I never expected a Pashtun or a Tajik to come and give a political concession to a Hazara for my words. I expect Afghans as individuals and groups to reach a national consensus. I want them to get the fair, democratic and free life they deserve, and if we deny this to them, we have no answer to our history. That is my message of nonviolent civil struggle.
Sheesha Media: Thank you for this conversation, Mr. Royesh.