The nature and essence of the Taliban?
Sheesha: Professor Moheq. Thank you for your participation in this exclusive conversation. We are at the first anniversary of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Let us have your definition of the Taliban. What is your narrative of this group? What is the comprehensive and complete picture you have of the Taliban?
Moheq: In the name of God. Greetings to you and your friends who will see and read the issues in this program. Thank you for your hard work and initiative. It is a w worthwhile and effective action. We need to increase these conversations between experts and those involved in the incidents, especially in the last twenty years.
The Taliban, to be concise, is a religious extremist group that, in addition to being extremist, has two other characteristics: A) They belong to tribal and rural values. B) They depend on the support of an intelligence agency outside the country.
These characteristics give the Taliban a unique identity. It is necessary to pay attention to these points because we have al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other extremist movements under religious fundamentalism, and their number is much broader.
However, these groups do not have all the characteristics I have listed for the Taliban. They do not have the same quality and structure as the Taliban. For example, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and all organizations that believe in political Islam try to recruit members from different spectrums of society. In terms of social origin, these groups are urban. Some of their members are from the urban middle class. In terms of education, many of them have studied at university. Of course, in the case of the Muslim Brotherhood in recent years, it was discussed that they were more caught up in ruralism and distanced themselves from urban values. There was an Egyptian writer named Hossam Tammam who passed away and wrote several reviews about the Brotherhood, one published under the title “Tarif al-Ikhwan”, which means the ruralization of the Brotherhood. According to his writing, in the 1940s, most of the members of the Ikhwan were urban; but from the 1970s onwards, it became more rural and recruited members from the villagers and primitive and non-urban people. That seems to be the case so far. Of course, the level of literacy and culture in the villages of Egypt is very high compared to those of Afghanistan. They are culturally closer to the city, and at least they are more familiar with urban values. From this point of view, if we see, the Taliban is one of the groups that are incredibly primitive. Primitiveness is a powerful feature that differentiates the Taliban from similar Islamist groups. Of course, their behavior seems customary for themselves. But others, be it Islamist forces, liberal groups, religious forces, and even external political forces, see the Taliban’s behavior and actions as eccentric when they look at them from the outside. Since the Taliban are a primitive force, they regard their behavior as ordinary and don’t consider it abnormal. Therefore, the Taliban are extremists in common with the rest of the Islamist groups, but their primitiveness is their point of difference.
Another characteristic that I think is the most dangerous aspect of the Taliban is their linkage to the intelligence services of foreign countries. Some groups fall in a relationship with the intelligence of the region where they operate. Such intelligence services can be from the area or those working there. Sometimes they get closer, and sometimes they move away. Their interactions, consciously or unconsciously, take place and might change due to the requirements of the time. In such cases, the arrangement of political forces happens and proceeds in such a way that these political forces play their specific roles. Of course, those who determine the rules of the game are the influential powers in the region. These proxy parties also play in the same field according to the regulations determined by the intelligence agencies. As a result, these political parties inadvertently serve the strategies of the game makers.
During the Cold War in the 1970s and 1980s, the Mujahideen of Afghanistan was an embossed example. No intelligence agency formed these groups in the beginning. But the regional political arrangements made the players move towards the Soviet Union or the western powers. Thus, their work favored the Soviet Union or its opposite side.
The leftist parties, especially Khalq and Pracham, acted in a way that benefited the Soviet Union. On the other hand, Mujahideen forces or Islamist parties engaged in activities that helped America, NATO, and their allies in the region. The Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb-ul-Tahrir, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, local organizations such as Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, and other organizations in Arab countries fall under the same rule. Most of these were not formed by intelligence agencies. However, because the players were local and external forces that determined the games’ regulations, the political parties unconsciously served one of these grand strategies.
But let’s consider the Taliban from this point of view. In my opinion, they have a profound difference from other fundamentalist groups. Their initial seeding, nucleation, and even birth, up to the stages we are witnessing today, are all under the auspices of Pakistan’s intelligence.
Now they are in the middle of the road. According to the instructions from the Pakistani ISI, they got close to Iran, Russia, and China’s intelligence services and now try to link them with European and American intelligence games.
However, the management and control of the Taliban have always been in the hands of Pakistan’s ISI. Without direct management and support of the ISI, the Taliban could hardly survive and achieve their advancements against the international community, the former government, and other existing obstacles. Hence, as the citizens of Afghanistan, we are dealing with a group created by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, whose strategic interests conflict with Afghanistan’s national interests. Afghanistan is colonized and occupied by foreign intelligence, and the Taliban are the essential tool of this policy or intelligence strategy.
Are the Taliban a native representative of Afghanistan’s culture and society?
Sheesha: Given this aspect of Pakistan’s intelligence, the theory you present conflicts with another idea that considers the Taliban local and feels that the neighboring country’s intelligence may have identified them and used them in their favorable ground. According to this theory, the Taliban is a heartfelt result of the culture and psyche of Afghan society. The recent reaction we saw against the Taliban when the community desperately surrendered to them and did not show any severe response against their entry into Kabul and other cities is one of the signs of this alignment. Some might have opposed the particular aspects of the Taliban’s edicts. Still, they have also been silent, accepted, and brewing at the community level. How do you resolve this conflict? Don’t you feel that the Taliban is a local force compatible with society’s psyche and culture?
Moheq: Well, this was the narration from Imran Khan, the Pakistani Prime Minister. Before being ousted from his position, he emphasized this point in international forums, including the conference of Islamic countries held in Pakistan. The leaders of Pakistan still convey the same narrative that the Taliban are indigenous forces, and one must recognize them as a reality. Of course, it is not only Pakistan that holds this view. Some actors in the United States of America share the same opinion. Some of the power apparatuses the United States discussed in previous years kept saying that the Taliban is a force that has risen from the context of Afghan society and is better than the rest. According to them, the Taliban represent Afghanistan’s cultural and social structure, and we should not consider them as external forces, even though they interact with external. Some governmental circles in Iran also want to base this narrative on and emphasize that they should accept Taleb as a reality and not think about removing it. According to them, the Taliban is rooted in society and cannot be lost.
We can see the political motives and goals behind this part of the narrative. Of course, narratives are not always void of specific facts. However, these facts are classified, highlighted, and formed from puzzle pieces presented according to specific political goals. Otherwise, evaluating the society of Afghanistan or any other community would be a general and one-sided judgment. Based on a generic view, Afghanistan is an all-Taliban society, Iran is an all-Hizbollah society, Iraq or Syria is an all-ISIS society, and Egypt is an all-Ikhwani society. This judgment is a simplification of a complex situation. We are ignoring these societies’ diversities, differences, and pluralities. With this type of thinking, we reduce that complex society to one of the elements and structures that exist in the community.
In the case of Afghanistan, if we are realistic, we can see that at least in the last hundred years, from the constitutional movement onward, the Afghan society has had different spectrums. It is an illiterate and low-educated community that makes up our rural people who do not know anything about ideologies and political currents, in addition to the nomads and primitive people who lack the basics of literacy. The fact is that these masses are neither fundamentalists nor leftists nor liberals. They have a traditional culture of the past but nothing to do with ideology.
These were and still are part of the reality of Afghan society. Today, the literacy level of the community is much better than when the constitutionalists were alive. At that time, a part of society was neutral in the dispute between constitutionalists and their opponents. In contrast, we had the constitutional movement, the most progressive political movement of its time, parallel to the currents in Iran, Turkey, and other places. This constitutional movement raised critical political issues such as controlling and distributing political power. The problem with our Constitution was the power to become more humane, modern, and consistent with the people’s wishes. The constitutionalists’ work at that time was a big step. They had shortcomings in how they fought and adopted some tactics and social positions.
Meanwhile, we had moved towards modernization in a part of our society a hundred years ago, which was in line with other countries. This trend continued in the presence of leftist parties in the late 1940s. They came, formed political parties, created a network within schools and universities, and assembled supporters in these places. These are part of the reality in Afghan society. We see their extension in civil society and similar organizations that arose in Afghanistan.
We witnessed several patterns from the ideological point of view and how political campaigns function. Suppose the society was not facing external pressure to push these currents towards extremism; the Afghan society could move towards modern phenomena. We witnessed such a move during the monarchy era, especially in King Zahir’s last two decades and during the Republic of Dawood Khan. During these times, cinema was open, and music flourished significantly. Moreover, we saw universities founded, and scholars who were specialists in their fields taught all modern subjects. Factories produced the basic needs of people in their everyday life. The Afghanistan Airline Company was one example that showed Afghanistan’s capacity for modernization and resurgence. If there were no obstacles and the stakeholders showed better management, and the government paid serious attention, the country could move on the path of progress.
Before the war, big cities, especially Kabul, were the beacon of political and cultural debates. Poetry, music, sports, and arts made the image of the cities more attractive. Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif, and other cities were gradually moving towards modernization. Therefore, part of the reality of Afghan society is that if there is no pressure and repression, it will go on the path of renewal.
I admit that people in part of society are semi-primitive or rural. However, they do not have an ideological conflict with modernization. It is true that due to some rural and indigenous values, they may not be comfortable seeing their daughter wearing a dress that is not a proper hijab or participating in a music party. Maybe there is still a long way to claim Afghanistan an entirely modern society, but many have no problem with their daughter going and studying in school. Or if there is, for example, music, dance, and the like in their surroundings, they have no problem. Even among our nomads, there is not much sensitivity in this matter. When a mullah or a fundamentalist political activist stirs up these issues in public, the neutral forces of the society take a harsh stance against what they call modern or Western values.
In any case, there are people in Afghan society who have no ideological problem with the Taliban and their system of values and patterns of behavior. But They do not make up the majority of the community. But in terms of percentage, they are not considered the majority. Suppose we are in a democratic environment, and everyone has the right to clarify their position through the ballot box or other organizational activities; I think less than 30% of the population, whether among the Pashtuns or other ethnic groups, will share the Taliban mindset. The Taliban values are not exclusive to Pashtuns in southern Afghanistan. There are similar people among Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and other ethnic groups. However, more than sixty to seventy percent of the people are unhappy with the Taliban, though the degree of their liberal or secular view would be arguable.
In the traditional sense, we know our contemporary history. Documents show that when the famous emperor Babur Gorghani ruled Kabul or when the Timurids ruled Herat, we had a relatively liberal society. It was liberal, not in the modern sense, but the medieval standards. The rulers promoted religious pluralism, and people’s lifestyles differed in Kabul, Herat, and everywhere they ruled. When we read Babarnameh, the book by King Babur, it clearly shows that there were wine bars, music, mosques, and synagogues all co-existing. There was a religious school on one side of the city, while there were dance and joyful ceremonies on the other.
Hindus and Sikhs had joint activities, businesses, and interactions in society. There were different groups of Muslims, but they did not fight each other. They lived together for years. Then, the sharp lines between religion and identity we see in the modern world did not exist. Herat was a city of shared identity for more than a thousand years. In the history of Herat, you did not see any hostility towards Jews. The Jew had their temple and school. Like the rest of the people, they shared in the business and economy of the society. The Muslim community did not show any resentment or hatred. People lived, traded, laughed, joked, and had a peaceful social life.
The situation was peaceful before the arrival of fundamentalist ideologies. Everything has changed during 43 years of war, violence, and hatred. The PDPA (People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan) and both Khalq and Parcham factions tried to change the country’s social fabric by force. Naturally, any forced and imposed change provokes society to react. For example, when they took land from their owner by force, it was natural that that owner and his dependents felt threatened, took up arms, and fought to die.
Likewise, when a force comes and directly attacks the religious beliefs of a group, it is natural that some of them start to react. Regarding the Taliban’s repressive rule, when we go to the lower level of society and contact the people whose situation is not reflected on the outside and in the media, we will see that the hatred for the Talibani’s rule is gradually growing. In this society, even if you forcibly take someone who is a Muslim into the mosque, he will feel disgusted, humiliated, offended, and not like to be treated that way. The person who does not let his daughter go to school is proper that he does not come to the street and protest, but he is not happy about it. I am in touch with people, and you must be in touch as well you know that people are angry because their daughters cannot study.
Concerning this part of your question, when you said there was no severe reaction against the Taliban and their orders, it is good to see the matter from another perspective. Many expected a harsh response, and some Americans, who did not know enough about Afghanistan, thought that by the US troops’ withdrawal, the people in the cities would rise to defend the non-Taliban regime or the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. They thought when they withdrew and the Taliban approached the big cities, people would support the non-Taliban government. This way, the ranks will be rearranged, and the game’s rules will slightly change.
I don’t know if there was a consensus among all the circles of power in America, but as far as I followed the press, I think they had a diverse opinion. Some said that this is the inevitable scenario that the Taliban will come and take over. Some believed that the Taliban did not have such a base and that the opposing forces would prevail. They thought that the problem was in a small circle that monopolized the so-called government, held the system and the republic hostage, and did not allow the internal dynamics of the society to be activated. According to them, if this small circle leaves the ground and other forces reorganize their ranks, then the Taliban would become a minority. But that didn’t occur, and the opposite happened.
I think it’s essential to dissect that when people don’t react, what’s the reason? First, we must consider in what conditions people show a reaction. Usually, in most places where a part of society stands in front of danger and takes risks, there are several factors:
First, there is charismatic and acceptable leadership. Unfortunately, those who claim leadership against the Taliban have lost their social base and credibility. People do not have a good impression and experience from their past actions. Naturally, no coherent work will be formed when there is no leadership in the community.
Second, forty years of war is a long time to make any community tired and desperate. Afghanistan is no exception to this rule. When the Russians invaded Afghanistan with 120,000 troops, there was a coherent government with intelligence, police, and a strong army. Then, the people of Afghanistan were not desperate. They did not accept the system and thought it was against their values, interests, and nationality. People from all walks of life participated in the resistance. Villagers, nomads, and academics started to oppose it. They distributed night papers and chanted slogans. Everyone participated in the opposition, from the anti-Sovietist leftist groups to the religious fundamentalist forces, from the traditional Muslims to those not interested in politics.
After 43 years of war, violence, and numerous failed experiences of the communists, the Mujahideen, the Taliban, and the Republic, people have reached a kind of frustration and despair. Therefore, it is not fair to interpret the people’s insensitivity as conforming to the Taliban’s thinking. Instead, it will be fair to say that the people do not see any hope in the renewal of demonstrations and rebellion. People are worried about seeing the repetition of the same experiences. People do not want to see the return of corrupt politicians who might take advantage of people’s sacrifices for their vested interests. People do not want to see the mafias who would exploit everything for their criminal looting. People are scared. They are like bitten snakes who don’t want to take risks easily.
The lack of a strong reaction does not mean the alignment of the people with the Taliban.
Sheesha: A value can be named as native when it gets the support and protection of people against threats. When native values face danger, people defend them at the cost of their lives and livelihood. When we look at the history of Afghanistan, there are few cases where people have risen to protect their values at any cost. The constitutional era and the monarchy system were not one of those. It does not seem that in any of these periods, we have a value that we can attribute to social or native value. These values have existed superficially in society. They have moved on, and the community has brewed as long as they found them providing convenience or services. In their existence, people did not see a conflict in their daily life. However, those values were not indigenous. They appeared in the form of the monarchy system, the decade of democracy, and different factions of intellectual movements.
However, we did not see a movement in the community to stand up and defend them when they faced danger. For example, the royal system was the most traditional structure in Afghan society, but when this system collapsed with Dawood Khan’s coup, the community did not stand to defend it. Despite its deep roots, this structure did not have a defender as a native value, and no one came to protect it with a sense of dedication. Likewise, when the People’s Democratic Party overthrew Dawood Khan’s regime, the people did not stand to defend it. But when the new administration started to attack people’s religious and conventional values, the people unitedly and coherently rose to protect them. Those values could be freedom, land, religion, or ethical norms. Jihad, or holy war, was the emblem of people’s protection of their indigenous values. The Mujahideen groups who appeared in the leadership position of Jihad were not the indigenous values. Thus, people did not rally to defend Mujahideen when they faced danger and threats. But when these groups entered ethnic wars, people supported them in protecting their ethnic values. In the recent twenty years, democracy, human rights, and civil society could not change into people’s indigenous values. So, no one rose to defend them when they came under attack by the Taliban.
For this reason, although the Taliban are not indigenous as a political group, they are not seen as enemies of the people’s orthodox values. There is a narrative that the Taliban represent the native values of the community because they originate from the native roots of the community. According to this narrative, the Taliban are different from intellectual or secular circles or some pseudo-civilized movements of Afghanistan. What is your take on this narrative?
Moheq: If the question is that people did not protect a particular regime or a specific group, this applies to the Taliban too. I was in Herat the days before the first Taliban government was to fall. When the air strike on the Taliban started, it was at 12 or 12:30 noon. I remember taking my bike and leaving the house to a mosque nearby for Friday prayers. As soon as I got out, the first explosion took place. It was quite a surprise, by the way. I did not hear the planes in the sky. After a while, we spotted them dropping bombs targetting one of the arms depots of the Herat Army Corps.
When the depot exploded, subsequent explosions lasted an hour or an hour and a half. In the beginning, I and many others were frightened by the terrible sounds. Women and children were scared. The walls shook. The explosion had a tremendous sound that reverberated throughout the city. But a few hours later, when the voices calmed down, I came into the city to see what was happening. I saw many friends and tried to find out whether they felt fear or not in that situation. I was anxious about one or two of our families whose houses were very close to the camp, and I thought their children might be scared.
When I saw my friends, the atmosphere was as if a dead community had come to life. People were happy. Sometimes they danced, cheered, and stomped their feet on the streets. They congratulated each other and were delighted to see the countdown to the Taliban’s departure and the country would get rid of their clinches. I don’t know such happiness anymore. At least, in the forty years of my life in war and the rise and fall of regimes, I had never seen this level of happiness.
By the way, I was there the day the Taliban took Herat in 1995. I was a student and could see the space was full of fear, horror, terror, and despair. Not because the people liked the Mujahideen regime but because they preferred them compared to the Taliban. When The Taliban entered Kabul for the first time in 1995, people felt a little relief because of the destruction caused by the civil wars. People were tired because of the chaos. When people moved from one part of the city to another, they faced a new government. They were tired of that situation. The Taliban came with the promise that they would terminate arbitrary and vice groups. Thus, people in Kabul were relatively happy, but panic, fear, terror, and frustration returned after a few days, and people lost hope and aspiration.
When the Taliban were falling, I traveled from Herat to Kandahar and saw people were not at all sorry for the Taliban’s departure. When the Taliban fell, I passed through Kandahar again and saw many people feel free and happy. This is not an accurate measure or criterion to say if people did not support a particular regime, they had no base.
Is the society culturally and psychologically incompatible with the Taliban?
Sheesha: To make the discussion more consistent with what you explained, the Taliban is a political group that appears, rules, and exercises sovereignty. In this regard, they are not different from other political groups. But comparatively, in terms of their origins, they are more compatible with the psyche and prevalent culture of the society. They are no longer just a local force. As a ruling party, they are in the government’s position that exercises governance within the framework of the government and government structures. If they collapse and lose power, the people will be happy, but this is primarily due to their ways of dealing with the people, not because they are culturally and psychologically alien to them. What is your take on this opinion?
Moheq: We can make a more accurate judgment in a normal situation. In other countries, they go to field research when they want to study such phenomena. They ask for opinions from students, workers, and different classes of people. They distribute questionnaires based on concrete and precise questions that raise a specific issue, not general and abstract. Then, based on the answers, they can assess how popular a policy, party, or regime is in the community. In the case of Afghanistan, if people are asked through a referendum, and they have a free choice to vote and comment, based on the study and field research, one can judge the percentage of support for the Taliban.
Now conducting field research and obtaining precise results is impossible. Therefore, all judgments based on coincidences and observations are not credible. For example, someone passing through Kandahar or Ghazni and seeing something make a judgment just by random eyes. Naturally, these judgments are not systematic, coherent, and scientific. Another issue is the popularity of the Taliban regime: What percentage of people agree with the Taliban as the beholder of a particular ideology? What percentage of people agree with the Taliban as a government? These are two different questions that need other answers.
Someone in a village in Herat, Helmand, or Badakhshan might be comfortable with issues such as girls not going to school or forcing women to wear a burqa. Of course, this is debatable, but let’s assume that a part of the community agrees with issues such as girls’ education or banning music, TV shows of Afghan Star, or the like, which is the negative side of the matter. The other side is whether they accept the Taliban’s governance or reject it anyway. These two discussions are entirely separate. You always saw Mullah in Afghanistan, who was popular, but as a mullah who attends Fatih, Muharram, Ashura, Milad al-Nabi, Taraweeh prayer in Ramadan, Eid prayer, and similar rituals. To this extent, people are comfortable with Mullah and have no problem. Still, when Mullah takes a gun and sits in the position of the police chief, district governor, and judge, most people would not accept him. People might have the same problem with other groups too. For example, a doctor is a valuable person in the community. Still, the issue would be completely different when someone says that because he is a doctor, he has the right to be the district governor or the head of customs. An engineer’s work is construction, but his profession is not related to making judicial policy in the judicial system, a field in which he should not be involved.
The Taliban governance is a serious point. The government has acquired different meanings and functions in the modern world. For example, the distribution of passports is one of the ways of providing services to citizens. Governments boost the validity of their passports so that citizens feel comfortable traveling with them and have a sense of commitment to their country. Holding their passports, the citizens will have a deep sense of belonging to their national identity. When they step onto another country’s soil, they proudly carry their passport and say that I am German, Australian, Turkish, or Egyptian. This valid passport both gives identity to the citizen and provides facilities. They feel that their passport will serve them wherever they are and in whatever field they are on their journey. It will facilitate their work and help them carry out their plan. If they face danger, there is an embassy and a government to support them.
The situation is very different in the case of the Taliban. Some problems may go back to the republican system, but clearly and boldly, The Taliban do not have the rationality of modern governance. On the one hand, the passport is not available to people. On the other hand, despite the exorbitant price for its preparation, the Afghan passport has no validity anywhere in the world. You read in the news that a person has to pay two thousand dollars in the black market to get a passport bought for one hundred dollars during the Republic. Besides severe suffering and mental torture, people must find commissioners to get a travel document to go to Iran and Pakistan for a medical check-up or, for example, to reunite with their family in another country. Afghan passport cannot provide its beholder with the minimum security for a passport. Even with diplomatic passports, every Afghan has experienced problems at airports. Millions of citizens want to immigrate or travel to business and get a passport. People might ask who stands responsible for the painful situation. It is the government, of course. But which government? A government that cannot deal with its duties and related problems.
My argument is a technical observation, not an ideological claimant. Whether you are left-wing, right-wing, Taliban, or secular, in any case, as the government, you must provide services to the people. Given this point, the Taliban are the most incompetent to rule the country. The Taliban are unfamiliar with modern governance and have not learned the alphabet of administration. You don’t get these specialties in Akura Khatak, Haqqani, or Quetta schools. With the Taliban rule, we have returned to the Middle Ages. The Taliban don’t get even the minimum governance techniques in their schools. In addition, they go through the furnace of violence, war, and killing to seize the power of the government. They learn to make a living with the mafia method of collecting tithes by force, and they want to continue in the same way, which is incompatible with the usual governance in the modern world. You will find rare examples of government officials in the contemporary world being in the drug-trafficking mafia, coming from a very backward and rural class of society, or representing a medieval school. Various regimes are indeed criticized because of their wrong deeds and policies, but all of them are consistent with the minimum governance standards in today’s world. No one in our world sees the Taliban as worthy to rule. Their dominance of power by using force is a separate issue.
Why did the Afghan men chase away the Taliban’s misogynist policy with silence?
Sheesha: What you say is related to the functioning of the Taliban as a political system. From this point of view, the Taliban do not have strong supporters within the society. However, my question refers more to the psychological aspect of society’s behavior. For example, the Taliban ordered that women do not have the right to enter government offices. We saw the psychological reaction of people at large. How many people stood up to oppose the order of the Taliban? Who said he wouldn’t go to the office when his wife, sister, or daughter were not allowed to go either?
In the same way, women rose to protest against the Taliban to defend their rights. How many men stepped forward and stood in the women’s line, even clenching their fists for their rights? Here the woman is treated as a completely isolated member of the community.
In another example, the Taliban ordered girls in middle and high schools not to go to school. The community’s psyche did not react to this order of the Taliban. We did not see a single person throughout the country writing a Facebook status that he would not send his son to school if his daughter did not go, either. No boy said that he would not go to school if his sister did not go, either.
When the Taliban dismiss women from office or whip them in demonstrations and everyone passes them indifferently, this is a question to the community’s psyche. People send their sons to school when the Taliban sanction the girls. These are examples of evaluating society’s mentality, which shows everyone is in harmony with the Taliban. Here the Taliban are the benchmark. They present something as the order that does not suggest many incompatibilities with the society’s psyche.
Some may not accept the methods of enforcing these orders, and some may not agree with the way of Taliban’s behaviors toward the people, but we see no severe reaction against them in public. This fact is not unique to the Pashtun community. We did not see any particular response in the Tajik-populated areas, not in Kabul, Nangarhar, or the Hazara-populated cities. No one regarded the orders of the Taliban as violating a fundamental value within their respective family, which placed their sons and daughters against each other. No one said they could not apply such discrimination against their beloved children. This example shows that society’s belief system is more compatible with the Taliban than modern values. Although they favor these values, they do not see them as necessary for routine life. When they face a controversy between those values and the Taliban, they mostly prefer not to oppose the Taliban. What is your view on this point?
Moheq: Well, if we do not pay attention to some points and confuse them, we will make a mistake in understanding the issue. You are correct in this argument that a part of the community thinks about their native and traditional values in a way that is compatible with the Taliban’s thought. But this is not a unique case in Afghanistan. You can see examples of this thinking in all eastern societies. For instance, there is a value difference between big cities and remote villages in Iran. Iran is perhaps about a hundred years more advanced than Afghanistan in many fields. The constitutional debates and Amir Kabir and developments related to the Islamic Revolution have led to extensive political changes in this country. But despite its progress in many fields, the gap between tradition and modernity remains wide. Going from the north of Tehran to the south of the city, one can see a distinct cultural difference. There are prominent universities and publishing and printing centers in Tehran. Most Iranian students and scientists live in the city, which has been the center of political activities for decades. Still, there is a vast difference between the lifestyle and people’s views about religious rituals from the north to the south.
In 2003, I was studying for my master’s course at Ferdowsi University. One day, I read an article in the newspaper that explained the difference between the mourning style of the people in the north of Tehran with those living in other parts of the city. The article mentioned that the young girls and boys in the north of Tehran celebrated the Moharam ritual in luxury cars with Lexus and Ferrari models. They performed musical songs that only had a sad message. They wanted to be in a Shia mourning context, but with the latest Japanese car and Western pop songs. This difference implies many points which are worthy of understanding.
In Pakistan, our neighboring country, religious bigotry and religious hatred are much more than in Afghanistan. They call it passion. I have been in this country and seen the spirit of conflict between Sunni and Shia. On the walls, slogans are written with the theme that Shia is an infidel. Sipah Sahaba carries out these wall writings.
In the same way, there are contradictions between Deobandis and Salafis and other religious groups in the country. In this sense, the popular term would be to say that the situation in Pakistan is much radicalized. Still, one cannot reduce Pakistan to this status. On the one hand, the country has a terrible wave of religious fanaticism, which is unique in the entire Islamic world. Al-Azhar in Egypt is not as intolerant as Pakistan. Neither is Turkey, Malaysia, and nowhere else.
Pakistan’s religious bigotry is appalling. I could see a person who was, for example, a Barilui when he saw a Deobandi or a Panjpiri and felt that he had seen an elusive creature. All these sects are Sunnis, but they have so much hatred that they see each other as abhorrent and attack each other with rude and nasty language.
At the same time, you have contrasting examples from cities like Lahore, which is also the picture of Pakistan. In addition to all other facts, according to claimants, many brothels are underground in the city. Some places sell all kinds of alcoholic drinks. Once, we went to the Balakot area with friends and saw many alcohol bottles dropped on the side of the road. People were enjoying themselves, and no one bothered them in public. When you look at the political elite of Pakistan, you see that their life is similar to the former aristocrats of France or the former Lords of England. The issue of hijab is also different from one place to another in the country. For example, in the province of Sarhad (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), like many regions of Afghanistan, they wear a burqa, but when you go to Lahore, the girls throw their headscarves on their shoulders. Their shirts are short-sleeved, and the community does not show any sensitivity. Therefore, because there are fanatics in a part of Pakistan doesn’t mean they represent the entire country.
In Afghanistan, we also have people whose thoughts align with the Taliban’s. No one can deny this. We could not fill the gap between tradition and modernity. Those who had a mission of enlightenment since Mahmoud Tarzi could not change the deep fabric of society. We should discuss the failure of those who wanted to pass the community from the medieval tradition to modernity. Left and right fighters are blameworthy in this regard. Our mullahs are also responsible. We all have to accept the blame for not paying attention to the ordinary people in the twenty years of the Republic. At the end of his life, a statement attributed to Seyyed Jamaluddin says that he wished to make efforts to fertilize the fertile land of the masses than the barren fields of governments, and he would get a favorable result. This letter reads more in the context of brotherhood fundamentalism. Based on the same experience, Hasan al-Banna went among the people, formed workers-student networks, and tried not to focus his attention on the ruling class. I interpret Seyed Jamaluddin’s speech, should it be his words, that I wish the intellectuals would think about people and the deeper structure of society instead of paying so much attention to politics. We made this mistake a hundred years, and we are still on the same error. Our elites, be the left or the right, tried to assume political power and introduce changes through the government. They ignored the work with the people. The Marefat School, which we are all proud of, was one of the successful examples of people’s work. Similar initiatives have been accomplished in other parts of the country too. In Herat, we had a lady named Auntie Sakinah. We had Commander Kaftar, who built people’s networks in the north. However, no one followed these examples to the extent of a macro approach and became the dominant model of society. Instead of staging our energy in this direction, we got busy entering the parliament, becoming cabinet members, participating in political coalitions, and making changes through lines of power. Some who tried to reach political power had a social mission and a progressive claim, but many thought only of personal gain. Some who presented themselves as the defenders of the Republic’s values have sided with the Taliban. They come to the public begging for forgiveness. They admit their mistake and pledge to be sincere and committed to the people, a populist and demagogic approach that is not a good posture.
Eastern societies are authoritarian societies.
Sheesha: Well, now I want to go back to the previous discussion and ask your take on society’s general reaction despite all the pressure and oppression inflicted on women. It seems that the general populace has accepted women as an excluded group, and they comply with the exclusionist policy of the Taliban. What do you think?
Moheq: I think that Eastern societies are authoritarian societies. Western societies have passed this stage for centuries. Renaissance caused rebirth. I believe that renaissance, which means rebirth, is a very expressive and precise experience. The renaissance was the rebirth of western societies. One of the characteristics of this liberation was that they freed themselves from the mental and intellectual shackles of tyranny. Of course, I am not an expert on Western-European societies. But as I have read and heard from friends who know, those societies freed themselves from the psychological shackles of tyranny. People like the German philosopher Hegel had a term called oriental tyranny and believed tyranny in the East is more rooted and substantial than in western societies. In Western societies, even in the Middle Ages, princely states and small local governments in Britain and Northern Europe had their freedoms alongside monarchies. Apart from the dominance of the church in a particular area nationwide, the local governments had their independence to some extent, and the people did not face iron tyranny.
In our societies, tyranny and rule with an iron fist seem to have a long history. This part is something that our historian, sociologist, and anthropologist should make the final judgment to say where we stand compared to other societies in the world. Still, tyranny is an essential factor. Authoritarian societies have a problem: when the rigid atmosphere goes away, they lose their balance, and delusional behaviors appear in their social behaviors. I once read this in Sayyid Qutb’s commentary on the Qur’an. There, he describes the behavior of the Israelites under Pharaoh’s rule. The verse of the Qur’an addresses the Bani Isra’il, saying, “And when We made a covenant with you and raised the Mount above you, (saying) ‘Take what We have given you forcefully.” The verse’s central meaning and whether the Quran language is symbolic are beyond our discussion. Still, Sayyid Qutb wrote in his commentary that everyone calms down and submits when there is no iron fist above the tyrannized society.
People start to riot, disorderly and tumultuous when there is no punch. This case seems normal in all authoritarian societies. In Pakistan, the army’s iron fist has given harmony to many contradictions and variations and created a kind of order. Wherever there is a rebellion and disorder, and the situation goes out of control, the army declares martial law. With martial law, the people calm down, the uprising subsides, and the people stay quiet. We have heard about the experience of Pakistan’s military governments since the time of Ziaul Haq and before and after him. In Iran, if there is no iron fist, no military force, and no intelligence, a referendum on the type of government and mandatory hijab will reveal the percentage of the people’s support for the regime’s orders. The same is the case with Saudi Arabia. What percentage of people would want the royal system if the people were free to vote? I was in Egypt during the Arab Spring. I also witnessed the events in neighboring countries like Syria and Tunisia. When the iron fists were over, societies lost their balance.
Therefore, society will lose its balance when they do not gradually move toward an open, pluralistic, and dynamic environment. If the iron fist is over suddenly, and people are in a free and liberal space, there will be inevitable chaos and disorder. After Mubarak in Egypt, the country turned into a mess within two years. Egypt was one of the safest countries in the Middle East during Mubarak’s time. I had an English teacher who came from England. He said Cairo was so secure that such security didn’t exist in Europe. He said that in Cairo, men, and women, boys and girls, went out at midnight, to the park, to cafes and teahouses, and there was no harassment. But, according to him, there is no such security and confidence in Europe. Our classmates laughed at him and couldn’t believe his words. The same society turned into a chaotic environment just six months or one year after Mubarak’s fall. People were afraid of going out of their houses at night. People got killed, bodies were found on the roads, properties were looted, and shops were robbed. When society transfers from the iron fist to an open state, it cannot adjust to the new state.
We have experienced different types of tyranny in Afghanistan. The brutal regime of Abdul Rahman Khan was the beginning. It has continued to the government of the Taliban in the late 1990s and what they are displaying now. There is a mentality among the ordinary people that say we are “Stick-Muslims.” It means that we will not stand right in our way if there is no coercion, force of whips, or oppression. Once I was at the Iran-Afghanistan border. On the Afghan side, the passengers disobeyed the soldier’s shouts to line up, so they stamped their passports. Everyone was organized when they reached the Iranian side and faced an Iranian soldier’s scream.
I saw this not once but dozens of times. The people organized themselves in five minutes when a soldier came with force and a whip. Once I was talking with an Egyptian diplomat about Eastern societies and their similarities and differences. He said he was working as a diplomat in Dubai. When the Egyptians came to their consulate, they were disorderly, screaming and yelling; But the same Egyptians who went to the American or European embassies regularly behaved. Of course, I do not favor a government with an iron fist, but I prefer a gradual transition to a democratic society. Given this point, part of the indifferent reaction against the Taliban returns to the spirit of our tyrannized community.
Everyone will leave the scene when the Taliban appears with the whip’s language. They do not put themselves at risk even though they are not happy with everything they see and experience in their everyday life. I know many friends who have been reading my writings and listening to my words for years. In the last year, these same people have messaged me that they no longer dare to like my posts on Facebook. They are afraid that the Taliban will check Facebook, and their likes will cause them to be arrested and get in trouble. These friends tell me privately that they agree with my writing and ask me to continue posting them to the public. They know that I am abroad and there is no danger to me. Their hearts are with me, but their tongues turn silent or against me.
These are the characteristics of autocratic societies. Most people are against tyranny but cannot express their opposition because they fear the dire consequences.
We must accept tyranny as one of our moral and cultural shortcomings. Contrary to what we sometimes say, our society is not liberal. We boast a lot of freedom, but you see the meaning of freedom in the West, indeed. You see free people in the West. I once read in one of the writings of the Egyptian Ghazali who said that I was teaching somewhere, and someone asked me whether the human being is Free or Forced. In response, I noted which person did he mean. The questioner was surprised. I said that the western man is Free, and the eastern man is Forced. The Eastern man is under tyranny and coercion. The Western man is free.
I think I also read the writings of Majid Gilani, whose books I was translating, and one was published. He was describing the period of infancy. When our baby is born, we bind his hands and feet for the first few months, called Kondaq. By doing this, we teach the child that you are not a free person. We instill in them that they are not free to shake their hands or feet at will. Others have the authority to let them move or stay stagnant. The same author says that for two whole years, the child lives in the parents’ physical dictatorship, which is institutionalized in their psyche that they are not free and independent. But in western societies, the child is free to roam from the very first day, which causes the child to develop a sense of freedom and believe in their abilities.
Another writer, probably Faramarz Rafipour, wrote that in Western societies, their freedom is more important to them than the issue of honor. When a typical Western man feels you are restricting his freedom, he will get mad and say you have violated his humanity and would not allow anyone to disregard it. In our academic and educational environments, we have seen that our elites and scholars cope very quickly with tyranny and limit their freedom. I remember that one day during the first government of the Taliban, one of Herat’s influentials kept praising the Taliban for one or two hours in the presence of me and the Taliban’s head of education. The other day, I went to this gentleman’s office and bashed his praise of the Taliban. In my answer, he said that his heart was suffering from the hands of these people (i.e., the Taliban). I was astonished by this double-standard gesture. However, I gradually realized it is a social fact in our community.
Your criticism of our people’s behavior and their passive stance against tyranny is correct. It is related to our tyrannized mentality, which is a disease, indeed. The Taliban are strengthening their government by using this disease which is not a favorable issue. Also, it does not convey pride to anyone other than the Taliban.
When people are free and free-minded, I respect their choice if they choose the Taliban in a free and humane environment. But when someone, whether a communist or a mujahid, imposes their will by force and coercion, it is not any good or honor.
What challenges have the Taliban created for religious thinkers?
Sheesha: Mr. moheq, the Taliban are the de facto rulers that dominate Afghanistan’s destiny. How do you assess their ruling, principles, and domination which affect people’s lives? What challenges do you think the Taliban has created for you as a religious scholar?
Moheq: I lived in Herat for the first six years of the Taliban rule. They ruled Herat for one year longer than Kabul. I was prominent as an Islamic activist, and my concern was to reform society with the help of political Islam-Ikhwani. At that time, I used to sit with different friends, read books and discuss religious issues. Until now, the most painful period of my life is the five or six years of Taliban rule in Herat. They rule with the same model today, and my friends have the same feeling as I did then. They don’t allow people to talk about religion. I had some friends from Jalalabad who had a center called the Cultural-Islamic Center, where they taught Arabic and the like. They had no suspicious foreign connections and only traveled to Pakistan, where the Taliban were comfortable. However, when the Taliban took Jalalabad, they closed their office and arrested them. Later, they were released with the help of Maulvi Khalis and went to meet Maulvi Vakil Ahmad Mutawakkel, Mullah Mohammad Omar’s secretary and, later, the minister of foreign affairs. My friends met Maulvi Mutawakkel and told him that they were Muslims, had a history of Jihad, did not do political work, had just a cultural-religious activity, and had no problem with the Taliban. My friends had told Motawakkel that they shared all their macro-thought with the Taliban, the Islamic system, and the implementation of Sharia. Why did the Taliban not allow them to do their work? Maulvi Mutawakkel answered that his opinion favored their work, even the Shiites and other religious sects. Still, the spirit of the Taliban Movement doesn’t allow anyone other than themselves to act.
At that time, I tried to create a private school in Herat. Then, education didn’t exist, and I thought we could do something for the community by starting a private school. Because the people were illiterate, we wanted at least those with little financial means to send their children to our private school. I went and talked with different official authorities in Herat. The head of education in Herat was the last person to issue permits. He was a good person, a native of that region assigned to the post by accident. He rejected our request mildly and said he would consult with the Ministry of Education and inform us later. He did not respond anymore. I told him blatantly that when there is no freedom to build a private school, we don’t have any freedom or choice, which is not a sign of a promising future. While I was talking, a Maulvi from Baghlan Province, who had just arrived in Herat to be the head of a religious school, interrupted my conversation and said, “What is this freedom and liberty that you keep repeating?” Freedom is the state of unrestrained and profligate. I said that I meant freedom to have the simple right to open a private school in Herat to facilitate the education of people’s children, not to be unruly. Saying that I left. A few days later, the head of education in Herat told me that the situation was as you saw with your own eyes. He also said that after you left the office, another cleric noted that this gentleman always talks about freedom, and whoever has this ideal will take it to the grave. These were little experiences of which all of us have dozens of memories.
Without freedom, a society has no human rights, which is a disaster. From the Taliban’s point of view, their narrative from the beginning has been to fight against corruption, insecurity, and anarchy. They called it their philosophy of existence. As if they had come to stop tyranny, murder, and looting. This narrative was out when the conditions were highly warlike and unsafe. The Taliban’s words and narration had a buyer and some logic at that time. But this narrative was lost during the Republic, which was no longer the cause of insecurity. The cause of insecurity was the Taliban. They presented their alternative description, saying that the Americans, the West, and the infidel had occupied the country. Today, this narrative is no longer applicable. They fought America for twenty years. Now, they are begging to get recognized by the same enemy. All their top officials keep saying they have no problem with America and want good relations. Now the question is, why did they fight in the last twenty years? Likewise, their narrative of security is not logical. As if they say that the security they had destroyed has been brought it back to the people. This is not an achievement. The achievement is that you respect the human rights of people. You give them the feeling of being free and create an environment where people control their destinies.
I consider the ongoing status as the most disastrous situation. The outlook is unpredictable, not for me, not for the Taliban, not for you, not for anyone else. Everything is burning, and the country will explode eventually. This situation is not going to last. Thousands of people in Afghanistan will fight and take guns, and there will be a rebellion if they have favorable conditions. Those who have political sense understand these arguments, not an illiterate Taliban.
I am worried that the situation is moving again toward a dangerous swamp. The future is unclear whether it will be like Syria and Yemen or like the nineties with all kinds of calamities. I must say that the current situation is the prelude to other disasters, whether we look at it from the perspective of an intellectual or ordinary citizen.
The prospect of the Taliban rule
Sheesha: To repeat my question from another angle, how do you picture the prospect of Afghanistan under Taliban rule? For example, what kind of Afghanistan will we have in two or five years?
Moheq: When we want to describe the perspective of Afghanistan, we must divide the factors into two parts: internal and external. For the last one hundred and fifty years, when the empire of Ahmad Shah Durrani weakened and influential foreign players entered the scene, one side was Great Britain, and the other was Tsarist Russia. Since then, this region’s citizens or residents were not the leading players and determinants. We did not shape the fate of ourselves and this region. Each of our neighboring countries had the same problem. But we have had this problem in its more acute form. Any future perspective depends on the balance of power between the determining forces. We don’t know when will the conflicting strategies reach an agreement or grow more tenacious. If the confrontation between Russia and the West and China and the West grows more violent, Afghanistan will be one of the fault points of these powers. Fault points are usually considered the most vulnerable parts of the world. Syria was one of these fault lines between the two forces. Libya went the same way.
Afghanistan has a geopolitical position that can be the arena of another war. I am unable to analyze this part, nor are the others, I think. I do not know exactly where the war in Ukraine will lead. Will America and China find ways to agree, or will they look for ways to escalate the tension? Therefore, the analysis and prediction of this part are out of our reach. Unfortunately, part of our fate links to this situation.
The other part of our fate goes back to our domestic actors, whether the Taliban or the groups opposing the Taliban. We have a kind of relative impact on the situation. External strategies cannot be realized without intermingling, compromising, and accompanying internal actors. Usually, when these two are aligned, they form equations.
I think that the crisis that the Taliban is facing is that they are currently in a dilemma: they must side either with Europe and America or with China and Russia. Their skill and capacity to maintain the balance seem impossible. Double-standard gaming is exhaustive for everyone. For example, the Americans will ask the Taliban to clear their position between the US and Russia. The Russians will also ask the same. Finally, the Taliban have to determine their path. If they oath their commitments to one side, the opposite will get angry. Whichever they roll, the equations change because the other side will support the anti-Taliban forces. The opponents of the Taliban will try to get foreign support and mobilize the people.
According to sources, there are serious discussions about the Taliban between the Ministry of Defense, Foreign Affairs, and the Intelligence of Russia. One says we can keep the Taliban, and the other says we can’t. One says it is reliable, and the other says it is not. The same debate is going on in the United States. Different American institutions are discussing whether the Taliban are reliable or have fallen into the arms of Russia, Iran, and China. Some Americans say that Pakistan is the creator of the Taliban. This country is our ally and will throw the Taliban into our lap, not our opponents’. But some others disagree with this opinion.
This ambiguous game will last for some unknown years. So far, the Taliban have not been with anyone, and no one recognizes them. There was potential for the Taliban inside the country. There is also potential for opposition to the Taliban. This potential will revive when real political and military support is in place. Then, the equation on the ground will drastically change. Your argument about why people don’t react goes back to this variable. Many anti-Taliban forces are waiting to find out which way the equation will go and which global package will support the Taliban opponents. Many ask who will help them if they stand against the Taliban. Iran? Turkey? Russia? China? America? Europe?
When we pass this twilight situation, it will be easier for people and political forces to make decisions. After that, we will see that networks and rings will come into existence, fronts will form, and the Taliban will face a severe challenge.
So far, there are no signs of rationality in the Taliban’s positions. They have not realized that instead of leading Afghanistan to a more complex crisis, they should open the way to negotiation and understanding with the forces inside Afghanistan. Likewise, any new administration and structure should allow the Taliban to be a part of it. In general, it should be acceptable to both people and the world. If they give in to this rationality, we will overcome a big crisis, and there will be no need for another war.
Amending the Constitution
Sheesha: I was hoping you could pay attention to the Constitution of Afghanistan as a shared document and relatively agreed upon by the people. What would be some critical gaps in this document that led to the previous government’s corruption, and we could not ensure the continuation of democratic reforms in the country?
Moheq: To be honest, I am not a constitutional expert. A critical and analytical look at the Constitution requires technical knowledge. Those who have studied law and worked in this direction will have the necessary expertise. For example, Dr. Amin Ahmadi has worked a lot on the Constitution. When I was in Kabul, I sometimes met with the members of the Commission for Monitoring the Implementation of the Constitution. My friend, the late Dr. Abdul Raouf Heravi, also worked there. Through him, I got to know and befriend some companions. The head of the commission was Mr. Hashemzai. Dr. Shafahi was also in that commission. I heard them saying valuable and vital points in our informal meetings.
My opinions about the Constitution are naive because I am not an expert. Anyhow, I assume that our Constitution was a democratic document compared to the countries in the region. It was compatible with the internal conditions of Afghan society, and we might have fewer problems should it be adapted correctly. We did not implement parts of our Constitution at all. Our problem was in the non-implementation of the law, not in the law itself.
Meanwhile, there were shortcomings in the Constitution. The most obvious of which, in my opinion, was the concentration of power. There was no way to prevent the concentration of power which showed itself over time. Once, in the presence of two or three colleagues, I raised the issue of the Kabul mayor to president Ghani. I told him that Kabul Municipality had no mayor, and a supervisor ruled it for more than one and a half years. I told him that when a person steps from his house to the street, he should feel the presence of the government right there. The government authority starts from the same road. If the sidewalk was orderly and the alley was clean, he would feel the government’s presence and think it was a government to which he must be loyal. This good feeling creates commitment, and he is encouraged to participate as a citizen. If there is no municipality, there is no one to prevent flooding, clean the city, regulate traffic, place fruit carts, and many other issues. Then the government authority will be gone. I told him that if we cannot organize the capital, we cannot deal with the problems of the provinces.
Unfortunately, during the Republic, Kabul was one of the most disorderly capitals in the world. The capital was not clean, and no one took essential measures to beautify the city. President Ghani told me that he had not yet had the time to interview the people considered for the post of mayor and then appoint one of them to the position. I did not argue with him anymore because I knew he would lose his temper. When I went out, I asked my colleagues what the logic was for the president to interview the mayor of Kabul, the mayor of Herat, or the mayor of Mazar and then appoint them. All over the world, the people of a city elect their mayor. Likewise, the elected mayors are accountable to their constituencies. I remember one day, Mr. Ghani called me and said he had received many complaints about the mayor of Herat and asked me if the reports were accurate. He told me on the phone that we should imprison the mayor if the complaints were authentic. It was eight or eight-thirty in the morning. I said Mr. President, I am a cultural person and have no idea about Herat municipality or municipal. I hear from the people of Herat, some of whom praise, and some criticize. I don’t have any judgment of myself. Then he asked me to investigate the issue and provide him with the report. I was busy with this issue for three or four days and prepared a report on the pros and cons of the Herat municipality and its mayor. I wrote the words and reasons of the opponents and the supporters. Finally, I suggested that a professional team of anti-corruption officials and agencies should be assigned to go to the ground and examine all aspects closely.
The main question was, why should the president hire or fire the mayor? That is something for the people to decide. Betraying the president was an easy game. Someone came and gave him a favorable report, and someone a negative. There was no logic that, for example, the president ignored the opinion of three million people in Herat while taking one person’s bluffing in Kabul as significant.
If you expand this beyond the municipality or the mayor issue, you will reach the appointment of school administrators, even the university lecturers, and deans by the central government. There was a complaint that the president of Herat University had no merit. Later, I discovered that the guy had come based on the advice of one of the president’s advisors on ethnic quotas, not university and academic criteria. Many similar cases show that the concentration of powers in the hands of one person is the cause of the crisis. This issue was one of our misfortunes in the last twenty years, and the Constitution did not address it accordingly. I think this is a critical gap we should fix in our Constitution.
Sheesha: What other major challenge do you see in the Constitution?
Moheq: Colleagues of the Commission for Monitoring the Implementation of the Constitution noted some other ambiguities in the Constitution too. According to them, for example, when a clause of the Constitution was vague or controversial, they didn’t know how to interpret it. Also, it was not clear who was the interpreting authority. There was a dispute between the Supreme Court and the Commission for Monitoring the Implementation of the Constitution, who questioned each other’s credibility in interpreting it. While the Supreme Court insisted on its right to interpret the Constitution, others argued it was not a judicial issue. According to them, the Ministry of Justice, the legislature, the judiciary, and other departments should have done it as a joint venture. I knew of several cases that came to the Commission for Monitoring the Implementation of the Constitution. When they referred to the Constitution to solve it, they found out that the Constitution was unclear. The ambiguity was not only in the Constitution but in all the civil laws of Afghanistan.
I studied Afghanistan’s civil law at university, so I know its gaps. When I was in Egypt, through the Afghan embassy, we worked with the Egyptian Ministry of Justice to enrich Afghanistan’s civil law with the help of their experts. We signed a memorandum of understanding, and the delegations went back and forth between the two countries. During the work, I saw that our civil law was not up-to-date either. It was a translation from Egyptian civil law during Dawood Khan’s rule. The Egyptians had also adopted French civil law. But the French and the Egyptians had updated their regulations, while we had the same old version without any amendment. Even in some cases, they had translated some phrases in a way that did not make sense. I realized this when I came across the Persian version of the Afghan Civil Code for the first time. It was unclear what the Persian text wanted to say, but when you read its Arabic, French, and English text, you could easily understand what it was saying. I once suggested that let’s form a specialized commission to review and update all the legal documents we have and work on them in terms of language, content, relevance, and non-relevance. Unfortunately, this effort did not go anywhere.
What is your message of hope for the people of Afghanistan?
Sheesha: As someone who supports reforms in Afghan society, what would be your point if you wanted to send a message to your audience in Afghanistan? How do you want to keep the people of Afghanistan hopeful despite the existence of the Taliban?
Moheq: It is hard to prescribe, but it is easy to send a message. My first message is that we have experienced repeated failures: the failure of the Republic, the Taliban, the Mujahideen, the People’s Democratic Party, the autocratic Republic of Daud Khan, and the monarchy regime. Unfortunately, our failures, especially in the last hundred years, are more than our victories. Failures are also opportunities to learn great lessons. The Germans learned a great lesson from the experience of Nazism and the defeat of the Nazis. The Japanese learned a great lesson from their failures in the First and Second World Wars. No nation in the world has not failed and has not made mistakes, but we mustn’t get disillusioned and think that there is no solution. The more we give in to despair, the more we settle for misery. Therefore, it is imperative to keep hope alive and use the experiences of other nations. Other nations learned from their failures and turned them into opportunities. We can also learn from our experiences and move in this direction. Let’s review our failures and mistakes and turn them into opportunities.
My second point is that we have to work as a team for practical purposes. It is good to put aside individual work and do collective work in collective affairs. Anyone with a national commitment does not feel bored and wants to be helpful to their country, people, and families. They can do something through Facebook, websites, teaching, and many other ways. Individual initiatives are valuable and should continue, but we need organizational work to make significant changes. We should form a network, educate and enlighten people from different strata, women, and youth, and move towards unity. No power in the world can face a cohesive force and defeat it. It can arrest, injure, or even execute five or six people. Still, throughout the history of the great and successful movements – from the Indian independence movement to other countries – they have made sacrifices necessary to realize great values.
Sacrifice does not mean failure. No one can defeat significant and coherent organizational work. If we want our deed to be successful and give more accurate results, we must move towards large-scale, inclusive, and regular systematic initiatives.
In organizational work, we must have ideals for our future. We should not deal with strict parameters in creating new organizations. For example, there is no absolute black and white in real politics. Not all angels are on one side, and all devils on the other. All political actors make mistakes. One went to an election campaign and another to his rival. We should not say that a person has worked with a particular group and should not be in our organization. We should not reject a person because of their attachment to a specific organization or talking in favor of a particular campaign.
The realistic criteria are to see whether or not someone participated in the crime and embezzlement. If someone has not stolen, committed a crime, or killed someone, they should participate in the organization. There is a clear difference between a person who commits a crime and steals with someone who has been part of a political process and that political process had gone wrong. If these two issues are not separated, we will not succeed.
Sometimes I see that friends are very radical. If we say that five of us will gather and chat, they reject a person rebuking that he has worked with Ghani, Karzai, or so on. Be that as it may, we are getting nowhere. The criterion should be if he has stolen public wealth or breached the right of another human being, or committed any national treason. We should not join hands with guilty people, but those who have interacted with the political reality of society should have a place in our community.
Anyway, coming together and organizing the forces of society can form the agent of change.
I am comparing the Taliban with their opponents, who might have had a thousand and one faults. They include all from the Jihadi parties, the commanders, whatever they are. If there is a comparison between Hekmatyar and Mullah Hebatullah, I will choose Hekmatyar, even though I can’t entirely agree with him and his party on many issues. I have written about this and never want to be with Golbedin Hekmatyar. Still, if I have no option other than the Taliban and Hekmatyar, I will choose Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar was not an intelligence agent despite his many mistakes in his political games. He has interacted with the intelligence services of Pakistan, Iran, and other countries, but he has also made his own decisions in some places.
In the case of Taleb, I must say that it is an entirely agentic movement, and I don’t see anything or any factor in it that is independent of itself. Today, you see that the ambassador of Pakistan is the Viceroy who treats others as his servants and mercenaries, and he makes decisions instead of them. This ambassador comes and says do this, don’t do that. Instead of the foreign minister of Afghanistan, the foreign minister of Imran Khan and Shahbaz Sharif sits with the representatives and ambassadors of other countries and talks about Afghanistan. It means that the government has become so impoverished. As Afghan citizens, we should sweat with shame and feel guilty when we see something like this. We have not experienced such humiliation in this hundred years. Babrak and Najib did not reach this level of embarrassment during their puppet communist regime. Neither did the Mujahideen nor the Republic. That’s why we say that whoever the opposing force is and whatever they do against the Taliban, we should welcome and be happy about it. Whoever it is, Ustad Mohaqiq, Professor Sayaf, Marshal Dostum, or someone else.
If the educated forces do not want to work alongside these political figures, they should organize themselves and form an organization, no matter the name. The main goal for the community is to overcome this critical juncture and move towards a safe and stable society. I do not claim that there should be a war, but there should be a society where all its citizens can live together, enjoying their human rights. This wish is neither a big one nor unreasonable. It is our right. In my opinion, it is not easy to achieve this goal, and we must be ready to pay any price in our struggle to achieve it.
Sheesha: Thank you, Mr. Mohammad Moheq.