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SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Taliban at the crossroads

mindaviews someone elses windowsMALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 27 August) – The Taliban have returned to power in Afghanistan, a country in Central Asia beset by wars and periods of uneasy peace since the 19th century, beginning in 1838 when Britain tried to annex it to protect its empire from Russia. Its blitz-like offensive stunned the world. But the greatest fear among many is that the group would impose yet again a reign of terror, the kind depicted in Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.

It may be premature to even speculate, but if their statements after the capture of Kabul suggest anything, the Taliban appear to be trying to fit in. Their spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, issued assurances that “we will not seek revenge,” in a press conference on August 24 that surprised many. “All issues can be resolved with talks,” Mujahid said, adding, “We give our brothers reassurances. We have the same country and the same goals.”

Such statements don’t necessarily mean the Taliban are thinking of mellowing down their “extremist” interpretation of Islam, a dogmatism marked by amputations, executions and oppression of women when they first ruled the country. In fact, in an interview with Al Jazeera, while Mujahid promised giving “equal rights” to women, he qualified that it would happen within the sphere of Sharia law. Many are left wandering if that would mean not killing girls and women who insist on going to school.

However, the deliberate engagement with media and overtures of openness stands in contrast to the ideological obstinacy that characterized the Taliban rule from 1995 to 2001, before the US and her allies drove them out in the aftermath of 9/11. The world is now seeing a group that’s eager to prove its mettle in governance after decades of guerrilla warfare launched from Afghanistan’s forbidding mountains and deserts.

Maybe the Taliban have come to realize that for them to survive they need to learn the ropes in diplomacy and global politics without substantially sacrificing the religious foundation of their movement. They need a legitimation of their government without which they could not expect to get external assistance – economic, scientific, technological, etc. – to enable their country to overcome the inertia imposed by endless wars with foreign forces and among its competing tribes.

Already, international financing institutions have withheld funds intended for Afghanistan. Global aid agencies have pulled out, and several foreigners as well as Afghans with valuable technical expertise have flown out after the capital fell.

Thus while the Taliban are euphoric over their victory, they are anxious at the same time of what the future holds with the departure of people needed to ignite the country’s economy. The anxiety revealed itself when they asked the technicians manning the Kabul Airport to not leave so that the facility may continue operating.

But the Taliban are burdened by their history of association with groups like the Al Qaeda of the late Osama bin Laden. This alone is enough to make them a pariah state to the rest of the world. Will they burn the bridges with terrorist organizations at the risk of courting dissension from within their ranks?

For the Taliban, history now offers two opposite destinations. The choice, if one is made, would not be easy.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at hmcmordeno@gmail.com)

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