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21 November 2011

OPINION: Brother, can you spare a tear for Taliban

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Today, an overwhelming majority of Muslims all over the globe feel deep sadness at the tragedy, that befell the attempts of the Muslims of Afghanistan

By Kaleem Kawaja

With the defeat and disbanding of the Taliban government in Afghanistan in its 2001 face-off with the mighty US army, another bold attempt of Muslims to assert themselves and the Islamic values in their own country came to an ignominious end. Unfortunately, unlike the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979-80, the Taliban had neither thought through their plan, nor they had developed a realistic strategy of how to implement their plan, even though the preceding terrible chaos and circumstances in Afghanistan had provided them a golden opportunity. Indeed, during their short stay in power, with very few resources and very little help, Taliban carried out major societal reforms in Afghanistan. Reforms that the mighty British and Russian empires failed in bringing about, were successfully carried out by the rag-tag semi-literate Taliban.

Taliban almost completely stopped the growing of opium in a land where due to very harsh climate and abysmal irrigation facilities, it is very difficult for farmers to grow any cash crop. In a highly male-chauvinist land where for almost a century women were treated as chattel at the command of men and for their pleasures, Taliban made sure that women were not treated as the plaything of men and that sexual promiscuity in society was almost eliminated. Extreme lawlessness and brutalities by the tribal warlords towards the poor and powerless was eradicated.

However, after the Taliban achieved these successes in the remarkably short period of three years, instead of re-thinking their strategy and their methods, they gave in to the insane demands of the extremists from their ranks and their outside advisers, who wanted to impose extremist interpretations of Islam's basics on the society. Take for example their overly strict attitude towards women. Stopping women from working outside their homes, stopping women from acquiring higher/professional education, punishing women who did not wear head-to-toe burqa rather than hijab in public, ignoring the helplessness and basic needs of women who were the sole supporters of their families due to the deaths of most men in their families. Even in the early history of puritan Islam, such conditions were hardly ever imposed on women in Muslim societies.

In Muslim societies some practices have always been farz (obligatory), while other practices have been sunnah (desirable options to observe). But Taliban made many sunnah practices compulsory and those not observing them were punished harshly. For instance men not wearing beards and people listening to music or enjoying/participating in performing arts being punished by the state. The morality police ran wild and out of control but the Taliban government declined to control them. Demolition of the Buddha statues in Bamian despite worldwide appeals, including appeals from many well-meaning Islamic scholars, flew in the face of highly tolerant practices of earlier Muslim rulers, eg Hazrat Omar and Saladdin, who upon vanquishing their Christian enemies, made sure that Christian churches were not harmed and they were allowed to practice their religion and its rituals.

Indeed Taliban had a great opportunity to become great reformers, but by not controlling the extremists among them or extremists who came from other countries to help them, they threw away that opportunity. By listening to a few overzealous Sunnis, they frequently did not treat Shias, Ismailis etc with kindness, thereby creating dissatisfaction in the Muslim world and creating more problems for themselves.

Rather than cooperate and coordinate their activities with Iran, a country that has made major Islamic reforms using Islamic methods, and that has faced terrible opposition from Western countries for many years, they got into mindless confrontation with Iran. Taliban's hostilities with Iran created substantial friction between Iran and Pakistan and hurt not only these two countries but also the entire Muslim world.

Taliban should have realized that Afghanistan being a poor war-ravaged country, it needed help in equal measure from both Iran and Pakistan, its two big neighbours, in order to be successful. Instead they became head strong and thought that extreme interpretations of Islamic teachings alone will help them against odds. While they demonstrated great diplomatic ability at uniting Afghanistan and its very diverse society, often by negotiation, they threw away caution and tactfulness to the wind and instead turned towards hardheadedness.

Even before they had made significant progress in solving Afghanistan's own problems and institutionalizing Islamic practices there, they allowed some extremist Muslims to use their country to export militancy overseas. In doing that they followed in the footsteps of another failed Islamic revolution, namely that in Chechnya, that too committed hara-kiri by exporting militancy to Daghestan and Russia.

It was fool-hardy naivette that made them ignore the many plans of the enemies of Muslims who were looking for an opportunity to exploit any loophole to ransack the global Muslim community, especially the recent remarkable growth of Muslim communities in Western countries.

It is a great pity that Taliban did not study the experiences of the Islamic revolution of Iran, their successes and mistakes, actions of the western countries who tried to extinguish them and are determined not to allow another Islamic revolution to succeed. Even at the last minute they had an opportunity to take actions that could have averted the punitive confrontation that Western countries were trying to impose on the global Muslim ummah. But rather than be strategic and realistic, they chose the sure-defeat path, a-la-Iraq a decade earlier that had caused similar havoc for the Muslim ummah then.

Today, an overwhelming majority of Muslims all over the globe feel deep sadness at the tragedy that befell the attempts of the Muslims of Afghanistan to reform and make their country strong by using the egalitarian Islamic practices. They feel sad at the failure of the Taliban movement that had showed so much promise for the whole world, but that inflicted so many grievous wounds on itself.

[Kaleem Kawaja is a community activist in Washington DC. He can be reached on: kaleemkawaja@gmail.com]

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