Contemporary Peace Research and Practice By Bashir Mobasher | 20 July, 2023
The Unholy Alliance of Orientalism, Ethnocentrism, Misogynism, and Terrorism, Part I: Understanding Taliban Apologism
Image: Bruce Rolff/shutterstock.com
Recently, Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary General, and other Taliban apologists in the UN held a meeting in Doha with different regional and global stakeholders to take “those baby steps to put us back on the pathway to recognition [of the Taliban], a principled recognition.” Subsequently, while succumbing to the Taliban’s demand to lay off female employees of the UN in Afghanistan, the organisation revealed a plan to issue a formal invitation to the Taliban’s officials to an international meeting to foster a “mutual understanding between the Taliban and the International community”. This is an example of a global campaign of Taliban apologists.
Taliban apologism is an ongoing and growing public relations campaign to justify their draconian order and pave the way for an international recognition of this terrorist group as Afghanistan’s true potentates. Taliban apologists are a conglomeration of Afghan and non-Afghan activists who promote narratives that normalise the Taliban internationally as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. These include Pashtun ethno-nationalists who have welcomed the return of the Taliban as the restoration of Pashtun hegemony, domestic and global Islamic fundamentalists who have relished the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan as a victory for Islam, and orientalists whose endorsement of the Taliban serves variety of interests and false pretenses. In this two-part article, we briefly explore the narratives, mindset, and interests of these Taliban apologists and how these diverse groups of activists concur in the normalisation of an extremist group into a legitimate regime: the emergence of an unholy alliance.
Taliban apologism goes way back to 2006 and 2007 when the leadership of the Republic regime propagated the idea of a so-called “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban.” By doing so, leaders such as President Hamid Karzai, President Ashraf Ghani, Mr. Farooq Wardak, and their cronies prevented government forces from targeting the Taliban in different areas of the country, allowing them to grow and recruit more soldiers. This false diversification of the Taliban into good Taliban and bad Taliban, moderate Taliban and extremist Taliban, and Haqqani Taliban and Kandahari Taliban has continued to dilute the minds of Republic elites and international policymakers, thinking that they can work with at least one section of the terrorist group against the wishes of the other section. This narrative naively assumes that some internal differences must seed a moderate movement within an outright extremist group. Contrary to this wishful thinking, some internal differences among the Taliban did not materialise into a moderate faction or an all-out divide, not even in 2015 when the Taliban low-ranking members learned that their commanding leader, Mullah Omar, had actually died two years before.
A Tweet of the U.S. Charge d’Affaires, Karen Decker, in December 2022 well exemplifies this naivety: “We [Kandahar governor and I] appear to agree in words that human rights are important. I would be interested to hear how Kandahari leaders are fulfilling this with actions.” Soon after her tweet, the Kandahari Taliban issued a statement rebuffing her assertion of agreeing on anything, let alone human rights. Not long after, we learned that it was indeed the Kandahari Taliban that emphasised banning women's education.
Of many, one group of Taliban apologists are Pashtun ethnocentrists, some of whom probably have nothing in common with the Taliban other than being of the same ethnic group. These include some ranking members of the Republic regime who personally benefited from the financial support of the international community in the 20 years of the Republic but who celebrated the Taliban’s return to power, and some supported them even prior to that. An excellent example of this is M. Farooq Wardak, who had different ministerial positions during the 20 years of the Republic across four administrations. Upon the Taliban’s return, however, he returned to Kabul to congratulate them for “freeing the country” and establishing a “pure and fundamental Islamic regime.” For ethno-nationalists, ethnopolitical dominance trumps all other political and ideological values and even their own community’s well-being and aspirations. This explains why one can see some men with ties and human rights placards and women with makeup and European dresses becoming mouthpieces of the Taliban.
Ethnonationalist’s narratives and those of some other Taliban apologists rely heavily on two contentions. First, they argue that security is better under the Taliban. This postulation, however, omits the simple fact that the Taliban were the primary menace to security in the 20 years of the Republic, plotting suicide attacks, planting road mines and car bombs, and spreading other forms of terror. It also omits the fact that the Taliban remain the primary threat to the lives, rights, and liberty of the Afghan people. Unlawful detaining, torturing, raping, persecution, mass evictions and replacements, and extrajudicial killings are more common than ever in Afghanistan. Women fear being punished for simply walking outside their homes; the media fear serious repercussions for reporting news impartially; and teachers and students fear constant surveillance by the Taliban. Living in fear and survival mode is not living in peace and security. Some international organisations’ extensive and robust reports on “crimes against humanity,” “gender apartheid,” and “femicide” by the Taliban certainly do not portray a picture of better security in Afghanistan.
Additionally, Taliban apologists argue that corruption has declined under the Taliban. Anyone who obtained a passport from the Taliban’s administration and was able to flee the country might actually dispute this. The absence of free media to report corruption under the Taliban does not necessarily indicate the decline of corruption in Afghanistan. The most obvious and undeniable form of corruption under this extremist group is nepotism, tribalism, and the removal of non-Pashtun civil servants and their replacements with non-professionals, and family and tribal members of the Taliban.
Another category of Taliban apologists are Islamic fundamentalists, who have been exuberant about the Taliban’s return to power. These Islamists celebrate the Taliban’s return as a symbol of Islam’s victory. Khola Hasan, a member of the Islamic Sharia Council in Britain, is an example. In a panel discussion on BBC, while turning a deaf ear to her Afghan co-panelist’s recounting of the atrocities committed by the Taliban’s Emirate, she stressed that “Every single person that I know as a Muslim… are celebrating [the Taliban’s return]” and the Taliban should be given a chance. For Khola, an Islamic extremist group, scoring against an international coalition was more important than showing empathy to the women of Afghanistan under this extremist entity. Her statement caused a massive backlash among Islamic scholars and the Afghan community.
Needless to say, one must remain alert about not just these narratives but also the people who propagate them to vindicate the Taliban. Bear in mind that accepting the narratives of ethnocentrists and Islamic fundamentalists is by extension condoning religious extremism, terrorism, gender-apartheid, persecution of ethno-religious minorities, violation of human rights, and a complete disregard to the pains and suffering of fellow human beings. Adhering to the legitimisation of the abusers of human rights and social justice is logically antithetical to claiming championing human rights, inclusion, and peacebuilding. But orientalists don’t mind antitheticals, they feed on them. This will be discussed in Part II.
Dr. Bashir Mobasher is a postdoctoral fellow at the American University (DC), an adjunct at the American University of Afghanistan, and an affiliate with EBS Universität. Dr. Bashir is the interim President of Afghanistan Law and Political Science Association (in Exile) and leads its online education programs for female students of Afghanistan. He is an expert in constitutional design and identity politics in divided societies. Dr. Bashir obtained his B.A. (2007) from the School of Law and Political Science at Kabul University, and his LLM (2010) and PhD (2017) from the University of Washington School of Law.