Insofar as the Taliban leadership has a vision of the state, it embodies the centralism of the current Afghan state, but with supreme power dominated by the Taliban which is perhaps under the cover of a clerical council to select the national leader.
The Taliban vision of the state embodies a form of sectarian exclusiveness. They posit their movement as the guardian of self-interpreted Sunni Hanafi tradition and deny all other diverse people a place in the state.
And, in their struggle to capture and transform the state, the Taliban have explicitly rejected the ideas of pluralism and power-sharing. The Taliban have been explicit in their intention to rule alone, with no need to respect pluralism.
But, in pursuing these goals, the Taliban have prioritized the use of force and have refused to embrace constitutional politics. They have in effect chosen the path of the bullet over the ballot.
This hard-liner approach of Taliban also jeopardized the hope for a positive outcome from the peace talks in Doha.
So far, no substantial progress in Doha Intra-Afghan Talks can be observed after it began on September 12, 2020. Hitherto, there have been only ceremonial meetings with the formal pleasantry exchange of views, reiterating the will for the success of talks.
Keeping in view the complex nature of the problem, no one expected quick results but indeed, it is disappointing that the negotiating team of the self-proclaimed Islamic Emirates, the Taliban and the Republican delegates from Kabul could not yet finalize the procedural rules and agendas of the talks. One can truly realize the difficulties ahead. The crucial issues like the probable future contour of the polity, governance, Shariah and civic values are on pending as the real bones of contention.
On the other hand, the recent wave of high level of widespread violence has also negatively impacted bilateral peace agreement between the Taliban and the US, signed on February 29, 2020.
October 2020 was one of the bloodiest months. In Helmand, dozens from both sides including many civilians lost their lives and much more injured as well as thousands of families were displaced internally. The US Air Force bombarded Taliban to stop their advance toward the Lashkar Gah – the provincial capital. Taliban raised its serious objection against the US action in favor of Kabul government and called it a serious violation of the bilateral agreement while the US rejected the claim and warned the Taliban to honestly bind to the agreement regarding the reduction in violence. Instead of heeding the US envoy, from Helmand the Taliban marched on to Kandahar.
On October 18, 2020, a car bomb attack on the police headquarter in Firozkoh, capital of Ghor, killed 18 and more than 150 were wounded. Most of the casualties were civilians – the women, children and students from the deaf and dumb education center nearby.
On October 24, 2020, an education center in Western Kabul was targeted that killed dozens of children while over 150 were wounded. Although, Daesh (ISIS-K) claimed the responsibility, the civil society, political parties and Afghan government have raised their finger towards Taliban.
On November 02, 2020, again Kabul University was attacked in which, according to health officials, 19 people, including students and a teacher, were killed and 22 others were injured. Again, Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack. According to Ministry of Interior official, the attack on Kabul University ended after six hours after killing three attackers.
Hurdles so far
The issue of recognition of the Shi’ite religion for its followers which comprise around 20% of the whole population of Afghanistan and forms the legal basis of the ongoing talks have been the main areas of dispute.
The Taliban insist that the guiding principles of the ongoing talks should be based on the bilateral agreement between the Taliban and the US signed on February 29, 2020. In which four important issues were agreed upon, the withdrawal of US troops, counter-terrorism cooperation between the US and the Taliban, a reduction in violence and ultimately a ceasefire, and the initiation of the intra-Afghan negotiations. Kabul’s delegation insists that the US-Afghan joint declaration signed on the same day should also be recognized. Taliban are reluctant to agree to any document that recognizes Kabul administration as legitimate.
The Republican Team from Kabul raises the point that how could it be possible to accept a bilateral agreement as the guiding principle in which they were not involved. To some extent, their claim seems to be logical as they were bypassed in the agreement by their main supporter – the US.
In addition, there seems to be a wide gap between the approaches of both sides with regards to the various terminologies which have deep political and religious meanings. Like “Jihad or conflict” or “Social Justice or Islamic Justice”, Taliban believe that their armed struggle has been a justified “Jihad” on the path of God while delegates from Kabul deny this claim and call it a “conflict”.
The delegates from Kabul stress that the future political system should be based on “Social Justice” while Taliban call it a western term and insist that it should be replaced with the Islamic term “Islamic Justice”.
Like many Afghans, the US is also frustrated with this stalemate since it is also eagerly waiting for a fruitful ending of this talks, probably for certain reasons. After weeks of deadlock, the two sides were reported to have accepted a role for the Qatari government as facilitator, assisted by diplomats of the other countries present at the talks. Although, the Taliban promptly distanced themselves from this.
Some of the delegates suggest that the problematic issues should not be discussed at the beginning, rather should be left for later but again the remaining issues regarding the ceasefire or so-called reduction in violence could be more stupefacient. It has proved to be the main card used as an effective tool by the Taliban over the last two decades. On this issue again, Taliban are not ready to simply relinquish their main leverage on just a good faith. And the most importantly, the Taliban’s unclear stand on the probable future contour of the polity is still on pending to discuss. There are so many other issues with the controversial technical, ideological and political aspects on this difficult path to bring Taliban into the main stream politics under the single roof with all other diverse groups with different political and ideological point of view.
The fact remains that the Taliban have so far confined themselves only to the vague terminologies like Islamic System, Islamic Justice or Islamic Shariah.
Although Taliban are not showing their cards, one can foretell the probable silhouette of the future political system. But what exactly? Do they have any model from the present-day Islamic countries or from the past?
In negotiations, Taliban have avoided laying out their preferred system of Islamic government. However, previous Taliban stances and other historic and contemporary cases of Islamic government provide clues as to what model the Taliban are likely to push for.
Is there any ideal model of polity in the Islamic history?
The rhetoric of Islamic form of government has been heard from many Islamic parties throughout the Islamic world but many political scientists believe that political systems and good governance have its own internationally recognized definitions and benchmarks, it has nothing to do with religion.
Great Islamic scholar, author as well as a known politician of the subcontinent Molauna Abul Ala Moudoodi (1903-1979) believes that with the end of Rashidun Khilafat on 29 January 661 with the martyrdom of Hazrat Ali, Islamic rule officially converted from Khilafat to Mulookiyat means “Kingship” (mulk instead of truly khilafa)).
In this regard, it is to be mentioned that the Umayyad caliphs referred to themselves not as khalifat Rasul Allah (“successor of the messenger of God,” the title preferred by the tradition), but rather as khalifat Allah (“deputy of God”). Thus, the alien concept of hereditary succession introduced against the earlier tradition. According to Moulana’s thesis, this deviation from the basic teaching has brought about negative impact in the Islamic world and divided the elite in two classes: first, the ruling class and second, the people who were supposed to be the religious class.
The known Islamic scholar and author of many books in Kabul, Ali Amiri believes that “Quran and Sunna” do not recommend any specific political system and mode of governance, rather stand on certain values which promote social justice, equality and harmony in human societies. He says that democracy is not in contradiction with the basic guidelines of Islam and political systems should be based on the economic, political and other ground realities as the institutional guarantee for peace, harmony, stability and prosperity. According to his views, Islam does not oppose if Islamic societies get the best advantages of the human experiences in the fields of politics and governance.
The historical Islamic Empires were almost autocratic, Absolute Monarchies, Unitary in Nature and dominated by clan Aristocracy. The Shriah Law was nothing but an instrument to justify the kingships. (See Appendix 1)
The Mongol invasions that began in the 13th century drastically reconfigured the Islamic world. The invasions brought about the end of Arab Empire and the beginning of Turkic dynasties. The drastic change in the ruling class also did not change anything in governance qualitatively.
What about the present-day Islamic countries?
Expect for that of few, most of the Islamic countries have the modern constitutionalism. The “Shariah” plays a nominal role mixed with the European style Common Law as the base of their legal system. In most of these countries, the Shariah and modern concept of legal system are not intertwined through clear boundaries. But still their political systems are well-defined internationally. (See Appendix 2)
The concept of absolute monarchies has already lost its popularity worldwide including the Islamic World. Moreover, autocratic and aristocratic governments are disliked overwhelmingly among the Muslim population across the world.
Here is the real dilemma! Nor the Taliban ever indicated any Islamic country as their role model neither themselves presented a clear idea of statehood. In this regard, their concept seems to be under developed. But for sure, the Islamic countries with multiparty democracies, modern political systems or major portion of their judiciary depend on western civil laws cannot be acceptable for the Taliban.
Some aspects of the unique political systems of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran might be convincing for Taliban where Ulema have protagonist characters in politics and the judiciary has active role in the Islamization of legal system. Both Islamic countries have their own distinctive features in their political systems. It will be discussed in brief later on.
What are Taliban afraid of?
In Doha, the Kabul delegation has clear stance on the certain issues like, the political system, governance, democracy, elections, human and women rights, religious minorities, ethnic, lingual and cultural diversities and support for the enacted constitution which is mostly in accordance with the international conventions.
On the contrary, the Taliban do not seem to be vocal on these issues. Without going into the detail, all of their officials and spokespersons present Islam as the remedy of all odds. As well as, Taliban are trying to convince the relevant stakeholders that they are not the ones of 90s and they have a deep realization of changing world of 21st century with regards to the undeniable universal values.
Why do the Taliban speak on certain vital issues in vague terms? The probable reasons could be;
1. They do not want to be seen as an incompatible factor with the ground realities and some undeniable values, no one dares to comprise on, internationally. With countless efforts and graceful dealing of the Trump Administration through its envoy Khalilzad, Taliban are no more a terrorist group or rebels. Taliban do not want to remain as a blacklisted organization rather want to be recognized as a political entity. Taliban realize that tough stand on certain issues might change the views of the international backers of Afghanistan and they might turn their back once again. The strict Sharia law without accepting certain international benchmarks of governance, might not be acceptable for the involved domestic and international stakeholders. The Taliban have traveled a long way from being a top terrorist group to be recognized as an acceptable and negotiable political entity. Here comes the main dilemma that they cannot distance themselves from bullet and not in a position to deny the ballot, means the civic values and the popular pluralism.
2. If they would enter into procedural and institutional debates, they might lose control over their foot soldiers who are unfamiliar with such process and might revolt against their negotiators in Doha for closing an unholy deal with the people whom they never considered as good Muslims. The institutionalized terminologies for them are still “Amir-ul- Mominin” (The lord of the faithful), Sharia, Islamic System, Ulema (clergies), Jihad and mostly used terms for their opponents have been Kafars (infidels) or puppets/facilitators of occupying forces, the forces of evil and corruption (Shar-o-Fisad) etc. The common terms with the pre and postfix of “Islamic” has been a good mean to skip the complicated issues of modern governance.
3. Regardless of the strict religious approach, another important reason of Taliban’s reluctance to accept the popular democracy is their understanding of the ground reality. They might be a military force with thousands of fighters but do not have a reliable vote bank. They might lose ballots miserably. Without the support of sword and terror, they might be lost with in a brief time.
4. The last but not the least, the Taliban realize that its fighters cannot be integrated in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), trained by the NATO and its partners. The foot soldiers of Taliban and their local commanders resemble medieval ill-organized crusaders and cannot be accommodated in the modern army. Their union could disintegrate one or both of them. In that case, the self-proclaimed Islamic Emirate might be the probable loser.
It is also to be mentioned here that the present form of political system of Afghanistan is not suitable for the deeply diverse Afghan social fabric. As well as domestically and internationally many institutions call the current system as dysfunctional. Even though, the notion of sword and blood of Taliban have been repulsive for the majority who believe in a sustainable peace with the accommodation of all sections of Afghan society in the system.
The probable dream of Taliban
Until now, the Taliban have denied any possibility of coalition set up with the current Kabul administration. It would negate all their earlier narratives based on self-defined Sharia by which they have mobilized thousands.
It seems that the Taliban want to build an ill-defined political system not as the continuation or by the reform of the current one, established with the wholehearted assistance of the International community and the longest engagement that has costed over a trillion USD.
One can easily make out what could be a favorable future scenario for the Taliban.
To prove that they were on the right side of the history with a just stance, it would be desirable scenario that they would emerge as victorious at the end of the day. They would certainly re-impose the misleading narrative that Afghans are impregnable and they have defeated the largest military power of the world.
On the contrary, Afghanistan has been a recognized serious challenge for the civilization and the US was never engaged in a fight with the intent to eliminate Taliban. It is also to be admitted that the consecutive Afghan governments have never been good partners with the US in this regard.
The probable model for Taliban
Among the Islamic Countries, there are only two, who claim to be pure Islamic, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Some aspects of the political system of both these two countries might be striking for Taliban.
Saudi Model – The political system of KSA is based on absolute monarchy that was developed upon the system of belief of the Islam guided by, the descendants of “Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792), the founder of the “Wahabi School of Thought”. In fact, the Saudi political system is also unique in its nature. Two families the “House of Saud” and the “House of Al Sheikh” who have 300 years old agreement to support each other. According to the agreement which was sealed between Muhammad ibn Saud and Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in 1744, both Mohammads agreed that “Ibne Saud” will be the “Imam”, means political leader of the Muslims and “Ibne Wahab” will be the leader of the religious affairs. Thus the political and the religious establishments were divided between the two “Houses” respectively.
In brief, KSA has autocratic, clan aristocratic and bloodline hereditary system both politically and religiously. The King serves the two designations of the head of the state as well as the head of the government. KSA doesn’t have elected parliament rather just a handpicked advisory council without the right of the primary legislation. Elections for local bodies are permitted in 2005 but women were given the right to vote only in 2015. To be brief, nor is the head of state elected neither the so-called parliament. Meanwhile, the religious leadership (Grand Mufti) is also hereditary. Economy is pumped by the oil and Sharia has been an instrument for the legitimacy of the kingdom.
Iranian Model – Except for that of domination of Shiite Jurisprudent, Iranian political system might be much closer to the Taliban’s idea as compare to the Saudi model.
“Iran’s constitution establishes the nation as both a democracy and a theocracy, blending the liberal notion of popular sovereignty with oversight by the Guardian Council to ensure political candidates, laws and regulations adhere to Islamic practices.”
In Iran, there are multiple layers of power, but the real power lies in the hand of supreme leader. This highest post is reserved only for the top theologist with the authority of ruling (fatwa) in various fields of Islamic law (Fiqh – Islamic jurisprudence) (Article 109, Constitution of the Islamic republic of Iran).
The Guardian Council is a twelve-member body composed of six qualified Ulema nominated by the supreme leader and next half comprised specialists from different fields, are nominated by the head of the judiciary who are subjected to the approval of parliament (Article 91). On the other hand, the head of the judiciary is appointed by the supreme leader (Article 110/6-b). It means that in the appointed of Guardian Council member the Supreme Leader has a superior role.
This council is so powerful that without it, the elected parliament (Majlis) doesn’t have any status (Article 93), it has the right to interpret the constitution (Article 98) and the power of veto against any bill which it considers not compatible with the Islamic Laws (Articles 94, 95 and 96).
The council organizes as well as supervise all the major elections for the president, Council of Experts of the leadership (That elect and dismiss the supreme leader), parliament and referendum (Article 99).
The Council of (Islamic) Expert of the leadership (Khibragan) is another powerful body that is composed of only high ranked religious scholars (Ulema) whose qualifications are also verified either by the Guardian Council or the Supreme leader himself. (Article 2- Electoral Law of the Council of Expert). In addition to that Guardian Council can vet/disqualify any candidate wants to contest the presidential or parliamentary elections or Council of (Islamic) Experts.
The next council is Expediency Discernment Council of the system composed of 39 handpicks of the Supreme Leader. It comprises again mostly the ulema but also technocrats loyal to the system. It is an advisory council to the Supreme Leader as well as the body resolves the conflict between the main bodies of the states (Article 12). The Supreme Leader may delegate some of his power to this council, if required.
Supreme Leader has the full control of the armed forces including 190,000 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The total size of Iranian armed forces with reserve units are estimated to be around 1, 060,000.
The Iranian Political System could be called a pure “Theocracy” with a democratic touch by a controlled electoral system.
Since, the Taliban now realize the importance of international donor as the lifeline for the crippled and donor dependent Afghan economy, they can’t ignore some aspects of the predominant international benchmarks of the governance. They might agree to some sort of plural democracy with controlled local elections. On the other hand, the western world also does not expect from Taliban a political system and the governance that fit into their criteria. For the international mission, the honorable withdrawal is priority, they might agree to minimum standards of governance and probably would ignore human rights violations and other civic values like they are doing it in many Arab absolute monarchies.
The power structure of Iranian polity might be noteworthy for the Taliban but they lack an important aspect of an ideal theocracy. The theological foundation of Iran is not mixed with the tribalism. In spite of the fact that the “Fars” are 67-70% of the whole population, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, the longest serving head of state in the Middle East, belongs to the Azari ethnic group which comprise around 16% of the Iranian population. In addition to that, 11 members of Council of (Islamic) experts are Azaris. Ali Meshkini another Azari, from 1983 till his death in 2007 was the chairman of this council. There are 44 (of 290 in total) are representative of Azerbaijan region in the Iranian Parliament. The Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari, ex-Prime Ministers, Mehdi Bazargan and Mir-Hossein Mousavi were also Azaris while Mehdi Karrubi the prominent opposition figure and ex-Speaker of the Iranian Parliament and the ex-Commander-in-Chief of the IRGC, Mohsen Rezaee belong to Lor, ethnic group of Loristan. The powerful Larijani brothers are “Mazanis” from Mazendran.
The Sunni population of Iran, mostly the followers of the “Hanafi School of Thought” have been demanding for more representation in the executive posts. According to the CIA Factbook, their population is 5-10% of the total population.
On the contrary, the Sunnis of Afghanistan, most of them are followers of the same school of thought but from other ethnic, lingual and cultural groups have been resisting against the Taliban because of its deeply rooted tribal approach. Inside Afghanistan, the Taliban are seen as the symbol of backwardness rather than a religious group. The majority including the moderate Pashtuns don’t agree with the version of Shariah of Taliban, badly mixed with the tribalism.
In Iran, there might be supremacy of Shiite jurisprudence but it recognizes not only all other Muslim school of thoughts but also non-Muslim like Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian have their own family laws (Article 11, 12 and 13 of Iranian Constitution), same as it is written in Afghan article 131 of enacted Afghan Constitution. In this regard too Taliban seem to be very rigid, the level of intolerance in their lines are witnessed to be higher than the general expectations.
Are these models applicable in Afghanistan of 21st century?
There is no doubt that like many Islamic countries, religion has been playing an important role in Afghan politics too but only the sacralization of politics by religious rhetoric cannot bring sustainable peace and ultimate stability. Rather, there is a desperate need of a system for the just allocation of power vertically and horizontally suitable for the deeply diverse country.
The models of Iran and KSA cannot be copied in Afghanistan. It will convert Afghanistan in an abandoned island, the region and the world community need an Afghanistan compatible with the rules of the game.
Afghanistan needs a viable political system which could promote harmony by its nature. Only a modern and recognized political system with good governance can save Afghanistan from another chaos in the decades ahead.
Afghanistan does not have unlimited time for getting through this havoc. It should get the best advantage of the world attention paid to it. Still, the international community did not disengage from Afghanistan completely. The regional countries have been showing positive signs to help Afghan settlement unanimously. But the continuous reluctance to tolerate each other institutionally through a workable prescription on relative modern lines might make all to leave Afghanistan alone.
No one can contest the view that current dysfunctional political system of Afghanistan needs an overhauling but it should be a step ahead. It cannot afford to once again experience the same model of governance that could not settle the internal sources of crises.
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