A Taliban fighter stands guard at a market with currency exchange shops in Kabul on Sept. 5. (Photo: AFP)
Just three weeks after the Taliban seized Kabul, the militia has shown no signs of shaking off the ultra-orthodox practices of its previous incarnation that ensured Afghanistan remained a failed state throughout the latter half of the 1990s.
Back then public executions, the amputations of thieves’ hands and the flogging of women were mandated by ad-hoc Sharia courts and inflicted by gun-toting religious police, often for trivial offenses.
All forms of human images — on television, photographs and paintings — were banned alongside access to education for girls. These were just a few of the many lame edicts issued by the mullahs who led the Taliban from Kandahar in the deep Pashtu-dominated south.
Throughout their five-year occupation of Kabul, which ended with the 2001 US-led invasion, the Taliban proved themselves an alien concept for the three-quarters of the country which fell outside their tribal domains, lands divided by the ethnic Tajiks, Turks, Hazara and Uzbeks. There the Taliban were widely loathed as outsiders.
Internationally, they mustered the support of just three countries: the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Still, then leader Mullah Mohammed Omar sought wider acceptance and craved United Nations recognition.
At each annual meeting of the UN credentials committee, Taliban chiefs argued that control of Kabul was enough to stake their claim over the entire country.
The Taliban have also housed ISIS-K, which bombed Kabul airport on Aug. 26, in much the same way as previous militia leaders provided a safe haven for al-Qaeda
But the UN stuck with then president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was backed by Ahmad Shah Massoud, the head of the Northern Alliance who was based in the impenetrable Panjshir Valley in the northeast. He was assassinated shortly before the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States in 2001.
The Taliban have returned with a vengeance following the recent US withdrawal and have put international recognition back onto the diplomatic agenda with implications for every seat in the UN General Assembly and the big powers with little interest in common sense or decency.
They must decide whether to accept the militia and its harsh interpretations of the Quran as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan over the ousted, elected government of Ashraf Ghani.
And it should not be a difficult decision. The Taliban have already shattered the agreement struck with former US president Donald Trump that enabled the shambolic withdrawal of US military forces under Joe Biden.
The Taliban have also housed ISIS-K, which bombed Kabul airport on Aug. 26, in much the same way as previous militia leaders provided a safe haven for al-Qaeda, who took responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.
So far no country has offered their hand in the bilateral relations stakes.
Pakistan is eager but Islamabad will want the Taliban to acquiesce to Pakistani claims over disputed territory along the colonial-era Durand-line before offering its blessing.
China says it wants friendly relations with the Taliban. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters that Beijing “respects the right of the Afghan people to independently determine their own destiny.”
It’s a nonsensical argument under the circumstances, but it should not come as a surprise given Beijing’s diplomatic ties with Islamabad are stronger than ever, and it had a familiar ring to Chinese statements issued after the military in Myanmar ousted its elected government in February.
Importantly, the National Resistance Front, also known as the Panjshir Resistance, has replaced the Northern Alliance and is led by Ahmad Massoud, the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud.
Just like his father, Massoud controls the Tajik-dominated northeast with an estimated 9,000 men under arms and has warned he will not surrender territory under his control to the Taliban.
That the Taliban and its current leader Hibatullah Akhundzada can now lay claim to Kabul through the barrel of a gun does not justify its claims over the entire country
Massoud wants a comprehensive government which can include the Taliban, saying war is unavoidable if the militia refuses to negotiate. And he has the ear of the Russians, the Americans and especially the French.
The militia will also struggle to hold and form any semblance of government in the ethnic Turk and Uzbek regions beyond the rugged hinterland and along the north and western border provinces.
That the Taliban and its current leader Hibatullah Akhundzada can now lay claim to Kabul through the barrel of a gun does not justify its claims over the entire country and ignores the sacrifices of the last 20 years, to be commemorated on Sept. 11.
According to Brown University, the total cost of the 9/11 wars, covering more than 80 countries and designed to root out terrorism, has been US$8 trillion and resulted in 900,000 deaths. Those figures exclude the costs borne by nations ranging from Australia to the UK.
Put simply, the Afghan civil war is not over and to relent on recognition would constitute a savage betrayal of the lives lost and damaged by wars and terrorist strikes that were ignited by Osama bin Laden’s suicide bombers who ploughed two hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center.
Recognition would also send a double thumbs-up to religious fanatics across the planet.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.