by S. Amjad Hussain
WASHINGTON, DC, November 12 -- Afghanistan has just gone through yet another politico- religious convulsion. Last October an ultra religious militia called Taliban captured the capital city of Kabul and became the latest in a string of rulers who have wrought havoc to that impoverished and war ravaged country.
The new rulers promptly executed the Soviet backed former president Najibullah who had been under house arrest in the United Nations compound in Kabul since his fall four years ago. They strung his body and the bodies of three others in the city square. They imposed their version of Islamic laws by closing girls' schools and ordering the women to stay at home. They also imposed a dress code and declared that illicit sex and drinking will be punished by death.
The making of Taliban (Persian for students, generally meaning students studying religion) and their spectacular success is an intriguing story. Here is a rag tag bunch of students and their teachers who leave their madrassas, sweep the country as a wild fire and within few years captures two thirds of the country and the capital.
Taliban arose in the aftermath of the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. For ten years, starting in 1979, the Afghan Mujahideen, a disparate group of diverse tribal and ethnic backgrounds, banded together to defeat a super power. It was a spectacular victory achieved with the financial and military backing of the Western democracies and the Gulf States.
Once the invaders were defeated the factions reverted to their ethnic animosities, plunging an already devastated country into a civil war. Numerous power sharing agreements among the factions were made and then promptly cast aside. While the president Burhanuddin Rabbani sat in Kabul, his prime minister Gulbadin Hikmatyar devastated Kabul by rockets fired from his stronghold to the South of the capital. Each side had a holier than though attitude and accused the others of betraying the revolution.
Pakistan, Afghanistan's next door neighbor, has a stake in what happens in Afghanistan. Pakistan shares 1500 mile long border with Afghanistan. During the war it provided sanctuary to the Mujahideen leadership, accepted four million Afghan refugees within its borders and gave total access to the freedom fighters to establish their training camps within its territory. Soviets retaliated by bombing Pakistani settlements along the border. Bomb blasts in the busy city centers of Pakistan were common place.
When the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan it was expected that the West will help install a representative government and will help in reconstruction of the country. Instead, by its inaction, the West allowed the Mujahideen to plunge the country in a civil war. The same Mujahideen who once considered Islamabad as their savior now treated it as a meddling nuisance.
Taliban were the answer to Pakistan's frustration with the old Mujahideen leadership. Pakistan with the help of United States encouraged and helped organize Taliban as a counter group. Now their dramatic success introduces a new and unpredictable element in an already muddled situation.
Religion has always been the refuge of misguided ideologues. Taliban have no ready answers to the problems of Afghanistan than did the old leaders. In 1984 at the height of the war I interviewed Gulbadin Hikmatyar. His ideas of governing the country after the war were simplistic and planted in the idealistic model of the eighth century Islamic state. His vision was not different from the vision articulated by Taliban; simple answers and remedies for complex socio-economic problems. Brow beating the populace into submission is certainly not the answer to Afghanistan's pressing problems.
With the Taliban victory Pakistan has regained a foothold in Afghanistan. But if history of that country is any measure Pakistan wouldn't be able to use this influence for long. In the end the Afghans like to sing to their own tune.
[Surgeon-writer S. Amjad Hussain lives in Toledo, Ohio where he writes a bi-weekly column for the Op-Ed pages of The Blade.]