By Hiranmay Karlekar
18 January, 2012
It would be dangerous to allow the terrorist group to have an upper hand as the US prepares to exit Afghanistan. There is no scope for a soft approach
With talks likely to begin between the United States and the Taliban, it would be useful to recall the past. On September 26, 1996, the day the Taliban captured Kabul, Mr Glyn Davies, a spokesman of the US Department of State, said, “We hope this presents an opportunity for a process of national reconciliation to begin.” He added, “We hope very much and expect that the Taliban will respect the rights of all Afghans and that the new authorities will move quickly to restore order and security and to form a representative government on the way to some form of national reconciliation.”
As it happened, the Taliban sought ruthlessly to exterminate all opposition throughout the country and introduced a medieval judicial system involving public executions and severance of limbs after travesties of trial. Instead of respecting the rights of all Afghans, it reduced women, who constituted about half of Afghanistan’s population, to domestic slavery and worse.
In his book, The Taliban Phenomenon: Afghanistan 1994-94, Kamal Matinuddin, a retired Lieutenant-General of the Pakistani Army, writes, “Girls are being denied education; women have been prevented from working; if they leave their houses, they will have to be covered head to foot with a veil (burqa); besides being veiled, women have to be accompanied by a male relative when they venture out in the streets. Shopkeepers have been directed not to sell goods to unveiled women. Rickshaw- drivers are not to pick up women passengers unless they are fully covered. Women violating these rules are imprisoned, as are the shop-keeper and the rickshaw-driver.”
In a report entitled, The Taliban’s War on Women: A Health and Human Rights Crisis in Afghanistan, published in 1998, Physicians for Human Rights, a distinguished human rights organisation, has shown how women’s access to medical treatment was severely restricted. The regime also psychologically devastated women. Eighty one per cent of the respondents in PHR’s Health and Human Rights Survey of 160 Afghan women reported a decline in their mental health compared to the two preceding years. Overall, 98 per cent of the respondents met criteria for post-trauma stress disorder, major depression, or significant symptoms of anxiety, with 52 per cent meeting criteria for two and 59 per cent for all the three.
Men were not much better off. The Taliban prohibited music and music cassettes, prescribed imprisonment for cutting or shaving one’s beard, banned kite flying and the display of pictures in vehicles, shops, rooms, hotels or any other place. They also banned singing and dancing at weddings and the keeping of pigeons and playing with birds, ordering the killing of “pigeons and any other playing bird.”
The United States can claim that it would be different this time and a peaceful, democratic Afghanistan that respects the humans rights of all, will emerge from any peace settlement arrived at. It may also recall US President Barack Obama’s policy announcement on Afghanistan and Pakistan on March 27, 2009, which stated that the US “will support efforts by the Afghan Government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens.”
There is no evidence that the Taliban have undertaken “to abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens.” Besides, the Afghan Government and not the US has initiated the talks, and it becomes clear from a report in The New York Times of 12 January, that the Taliban took a year to respond by announcing its intention to open a political office in Qatar.
The Taliban can, therefore, be forgiven if they feel they have the upper hand and, given Washington’s perceived desperation to quite Afghanistan, can have a settlement on their terms by dragging matters. There is absolutely no scope for illusion. Ahmed Rashid writes in Descent into Chaos: How the war against Islamic extremism is being lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, “The most elusive chimera that the CIA pursued, with the encouragement of the ISI, was that ‘moderate’ Taliban Pashtuns would rise to denounce Mullah Omar, hand over bin Laden to the Americans, and join a new coalition Government in Kabul... There were moderates among the Taliban earlier on, but the ISI had betrayed them to Mullah Omar long ago.”
Source: Daily Pioneer