Home >Opinion >Columns >Meet the new Taliban, same as the old Taliban

It’s an idiom of Biblical origin and a story heard almost by everybody in childhood: A wolf in sheep’s clothing. There was a wolf that found great difficulty in getting at the sheep because of the vigilance of the shepherd and his dogs. However, one day, the wolf found the skin of a sheep. It put the skin on over its own pelt and strolled down among the sheep. The Taliban have brought back this story lost in the memories of childhood.

Until two weeks ago, the Taliban were issuing statements to reassure the world that women would get equal rights under their rule, be able to work and be part of the new cabinet. They were promising the youth a better future, freedom for the media and general amnesty for enemies. What happened? Not two days had passed when journalists were beaten to death on the streets of Kabul. All the female TV anchors were sacked and the women who tried to protest were publicly thrashed with belts. The Taliban have started stripping the sheep’s clothing from their bodies.

Had it not been so, its spokesman Zakirullah Hashmi would not have said this: “A woman can’t be a minister… It is not necessary for women to be in the cabinet. They should give birth."

The shocking thing is that fundamentalists in all parts of the world, including Pakistan and even in India, are celebrating this. The Pakistani government feels that Taliban’s return will boost its strength, but it is also true that the Taliban is its biggest threat. This is where the contradictions of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan can be seen. Today, Pakistan is celebrating the crowning of the Taliban, but a few years ago, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund—set to become the prime minister of Afghanistan—had to spend eight years in Pakistani jails. He was released under a deal, but it will be interesting to see how long and how effective this agreement will be. He himself knows that Pakistan is not a reliable friend. Once the strategists of Rawalpindi had backed him, but as soon as their goals were met, they grabbed his neck and put him behind bars. Is there any guarantee that this will not happen again?

Pakistani rulers understand this. This is why ISI chief General Faiz Hameed visited Kabul recently. It was clear that he had gone there to ensure the portfolio of internal security for Sirajuddin Haqqani at any cost. Haqqani, who has the responsibility of restoring peace and order in Afghanistan, has blood-stained hands. The US had announced a bounty of $5 million on him. Haqqani is not the only one in this cabinet to have such an ‘honour’. The UN or the US had declared huge rewards for a number of other ministers, including Akhund. What good can one expect from this government of declared terrorists?

This is the point where I doubt Beijing’s judgement. Afghanistan’s interim government had yet to be formed when China announced $31 million of aid for the ‘reconstruction’ of the country. Some Islamic countries are also courting the Taliban, but it is like playing with fire. It seems Russia has understood this. Moscow was giving mixed signals at first, but in the meeting of BRICS leaders led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin made it clear that Russia is against terrorism. Putin also said that the situation in Afghanistan is a product of the policies of the US. Prior to Putin’s statement, India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had met his Russian counterpart. It is clear that the ground was ready. There is no doubt that after two decades of fighting and bright assurances, the US has fled by handing over a large part of the world to terrorists.

The question that arises is whether the Afghan people will leave themselves like sheep and goats at the mercy of wolves. Certainly not. Afghanistan’s history is littered with tales of resistance. We saw an example of this on the day the Taliban entered Kabul. Five women stood fearlessly with placards of protest. Their numbers were limited, but they were a symbol of resistance.

Similarly, at the beginning of last week, a photograph emerged. Newspapers and television channels from all over the world featured it prominently. The photograph showed a Talib aiming his gun at a woman who had fearlessly flung aside her burqa’s mesh from her face. Let us not forget that in the 1990s, when the Taliban first entered the power circle in Kabul, Afghan women lost their freedom to freely roam the streets of towns and cities. They were enjoying this freedom again for the past few years. By attacking them today, the Taliban are forgetting that there is a big difference from before. Now, Afghan women enjoy tremendous support among social media users. Will these women be the biggest voice and inspiration behind the resistance this time?

You may find this idea too optimistic, but in these dark days, what other alternative is there?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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