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Interview | Understanding Afghanistan

Interview | Understanding Afghanistan

Mepa News conducted an interview with Afghan journalists Sangar Paykhar and Ahmad Waleed Kakar titled "Understanding Afghanistan".

Mepa News | Haber Merkezi
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Mepa News conducted an interview with Afghan journalists Sangar Paykhar and Ahmad Waleed Kakar titled "Understanding Afghanistan".

In the interview, the war processes in the country, the political and sociological structure, its history and many other issues were discussed.


- First of all, could you introduce yourselves and your ares of expertise?

Sangar Paykhar: My name is Sangar Paykhar. I am from Kabul, Afghanistan and I currently live in the Netherlands. I am a graduate of The Hague School of Governance and Global Affairs. I have worked as a translator and cross-cultural communication expert for the last 10 years. I am the host of the Afghan Eye Podcast and before that I use to run a Dutch online Magazine for the Muslim community called Hollandistan.

Ahmed Waleed Kakar: Salam alaykum. My name is Ahmed Waleed Kakar. I graduated with an undergraduate in Politics and History, and completed a Masters in World History. I’m the founder of The AfghanEye which is independent media platform operated by Sangar Paykhar and I, that serves to provide a counter-narrative to conventional understandings of Afghan history, politics and society, especially after the War on Terror. I’m also a co-host with Sangar Paykhar on The AfghanEye podcast.

History: The making of modern Afghanistan

- There is no doubt that, for understanding a country, we have to know and understand its history well. Could you describe us the formation process of the 'Modern Afghanistan'? (Especially from 1700's, from the Hotak Dynasty)

Ahmed Waleed Kakar: The name Afghanistan is old. It was generally used specifically to refer to areas south of Kabul (including parts of what is now Pakistan), including by Zahir ud-Din Babur (founder of the Mughal dynasty) in his Baburnama. At this time ‘Afghan’ was synonymous with ‘Pashtun’ and that ‘Afghan’ was a denonym ethnicity. Later on, in the 20th century, ‘Afghan’ came to denote nationality instead.

In the 1700s Qandahar was ruled by the Safavids whom were increasingly forcing local Sunni Afghans to convert to Shi’ism, which led to a rebellion of a tribal chief called Mirwais Khan, who hailed from the Hotak tribe (just like Mullah Omar) of the Ghilzai confederacy. Mirwais freed Qandahar and his descendents later caused the Safavid Empire to collapse after they took Isfahan. They even briefly battled against the Ottomans. Later, the Hotaks collapsed and eventually a new Afghan Empire was formed, with Ahmad Shah Durrani as the King. He declared his capital in Qandahar, united the Afghan tribes and formed an empire whose highlight was defeating the Hindu Marathas at Panipat in 1761, after Muslims in India including prominent scholar Shah Waliullah Dehlawi urged him to prevent a Maratha takeover. However, as much of his reign was spent fighting wars and balancing between different rival groups in his Empire, the Empire’s institutions were weak, which led to its eventual collapse. Infighting between eventual successors was largely responsible for this, as most of the Princes governed different areas and had their own armies, much like the initial Ottoman civil wars between brothers, like that between Yavuz Sultan Salim and his brother Ahmed, or the sons of Sultan Sulayman Qanuni.

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Illustration: Afghan forces are attacking British-Indian army during the Firsth Anglo Afghan War

Eventually, in the 1820s leadership was taken by the Barakzai-Muhammadzai branch of the Durrani tribal confederacy. Afghanistan’s winter capital of Peshawar and other ethnically Pashtun/Afghan areas now in Pakistan were lost to the Sikhs as the Barakzai-Muhammadzai clan feuded amongst themselves for their newly-found power, with Amir Dost Muhammad Khan emerging as the eventual head of the dynasty. During this time, Tsarist Russia was expanding in Central Asia whilst British invaded Afghanistan twice, in 1839 and 1879, to bring it under its influnece, and were both times repelled by stiff resistance. After several defeats, the British withdrew and abandoned any idea of holding Afghanistan militarily. They did, however, place their favourite, Abdul Rahman Khan who was grandson of Amir Dost Muhammad Khan and nephew of the former Amir Sher Ali Khan, on the throne in 1880. They formally delineated Afghanistan’s borders, including the infamous Durand Line, and took control of Afghanistan’s foreign affairs. Later, Abdul Rahman’s grandson Amanullah fought a brief war with British India and won back Afghanistan’s independence over its foreign affairs in 1919, but was deposed for his sweeping secularist reforms and eventually replaced by the Musahiban family in 1929 who were Barakzai-Muhammadzai but descended instead from Amir Dost Muhammad Khan’s brother, Sultan Muhammad Khan Telayi. The Musahiban ruled until 1978.

Afghanistan as a modern state was instituted in the late 19th century under Amir Abdul Rahman Khan. The history of peoples and regions, however, is not analogous to the history of the nation-state that they now find themselves residents and/or citizens of. This would mean that German history started only following the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, or that Turkish history started in 1923. Abdul Rahman’s two decade-reign was beset by dozens of rebellions which killed tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people, whilst the population at the time was estimated at a mere 2-3 million people. During this time too, Afghanistan became characterised by its global isolation, as the trade networks that passed through it, connecting the Middle East, Central Asia and India came under the control of hostile forces, like the British, Russians or Persians. Ultimately, Abdul Rahman succeeded where all Afghan rulers, even Ahmad Shah, had failed, even if at great human cost. His death was marked by a successful and peaceful transfer of power, to his son and designed heir, Habibullah Khan.

20th century and reform attempts

- If we want to know about today's Afghanistan, we must analyze the reform attempts in the early 20th century. Most of the people are liken these reforms to the Mustafa Kemal's reforms in the Turkey. What are your assessments about this process in Afghanistan?

Ahmed Waleed Kakar: Afghanistan did not escape WWI’s consequences. The royal court was torn between two camps, nationalist and religious, both of whom wanted to join the Ottoman side and launch war against British India. The Amir, Habibullah, carefully weighed his options and decided to remain neutral, figuring that Afghanistan was too impoverished to wage a sustained war against its massive neighbour in India. Habibullah died, and the nationalist camp, headed by Prince Amanullah, eventually came to power in 1919. WWI was over but Amanullah launched a war against the British and regained Afghanistan’s independence.

Afghans generally sympathised with the Turkish and it was for that reason that Afghanistan recognised Turkish independence even whilst Mustafa Kemal was waging the Turkish War of Independence following the Treaty of Sevres. At the time, no one knew of Mustafa Kemal’s secularist leanings, and he was widely admired. Amanullah initially did not attempt a strong secularisation and merely wanted to standardise governance in Afghanistan within the strict confines of Hanafi fiqh. In this he had the support of many senior religious scholars, including my great-grandfather Mawlawi Abdul-Wasi’ Kakar. Later, his reforms failed and he visited Europe and Turkey for 9 months between 1927-1928 and he became convinced of secularising Afghanistan. To some extent, he was inspired by and  imitated Ataturk’s steps, including banning polygamy outright (rather than limited it to four wives, as he originally intended), publicly unveiling his wife, and forced Afghans in Kabul to dress in Western clothing.

Even from a secularist perspective Amanullah was extremely naive. The Ottoman Empire had been exposed to European modes of thinking, dress and culture for centuries even before the ascendancy of Europe in the world. Afghanistan had only experienced a fraction of this. Mustafa Kemal was able to secularise Turkey after establishing a popular government in Ankara and securing the loyalty of the military. Whilst Amanullah and his father in law Mahmud Tarzi were influenced by the Young Turks and Ataturk, Amanullah ignored the fact that Afghanistan’s key feature was its historically weak central government and the widely dispersed population who lives in mountains and valleys beyond Kabul’s control.

Era of the Soviet invasion

- In the 1970's, the Leftist currents' effect on the Afghan bureucracy and army, was increase. After that, this effect caused a military coup and invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet Union. In these years, Leftist governmenst took different steps which weren't suitable with the sociology of the Afghanistan. In spite of that, some circles claiming that these years were the "bright years" of the Afghanistan. Could you describe this process (1970's, Leftists and their practises) detailedly? In addition to this, why some circles claiming that these years were the "bright years" of the Afghanistan? Were these years really a "bright era" for Afghanistan?

Sangar Paykhar: The leftists in Afghanistan should be called communists. Because all major leftist parties in Afghanistan were Marxists who either followed the Soviet version of communist revolution or the Maoist version. Now people feel uncomfortable calling them communists because it is seen as a slur. But they were all inspired by Marx, the Communist Manifesto, Das Kapital and the Soviet Communist revolution.

Afghan Communists helped Daud Khan to overthrow King Zahir Shah in 1973. From 1973 til 1979, Daud Khan was the president while most of the military were Soviet trained marxists. Among the Kabul intelligensia there was also a pro Soviet communist party. The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan. Daud Khan launched a gradual process of modernization and liberalization.

Daud was an authoritarian Pashtun nationalist who kept the communists close to him. But he didnt want Afghanistan to become a vassal of Soviet Union. His process of modernization was not quick enough and that’s why the communists ran out of patience with him. This is when the communist revolution occured in 1978.

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During 70s, communists in the Afghan army were in a very active position

The communists have killed about 2 million Afghans and commited many crimes. But in order to understand the problem of communists, one needs to understand what motivated them. They claimed that they want to modernize Afghanistan and develop the country to become prosperous. As believers in ‘Scientific Marxism’ they were driven purely by materialism. But they failed because of the following reason.

Afghanistan as a country never went through a process of industrialization. The changes in Western society since the Enlightement are often attributed to adopting new ideas. The role of amassing wealth through colonization of other countries and subsequent industrialization are conveniently ignored. Their social norms that emerged in the 20th century are a consequence of the process that preceded them. In the modern societies the role of church, religion and traditional social norms eroded.

For example in Western societies, women obtained most of their rights because millions of men were dying during the first World War as soldiers. Women were forced to take up jobs in factories. When women  earned wages and became more independent they demanded equal rights.

In Afghanistan the leftists introduced western secular liberal ideas in a top-down fashion. Meaning that they took control of state institutions and tried to force society to adopt modernity without the preceding stages of modernity in Western societies. They encouraged removal of veils, introducing dancing women to TV programs and expected a very traditional conservative society to obediently accept the new norms. They killed rich landowners and redistributed their land among farmers. They killed imams and tribal leaders and destroyed traditional structure of the society by eliminating the elites. Most Afghans lived off subsistance farming. There were no paid jobs for women in Afghanistan. The Leftists wanted the society to mimick Soviet and Western socities in form. It was mainly intended to create shallow cosmetic change of the society. Naturally, these alien ideas resulted into a major backlash.

But now people refer back to that era as the bright years, the golden era. They only care about seeing afghan women in miniskirts and a few buildings and vehicles that appeared modern in a largely rural and pre-modern society. They ignore the suffering of millions of Afghans and the total destruction of old Afghanistan by brute force. They ignore how millions were killed and many were burried in mass graves. They only care about mere mimickry of modernity by the communists.

- How was the general political looking of the 'mujahideen' groups in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion? And how this war was affect Afghanistan?

Sangar Paykhar: The Mujahideen groups roughly consisted of four types. The first group consisted of traditional tribal and regional leaders, Islamic scholars, spiritual figures and imams. They took up arms in response to the Communist revolution. The second group was ideological. They were mainly inspired by The Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East and Jamaat e Islami in Pakistan.

While the first group was mainly focussing on restoring traditional order in Afghanistan by expelling the Soviets and overthrowing the communist regime in Kabul, the latter believed in an international islamic revival. The latter group consisted of parties like Hizb-e-Islami, Jamiat-e-Islami and Ittehad-e-Isami.

The parties inspired by Islamic revivalism received most of the financial and military support from Pakistan, Arab states and the United States. They were the most powerful groups.

A third group was mainly inspired by the Deobandi revivalist movement in the Subcontinent. The Taliban emerged out of that group in the 90’s.

The last group and the smallest group consisted of Shiites. They consisted primarily of ethnic Hazara’s. During the Soviet occupation they played an insignificant role.

The problem with jihadi movements in Afghanistan was that chaos of revolution and instability attracts all kinds of people to armed groups. The most cunning and opportunist figures succesfullly managed to take advantage of the situation and become leaders of the resistence against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

These figures were also involved in infighting and oppression of fellow Afghans during the jihad against the communists.

One of the reasons why the overthrow of the communist regime in the 1992 resulted into a civil war is because armed factions were being led by people who weren’t motivated by restoring order, justice and stability. However, their true intentions werent apparent to the masses during the Soviet occupation because the whole country was focussed on expelling the invaders and overthrowing the oppressive communist regime.

90s and civil wars

- As we know, after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, a civil war erupted in Afghanistan. First of its period lasted to 1992 and second period lasted to 1996. Afghanistan suffered a real devastation in this process. Can you describe us the Civil War process between 1989-1996, parties of this civil war, their role and the foreign support which they enjoyed?

Sangar Paykhar: I have answered parts of this question already. I will try to explain the role of neighboring countries in the civil war.

When the Soviet Union decided to pull out its troops out of Afghanistan, the leadership in Moscow didn’t want Afghanistan to fall into the hands of elements that were alligned with United States, Pakistan and the Arab states. Even during the occupation, the KGB established relationship with Ahmed Shah Massoud of Jamiat-e-Islami. They paid him so that he could secure supply routes for Soviets through northern Afghanistan. Soviet forces were being supplied by land via Uzbekistan. Most of the resistence against Soviet occupation was happening in the southern and eastern parts of the country. Massoud made sure Soviets could transport their supplies and troops through Northern Afghanistan all the way to the South where most of the fighting was happening.

Inside the communist regime, the KGB maintained seperate relationship with various factions among the communists. The Russians employed a classic divide and rule strategy among mujahideen and the communists all at once.

After the withdrawal of Soviet troops, some Afghan communists disapproved of president Najibullah’s overtures towards the mujahideen and his National Reconciliation policy. The policy was designed to create a armistice, a free election and a new government consisting of all political parties. The Russians feared that the National Reconciliation will result into a new pro Western regime in Kabul and in order to sabotage that, they organized communists from within Najibullah’s own party to overthrow his regime. Those communists eventually surrendered Kabul to Jamiat-e-Islami.

Meanwhile other Mujahideen factions who weren’t part of the conspiracy and yet did most of the fighting against the communists wanted to take control of the country. The civil war that started after the fall of the communist regime was mainly a power struggle between different competing parties.

In hindsight we can say that the infighting was bound to happen because there were too many different mujahideen factions and these groups maintained ties with different regional countries. While Hizb-e-Isami was most favored by Pakistan, other groups drew support from Iran, India and later even Russia.

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Gulbuddin Hekmatyar with Ahmed Shah Massoud at peace talks in 1992

When the civil war erupted, the regional countries supported different factions. India, Iran, Pakistan and Russia were heavily involved in providing military and financial support to different groups. All these countries were competing against each other through a proxy war in Afghanistan. For Russia after the fall of Soviet-Union it was important to see a destabilized and destroyed Afghanistan rather than a state that may be aligned with the West. Iran feared that a central government in Afghanistan under sunni leadership will pose a threat to a radical shiite theocracy. Plus Iran depends on water that flows freely into Iran via Afghan rivers. A stable government in Afghanistan may create dams to generate electricity using the rivers. The same concerns over water also still exist in Pakistan. India was also involved in supporting Jamiat-e-Islami because India feared that a pro-Pakistani regime in Kabul will strengthen Pakistan and pose a threat to Indian interests in Kashmir.

Different groups involved in the civil war still maintain close ties to their regional patrons. Those groups have all now joined the current government since the US invasion in 2001. However, one of the main reasons why Americans and their allies have failed to create a functioning governent in Kabul is because they rely heavily on groups who are still loyal to neighboring countries. Iran, Russia, Pakistan and India play a major role in destabilizing Afghanistan and the Americans have failed to curb the influence of regional powers.

- How the war against Soviets and following civil wars affected the country historically and sociologically?

Ahmed Waleed Kakar: The Soviet occupation in Afghanistan was a catastrophe. Politically, socially and economically its effects still plague Afghanistan to this day. With the notable exception of Genghis Khan, who brought to Central Asia in general utter ruin, the destructiveness of previous wars in Afghanistan had been inficted primarily in political matters in which state institutions were weakened, for example fracticidal wars of succession or invasions by British India. Even these, however, were confined largely to urban centers without the rural countryside seeing tangible losses as a result. The Soviet occupation was different; the world’s most sophisticated military machine rained utter terror on Afghanistan. Russian troops numbered 115,000 and committed untold atrocities.

Economically, as Afghanistan was primarily a rural based society, the war was ruinous. The country’s agricultural base was broken. As noted by Barnett Rubin, it is as a result of this war that the two largest forms of the country’s economic activity are now War and Drugs. Afghanistan was generally a subsistence based economy in which farmers lived off their harvest. With war, much farmland was destroyed, rural families who tilled the land were displaced, and young men were conscripted either into the communist regime or joined the Mujahideen which further decreased the supply of food. Foreign cash flooded into the country, creating a scenario were a cashless society was now heavily monetised and the supply of food dwindled whilst many rural Afghans were either killed, joined the war, relocated to urban centers or lands were destroyed. Opium and other drugs were cultivated to provide easy sources of cash, which further debilitated the country’s social fabric.

Politically, the country hasn’t recovered from the war, even as it underwent two decades of US occupation. The communists inherited a central state that was the most powerful and organised that Afghanistan has ever seen. It had been built slowly but gradually over the course of five decades of peace, since Nader Shah of the Musahiban took the throne in 1929. As such, their capacity for destruction was high. They originally embarked on a campaign of terror, dragging away anyone suspected of dissent into black prisons, never to return. Afghanistan is full of widows, mothers, sisters and daughters whose husbands, sons, brothers and fathers were dragged off at night and vanished without a trace. The communists killed anyone who could resist their agenda, killing elders, tribal elders, mullahs/imams, politicians from the former royal regime (including former Prime Ministers). This made it much easier for regional countries to exert their influence, as indigenous and local leaders were all killed. This ruined the country’s social fabric and to this day there has been a crisis of legitimacy in the many governments whom have taken power. Long established and agreed upon modes of governance which were devised following painstaking struggle over the course of decades were abruptly derailed, with no end in sight as to how to enact a new agenda on which Afghans, without foreign interference and impositions, can agree upon a new framework.

Socially, between 1.5m-2m Afghans died. About 5-6m others were exiled, primarily to Pakistan and Iran, and from there to countries across the world. These numbers are particularly staggering when it’s considered that the population in 1978, before the Communist coup, was estimated at 18m people.

The effects can be summarised by an almost perpetual political turbulence, the rise of local magnates undermining the central state, a shattered economic backbone and a multi-generational trauma that is being exacerbated with every day that war continues to rage.

- There is a significiant media coverage, books, researches etc. about the War in Afghanistan between 1978-1994. But when if look closely, we are notice that there is a lack of coverage about the Southern Afghanistan, the Pashtun heartland. Despite the fact that there was a stiff resistence occured in there, especially in the Helmand and Kandahar, these regions ignored mostly. How was the war process between 1978-1994 in the Southern Afghanistan? Why their resistence disregarded?

Sangar Paykhar: War time journalism heavily depends on sponsorship and political patronage. Political figures who have ties with outside world were more capable of attracting Western authors and journalists. Journalists visited armed factions who had good relationships with the Americans, Arab jihadis, European countries and NGO’s. The armed factions in the deep south and the east were traditional rural Afghans. Their struggle was not linked to international politics. That’s why there was very little interest in documenting their struggle.

Political figures

- During the war process, different circles promoted different personalities, like Ahmad Shah Massoud, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, Rashid Dostum etc. Recently you wrote an article about Ahmad Shah Massoud and a lot of people read and shared your article. Within the frame of "Understanding of Afghanistan" theme, what could you say about all of these personalities?

Ahmed Waleed Kakar: All of these personalities played major roles in the Afghan jihad against the Soviet occupation. Rabbani was the head of Jamiat Islami, and Massoud headed the Shura ye Nezar group under the Jamiat umbrella, whilst Hekmatyar led what was the largest mujahideen group Hezb Islami, of which my father was an active member. Abdul Rashid Dostum is often described as a communist however this is inaccurate, he’s better understood as a mercenary who served the communist government until the last minute when he betrayed it and joined forces with Massoud. He later joined Hekmatyar, and then later joined the Americans in their invasion of Afghanistan. He is infamous for his brutality as well as frequent switching of sides.

Most of these personalities are rightfully criticised for the roles they played in the country’s destruction, especially during the civil war. All of them are to be criticised and held to account. The exception is Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was after 2001 given the title of National Hero and an entire week was dedicated to his memory. This is even longer than how long Christians commemorate Jesus/Isa alayhis salam. I wrote my article to show that rather than being a hero for all Afghans, he served a veyry narrow demographic in Afghanistan. Rather than being a stalwart foe of the Russians, he cooperated with them for his own political benefit. Rather than being a unifying figure for all Afghans, he partook in worsening ethnic divides in his own speeches. Rather than being an enemy of communism, he allied with communist officials based on ethnicity to fight other mujahideen. Rather than being an enemy of the Taliban, he actually helped them extensively at the beginning. The point of my article was not to prove that Massoud was uniquely evil, but to prove that he wasn’t uniquely holy. Indeed, he was one of the politicians we should hold partly responsible for Afghanistan’s current state.

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Ruined civil infrastructure in Kabul due to the civil war, 1993

In the framework of understanding Afghanistan, what is important to note about these personalities is the shifts they undertook to preserve their own power. Massoud and Dostum I have already briefly discussed, but Rabbani and and Gulbuddin need mention too. Rabbani offered Tajik members of Hekmatyar’s Hezb Islami the role of Prime Minister on explicitly ethnic grounds in order to cement his power, after spending decades of his life calling for Islamic solidarity. Hekmatyar too, like the others, participated in widespread destruction of Kabul, allying with Shia Hazara leader Mazari, whose forces raped Pashtun women and mutilated their corpses. Hekmatyar also allied with Dostum. These leaders exemplify perfectly the opportunism and lack of moral compass endemic in much of the political class.

Background: Rise of the Taliban

- After all of these civil wars, the Taliban established in 1994 and gained control in the most of Afghanistan. There was numerous internal and external causes for their expansion process. Would you tell us, what were the political, military, historical and sociological causes which enabled Taliban to exist and put them into power?

Sangar Paykhar: The war against Soviet Union and the communist regime in Afghanistan was faught by different factions and different people with competing interests and ideologies. As I explained before, there were 4 types of Mujahideen groups in Afghanistan. While most eventually got involved in a civil war, a significant part of Mujahideen stopped fighting in 1989 soon after Soviet withdrawal. They were mainly traditional rural Imams, islamic scholars, local tribal leaders, and respected figures within their communities. They were not motivated by some grand ideology. Neither were they fighting for political power and wealth.

However, when most other Mujahideen factions started infighting, the country was in a worse state of turmoil than during the Soviet occupation. Criminal gangs associated with different Mujahideen factions divided every city, village and district into pieces. They robbed civilians, kidnapped boys and girls and started an war against other ethnic groups.

The people who abstained from fighting after Soviet withdrawl stood by and saw the fruit of their jihad rotting in front of their eyes. Those people were eventually the ones who took up arms against warring factions and joined Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid. Under his leadership, the Taliban managed to defeat all other factions and bring order where there was total chaos and anarchy.

There are two main reasons behind Taliban’s success in defeating all other factions. The first reason is that people in rural Afghanistan were sick and tired of the banditry of other factions. People joined the Taliban en masse all across the South and the East. There were myths and fairy tale like stories going around all over Afghanistan about Taliban being like saintly creatures who kill bandits and bring peace and stability.

The second reason is Pakistan’s political and economic interests. Pakistan helped the Afghans in their war against Soviet Union. However, when Soviet Union was defeated and fell apart, Pakistan could not benefit from the new political order in central Asia. The rich Central Asian republics have unlimited amount of resources that could be exported via Afghanistan and the seaports of Pakistan. As a minor industrial nation, Pakistan was producing a lot of textiles and other low tech goods that could be sold in Central Asia.

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Taliban fighters watch civil servants and residents marching through  Kabul, October 17, 1996

But the civil war in Afghanistan blocked trade routes for Pakistan. This is why, Pakistan initially hoped that Hizbe Islami would defeat all other groups and bring order and stability to Afghanistan to that Pakistan can start trading with Central Asia. But when Hizbe Islami failed to make any progress, in 1994 the Taliban emerged as an alterntive. The initial success of Taliban against different factions was noticed in Islamabad. The Pakistanis soon decided to bet their money on the Taliban. They supplied them with cash, equipment and allowed Pakistani Islamic parties to swell the ranks of Taliban with young men from Pashtun dominated areas of north-east Pakistan.

A third and minor reason for Taliban’s success is that different factions during the civil war hoped that the Taliban would side with them. Jamiat-e-Islami under leadership of Burhanudeen Rabbani and Ahmed Shah Massoud contacted the Taliban in the early stages of the war and agreed to cooperate against Hekmatyar’s Hizbe Islami. This division among different groups further weakened them which enabled the Taliban to defeat all of them.

Ahmed Waleed Kakar: Many people make the mistake of assuming that Afghanistan was taken by the Taliban in a collective moment of national madness, the way Florence was taken by Savonarola in the 15th century or the monk Rasputin wooed the Romanovs during the First World War. The reality is far more complex.

In the aftermath of the collapse of the communist government in 1992, many Afghans were delighted and looked at the Mujahideen factions as the saviours of the country. However, when many of these Mujahideen factions, especially in Kabul, started fighting each other, they brought a level of destruction and chaos that many never expected. The parties fought each other and massacred residents based on ethnicity. This fighting destroyed Kabul as a city known for its beauty, and its scars and destruction are still visible today. The Mujahideen factions, rather than putting former communists on trial, instead allied with ex-communists on ethnic grounds against each other. Especially disgraceful for Afghans was the fact that these former soldiers of Allah were going as far as dishonouring women, raping them and mutilating their dead bodies purely for living in the wrong parts of Kabul, or being from the wrong ethnicity. It was a dark period for Afghanistan, and foreign powers such as Iran, Russia, India and Pakistan supported the rival sides.

The Taliban rose up in 1994 as a collection of former southern Mujahideen fighters dedicated to ensuring stability and security. In the process, they attracted the attention of not just Pakistan but also of Massoud and Rabbani, who were ruling in Kabul and battling against Hekmatyar. Massoud and Rabbani viewed the Taliban as a useful tool to divide Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Pashtun forces, and with their help the Taliban took over Hekmatyar’s territory. Later, it became clear that the Taliban were not after just Hekmatyar, but all of the ex-mujahideen groups that had destroyed Kabul and the rest of the country. They employed practical politics, exploited local rivalries to co-opt many commanders whilst isolating and defeating others. By 2001, Massoud controlled about 5% of the country near Tajikistan, whereas the Taliban had taken over the rest.

The US invasion and Kabul government

- After the US invasion in 2001, a government was installed in Afghanistan by the US and the West. This government survived until today, but it's facing serious charges. We can line up these charges as: Moral and material corruption, giving old war criminals a seat among its ranks, bribery, arbitrary arrests and killing etc. Could you describe us the establisment process of Kabul government and details of these charges?

Sangar Paykhar: The political parties responsible for the civil war after the defeat of the Communists in Afghanistan have proven themselves to be unscrupelous. Most of them opposed Soviet occupation and the Communist regime but they were in many ways not much better than their adversaries. That’s why they were involved in infighting amongst each other even during the Soviet occupation. Later they started a full fledged war with each other killing thousands of civilians, robbing them and taken their material possesions. They killed people merely for belonging to a different ethnic groups. Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazara’s, Uzbeks and all minor ethnic groups engaged in this ethnic conflict.

After the 9/11 attacks, United States and it’s allies were shocked. They felt the need to act fast in order to defeat Al Qaeda. In a state of shock, they were driven by an old and very simple principle: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. So they quickly moved to supply all parties who were defeated by the Taliban with cash, weapons and ammunition. Those groups consisted of Communist warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, Jihadi leader Abdurrab Rasool Sayyaf, Qasim Fahim and similar figures who were all responsible for ethinc conflict, mass murder and crimes against humanity.

Aside from these warlords, there were groups of politicians who didn’t participate in the civil war but they served for Western countries under different roles.

When the Taliban were defeated, the United States and it’s allies established a new government where the bulk of it consisted of criminals who have commited far worse crimes than the Taliban. It was a coalition out of necessity. The United States and it’s allies didn’t really care about who they were befriending and empowering in Afghanistan.

A smaller group of people who gradually but eventually became part of the new regime in Kabul consisted of communists. People who served for the communist regime during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

So the new government, it’s political leadership, it’s military leadership and it’s civil service consisted of people who were known criminals with blood on their hands.

This is why when we talk about corruption, crime, human rights violation and all other atoricities in Afghanistan, we must acknowledge that all of this was bound to happen. The system that was created in 2001 was was faulty by design. None of the people involved in creating the new government was motivated by helping and improving the lives of people in Afghanistan.

So looking back at this government after two decades, we can conclude that all of the problems could have been predicted from the outset.

Social and ethnic structure

- Could you tell us, how is the present social and ethnic structure in Afghanistan and how this structure reflect on the political arena of Afghanistan?

Ahmed Waleed Kakar: Afghanistan has never had a proper census conducted. Figures quoted on ethnicity are therefore generally estimates. The estimates are that Pashtuns are the largest ethnicity (or maybe even the majority of the population), and are followed by Tajiks, then by Hazaras and Uzbeks, with some smaller ethnicities such as Turkmen, Aimaq, Baloch and Nuristani. However it is also possible that Pashtuns and Tajiks (the second ethnicity in Afghanistan) comprise equal proportions of the population, in the range of around 35% each. Tajiks are also known locally as Farsiwan, referring to the fact they speak Farsi, which is also called Dari. All of these groups are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims who practise Islam in accordance with Hanafi fiqh, with the exception of the generally Twelver Shia Hazaras.

It is accurate to say that Dari Farsi is the most widely spoken language in the country. Non-Tajiks such as Hazaras also speak it. Other ethnicities tend to speak it as a second language, as it has been used historically as a the language of administration in Afghanistan just as it was by the Seljuks and Ottomans as well as the various Islamic dynasties in India. It is also important not to conflate ethnicity with language, as some may speak Dari as their first language whilst belonging to other ethnicities. For example, many Uzbeks and Pashtuns who settled into urban areas in which Dari was widely spoken came to speak Dari as their mother tongues whilst retaining their ethnic identities. The last rulers of the Barakzai-Muhammadzai dynasty like the last king Muhammad Zahir Shah or the first President Sardar Muhammad Daud Khan were examples of this.  Others completely abandoned their ethnic identities. Thus, whilst Farsiwan are usually counted as Tajiks, this is not always an ethnic label, merely a linguistic one.

A lot of attention has been devoted since 2001 toward ensuring a representative and inclusive government in Afghanistan, which has failed. Firstly, no one actually knows the demographic breakdown each ethnicity. Secondly, the politicians selected from each ethnicity have questionable records, with Uzbeks supposed to be represented by someone like Dostum, Hazaras apparently represented by politicians like Muhaqqiq and Danish, Tajiks represented by the Massoud clan and its associates, and Pashtuns by people like Ashraf Ghani, Hamid Karzai or Gul Agha Sherzai.

These figures do not represent their ethnicities. The fact they were selected by the Americans following 2001 means they owe their positions to American generosity, not because of any nomination from their people.  The system incentivises these politicians to exploi ethnic differences to cement their power bases, which has weakened national cohesion. For example, whilst politicians from Massoud’s Panjsher have been very well represented, how much can a Tajik from areas in southern Afghanistan like Ghazni and Paktia identify with them, especially given their track record of corruption? Both Presidents Karzai and Ashraf Ghani have been Pashtun whilst their provinces of Qandahar and Logar have suffered during the last 19 years of war, which is reflected across much of the Pashtun tribal belt in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, which have suffered the most devastation in the region. In short, the system has left everyone feeling excluded and marginalised, whilst being notoriously corrupt and benefitting from continuous war.

Today and tomorrow of Taliban

- Especially after the recent political proceses, Taliban becoming a more open movement day by day. With this, communications between the Taliban and civil-social society of Afghanistan became more visible. Already, the movement controls a significant part of the country and it is a fact that they are a non-negligible actor for the future of Afghanistan. In this direction, what do you think about Taliban's future in Afghanistan. If they come into power again, what will their effect on the country and its people?

Sangar Paykhar: The Taliban are a representation of a particular political and ideological subsection of the Afghan society. They represent people from predominantly rural Afghanistan.

One of the most important rules of political conflict is that the party in the opposition has the best chances of growing and gaining more influence if it is not defeated. Which means that the failure to defeat and exterminate the Taliban in Afghanistan has made the Taliban a much bigger political entity than they have ever been.

However, the Taliban are not a political party in the traditional sense. They are not organized based on a modern political doctrine and they dont follow a particular political ideologue.

The Taliban emerged as a movement out of a necessity. The absense of rule of law and security in Southern Afghanistan forced rural Imams and their students to take up arms. From that moment all the way to this day, the Taliban are still in many ways the same. They operate as an organization out of necessity.

The exit of foreign forces and a return of stability in Afghanistan will have a very powerful impact on the Taliban. Most of it’s leaders will probably leave the political arena and return back to their lives as civilians.

But a significant part of the movement, especially their younger cadres may be much more politically ambitious. They will probably expect a prominent role in Afghanistan’s future. However, I can’t predict in what capacity they will participate in a future government. We still don’t know much about what the future of Afghanistan will look like.

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Taliban members who took over Kabul city and Afghan government. August 15, 2021

Ahmed Waleed Kakar: One of the main problems of the last 19 years was the attempt to completely erase the Taliban from the horizon of Afghanistan. This was based on an incorrect understanding of the Taliban as a political group. In reality, however, the Taliban can be seen to have existed for centuries, as they reflect an entrenched part of society particularly in southern Afghanistan, in which local madrassas have been run by imams and scholars independently of government, and the Talibs form their own social/religious networks. Eliminating the Taliban would entail eliminating a whole political subculture that itself is the product of centuries of evolution. Their religious education is focused deeply on the Hanafi legal school as well as strong emphasis placed on the spiritual sciences of Islam, also known as Tasawwuf/Sufism. This made them share many commonalities with the Deobandi movement in India. Deeply devout, their perspectives toward the world have been coloured by tales of their ancestors fighting jihad against foreign occupiers, which has made them not just proud and resilient, but also deeply suspicious of the outside world, whether in the form of other political ideas, technology or ideologies.

One of the benefits of the peace-process has been to acknowledge the Taliban as an integral part of Afghan society. The future of the Taliban will depend on the outcome of the peace process. Afghanistan is changing, and just as a compromise needs to be reached between the various Afghan parties in Doha, this compromise needs to also be acceptable to the rank and file Taliban fighters who joined the movement to fight a jihad for 19 years. A peace deal or arrangement that does not look enough like a victory for the Taliban could threaten the harmony of the group. Therefore, just as the Taliban leadership need to bring other factions in Afghanistan onside, they need to also be careful to keep their own members onside.

Their effect on the country and the people will depend upon what kind of governance they will bring, and what their foreign policy will look like. What can be guessed is that there better security. Even if Daesh continues to cause security problems it isn’t likely that these would be anywhere near the level of the Taliban. Measures will need to be taken to account for the Islamic ethos of Afghan society in any future government, whilst avoiding some of the unnecessary harshness of previous Taliban rule. The role of foreign powers needs to be assessed too, whilst Pakistan seems to so far be keen on a resolution of the Afghan conflict, the same cannot be said of other powers like Iran and Russia. The attitudes of some countries in the Middle East remains to be seen, for example the UAE, who offered to assassinate Taliban leaders to the USA privately.

For understanding Afghanistan

- There was a war environment in Afghanistan for more than 40 years. This war covered by media but, there isn't any serious attempt to understand Afghanistan really. You are Afghan researchers and you are true witnesses of what is happening in Afghanistan. So what could you say about "Understanding Afghanistan"? What is needed to understand Afghanistan and why it's important to understand Afghanistan?

Sangar Paykhar: Both of us are Afghans who are not based in Afghanistan. While both of us try to get a holistic and comprehensive picture of Afghanistan, we are still not the most suitable people to talk about Afghanistan.

Anyone who wants to understand Afghanistan, must talk to Afghan scholars, academics, researchers and journalists who live in Afghanistan and have never left. There are many Afghans in Afghanistan who have lived through all of the conflicts and they face threats and challenges every day from all sides. They should be asked to explain how they see Afghanistan.

You should talk to the following people: Abdul Jabbar Baheer, Zakir Jalaly, Faiz Zaland, Nazar Muhammad Mutamaeen, Khairullah Shinwari, Nasratullah Haqpal, Abbassin Zmaryalai, Hassan Haqyar, Roohullah Omar, Naseeb Zadran, Asadullah Waheedi, Shafi Azam.

Ahmed Waleed Kakar: One of the greatest problems of the coverage of Afghanistan globally is the fact that independent, non-ideological Afghans are not given a voice in the international media. These media organisations claim to be unbiased but the reality is that the image they seek to portray of Afghanistan in an image that justifies and glorifies the invasion and occupation of international forces of Afghanistan. These kinds of propaganda focus on de-emphasising the role of Islam in Afghan society, or highlighting select instances of ‘progress’ over the last nineteen years, whilst continuing to echo the terminology of the War on Terror.

Both of us are blessed because we know the English language as well as how to read and writes the languages of our homeland. It is for that reason that we are in a better position than our people back home to show different perspectives with regard to our country. Sadly, people back in our homeland are being increasingly assassinated for saying the wrong things. Never the less, there are many Afghans living in Afghanistan who do speak out, such as Khairullah Shinwari, Khalid Zadran, Shafi Azam, Waliullah Shaheen, Faiz Muhammad Zaland, and so on.

Source: Mepa News

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