They’re saying this Taliban is different

The rosy predictions that the Afghan government would face down the Taliban have been replaced by rosy predictions that the Taliban 2.0 is more “moderate.”

Taliban fighters inside the presidential palace in Kabul. Source: Screenshot.
Taliban fighters inside the presidential palace in Kabul. Source: Screenshot.
Eyal Zisser
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

The ink wasn’t dry on the optimistic predictions that the Afghan government put in place by the Americans would hold out against the Taliban when the latter took Kabul. And those same officials are already making different predictions, no less rosy, that the Taliban of 2021 is completely different from the radical terrorist organization that presided over Afghanistan at the end of the last century, even helping Al-Qaeda use its territory to carry out the 9/11 attacks.

The Taliban spokespeople are also trying to stress that they have learned their lesson, and are promising that this time, they will show tolerance to their subjects. They are promising a broad government in which all parts of the population will be represented, and not to persecute their opponents. Also, they say, minorities and women have nothing to fear from them.

Of course, there are media outlets that are throwing themselves behind the message. The first is Al-Jazeera, the ultimate supporter of any radical Islamist terrorist organization— Islamic State, Hamas and now the Taliban. There are also plenty of western media outlets that are echoing the message out of political and other motives, painting a rosy picture of what is taking place in Afghanistan and promoting optimistic forecasts about the Taliban’s so-called moderation.

But the truth will eventually come out. The reports from Afghanistan itself, unlike the scholarly predictions and analyses, show us a dark, primitive regime that is forcing itself on the Afghan people. Demonstrations and protests are dispersed violently, sometimes with gunfire; Taliban members are going from house to house looking for those who oppose them and often executing them. Meanwhile, despite the lack of any official order to that effect, women have disappeared from public spaces and are hiding in their homes. And this is only the beginning.

Indeed, there are grounds to assume that the Taliban has learned from its mistakes and that the advice it is receiving from its new-old friends—primarily, Qatar and even Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has already thrown himself into expressing support for the organization—only strengthen its decision to talk nicely to outsiders while behaving harshly at home.

The Taliban is flirting with the American forces still stationed in Afghanistan and refraining from attacking them—even providing them with assistance. The Taliban is also sending out messages regarding its desire for international regulation that will allow it to receive economic aid and prevent military attacks against it. The Russians, Chinese and Iranians, who are even more afraid than the Americans of a radical terrorist group ruling Afghanistan, have already made the decision to embrace it. Not that they ever had any scruples about how a regime behaves toward its own people.

But even western countries, the United States first and foremost, mostly want stability, to prevent terrorism, and to block refugees fleeing the Taliban from entering Europe. Women’s rights aren’t a consideration for them, so when the day comes, women trying to escape might find themselves heading back to Kabul.

And when it comes to the Taliban itself, its actions indicate that it remains what it always was, a radical organization that seeks to propel the country it rules back in time 1,000 years. It had countless opportunities to “moderate,” but now that it has won its battle and has no enemies, it has no reason to change course. Indeed, this is not only a political tool with which to secure power, but the very identity and essence without which the organization does not exist.

Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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