Written by Julian Macfarlane
Haibatullah Akhunzada is said to be the leader of the so-called “new Taliban”.
Western reports, however are not notable for their accuracy or objectivity and always eager to show the Taliban as crazy psychopaths, except of course once upon a time when they were mujahedeen fighting the socialism: ”Freedom Fighters”.
The Mainstream Media therefore reflexively portray Akhunzada as a “hardliner”—that is, when they mention him at all, which is rarely, since he has stayed pretty much in the background, as primary Spiritual Leader.
Akhundzada is an Islamic scholar who came from a poor family in an out of the way village. Under the Taliban 1.0, he worked with the Islamic Sharia courts and was set up “shadow governors” in rural districts to discipline local fighters and prevent abuse, always a problem in an anarchic tribal society. Thank of him as a literate, smarter, more flexible Emir Omar who, in fact, very much relied on his opinion in religious disputes as well as on more practical matters. He is a humbled man from humble beginnings and he has left the limelight to younger, more cosmopolitan Talib leaders, of the kind who shone in their visits to Moscow and Beijing.
Still, his power is immense: a lot of what happens next in Afghanistan will on his interpretation of Sharia, which does not appear to be literalist.
Most recently he issued a fatwa asking Taliban fighters to restrict themselves to one wife, feeling that plural marriage was an elitist “perk” which, he felt, discredited the moral status of the Taliban leadership in a time of hardship for many. It was a caution to those with power and influence to pay attention to Ummah, or community.
He may be orthodox about somethings but Sharia is all about interpretation grounded in the Qu’ran, keeping in mind that the Prophet was progressive for his time, unlike the Islamic revisionists who came centuries later.
Akhunzada’s fatwa is therefore theologically correct, reminding the Believer that the true Muslim serves God first, then his community or ummah, then related communities, and himself last.
In the West, we must constantly remind ourselves that Sharia is not one thing: there are many interpretations and always room for flexibility of interpretation.
For example, the Taliban grew and sold opium to finance their war against the Americans even though this is haram, strictly forbidden by the Qu’ran. Akhunzada presumably signed off on that despite it being contrary to Sharia. The Taliban needed weapons. Weapons cost money.
Now, there will be no need for the sale of opium—if the Russians, Iranians, and Chinese can support the Afghan economy–which it is very much in their interest to do. The Prophet was very much into win-win solutions– mediating between warring tribes, often with quite different values and even different religions.
One can expect Akhunzada to interpret Sharia flexibly so that the Taliban can create a government of national unity, which, among other things, meets the needs of women in urban settings such as Kabul, bolstering the new regime’s international image and convincing the very skeptical Putin and Xi that the Afghans have evolved.
In the villages the locals will do pretty much as they always have. The Afghans do not have the will or the means to do as the Chinese have done in XinJiang with the Uighurs. Islamic fundamentalism is rooted in poverty.
But, in the cities, which are affluent, educated, working women can make major contributions to the economy—without challenging Qur’anic principles.
Akhunzada’s job is to provide the moral basis for a diverse Islamic ummah, allowing a new government to do what needs to be done to keep the country afloat.
Taliban policy I is of necessary the result of a factional consensus, keeping mind that how the long genocidal American war has shaken up Afghanistan’s diverse society, which historically has had periods of both religious authoritarianism and liberal, even socialist progressivism, enforcing pragmatism over the naïve idealism of Islamic fundamentalism.
At a rather amazing press conference, a Taliban spokesperson promised protection of women’s rights and what would, in other countries, be called a “government of national unity”—but under Sharia Law—a point which many in the West seized on as evidence that the Taliban had not really changed, assuming of course, the Taliban all think the same way, which they do not – and that they cannot adapt or evolve—which has not been borne out by events over the last 20 years. And also stemming from the misunderstanding that Sharia law is one thing.
Critics noted the Taliban later clarified that were not talking about “democracy” in the Western sense since Afghanistan has never had democratic traditions or institutions of the kind that evolved in the West over centuries. Of course, western democracy is not the only kind of democracy, if it is in fact democracy at all.
In addition, the Taliban’s caveat does not in and of itself preclude a return to the Loya Jurga, the Pashtun assembly that was part of Afghan governance when they still had a king—or to a council or assembly similar to it. The Loya Jurga was not “democracy” as we know it either.
The Taliban have since advised working women to stay home as its militias are not properly “educated” to accept their status. The leadership says this is “temporary”, meaning that they have to set up a functional government first and find ways to control local militias, which is not going to be easy. As the Chinese have shown, changes in attitudes only come with economic advance as well as ideology.
Accepting a degree of ethnic and political pluralism, which also conforms to Sharia could provide a means of balancing power between different groups and the Country and City.
A lot will depend on Akhunzada’s interpretation of Sharia, which will subsume all political policy. No matter who is selected as President, Prime Minister of whatever it is Akhunzada who will call the shots. This is a country where a moral directive is more important the force of arms – quite different from Western countries obviously. There will be no “woke”.
Presidents Putin and Xi have said that they are willing to help Afghanistan, which will remain under threat from the Americans – but only if they pass certain tests. One set of test is control of terrorist groups that want to use Afghanistan as a base to destabilize neighbouring countries including Tajikstan, Uzbekstan, Syria and China and Russia itself. The second set of Akhunzada of tests are educated administrative and political policies that will permit the Russians and Chinese to invest safely. There can be no such accommodation without a moderate interpretation of Sharia. Akhunzada does not see his country dissolve into chaos and anarchy. Nor does he want it to turn to ISIS’s perverse interpretation of Islam. Of course, he may surprise us yet and turn into a crazy zealot. But there is no evidence of that, to date.
The recent explosion and loss of life — mostly Afghan—at Kabul airport—will motivate the Taliban leadership to come down hard on extremists. Such bombings are also haram.
Since his opinions are contrary to those of the Mainstream Media, you have probably never heard of Julian Macfarlane, a Canadian media analyst and writer in Japan. He has written more than 200 articles on propaganda, PR, and public diplomacy and is known for his accurate predictions of electoral events including the election and subsequent governance of Obama, Trump, and Biden in the US, Brexit in the UK, the rise and fall of Corbyn, and the French, New Zealand and Canadian elections, as well as events in the Middle East and Russia. He also predicted the current COVID crisis in Japan.
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