Alwaght- While the international community demands a change to extremist positions of the Taliban to pave their way for its integration into the international system and interaction with the other countries, some regional and international actors, and even international organizations, accuse the Taliban of harboring terrorist groups, and thus, posing security threats to the neighbors and other parts of world. Meanwhile, while the Taliban officials reject these accusations and highlight their commitment to cooperation against terrorism, recent reports by Afghan media appeared to suggest that the group’s leader asked his fighters to prepare for “cross-border jihad”, stirring the belief that the Taliban is dreaming of expanding its Islamic Emirate beyond Afghanistan borders. Although the Taliban have not yet rejected or confirmed the news, such stance can negatively affect relations of the group with regional countries and others.
To discuss the veracity of the claims about the Taliban leader’s order and its implications, Alwaght talked to Bahram Zahedi, an Afghanistan affairs expert.
Alwaght: Recently, the Taliban’s leader ordered cross-border jihad which seeks implementation of the sharia law across the world. What do you think this new order is aimed at in such critical conditions?
Zahedi: There are two essential points in this regard. First, there should be examination of the veracity of these remarks. Second, the content of these remarks needs to be examined. Concerning the credibility of the news about remarks of Hibatullah Akhundzada, we should say that so far no official government media outlets published any reports about the matter, and the the first media outlet to publish the news was Hasht-e-Sobh newspaper which has no good record for its attribution of remarks to people. Not just about the Taliban, but also about the Islamic Republic [of Iran] this newspaper has no bright record in publishing the news. Still, we need to discuss what was published by this newspaper and circulated by other media.
These remarks are about a general matter concerning the future that is raised publicly and means that every Muslim should be ready for jihad in any part of the world if necessary, and the content of the Taliban leader’s words is contrary to what has been published in Iranian and world media. We must be careful about the psychological warfare that includes exaggeration and news bias. Some media are trying to paint the news in a way as if the leader of the Taliban ordered jihad in other countries and he targets a specific country. But this is not true.
Alwaght: How much is this order of jihad related to the failure by the world community to recognize the Taliban’s government?
Zahedi: If we assume that the statements allegedly made by the Taliban leader are true, we can say that such statements have been made many times by Islamist groups in the Islamic world, and we cannot say that Akhundzada’s words are a new issue that were suddenly made. The dominant literature of these statements has the similar form and method, and of course, it may have logical outcomes that include world community’s recognition of the Taliban’s interim government to normalize the group and persuade it to scale down its jihadi approaches which are common among other Islamist groups.
Alwaght: Is this just an order or can it go practical?
Zahedi: Anyway, an Islamist group whose literature is based on the international logic of religion and has raised concerns about the Muslims across the world is likely to show specific sensitivity in some parts of the world. Concerning the Palestinian cause, the Taliban maneuvers more than on other issues and the Hamas Movement has good relations with the group. Symbolically speaking, Afghanistan is the only country in the Muslim world that built a big symbol of the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque in Kabul in show of significance of the Palestinian cause for the Afghans. And Taliban has its own ideals about [liberation of ] Al-Quds. Concerning Kashmir region and the oppression against its people, the Taliban leaders made many remarks. Also, the relationship between Afghanistan and Central Asia and the oppression against the Muslims in this part of the world can have reflections in Afghanistan.
Concerning Myanmar, the Taliban has shown strong reactions to the genocide of Muslims in this country in the past years. Therefore, in the long run, the Taliban may take steps to activate the international aspect of their ideology. But these will come about in the framework of a government that is seeking recognition, or even after being recognized, it will act in a way that international relations would not be overshadowed by such issues. Just as Iran, Turkey, or Saudi Arabia with their Islamic governments each pursue their own international programs and at the same time consider the issues related to international custom and have managed to create a balance. If the Taliban’s plans are ever to be implemented, it will not be in a way that ignores international custom.
Alwaght: The Americans have recently claimed that the Taliban transferred a number of terrorists to the Central Asia to destabilize the region. Such countries as Tajikistan have sustained damage from this issue and argue that after Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan, security threats have increased. On the other hand, Pakistan is in conflict with the Tahreek-e-Taliban militant group and accuses the Taliban of backing the group. Is the recent order not contradictory to the past remarks of the Taliban leaders?
Zahedi: The Americans have no documents for their claims and according to evidence, such measures by the Taliban are unlikely. Perhaps some groups suppressed by their governments in Central Asia have fled to Afghanistan but deployment of elements from Afghanistan to Central Asia is impossible. Having in mind that Central Asian countries are ruled in a totalitarian way, any movement in them is tightly controlled and it is hard to cross the border into them. Therefore, what the Americans said was an illusion.
Also, we should say that the new order is not contradictory to the past remarks of the Taliban’s leaders since the remarks are general and have not named a specific country and we should look at it in a security and ideological framework. As I said, many countries pursue programs beyond their borders based on their special logic and ideology, and it is natural to foresee implementation of the Taliban programs in the future, though concerning the alleged remarks of the Taliban’s leader, there is no mention of a specific region or country and the source of the news is unreliable and we can easily reject them because no Taliban source has published them and that such comments are general and are commonly raised in Islamic countries.
Alwaght: In the past, the Taliban with its massive support of the Al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden gave NATO the excuse to attack Afghanistan and somehow legitimized the actions of the Western occupiers. Would such orders not legitimize continued strikes and even economic pressures under the cover of fighting terrorism?
Zahedi: Presently, the US is too weak to take a military action in Afghanistan. Additionally, undocumented remarks cannot legitimize foreign intervention. Concerning the past, we need to look more precise. Bin Laden came to Afghanistan before formation of the Taliban government at the invitation of some people in the government of Afghanistan President Burhanuddin Rabbani. The group under bin Laden command attacked the American embassies in African capitals and an American ship in the Gulf of Oman. But such actions should not make us see the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan legitimate. It is unacceptable to invade a country just because a terrorist group is active there. It is illogical to kill and displace millions just to destroy a group.