This time it would be different from the last time they were in power. At least, according to Taliban spokesmen. Political opponents would be safe, the Taliban had “grown inward” and women‘s rights would be guaranteed — but everything within the limits of Islamic law, it was said. Some comments even repel a possible Taliban 2.0.
But many reports that have come from Afghanistan since the takeover of power point more to a Taliban 1.1. Last week, bodies were hanged of Afghans who would be involved in a kidnapping and killed in a shootout with the Taliban. A major Taliban leader said he was in favour of reenacting corporal punishment and executions, but perhaps not executed in public, as in the 1990s. Previously, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has already been renamed in the Ministry of Virtue. Women officials in Kabul are no longer allowed to come to work.
Yet much remains unclear about the practice of the Taliban regime, experts say, Under the surface there is a struggle underway between radical hardliners, mostly of an older generation, and more internationally oriented moderate Taliban. Moderate to Taliban concepts then.
The reports of corporal punishment, the public display of Afghans killed, violence against demonstrating women and beards in Helmand who should no longer be trimmed, do not surprise Afghanistan expert Olivier Immig: “These are the cultural customs of rural Afghanistan where the Taliban have their following. The older generation of Taliban leaders cannot jump over its own shadow. Then you get this kind of excesses that we in the West don‘t like to see.”
Historian Willem Vogelsang is also not surprised by the reports: “Taliban leaders are looking at what lives in their supporters.” Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, who spoke out about chopping off hands last week, plays what many Taliban think, Vogelsang says: “The fighters on the street want to see what happens.”
Martine van Bijlert of the Afghanistan Analysts Network believes that we should not infer too much from Turabi’s statements: “There is no official policy yet. There are different opinions within the Taliban and there has not yet been crystallized who is going for the longest end. But it is a strong current within the movement.” Excesses that are now taking place, including revenge against enemies, are often the work of local Taliban commanders who want to assert their power, says Willem Vogelsang.
Power of Governance
Afghanistan expert Jorrit Kamminga, involved in Clingendael Institute, does not think that those local commanders can be controlled with official policy. He calls the Taliban a “political conglomerate” of local and regional interests and influence.
“That not only means that there will be major differences between different local groups, but also that the conglomerate may fall apart at any time,” he says. “The Taliban is completely lacking in administrative power and the experience needed to run the country from Kabul.”
The fled former Minister of Women‘s Affairs, Massouda Jalal, sounds the emergency clock for women in her home country from the Netherlands:
According to Van Bijlert, the ambiguity about official policy comes in part because the Taliban leadership has to skip between different expectations. “When it comes to corporal punishment, it will be difficult to sell to parts of the supporters not to execute them and to the international community to do it.”
particular, it is the need for international support that is not yet clear policy, Olivier Immig also says: “The economy has collapsed. There will be more and more famine in the coming time, which is going to be a very big problem.” As opposed to their previous period in power, the Taliban realizes that a country cannot be isolated, Immig said: “It may be that, over time, the moderate current may be forced to say more.”
According to Van Bijlert, it is clear that the Taliban have not changed as much as it was hoped from the outside: “For the Taliban, the change is much more in the execution. They see themselves as a movement that has learned and now knows better how the world works.” There was no girls‘ education at all in the 1990s. Now primary education for girls has begun again and possibly secondary education soon. Van Bijlert: “Something like that could not be talked about in the 1990s, or just interior rooms. So there are shifts, but they go less far or slower than many people would have hoped.”
Kamminga is more pessimistic: “If girls are eventually allowed to go to secondary education andwomen are allowed to work in more places, then you could speak of a slight change, not an improvement.” What he thinks is still unclear now is what measures are temporary and which are permanent. “For now, everything seems like it’s going in the wrong direction.”