AFTER capturing Kabul the Taliban want to be seen as rulers rather than just as a religious militia. Eager to secure legitimacy — internationally and among Afghans — closed door negotiations are afoot for a government inclusive of non-Taliban Afghans. Will these actually work out? And what lies ahead for young, urbanised, internet savvy Afghans seeking to live in the 21st century rather than the 7th? This choice had been denied just a while ago.
Under Mullah Omar, the earlier phase (1996-2001) of Taliban rule had single-mindedly concentrated upon rigorous enforcement of the Quranic injunction amr bil ma’roof wa nahi ‘anil munkar (promote that which is good and approved, and forbid that which is evil and disapproved). Imbibed from madressahs scattered across Pakistan, this was understood in the sense of a demand for strict religious policing.
Liberal Islamic scholars, however, say the injunction merely enjoins believers to seek piety through self-control. The Taliban under Mullah Omar disagreed emphatically with this interpretation. They carried out stoning of adulterers to death, amputation of limbs for theft, public floggings, closure of girls’ schools, extreme limits on the mobility of women, and destruction of the 2,000-year-old Bamiyan Buddhas. Similar actions do not exist in the living memory of older Afghans.
The new face suggests that amr bil ma’roof will henceforth be more liberally interpreted. Whether rank-and-file fighters will see eye to eye on this cannot presently be foreseen. But some leaders of this religious militia — one that thrived for decades on foreign aid and extortion — have become aware that economic reasons demand change.