Taliban’s Insurrection: Another Corpse in the Graveyard of Empires
Updated: Sep 4
GRAMU NEWS ARTICLE
In the ever uncertain climate of the internal politics of the numerous nations across the world, with all its differing cultures, traditions and other unique features, one common similarity across all of them is the occurrences of internal strife or conflict that in some cases lead to the usurpation of standing governments, be it by force, or by way of bloodless coups. Here is where we should start when talking about the Afghan crisis.
When the World Questions “Has the Afghan Lost to the Taliban?”, We First Ask: “What Is the Taliban?”
It all goes back to 40 years ago in Afghan history when the Soviet Union took the very first step of invading Afghanistan. During the cold war, the tense conflict between the US and Soviet Union brought along the Afghan militants—called Mujahideen—in the territory to side on the anti-communist fight. Millions of Afghans fled and became refugees. The US considered the Afghan forces as allies and in some ways managed to have their hand tightly tied to the Afghan until the present. The core value living within the Mujahideen was reflected through popular culture as it was depicted in the movie Rambo 3: “To us, this war is a holy war. There is no true death for Mujahideen because we have taken our last rides and we consider ourselves dead already. To us, death for our land and god is an honor.” In a period of triumph after the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw their 10 years of occupation, the Mujahideen took over Kabul and created the new Islamic State of Afghanistan.
The Fear Began: the Rise of the Taliban
Two years later, a group with its version of law emerged in Southern Kandahar, the Taliban, who claimed themselves as the true Mujahideen—assumed control over the province and imposed their own version of Islamic law interpretation that was considered to be harsh. The Taliban grew fast and developed enormously in numbers and areas. By 1996, cooperation between Mujahideen leaders had failed, resulting in years of fight between factions and lack of strong leadership. In this very chance, the Taliban took captured district to district and imposed their strict regime: women were restricted to pursue decent education or go to work, rules on clothes and beards were strict, etc. The fear of the people and the stubborn will of the Taliban conflicted and turned into concerning bloodshed.
The fundamentalist group yearns to bring Sharia law back to Afghanistan, forcing those who are unable to flee to adjust to a manner of life they have not seen in two decades. When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan in 1996 to 2001, women were banned from working, girls were not allowed to attend school, and women had to conceal their faces and be escorted by a male relative if they wanted to leave their houses. Music, television, and the cinema were all outlawed. The group has stated that it will abolish mixed-gender education and reinstate Islamic law as the supreme law of the land. Despite so, in recent years, Taliban leaders promised the West that women would have equal rights under Islam, including the freedom to work and receive an education. The Taliban stated earlier this year that they seek a “genuine Islamic system” that respects women’s and minority rights while adhering to cultural and religious norms.
Nonetheless, earlier in August 2021, fighters from the organizations, entered the offices of a bank in Kandahar and demanded nine women working there to leave. They were escorted to their homes by the gunmen, who warned them not to return to their employment. According to three of the women involved and the bank’s manager, they instead explained that male relatives may take their place. The incident is a warning indicator that some of the privileges obtained by Afghan women in the 20 years since the hardline movement was deposed may be rescinded. This indicates that there is not much difference between the Taliban then and now.
During the process of the Taliban taking over Afghanistan after the US troops left the country, there is an organization that gives huge support to the Taliban, which is Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI). Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency strongly supports and influences the Taliban to take over Afghanistan in every aspect, including status quo, economic, and humanitarian since 1994. In order to achieve the goals, Pakistan ISI provided training, funding, munitions, supplies, even the strategic plan directly and indirectly to the Taliban from time to time. On the other hand, other worldwide organizations, such as Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Pan Islamic Group, and United Nations, opposing the Taliban strategy and motive. These organizations strongly support Afghanistan and even seek help from other countries to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan.
The Twenty Years of Hope From the Foreign Power
This was until the US had their strong concern straight back to this illegitimate group due to the Taliban’s refusal to hand over Osama Bin Laden who was suspected to be behind the 9/11 attacks. The US-led counter-terrorism invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001 and after it was accomplished, they handed control to the Northern alliance and other Mujahideen factions that ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s. The transition was arranged and signed upon the Bonn Agreement.
That was not the end of the story. Taliban yet again strike through in timing when the US had their most focus on the Iraq war in 2006. Responding to this, Barack Obama continued to authorize the US forces to operate in Afghanistan although the initial US and NATO troops combat mission was due in 2014. Taliban escalated attacks on the Afghan and foreign troops, and peace talks never succeeded. Say the Taliban runs in black, while the Afghan backed by the foreign troops fight for the white; it is fair to say that it has never been black or white in itself. Until recently this year, this grey status quo has turned dark as Joe Biden decided for the US to withdraw. At this moment, a question almost turns rhetoric: has the Afghan lost to the Taliban?
History Repeats Itself: The Day The Afghans Hoped Never Come Again
When President Joe Biden announced in April that the US would pull out of Afghanistan in the following months, it was clear that the fate of the country had been sealed for the worse. They were to start withdrawing troops in May; visas for U.S. aides were to be issued soon after; the global community holds on to the belief that the very Afghan troops they had been equipping and training for the last 20 years must be able to regain control of the land that are rightfully theirs. What ensued in reality could not stray further than what they had expected. One day in July, seemingly overnight, the Americans abandoned the central hub for their military operations—the Bagram air base, without warning or caution to their Afghan counterparts. It was then that the Taliban decided to escalate their offences and one by one seized control of all districts; until the evening of August 15, the Taliban succeeded in capturing Kabul which birthed the now infamous photograph of Taliban fighters with guns sitting in the presidential throne.
The scenes that unfolded in the past few weeks have shown stark similarities to ones that occurred in 1996 when the Taliban first took control of the country, aside from the fact that the group has grown fiercer in strategy and is now aided with far sophisticated weapons. Observers have also noted that Afghanistan’s economic turmoil will continue as a consequence of its decades worth of political instability, and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. According to one source, the people of the country are now facing even more uncertainty as jobs disappear, banks shut and price hikes on foodstuff.
What Lies In the Future for the Afghans
Speculations of what Afghanistan will be like under Taliban rule have been floating for some time now, particularly regarding the treatment of women, minority and opposition groups. The first time the Taliban assumed leadership in Afghanistan, their conduct toward those subgroups has been less than favourable. Women were deemed as objects to be possessed while minority groups namely Hindus and Sikhs were severely discriminated against, although presently the Taliban have expressed their willingness to adjust the law to move with the times. On August 18, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s longtime spokesman vowed that the group will ‘respect women’s rights under the Sharia law’ and ‘forgive those who fought them’.
Contradictorily, reports have trickled in that the Taliban are going on a door-to-door manhunt in search of Afghans who previously worked for NATO or the Ghani government. In provinces such as Konar and Nangarhar, the Taliban fired shots at those who raised the Afghanistan flag (as opposed to the Taliban flag) during Independence day on August 19th, as a result 2 people are dead and many more sustained injuries. Moreover, one of the three female district governors, Salima Mazari, has reportedly been detained after the Taliban captured her district. Amnesty International also revealed that just a mere month ago, the Taliban conducted a brutal massacre against nine members of the Persian-speaking Hazara ethnic group after taking control of the village of Mundarakht where they reside. In alignment with this pattern of gross human rights violation, clearly their actions are not matching up with their words.
Same could be said for former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani who fled amidst the ongoing chaos, only to resurface days later in UAE with a video message saying in part, “I have no intention to flee and remain in exile. For now, I am in the Emirates so that bloodshed and chaos are stopped. I am currently in talks to return to Afghanistan... Had I stayed there, an elected president of Afghanistan would be hanged again in front of the eyes of Afghans, and a huge incident of embarrassment would have been repeated.”
With the president’s swift return to Afghanistan nowhere in sight, while the Taliban continues their decades-long reign of terror; will a sliver of hope emerge elsewhere? And again, a question almost turns rhetoric: can we even trust the Taliban?
Why Did the US Withdraw? Was It a Neglect At Last or a Two-Decades-Lesson Learnt Instead?
Year after year, the decision of foreign withdrawal had always faced a request of postponement. Nonetheless, never in history and none of the nations have succeeded to build a stable standing ground for the Afghan government. The Taliban knows no other end than to establish a solid regime of their own laws. With or without foreign interruption, the Taliban's resurgence was imminent. This has brought the foreign troops who had sacrificed greatly for a desperate nation of Afghan, to the point where they had to decide to learn from history.
Biden claimed that it is fully the Afghan's authority to decide on their future, as their core mission has never been to nation-build from the beginning. He believed that with all the training and equipment the US had assisted for the past two decades, the Afghans National Security Forces clearly had the capacity to protect and stand their ground. Apparently, the Taliban is taking over—an accelerated attempt and drastic reverse of history after the foreign troops had left. The US as well as the UK—which troops assigned to NATOs’s mission—who had also followed the US decision emphasized that their withdrawal was not an end of their commitment on counter-terrorism act in Afghanistan, as well as in other parts of the world. Diplomatic and humanitarian support including development assistance to Afghanistan will remain to work as their primary instruments.
Terrorist Taking Its Chance in the Turmoil
Recently, as the US inches towards closure in Afghanistan, it lost 13 of its troops on August 26 due to the several blasts including the terrorist suicide bombings in Kabul - happened to be the ISIS-K - counted as the first US casualties in Afghanistan in 18 months and said to be the deadliest day for them in a decade, not to mention more than a hundred deaths of the civilians. The terrorists are again taking their place in the middle of the Afghan turmoil, bringing out political criticisms to Biden’s decision on their withdrawal. One day after the incident, the US launched the drone airstrike targeting individuals suspected to be the previous attack planner and possibly the future ones. “We will not forget, we will not forgive, we will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden’s message to the attackers declared. The ISIS-K passed the Taliban security; a failed promise the Taliban made in protecting the territory. What we know so far about the IS-K is that they have a contesting view of Islamic law with the Taliban; both emerged to put their interpretation of their own version of Shariah law on the stage.
International Mixed Response: Fear, Concern, and Pragmatism
Neighbouring country Pakistan, which had been accused of providing sanctuary for the Taliban, has had its Prime Minister officially welcoming the return of Taliban. Classic grey responses came from India, Japan, and many other countries who had previously shown their support by giving development assistance to the Afghan government under President Ashraf Ghani. With the Taliban seeming to sit on the throne, neither a welcoming statement nor a recognition refusal is declared firmly. On the other side of the spectrum, a mixed reaction has emerged from the step China took in adjusting to the new reality resulting from the Taliban’s rise. China has declared its readiness to build a ‘friendly’ relation with the Taliban, in which a cooperative attitude has been mutual above China’s wariness on the potential threat, as China Foreign Ministry stated “the Afghan Taliban have repeatedly expressed their hope to develop good relations for China and look forward to China’s participation in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, and will never allow any forces to use Afghan territory to do things that endanger China” —a shift from the past when China refused to recognize Taliban’s rule in 1996.
Throughout history, the Afghan and the global community have been putting their hope on the US. When speaking of international intervention, some would argue that international moral obligation is the core reason for powerful countries like the US to not yet put their hands off and put more patience on the Afghan nation-building process. Apparently for now, what countries all over the world put on the table is the effort to reduce the possibility of the situation getting worse. This includes humanitarian strategy and policy-making on solving the Afghan refugee crisis. There has also been a projection that the Afghan conflict is likely to further emerge as an object of geopolitical affairs as countries like Russia might be tempted to get involved further anytime soon.
Government Recognition: Must we offer the Taliban a Seat at the International Roundtable?
In the midst of all the chaos and calamity that has descended upon Afghanistan, an important question still looms over the heads of almost every politician, international lawyer, and diplomat around the world, should the Taliban be recognized as Afghanistan’s lawful representative? In international law, recognition grants plenty of perks to the aforementioned government, such as ability to enter into treaties or agreements, receive financial or military assistance, and ultimately, a seat at the coveted chair of the United Nations. However, with various resistance movements sprouting up, and the former President Ashraf Ghani still in exile, there must be some objective criteria of determining which government, or faction, receives recognition by other States, as an action with such far reaching legal consequences cannot rightfully be left to the unfettered discretion of other states.
Historically, recognition of governments under international law has relied upon “Effective Control”, which recognizes governments who have effectively established themselves within the territory of a state, with reasonable permanency, and has asserted its authority by having the habitual obedience of its people. Under this doctrine, the Taliban Government in Afghanistan, should be recognized as the state’s lawful representative under International Law. A source from Herat has disclosed that Taliban has taken control over most of the city's infrastructure, public services, utilities as well as maintaining public order and security. It is hard to argue that this situation also exists in most cities in Afghanistan, thereby establishing the Taliban’s effective control over the Afghanistan territory.
However, effective control runs contrary to the right to self-determination, a right which allows peoples to choose for themselves the political system of their own state, their own economic endeavors as well as their own social and cultural interests. This is undoubtedly visible in the heavy-handed, pre-2001 and present rule, wherein the people of Afghanistan are forced into a political, legal and social system that they do not condone, often with violence to enforce any outliers and dissidents. This reliance upon coercion and fear rather than consent of the people is evidenced enough of the disregard to the right to self-determination both by the doctrine of “effective control” and the Taliban.
Hence, to accommodate the right to self-determination, a modified effective control doctrine that adds an element of habitual obedience by consent is prefered. Under this modified doctrine, the future Taliban government may be recognized by other states, if and only if the people of Afghanistan express its consent to the new government. Such were the hopes of the United Nations Security Council, who in a statement urges for the cessation of hostilities as well as establishing “through inclusive negotiations”, of a new government in Afghanistan which would be united, inclusive and representative, and with women participating.
However, some states, such as those within the European Union, have created their own doctrine for giving out recognition to governments. Such doctrine adds the requirement of respect for human rights as well as respect for the rule of law. This was evident in the EU’s recognition of newly independent states in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, and has been recently applied to Afghanistan, with the EU Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen stating that "We may well hear the Taliban's words but we will measure them above all by their deeds and actions," especially in regards to their actions in respecting human rights, good treatment of minorities and respect for the rights of women and girls.
A Speed Bump in Taliban’s Quest for Recognition
However, there may well be another obstacle to the Taliban government on its quest for international recognition. This obstacle comes in the form of Article 41(2) of the Articles on Responsibility of States on Internationally Wrongful Acts (ARSIWA) which precludes states from recognizing situations created by grave breaches of pre-emptory norms of international law. Such norms include prohibitions against torture, war crimes, wars of aggression, genocide, crimes against humanity, slavery, piracy, and etc.
“No State shall recognize as lawful a situation created by a serious breach within the meaning of article 40, nor render aid or assistance in maintaining that situation” (Article 41(2) of ARSIWA).
This provision, that embodies the principle of “ex injuria jus non oritur” may well militate against any future recognition of any governments formed by the Taliban, especially considering the numerous actions, possibly amounting to war crimes, committed by the Taliban on its campaign against the previous Afghanistan government.
Executing Civilians - An Alarming Scale of War Crimes
History has often repeated itself in Afghanistan, where war crimes have frequently been committed by the Taliban. Extrajudicial executions of civilians in the 1990s, systematic killings of civilians and wartime sexual violence in the 2010s, and civilian executions during the Taliban onslaught in 2021 are among the Taliban’s war crimes.
During the military takeover back on August 8, 1998, the Taliban slit the throats and shot dead civilians, mainly the Hazaras and some Uzbeks and Tajiks. The execution continued for around 6 days. In May 2000 and January 2001, the Taliban once again massacred predominantly the Hazaras. In the former massacre, the Taliban soldiers killed 31 people, 26 of whom were identified as civilians. Whilst 170 civilians were killed within four days on January 8, 2001.
The Taliban continued to execute civilians in Afghanistan on a regular basis throughout 2010, on the basis that the victims supported the Afghan government. Those who refuse to cooperate with the Taliban were executed and accused of being “American spies”. In 2015, the Taliban had a hit list of civilians and carried out house-to-house searches to kill them. The hit list contained civilians which were activists, journalists, and public workers. Moreover, the Taliban soldiers would commit rape, inter alia, group rape. As a retaliation for providing reproductive health treatments to women, the Taliban gang-raped and killed one woman.
In the first half of 2021, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the Taliban were responsible for killing 699 civilians or 917 according to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). On July 28, The UN received reports of at least 139 civilians killed and 481 injured in only 13 days since fighting began in the Southern city of Lashkar Gah. The real numbers are likely to be significantly higher, as communication with the city has been disrupted and many civilians injured have been unable to reach hospitals. In the span of 8 months, ferocious executions have been carried out by the Taliban. While some were beheaded, others were tortured, mutilated, and executed. The Taliban were also responsible for most of the destruction and looting of private homes and civilian infrastructure.
In several locations, the Taliban have reportedly committed numerous grave breaches of International Humanitarian Law in the context of an ongoing 20 year non-international armed conflict. The first and foremost war crime committed by the Taliban is the violation to Article 8(2)(a)(i) of the Rome Statute regarding Wilful Killing, which reflects the protections granted to individuals under Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, namely non-combatants, or persons not taking active part in hostilities, including prisoners of war and especially civilians. Such protections however have not been heeded by the Taliban, who has shown no restraint nor remorse in its campaign of terror across the Afghan populace.
On July 22, 2021, Taliban terrorists kidnapped Khasha Zwan – an infamous Kandahar comedian – beat him up, and then shot him several times. Zwan was one of the 900 casualties that the Taliban have detained and executed in Kandahar. Not only in Kandahar, but the Taliban have intentionally engaged in direct attack and caused death to civilians in Afghanistan. Civilians constitute as anyone who is not a member of the armed forces of a state or is not affiliated with a party to an armed conflict, and therefore should be protected at all times. It is an obligation to protect individuals caught up in conflicts and wars, particularly where governments refuse or are unable to protect their own citizens, as it is the basic principle of humanity to respect one another as equal human beings. Furthermore, civilians should be protected when in the hands of the enemy and the repercussions of conflicts as they do not directly participate in hostilities.
Oftentimes, the Taliban did not directly kill the civilians but instead, inflicted unnecessary suffering prior to the execution. Thus, performing a breach to Article 8(2)(a)(ii) of the Roman Statute concerning War Crime of Torture or Inhuman Treatment as well as Article 8(2)(c)(i)-2 of the Roman Statute, which prohibits violent to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture. These crimes are of a particular kind, acts that are one of the most heinous kinds of human brutality, that causes both physical and psychological consequences. The right to be free of torture is a universally acknowledged human right and one of the international law’s foundation. Torturing individuals violates the victim’s human dignity and rights of the victim as an individual, making it a breach to one of the prominent basic elements of human rights.
In late July 2021, Reuter’s photographer Danish Siddiqui was murdered and badly mutilated, leaving his face unrecognisable, body filled with bullet holes and tire marks covering his face and chestand in the North of Kabul city, five people were detained and then killed by the Taliban. Many of the victims’ relatives were hesitant to speak publicly about the incident. However, a relative of one of the victims provided the following account: “‘They took out my cousin’s eyes with a ramrod, they also took out his tongue and ran over him with a car. He was also hit by bullets from his toes to his head”.
How can we be of help to the at-risk civilians in Afghanistan
As of now, seeing that the world is under the unprecedented threat of Covid-19 pandemic, looming over our personal lives and hindering the mobility of humans around the world, the most viable help that any person can do is by raising the awareness about the unlawful misconducts and atrocities that the Taliban had committed. Besides raising awareness on our personal social media account, anyone moved by the tragedy in Afghanistan and able to provide a financial aid to the victims of the insurgency can donate to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), one of which is International Rescue Committee (IRC), a global humanitarian aid, relief, and development NGO. As IRC has been providing humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan through three decades of crisis, inter alia, providing the citizens with shelter, education, clean water, and health support, their credibility and trustworthiness in providing such help are not questionable. Cognizant of the August 26 attack on Kabul’s airport, IRC reiterated their urgent call for humanitarian assistance to the at-risk Afghans and urged the people around the world to help them with their mission. Any help or donation, no matter how small, will still be of value to saving the lives of the at-risk Afghans.
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