Editor’s Note: This article is part of our Civil Affairs Association and Divergent Options Writing Contest which took place from April 7, 2020 to July 7, 2020. More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.
Suzanne Schroeder is an independent analyst. She can be found on Twitter @SuzanneSueS57, and on Tumblr. She is currently working on a long-term project on school poisonings in Afghanistan and has previously written for War on the Rocks. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of any official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
Title: Assessing Religion, Law, Reform, and Human Factors in Afghanistan 2035
Date Originally Written: July 6, 2020.
Date Originally Published: September 9, 2020.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author is an independent analyst who believes that the Afghan Taliban (Taliban) need to be studied with level of scholarship that is independent of polemic.
Summary: The Taliban, since being toppled by the U.S. following the 9/11 attacks, has evolved from violent insurgency to achieving political legitimacy. This evolution was not an admission of weakness, nor that violence is not a valid instrument to achieve their desired ends, but part of a longer term strategy for the Taliban to once again achieve power.
Text: In 2004, one act of the Taliban’s resurgence following the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, was the launching of a web based magazine, Da Mujahed Zhagh. The July 18th issue contained a satirical article called “An Interview with Satan.” The interview began by describing the physical appearance of the subject:
“…the eyes of Bush, the cap and gown of Karzai, the waistcoat of Mr. Qanuni, the beard of Sayyaf and the nose and trousers of the Father of the Nation.”
Da Mujahed Zhagh viewed Satan’s outward form as comprised of the U.S. President, the newly installed Afghan President, a powerful politician, warlord and power broker, a Cabinet Minister, and the last Afghan King.
This brief, ironic article is worth noting because it shows that the Taliban were not only highly aware of Twentieth Century Afghan history, but the real target of the satire was the 2004 Constitutional Loya Jirga. It also shows that the recently revitalized Taliban were aware that as a seemingly defeated force, they were excluded from the “new” Afghanistan. This new country was being built by a coalition of Western powers, the Taliban’s long-term enemies, and members of the expatriate elite.
The ratified Afghan Constitution, and its implicit tension between Islamic law and Western human rights, would continue to be problematic. Both Afghan and Western secularists would point to the Constitution as being the real barrier to Afghan progress towards a democratic society. One example of that view can be found in “Afghanistan: Apostasy case reveals constitutional contradictions” by Amin Tarzi.
In the years leading up to talks between the Taliban the Afghan Government, one argument that was offered, as evidence that the Taliban may grudgingly accept the existing Constitution was that much of their leadership lived in Pakistan, a country with a democratic Constitution (but with a strong component of Islamic Law.) This assertion of the Taliban’s intentions was problematic; they defined themselves as a government in exile, fighting toward the goal of returning and ruling Afghanistan, and so referred to their movement as The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Objecting to the structure of Pakistan’s Constitution would make little sense.
The Taliban were deeply aware that as a movement that arose from conservative, village roots, their conflict with the Western human rights standards was a process. They arose as antidote to chaos, and they employed extremely harsh methods to contain that chaos, in a climate of occupation and war.
The Taliban’s fatal decision to provide a safe haven to Osama bin Laden allowed their failings to assume mythic status. Their villainy became legendary and boundless in the post-9/11 rhetoric. Ultimately, the U.S. desire for punitive actions focused solely on the Taliban ended up being a bad model to follow, for winning a war.
In such cases, what happens when warring parties try to make peace? A good clue can be found from an informal meeting that occurred in Chantilly, France in 2012. During this “test the waters” gathering of Taliban and Northern Alliance groups, two Taliban participants, Mawlawi Dilawar, and Dr. Naemm, presented a statement that outlined what the Islamic Emirate regarded as an ideal Constitution. It would “not contain any articles and clauses opposing Islamic principles, national interests and Afghan mores.” The speaker made a point of adding: “The current constitution of Afghanistan is illegitimate because it is written under the shadow of B-52 aircraft.” This speech also mentioned women’s rights, although always stressing that it would “abide by all those rights given to women by the noble religion of Islam.”
These examples provide background on why the Taliban would never consent to any unconditional acceptance of the 2004 Constitution without reform, according to their religious views. But, there was a certain caveat. The Taliban were entirely aware of the need for development, economic assistance, good relations with countries and an Afghan defense system.
By fully recognizing the realities of governance, the previous model of the nineteen nineties was in no way a tenable guide for any success for the Taliban as a political entity. This was the first step in accepting comprises, not as an admission of weakness, but rather as a long-term project in both strengthening and reforming aspects the Taliban movement. The move from a violent insurgency to political legitimacy is a vast subject. The very narrow scope of this paper will examine how, in this case, Civil Affairs could exert an influence over reshaping the identity of an insurgent movement, while retaining its core aspect. In the case of the Taliban, this would be their reputation for resisting corruption.
How did this work? The overarching curse of corruption, which certainly has its own separate and vast history, always worked in the Taliban’s favor. The insecurity of post-Civil War Afghanistan allowed the Taliban to take power, and the corruption of both individuals and institutions in the first two decades of the 21st Century gave them a political agenda, which differentiated them from the most unpopular aspect of Afghan governance and society. Their courts and judges could not be bribed. Although there is room for scrutiny, the Taliban mobile court system did have a role in developing their legitimacy.
In post-conflict Afghanistan, the changes were slow, incremental, and sometimes fraught. But what reformed the Taliban as a political entity, was first nascent and then growing stability. Young Afghans became “liberated” by professionalism and civil society, in contrast with secularism, humanism, and the desire to remake Afghanistan into a post-Enlightenment state. During the U.S. presence, rapid influxes of money fueled the worst corruption, and turned into an entrenched leviathan. As warlords, politicians, power brokers and criminals fled or faced justice, the Taliban could then distance itself from its past. As the powerful were held accountable, the public was satisfied.
When any society experiences a growing prosperity, along with a secure environment, life takes root in the private, rather than public sphere. The legendary harshness of Taliban justice no longer served a purpose. This didn’t happen as a response to pressure from the United Nations or Western governments, but as Afghan civil society developed it became a rational choice.
 Strick, Alex, and Felix Kuehn. The Taliban Reader : War, Islam and Politics. London, C. Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd, 2018, p. 241.
[2} Rubin, Barnett R. Afghanistan from the Cold War through the War on Terror. Oxford ; New York, Oxford University Press, 2015, p. 159.
 Tarzi, A. (2006, March). Afghanistan: Apostasy case reveals constitutional contradictions. Retrieved July 08, 2020, from https://www.refworld.org/docid/46f2581a17.html
 The author strongly recommends the following book to readers who would like more information: Anand Gopal. No Good Men among the Living : America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes. New York, N.Y., Picador, 2015.
 (Strick and Kuehn, The Taliban Reader : War, Islam and Politics 399)