When I first read Khaled Hosseini‘s novel, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns,’ I could only feel sorry for the women in Afghanistan during Taliban rule. Unfortunately, the Taliban has once again occupied Afghanistan. Two days back, several people, including children, were killed in a celebratory firing. To be rest assured, such incidents will become or instead have become common in the land of the Afghans. As the Taliban force takes the last step towards reigning in the devastated country, nearly 38 million Afghans hold their breath and wait for their unknown future, the future that lies in the hands of their new conquerors.
The uncertainty of the Taliban rule is also raising tension among economic powers from Washington to Beijing. However, their apprehension is justified, given a disturbing history of Taliban rule. The Taliban, no matter how much they promise a more lenient and modern government, their past reign from 1996 to 2001 is brutal to be neglected.
Who are the Taliban?
In 1994, Mullah Mohammad Omar established the Taliban with dozens of supporters to challenge the widespread crime and corruption during the civil war. Taliban means “students” in Pashto, a reference to the establishing members being the students of Mullah Mohammad Omar.
The group initially drew members from the allegedly “mujahideen” fighters who forced the erstwhile USSR forces out of Afghanistan in the 1980s. It then went on to take command of most parts of the country by 1996 and governed for about five years until the US army removed the group in 2001. Mullah Mohammad Omar went into hiding after US-backed forces overthrew the group.
The future of the Taliban governed Afghanistan.
This will not be the first time when a rebel group will take over a country. Depending on how one counts, the Taliban is the sixth or seventh rebel group to govern a country in modern times. And while no two are precisely alike, specific patterns have appeared in how rebels rule. Some learn to control effectively, even to refurbish, while others collapse in chaos or repeated war. Some become more brutal in power, scourging out at their citizens in fear and insecurity. Others moderate, though chiefly in search of legitimacy and international aid.
What one can expect from the Taliban rule
Just like the other rebel group governed state, here are some common traits that one can expect out of the Taliban:
Strict bureaucratic authoritarianism, albeit seldom letting a degree of political opportunity. A focus on regulating or restricting elements of society is seen as bound to the old system, seldom through monstrous violence. And a hunt for foreign support and acceptance as they strive to overcome the refugee status tends to address militants who shoot their way into leadership.
These habits have a common objective: solidifying authority. It is almost invariably the top concern for rebel rulers, who tend to learn that winning over a government building is not the same as becoming a government.
Civil war scholar Terrence Lyons has penned that that years-long process is shaped as much by the winners’ need for “postwar legitimacy and power consolidation” as it is by “the nature of victorious insurgent groups”: hardened, disciplined, and ideological.
Rebels who seize power promptly convert themselves into a particular kind of authority: party-based authoritarianism.
For example, China’s Communist Party was a one-time rebellion that took power in 1949. It is tightly unified, with rigid internal hierarchies and a practiced hand at bureaucratic organizing but little tolerance for dissent.
Rebels prefer this pattern for the mere reason that it’s how they’re already organized.
“A victorious insurgent group is concurrently a political party, a military group and a business,” Lyons wrote in research on how insurgents govern.
In government, the order and cohesion of rebel groups often make their states more permanent and practical than other types of authoritarianism.
Lyons found that they tend to display “uncertainty, if not hatred, toward democracy,” even as they profess to express popular liberation. And their participation in the zero-sum trials of war can guide them to see peacetime competition – elections, demonstrations, dissidence – as a peril.
After gaining power over China, Mao Zedong summoned intellectuals, journalists, and others to find the faults of the new government. But, evidently taken aback, he imprisoned or killed many who had accepted his offer.
However, while rebel authorities’ potential for violence can be enormous, years of staying underground in villages and mountain passes leave them vividly conscious of the value of fostering popular support.
Many continue this power practice, particularly those representing a distinct ethnic or religious group, like the Taliban, and wish to put the others at rest.
On the other hand, the rebels who captured Uganda in 1986 extended amnesty to followers of the old order. Ethiopian militants who seized power in 1991 entertained “peace and stability committees” across the country to show that they meant to represent everyone. In 1994, when ethnic Tutsi militias took command of Rwanda amid a genocide of their kinfolk, they pledged adjustment and a pan-ethnic alliance government.
All three held elections, primarily for show, and supported political freedom within strictly controlled limits.
But one should not forget that insurgents, as a rule, stick to the office with an authoritarian’s iron grip, secured and possibly paranoid about losing the power they battled so hard to win.
Removals and mass emigration
Rebel authorities manage to organize much of their initial rule around concerns of being refused by the public. Remnants threaten them from the previous government, even faced by a rebellion of their own.
In reply, they will frequently seek to control, pressure, and even forcibly exterminate whole social groups seen as supporting the old order, which may still hold swing over the culture, economy, and governing bureaucracy.
One of Mao’s top acts was purging rural landowners, an economically influential group considered right wing.
His troops rounded up thousands, encouraging local villagers to root out any left. Many were exported to forced labor camps or beaten to death on the spot. The death toll was estimated at 2 million approximately.
The brutality of Mao’s operations is unusual, but the scale is not.
On taking control in 1959, Cuba’s insurgents made it explicit that they saw the middle and upper classes, primarily backed by the old rule, as rivals. Nearly 250,000 people escaped. Their emigration forever altered Cuban society.
The Taliban have announced they wish to bypass this in Afghanistan, warning of a “brain drain” if its intellectual middle class leaves. The Taliban did not stand in the way as thousands were evacuated over the past two weeks. But it hopes to work with those who remain.
Since the climaxes of the Cold War, when guerrillas easily won superpower title for mass murder, insurgents have acquired to provide to the global community’s expectations.
Uganda has made a show of fairness and inclusion that, while superficial, prevented the worst fears of postwar recrimination.
The journey for legitimacy, to convince subjects at home and authorities abroad to negotiate rebels as a rightful government, typically includes seeking public confirmation from social and spiritual leaders, even the war’s losers.
Accounts of the Taliban’s progress near Kabul have incorporated such scenes: local leaders or strongmen addressing the group in a show of acceptance.
But many of the rebels’ focus is often outside. Identification from foreign powers can bring legitimacy and aid, which is essential for reconstructing after the civil war. And avoid the threat of isolation.
Rwandan and Ugandan guerrilla leaders sat down with Western diplomats even as their troops still struggled for control, pledging to do as mentioned.
The Taliban’s diplomatic outreach has been almost submissive, celebrating even long-hostile powers such as India’s. For the group that sheltered al-Qaida, universal acceptance is dubious about coming quickly.
Others have arguably defied colder treatments. It took Mao’s government 22 years to ensure United Nations recognition and influence the United States.
The episode is informative. Though Mao commanded a world power, the vulnerabilities implicit in rebel rule produced a need for recognition deep enough that he thoroughly modified his foreign policy to get it.
Globally slandered and suffering a potentially ravaging economic crisis, the Taliban’s need may be even more significant.
Barnett R. Rubin, an Afghanistan scholar, wrote a few weeks back that the group’s “search for recognition and eventual qualification for aid presents some of the most important advantage that other actors have over them.”
Yet, China’s government amended only in the ways that the world required of it. As President Richard Nixon arrived in Beijing in 1972, his hosts supervised one of the longest-running political evacuations in recent history. The preferences and habits of their rebel origins are still contained.