09/08/2021, 13.16
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The Taliban government is not like the Islamic Republic

by Alessandra De Poli

The Iranian regime is Shia, while the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is Sunni. In Afghanistan’s new cabinet, all Taliban leaders have a post, but a dichotomy still divides urban and rural Pashtuns, especially those in the provinces near the borders, this according to Riccardo Redaelli, professor of geopolitics at the Catholic University of Milan.

Kabul (AsiaNews) – It makes no sense to equate the “new” Taliban government with that of the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

Although the Taliban say that they were inspired by Khomeini’s Islamic Republic (Jomhuri-ye Eslāmi), Afghanistan’s former archenemy, “doctrinally the analogy does not hold,” explains Riccardo Redaelli, professor of geopolitics at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan (Italy), who has been several times in Afghanistan with NATO's ISAF mission.

“In the Shia world there is a division between political and religious power. The Shia clergy is hierarchical, with ascending levels. The highest level is that of the marja' al-taqlīd,” which literally means “source to follow” and is a figure with greater doctrinal authority. 

The marjaʿ al-taqlīd leads the community of the faithful waiting for the return of the Mahdi, the hidden imam who will return to save the world. “This system, Shiism’s highest expression, works in Iran because the Rahbar, the Supreme Leader, who today is Ali Khamenei, leads the Islamic Republic pending the return of the Mahdi,” Redaelli adds. 

“The emir (Amīr) is unique; there is no theological, doctrinal and political split. If this were the case, it would really be a great innovation in the Sunni world,” notes the scholar, who in the 1990s worked on the border between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, leader of the Taliban since 2016, is the head of state of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. His title is “commander of the faithful” (Amir al-Mu'minin); he is not only a spiritual guide. 

For the post of prime minister, Akhundzada has proposed Mohammed Hasan Akhund, who is on the UN terrorist list, while Abdul Ghani Baradar, right-hand man of Mullah Omar (the founder of the Taliban) who was thought to be destined for a prominent position, will become deputy prime minister. 

Mullah Omar's son, Mullah Yaqub, will be Defence Minister, while the Interior Ministry went to Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has a million bounty on his head and is the son of the late Islamist leader Jalaluddin. While these are not the same players from the 1990s, they are their heirs.

“The Haqqani network has planned most of the attacks in Afghanistan in the last 20 years,” explains Redaelli. “How could they be expected to form a moderate government?”

Nor is it an inclusive cabinet. “The loya jirga could have been included in the Emirate, but it would not have resolved the question of the form of government.”

The loya jirga is a large assembly of notables, traditionally ethnic Pashtun, but in past years it has also included representatives of other Afghan ethnic groups. 

Although all Taliban leaders have obtained a post, internal divisions continue, which do not concern so much the cities, the capital Kabul and Kandahar, the historic centre of Pashtun power, as differences within the same tribal group.

“The dichotomy is not so much between these two centres of power, but among Pashtuns themselves, between the urbanised and the rural who live near the borders and are more traditionalist,” the Catholic University professor adds. It is a historical duality.

“In Afghanistan it is said that the Durrani have the crown, but the Ghilzai hold the rifle.” The Ghilzai (or Ghilji) are the largest Pashtun ethnic group and held power until the Durrani dynasty founded modern Afghanistan in 1747.

For these reasons, too, it is difficult to imagine that the new government will be able to exercise strict control over the provinces. Far from Kabul, violence is the order of the day.

“We know that every Taliban guerrilla has been promised a woman. Now that they have come to power, the rural tribes will feel entitled to do what they want,” comments Redaelli.

As always, the population will be the loser. Without Western aid, the humanitarian crisis risks turning into a tragedy. 

Certainly, “the Taliban will not fall because people die of hunger, unless the situation degenerates to the point that protests and demonstrations break out. But then, the Taliban have always crushed them.”

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