The Taliban must alter their zero-sum mentality and seriously commit to bringing peace to Afghanistan before it is too late.
On May 9, hours after Afghan government’s announcement that it has released 1,000 Taliban prisoners as a gesture of the goodwill to kick start peace talks with the insurgents, a Taliban hit squad entered a mosque in the vicinity of Kabul city (at around 9 pm local time) and shot my friend in the head while he was leading special evening prayers of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The father of four and holder of M.A. in Islamic studies, my friend Qari Ikramulhaq Aryayi was neither an anti-Taliban cleric, nor a high-ranking government official or famed politician. He was an ordinary man, and, therefore, his assassination didn’t even make it to the local TV channels or newspapers. His only fault making him apparently sinful and a legitimate target of the Taliban’s brutal attack was his teaching job at a non-combatant agency of the Afghan government’s security sector, where he taught Islamic texts and subjects.
With such an animosity and mindset towards the Afghan government and its employees, the questions are: Do the Taliban expect us to believe they have really changed and are seriously committed to peace and power sharing with the Afghan government? If yes, then why do they continue to slaughter even ordinary employees of the Afghan government whose elimination doesn’t even count or change anything on the ground?
Apparently, the Afghan peace process was initiated with the belief and optimism that the Taliban have changed and they are no longer the savages of the 1990s. Pakistani officials lobbied about the importance of negotiating with the so-called “good Taliban” who they argued were open to discussions about variety of political and social issues, including human and women’s rights, freedom of speech and free press, and an inclusive government representing aspirations of multi-ethnic and evolving Afghanistan.
While the Pakistanis were able to convince the highly volatile Trump administration to directly engage and sign a peace deal with the Taliban, the notorious group’s daily violence and brutality speak louder than their Pakistani patrons makeover of their image as well as the Trump administration’s delusional optimism about the tamed Taliban.
Contrary to their highly publicized good boy image, Taliban still proudly prevent girls from going to school in areas under their control, swiftly suffocate their critiques, openly threaten media outlets and journalists, and publicly execute even ordinary Afghan government employees.
In a phone interview with a local Afghan TV channel during the height of the Trump-Taliban peace talks, Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid stated that “all Afghan government employees are legitimate targets because they work for a regime that is puppet of the infidels.”
Taliban have also repeatedly stated that reestablishing an Islamic government is their main objective. Their latest decree, issued days after signing peace deal with Trump administration, emphasizes on continuing their so-called ‘jihad’ until a truly Islamic government is installed in Afghanistan. This is a clear indication that anything less than or identical to their former ‘Islamic Emirate’ is unacceptable for the Taliban. Otherwise, they would not insist on abolishing the current government of Afghanistan, which is an Islamic Republic, and on rewriting the Afghan Constitution that is based on the tenets of Islam?
All these cast serious doubt about the group’s genuine commitment to peace and power sharing with the current Afghan government. A group seriously committed to peace would not intensify its bloody campaign and kill hundreds of civilians and Afghan security forces during the holy month and on the eve of ‘intra-Afghan negotiations’. Painting such ruthless attitude of the Taliban, as a bargaining strategy for future talks with the Afghan government, would be naïve and misleading because eliminating ordinary government employees, such as my friend Aryayi, don’t give the Taliban any leverage on the negotiation table.
Rather than making peace and preparing for reconciliation, Taliban’s warmongering actions and intimidating intentions are that of the spoiler who is confident about dominating the future of Afghanistan through their peace deal with the Trump administration, or an eventual victory by protracting the conflict. However, going down this destructive path would be a grave mistake. Instead, the Taliban (and their main patron Pakistan) must alter their current zero-sum mentality and seriously commit to constructive engagement in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for bringing peace to Afghanistan and stability to the region, before it is too late.