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The Nation, the Taliban, and Authoritarianism: Developments in Afghanistan

Session XII-03, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 11:00 am

Special Session Description
The MESA Global Academy is an interdisciplinary initiative sustaining essential research collaborations and knowledge production among MENA-focused scholars from the Middle East and North Africa and their counterparts outside the region.
  • This paper compares the domestic policy and foreign relations of the Taliban I and the Taliban II by using the cultural approach. Since both regimes were heavily influenced by religious education, rural culture, and Pashtunwali, the paper claims that there are not significant differences in domestic policy and foreign relations between the current Taliban and the Taliban that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. To prove this claim, the article first explains the social background and socialization process of the Taliban. It then examines comparatively the effects of religious education, rural culture, and Pashtunwali on the domestic policy and foreign relations of both the Taliban I and II. The foreign behavior of the two regimes concerning neighbors including Pakistan and Iran is then examined. Finally, the foreign behavior of the Taliban I and II with great powers such as the US and Russia is explained.
  • This paper discusses a crucial ingredient missing from the processes of nation-building in Afghanistan. After an introduction to the concept of "nation" in the context of Afghanistan, it briefly surveys the effects of Islamization, centralization of government, reformation, leftism, Islamists, and the Taliban on nation-building in Afghanistan for the last century. It then concentrates on the process of nation-building by international aid and relief agencies after 9/11. After reflections on the nature and significance of an integrative ideology to build a nation and its intrinsic nature in Afghanistan, the study suggests a domestic but ignored ideology fitting the character of theology, politics, social mores, and culture in Afghanistan. This review of Afghan culture, values, and traditions shows the important role of curious pragmatism, moderation, and morality as the foundation for a unique Afghan ideology to unify and persuade Afghans to build their nation. In contrast to popular portrayals of Afghanistan as the land of radicalism, tribalism, and xenophobia, it argues that the lack of an integrating ideology was largely responsible for the century-long failure of nation-building. The process of modernization suffered successive defeats because it did not develop an integrating ideology to push Afghans forward. This interdisciplinary study relies on published literature in English and Persian on Afghanistan and nation-building, as well as the personal experiences of the author.
  • The Taliban regime claims to rule by the Hanafi orthodoxy of Islam; however, the way political power and religious authority are intertwined in the Taliban regime removes all forms of checks and balances that were embedded in the emergent political institutions in the history of Islam. Wael Hallaq has argued for the impossibility of recreating the emergent system of separation of power and rule of law in classical Islam in the modern context of nation-states. Ahmad Kuru has raised doubt about the robustness of separation of power and rule of law that Hallaq claims existed between the Islamic orthodoxy and the political authority in pre-modernity Islam. The complexity of historical relations between political power and religious authority notwithstanding, there are neo-classical examples of clerical rule, for example in Iran and Afghanistan, in modern times. I argue it is important to critique the authoritarianism of these regimes from within the Islamic tradition. In the post-“end of history” paradigm of today, Muslim scholars should theorize and justify institutional constraints on political power and the clerical class from within the Islamic tradition. This work can be done without historical revisionism or buying into progressive ideology. This work is critical if the Muslim world is to escape the trap of chronic underdevelopment and authoritarian rule.
  • This paper examines the relevance of three divergent critiques of liberalism in relation to the manifest failure of liberalism in the context of Afghanistan. Specifically, it considers the core premises of classical liberalism, post-liberalism, and modus vivendi liberalism to assess their validity for Afghanistan. From a purely philosophical point of view, internal ideological conditions make a state of liberalism harder to achieve in a conflictual and heterogenous context like Afghanistan, where religious beliefs and cultural norms are incompatible with liberal thought. In this regard, this study suggests that modus vivendi liberalism offers a solution for overcoming the challenge of plurality and incommensurability of values.