Quitting the Taliban And Blending Back In
Gun May Be Gone, but Beliefs Remain
By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 20, 2001; Page A10
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, Nov. 19 -- Abdul Hai is a religious man, an Islamic scholar, or maulana, who teaches the Koran to his eight children. For the last five years, he has also been a foot soldier for the Taliban, carrying an AK-47 rifle in defense of his native city here in eastern Afghanistan.
He became a Taliban fighter in 1996, he says, because he was disenchanted with the feuding Afghan rulers in power at the time. "They wanted a government that was not Islamic," he said. "So I decided to join the Taliban."
Sitting today in a sparse room, still wearing the trademark black turban of the Taliban and fingering a circle of green prayer beads, Abdul Hai explained the simple calculus that led him last week to quit the Taliban, hand in his weapon and accept the armed force that has come to power in Afghanistan. "The Taliban has gone and the new regime has come," he said curtly. "They are also Islamic."
Then he warned: "But if they go against Islam, we will again take up the gun."
Abdul Hai is one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of former Taliban fighters here in Jalalabad-as in other parts of Afghanistan where the Taliban appears to have disappeared-who have stopped voicing allegiance to the radical Islamic militia and simply melted away into the civilian population. They have never been asked to renounce their beliefs; they have been allowed to hand in their weapons and return to a normal life.
While top Taliban commanders and the militia's foreign fighters-Arabs, Pakistanis, Chechens and others-are being hunted in the mountains, Afghans like Abdul Hai are being given what amounts to a blanket amnesty.
It is a policy being duplicated across the country, to encourage ordinary fighters to surrender without fear of punishment or retribution.
But it raises questions about the stability of any future Afghan government, if the old regime's fighters are still around, still committed to imposing the same radical view of Islam on society.
Officials here said there is no other way, if Afghanistan hopes to rebuild itself.
"We have announced that all of the surrendering Taliban here are free to go," said Hazart Ali, the new police commander in Jalalabad. Asked if that meant legions of ex-Taliban fighters were now walking freely on the streets, he replied, "Yes, maybe."
"If they did not resist, and they come from this area, they are free," Ali said. "They are part of our nation. They are our brethren. They are our people."
Ali recalled how, after Afghanistan's Russian-backed Marxist government was toppled in 1992, its members were persecuted.
Many ended up fleeing abroad. "We do not want to repeat that experience again," he said.
The Taliban movement is rooted in Afghanistan's dominant Pashtun ethnic group, and this is a largely Pashtun city. In many ways, the deeply conservative Pashtun culture that underlay the Taliban movement is still evident.
A journalist was walking down a street here this weekend, with her head covered with a scarf, smoking a cigarette.
A man approached her, snatched the cigarette from her mouth, broke it in two and threw the pieces on the ground, scolding her that women should not smoke.
A taxi driver named Merajuddin, who drove here from Kabul, about five hours away, was sitting in his car listening to a music cassette-banned by the Taliban, but once again permitted in Kabul.
Suddenly several men approached his cab and began shouting at him: "What kind of Muslim infidel are you, listening to music? That's not allowed here!"
And today, outside a building identified as an office of the intelligence service, the white Taliban flag was still flying, even though the new anti-Taliban governor of the province surrounding Jalalabad, Abdul Qadir, had taken down the Taliban flag at the governor's palace in a ceremony Sunday. Asked about the banner, fighters at the intelligence office said they had not yet received any order to remove it.
If pro-Taliban sentiment still runs deep here, it is because of people like Abdul Hai, who still espouses many of the Taliban's beliefs, even though he now considers himself a follower of the new order.
For example, asked about Osama bin Laden, the Taliban patron wanted for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Abdul Hai said: "He was a mujaheddin [holy warrior]. He was our guest. He is a Muslim and he is fighting for Islam. So we are defending him."
Abdul Hai said he believes Afghan women should be covered head-to-toe when they are on the streets; the veil, called a burqa, "is our culture," he said.
He believes music, photographs of people, girls in school and men who shave their facial hair are all anti-Islamic. "In our religion, these things are banned," he said, fingering his prayer beads.
He also believes the Taliban brought an extended period of peace to most of Afghanistan after decades of war and strife.
"In all Afghanistan's history, no one brought security like the Taliban," he said. He does allow, however, that the Taliban made "many mistakes"-including, he said, emphasizing religious instruction at the expense of science and technology. "They just promoted Islam and nothing else," he said.
Abdul Hai said that when news reached here that Kabul had fallen to Northern Alliance troops, his Taliban commander-from neighboring Paktia province-fled into the mountains.
But because Abdul Hai was a native of Jalalabad, he decided to stay and take his chances with the new regime.
"I am a resident of this place," he said. "I was hoping that since they are Muslim and I am Muslim, we can work together. . . . And since I'm a resident, I can hide myself if there is a problem."
When troops supporting Abdul Qadir, the new governor, arrived here to claim control of the city, Abdul Hai said he handed in his weapon and was allowed to go home. "They announced they did not have any problem with the Taliban," he said. "Now all the Taliban are gone."
He is now jobless, but said he can resume his role as an Islamic teacher.
He said he hopes Afghanistan's new rulers will continue with the same strict policies of the Taliban. Otherwise, he said, there could be another civil war-and he would be willing to fight again.
"If they go against the rules of Islam, we might fight again," he said. "We might have a jihad. This is a Muslim country."
|Back to News Archirves of 2001|
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).