15th August, 2021—the day the Afghan Taliban entered Kabul, was the day when any chance of a sustained and prolonged political process in Afghanistan was dampened. Democracy may be a far cry for a country which had remained immersed in civil war for the past 40 years.
But a sustained political process— one aimed at gradually making ballot and not bullet the force for change— was a possibility until that day when Taliban armed militants entered Kabul and made its elected President flee for his life out of the country. But this was not unusual for Afghanistan, where since 1979 power has flown from the barrel of the gun.
However worrisome are the implications it carries for neighbouring countries like Pakistan—where political process is nascent and fragile, and where guns and blood are in currency. One insurgency in the North-West we believe we have eradicated and another in the South, are actually still ongoing. And where non-representative institutions have strong belief that they are more entitled to rule the country than anyone who claims to base his or her legitimacy on ballot. Here, people compare a furious and rebellious militia’s capture of the capital city in a Muslim society with medieval consequents of Islam. The so-called consequent of Kabul is worrisome only for those in Pakistani society who believe that the law is not a mere abstraction, it’s a concrete reality on which the essential functions of the society are based.
During his tenure as president, Asif Ali Zardari went out of the way to support the embattled Syrian President Bashar-al-Asad as he was struggling to survive against Sunni militant groups in the Syrian Civil War. The reason was simple, the Pakistani government itself was struggling hard in the face of the rising threat of militancy which left an impression in the international diplomatic circles that the Pakistan Taliban posed a threat to the survival of the Pakistani government—though there never was any such chance in actuality.
Asif Ali Zardari gave special significance to the possibility that Pakistan diplomacy should not lean in favour of groups, which were attempting to topple the legitimate government in Damascus. This despite the fact that there were tempting trends in the international diplomatic circles to support the groups that happened to be on the right side of international media. Pakistan stuck with the policy of supporting the government in Syria with the view that any weakening of its resolve will create problems of legitimacy for the Pakistani government itself.
Fast forward to August 15, 2021: Afghan Taliban and armed militant group with no political and legal legitimacy to its credit, stormed the capital city of Afghanistan in the middle of the month and just dislodged a democratically elected government of President Ashraf Ghani. The Pakistani foreign policy establishment just jumped into the trap: Although the militant threat to the Pakistani government has been decimated through military operations, the militant organisations can regroup any movement given the changing security environment in our neighbourhood. The militant groups which challenge the legitimacy of the Pakistani government still exist and theoretically speaking the threat to the legitimacy of the government in Islamabad is as potent or as weak as it was during the times of Syrian civil war.
Pakistan’s former senior diplomat, Ambassador Abdul Basit disagrees, “I remember the President taking this position on the Syrian civil war…. But the Afghan situation is totally different from the Syrian situation……in Afghanistan Taliban government was dislodged through use of force and now they have regained power…Taliban never recognised Ashraf Ghani as legitimate government” Ambassador Abdul Basit said in response to the queries of Truth International.
“But hasn’t Pakistan always recognised Ashraf Ghani as legitimate President?” he was asked. “Well Pakistan has always recognised anyone who is in control of Kabul,” he said, adding that there were very potent voices among the Pakistani society who think the Taliban’s militant takeover of Kabul has negative implications for Pakistan’s political system.
Though Pakistan, so far, has not extended diplomatic recognition to the Taliban government, the much publicised visit of DG ISI General Faiz Hameed to Kabul could be perceived as more than recognition.
An inter-ministerial meeting was recently held in Islamabad in which several ministers and State Bank Governor discussed all the options of helping the Taliban regime with technical and managerial support in running the affairs of the state in Afghanistan.
It’s the law and its function as a normative operational reality in our society that we should be worried about. Lest men on the horseback attempt to repeat the drama of conquests in our society, in their own unique way.
15th August 2021 is the day, which in the broader context could be seen as part of a larger political trend in the region. Democracy and a political processes which could possibly generate liberal political values are going down everywhere in our region. In India, where secular and democratic traditions have a long history, a Hindu extremist ideology is in political ascendance and democratic elections are bringing ant-democratic forces into power repeatedly.
In Pakistan, where democracy and political process already leads a life under the sword of Damocles, the political process received a severe jolt on account of spymaster’s machinations and soft intervention of the powers-that-be in 2014. So the democracy and belief in sustained political process as a panacea for political ills of the society is out of fashion. The idea that extremist ideologies can serve as a driving force behind modern state institutions is already popular in the region.
In this situation, we should not be too worried about democracy and its continuation in our society—that struggle we have already lost. We should be worried about misguided beliefs in medieval philosophies, past Gold age of consequent and glory becoming a new normal in our society. It’s the law and its function as a normative operational reality in our society that we should be worried about. Lest men on the horseback attempt to repeat the drama of conquests in our society, in their own unique way.