Afghanistan in the Mire of Traditionalism and the US Backslide

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The twenty years presence of US and NATO in Afghanistan ended with a historical scandal after the foreign forces left the country with a mess. Within months, after the withdrawal, the new Taliban government which took control of Afghanistan got politically and economically sanctioned by the former western allies. In the discourse of the western world regarding Afghanistan, the question of legitimacy, protection of human rights, women rights and freedom of speech replaced the war on terror. The White House, as the major stakeholder of Afghan crisis, first put the issue on backburner but its current stance seems to favor recognition of Taliban government, providing that the Taliban shall first obtain national recognition. This green light sparked more after the Biden administration conditioned recognition of the Afghan Taliban to the release of a US Navy veteran, Mark Frerichs, followed by unfreezing $3.5 billion Afghan national assets.

The recent remarks by Thomas West, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan, regarding recognition of the Afghan Taliban had intensive echoes among Afghans. West’s proposal of obtaining public legitimacy through referring to the national consultation platform or what is known as Loya Jirga or Grand Assembly reveals certain facts. West’s remarks once again recollected President Joe Biden’s quote, “We did not go to Afghanistan to nation build.” The US as the chief stakeholder in Afghan War did not actually bring fruitful upshots in terms of democracy and liberal political values. The prescription of traditional consultation or Loya Jirga as a remedy for the current legitimacy crisis in Afghanistan indicates that the US is pursuing a double-standard policy in this country. On one hand, the US is chanting for democratic and liberal values in Afghanistan and on the other hand it consolidates the cornerstone of what is considered as root of Afghan longstanding dilemma.

Consultation or Jirga has been a traditional dispute settlement practice among Afghans since ancient times. It was formalized by Ahmad Shah Durrani, the founder of modern Afghanistan in 1747. Loya Jirga or the Grand Assembly was incorporated into Afghan constitutions as a means of referring to the so called public opinion in matters that relate vital interests of the country. Meanwhile, constitutions themselves have been products of Loya Jirgas. Since 1924, Afghanistan underwent eight constitutions out of which seven were ratified by Grand Assembly. After the US invasion of Afghanistan, the country witnessed an Extraordinary Grand Assembly, a Constitutive Grand Assembly and six Consultative Grand Assemblies. None of these assemblies, however, could fulfill the legal requirements of a legitimate Grand Assembly. According to the former nullified constitution of Afghanistan, Loya Jirgas shall be composed of Members of Parliament and heads of provincial and district councils. It will be surprising that district councils were just symbolic as its election was never held. Instead, a governmental committee used to select members of the Grand Assembly who would later vote in favor of government’s pre-planned decision.

In addition to these legal contradictions, Loya Jirgas were used as an excuse to justify the acts of either the leadership or dictations of foreign patrons. For instance, in the last Grand Assembly which was held on the release of 400 Taliban prisoners, the former Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani shirked to take the responsibility and saddled it on the so-called consultation of the people. The members of Grand Assemblies were always selected by the ruling party ignoring other parties, socio-political classes and civil society. Some elements of them, however, participated in the consultation but their symbolic participation could not affect the pre-planned decision.

The US and the west have to harvest the political culture which was cultivated during their presence. Though, Afghan Taliban’s rationale of their so called Emirate version of government is based on their own interpretation of religion, resorting to Loya Jirga seems to be welcomed by the Taliban. The political culture in Afghanistan has been shaped in a way whereby Grand Assembly is used as handkerchief for the evils of the ruling government. To Taliban, Loya Jirga means homage to their Amir-ul-Mominin or the Leader of Muslims. Thus, Loya Jirga is regarded to be a nexus of opinion for acquiring legitimacy and justification of recognition for Taliban and the US, respectively. Recognition of the Taliban government, however, will not put an end to the Afghan misery; rather, it will turn a new unfortunate page of the Afghan history. It is commonly accepted that the endless political problem in Afghanistan is not religious but ethnic apartheid. In the backdrop of Afghan traditional political culture, the US and the West’s apparent democratic expectation will be mirage.

The US and its western allies are now confronted with the fait accompli which is non-reversible by double policies. The US has come to the conclusion that isolation of Afghanistan can have inverse impact on the US interests in the region. The situation is getting more serious when Russia is a current forward in the international political orbit, repulsing the influence of US and other NATO members around its borders. Seemingly, the US support of democratic and liberal values in Afghanistan is exchanged with the Taliban’s political cooperation with the US. Thus, the question of traditionalism and political decay is expected to last for undefined time.

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