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Voice of the cleric

Women were not allowed to attend, unlike in present-day Iran and also unlike the last Loya Jirga that was held under the previous US-led government.

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

The Islamic clerics and tribal elders in Afghanistan have renewed their support for the Taliban. While this was only to be expected, the hardline fringe has called on the international community to recognize the embattled country’s Taliban led government. But this can’t be achieved by ignoring the fundamental societal mores. The former insurgents, who have refrained from taking decisions since taking over the country last August, described Saturday’s meeting as a forum to hear a range of voices facing Afghanistan. The meeting in Kabul was choreographed along the lines of Afghanistan’s traditional Loya Jirgas, which is a regular council of elders, leaders and prominent figures who deliberate on the country’s political issues. But it appeared that the overwhelming majority of participants were Taliban officials and supporters, mainly Islamic clerics.

Women were not allowed to attend, unlike in present-day Iran and also unlike the last Loya Jirga that was held under the previous US-led government. An eleven point statement of intent, released towards the end of the meeting, urged the comity of nations, pre-eminently the United Nations, to recognize a Taliban led government, remove all sanctions imposed after the Taliban takeover, and unfreeze Afghan assets abroad. In a surprise development, the reclusive Akhundzada came to Kabul from his base in southern Kandahar to address the gathering last Friday. It was believed to be his first visit to the Afghan capital after the Taliban seized power last August. In his hourlong speech, aired by state radio, Akhundzada described the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan as a “victory for the Muslim world”.

The Taliban are under pressure to be inclusive as they struggle with Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis. In point of fact, however, they have been far from inclusive. Chief among their shortcomings must be denial of education to women and girls and granting women the right to work, almost fundamental in this day and age. Unless the Taliban leadership gets its basics right, the embattled country is doomed to a bout of unsplendid isolation. Saturday’s 11-point resolution called on the Taliban government to pay “special attention and to ensure justice, religious and modern education, health, agriculture, industry, the rights of minorities, children, women and the entire nation, and the Islamic holy law”.

Sad to reflect, the present government has failed on all these parameters. The Taliban adhere to their own strict interpretation of Islamic law or Sharia. Akhundzada also offered prayers to Afghanistan’s earthquake victims. It bears recall that he rose from a low-profile member of the Islamic insurgent movement to the position of leader of the Taliban in a swift transition of power after a 2016 US drone strike killed his predecessor, Mulla Akhtar Mansour. For all the hi-falutin speeches, Afghanistan must get the basics right.