For the first time since taking power, the Taliban have held a large gathering of Islamic scholars and some tribal elders from different parts of the country. The three-day event in Kabul, which ended last Saturday, was based on the traditional model of the so-called “grand assembly” or loya jirga, where eminent representatives of various ethnic and social groups deliberate on issues of national concern. However, the Taliban did not call their assembly Loja Jirga, but rather the Assembly of the Ulema, ie the religious and legal scholars of Afghanistan. The institution of the Loya Jirga played an important role in the installation of the pro-Western government under Hamid Karzai after the fall of the Taliban in 2001/2002.
The current meeting, organized by the Taliban, ended with no progress on women’s rights and minority political participation. The question of when girls can go back to school from the sixth grade remained unanswered. The Taliban left DW’s questions about women’s rights, minorities or possible cooperation with international organizations unanswered.
“Foreign countries should not interfere”
“The Taliban wanted to show the world that they could hold the big traditional council meeting with the presence of influential people and tribal representatives,” former Afghan diplomat Asis Meraj told DW. More than 3,000 men had been invited to Kabul by the militant Islamist group. Above all, they should show their allegiance to Taliban leader Haibatullah Achundsada, who has made his first public appearance in Kabul since the Taliban took power last August. In the assembly hall, he was greeted with cheers and chants, as reported by the AFP news agency. Those present shouted “Long live the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” They also called on the international community to recognize the Taliban government and unfreeze government-funded accounts.
The Taliban believe their supreme leader should decide how the country is run. Achundsada stressed at the gathering that he was “not a symbolic political leader relying on elections”. Rarely appearing in public, Achundsada bears the title “Leader of the Faithful” and is one of the founders of the Taliban movement. He proclaimed that he would enforce God’s law in Afghanistan even if the world took action against the Taliban “with a nuclear bomb.” “We only listen to Allah Almighty.” He also prayed for the more than 1,000 victims of the late June earthquake.
The head of the Taliban expressly forbade interference from abroad: “They say: ‘Why don’t you do this, why don’t you do that,'” Achundsada complained in a one-hour speech. “Why does the world interfere in our work?” The Taliban representatives in contact with foreign countries would have to “endure hardships” because “the world will not easily accept that you implement the Islamic system”. In doing so, he also indirectly rejected repeated calls from the international community to respect women’s rights.
“Modern education” just lip service
Since taking power, the Taliban have continuously restricted the rights of Afghan women and girls. So it was no surprise that there were no women among the 3,000 delegates at the gathering. Women in Afghanistan had long fought for a political say in the Loya Jirga, which is intended to clarify national and ethnic problems. In 2019, President Ashraf Ghani, who was driven out by the Taliban, implemented a women’s quota of 30 percent at the assembly. In 2020, around 700 women attended the Loya Jirga. Today, women and girls experienced “that all the progress made in recent years is being reversed,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on Friday at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The future of women in Afghanistan will be even bleaker if something doesn’t change quickly.
How this change might be achieved is unclear. The US special envoy for Afghan women and girls, Rina Amiri, recently admitted via Twitter that pressure from the international community has so far resulted in no progress for Afghan women, girls and other vulnerable population groups. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai sees the inclusion of the phrase “religious and modern Education” in the final resolution of the assembly indicated that the girls could be about to return to secondary schools. However, in an interview with the FAZ, he conceded that there had been no progress so far in terms of the participation of all social groups that most Afghans wanted .
Collaboration: Ahmad Hakimi