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Saturday November 27, 2021

How to de-radicalise extremist mindset?

August 23, 2021
How to de-radicalise extremist mindset?

As a de facto Afghan administration, the Taliban have an urgent task to moderate the outlook of their foot soldiers on many issues particularly on the treatment of the Shia minority community in Afghanistan.

Interestingly, the politically savvy Taliban leadership has shown pragmatism and flexibility over the last couple of years and managed successfully to allay the concerns of the Shia community and Iran, in particular.

The Taliban leadership has demonstrated to Tehran that they have respect for Shia doctrine. They regularly issued annual condolences on Ashura. Substantial gestures came through when they fought Daesh with the support of Iran for many years. Tehran rewarded the Taliban with sanctuary, money and weapons.

Recently, Iran welcomed implicitly Taliban’s takeover and did not launch its proxies to forestall the Taliban’s momentum during the 10 days of capture of major Afghan cities. Ex-commander Ismael Khan and the IRGC-linked Shia group, for example, surprisingly cooperated with the Taliban. And as a goodwill gesture, Iran returned military vehicles including tanks to the Taliban after two weeks of Afghan troops fleeing to Iran.

Since taking over, the Taliban have had a major ideological change in discourse and jurisprudence which is largely directed towards tolerance and moderation towards the Shia community in areas like Herat, Bamyan and Ghazni.

Having said that, we need to weigh the implications of some questions posed by the worldview of the Taliban rank and file and how best they can be countered, if possible. The Taliban’s No 2 leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was in Pakistani custody from 2010 to 2018 and released at the request of the US. Will this particular experience of the erstwhile inmate in Pakistan's prison (Machh Jail located in a remote corner of Balochistan) have a bearing on his thought process and future decision-making viz-a-viz Pakistan? Noteworthy was the angry outburst of ex-Taliban Ambassador to Islamabad, Abdul Salam Zaif, (in his autobiography) who was handed over to the US after the invasion of Afghanistan.

Will foot soldiers and mid-tier ideological warriors of the Taliban in remote areas understand the intent of not being radical anymore by the Taliban leadership?

Now in power, will the Taliban do away with what they learned about Shias in madaris? Will the Taliban leadership be able to handle the desire of Jihad of its foot soldiers after they are free from the job (of waging Jihad against foreign occupation) in Afghanistan?

Despite the Taliban leadership’s promises, will some lower-tier leaders not aim at helping Muslims of Xinjiang? And in this case, will Pakistan not face the blame by China? The above questions are certainly complicated and need a thorough response to deal with. However, they can become opportunities if the ideological side of war is fought with another superior narrative with a proper strategy targeting the lower Taliban segments of Afghan society. The following recommendations can be considered:

a) Iqbal and Maulana Roomi’s interpretation of Islam should be poured into the Taliban's mindset. Their message is strong enough to believe that it will be effective and has a history of awakening nations.

b) Very effective border management should be in place and a test demand be made from the Taliban to recognise the Afghanistan-Pakistan international border (Durand Line).

c) Young boys from the Taliban army should be given chance for studying in regular institutions of China, Pakistan and Turkey to redefine their interpretation of Islam.

Since this scribe has a background in right-wing politics, it was a common practice of the madaris to train the minds of students in a particular worldview and so is the case of madaris of opposite schools of thought which have dire consequences for many Muslim societies.

Pakistan has still not largely succeeded to reform its education system not only in madaris but also in school systems, aside from the half-clever attempts of the PTI Govt in introducing the so-called common curriculum. It means no superior narrative will be available to counter the particular ideology taught in madaris potentially setting up Pakistani society to violent disruptions – driven by the scale of injustice, misgovernance, extreme poverty, and ecological disasters.

While the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy – that triggered American military intervention in Afghanistan – is just around the corner, the US also has an abiding interest in this proposition. Instead of fire - fighting all the time (kinetically responding), the United States should bring to bear its formidable clout in the direction of peace and engagement of the region to help moderate Taliban foot soldiers by supporting ideologically laden efforts.

For many, it may sound idealistic but all major events of destruction and mayhem follow powerful narrative. Only the right narrative peddled over the next decades can guarantee the preemption of another 9/11 and subsequent re-entering of the US forces into Afghanistan.

Back to the main challenge at hand: the Afghan Taliban’ foot soldiers' narrative. If regional countries do not invest in their re-education through a superior ideology, thousands of hardcore soldiers will probably be unemployed and available to be weaponised not only against a particular community but also deployed in other theatres by state actors – anchored in geo-politics and other interests – and their proxies.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan and an ex-adviser to the Balochistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. He is also Chairman of the Institute of New Horizons (INH) & Balochistan. He tweets @Jan_Achakzai