March 24 2011 ▪ Interviewed by Viktor Kaspruk
“New country should appear on the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan”, says prof. Saleem H. Ali from the University of Vermont
– Professor Ali, in one of yours last articles «The Islamic Republic of Talibanistan» you wrote that, «For all their strategy sessions, policymakers in Washington are still clearly vexed by the Taliban’s staying power in Afghanistan. But the reasons behind the Taliban’s support may not be complicated at all — though combating them may require a fundamental change in the West’s military and political strategy». Could creation of Talibanistan bring peace in Afghanistan and stability in Pakistan?
– My argument is that we need to create a peace process which recognizes that the radical Islamic ideologies cannot be coexistent with “moderate Islamic” states that Afghanistan and Pakistan want to be. The tribal areas of Pakistan and Eastern Afghanistan are quite different demographically and more conservative. The Taliban already has control there. A peace process can recognize this existing situation and propose a separation of ideology between moderate Afghanistan and Pakistan and these Islamists who want strict Sharia law. Radical Islamists across Afghanistan who want to obey to such laws can migrate to these areas and those who want to leave can move to the mainland through a referendum process.
I am not endorsing the views of the Islamists, but only suggesting a way to start negotiations to end war which is paralyzing both countries and is also harming US international interests. The only way to contain Islamists is to take away their capacity for propaganda by giving peace a chance and testing their skills at governance through a referendum process.
– Suppose the Taliban decides to change its state of nature. Than it should become a party to stop armed struggle and start acting parliamentary, doesn’t it?
– If Taliban violate the terms of a peace process then military option should always remain and it will be considered more legitimate as well by the population. The semi-autonomous region I am suggesting would be securely monitored at its borders. There would be restrictions on entry as well (similar as China regulates entry to and from Hong Kong).
– You have suggested that the problem can be solved by giving a large part of Afghanistan to the Taliban. Well, that’s just an idea. But don’t you think it can only deepen the conflict….
– We have tried fighting them for a decade and have failed with the most modern technologies and intelligence. So we need to be pragmatic and see what other options are.
– Do you think that second reign of Taliban would significantly differ from the first one?
– When the burden of governance is pushed on them it will have to compromise. Note that in the first reign they were constantly in a state of war with the Northern Alliance and many of their atrocities were committed by using the excuse of war. However, even then Taliban was willing to compromise on economic matters and even sent a delegation to Washington to negotiate on the pipeline deal. Therefore, governed pressure and constant monitoring of security state, could actually mitigate Talib’s point of views on the situation. Furthermore, the threat of military action will keep them from any attempts to invade.
– In order to fulfill this idea new political conditions should be created. Except for Southern Afghanistan and Waziristan, the vast majority of Pakistanis would not support Taliban’s brand for new Islamic State. Have you taken this factor into account?
– Absolutely. That is why I am suggesting that the referendum process took place in regions where the Taliban already has influence and is de facto in power. If the referendum process, which should delineate very clearly the terms of Sharia that are being considered – part of a peace agreement brakes some principles of Islamists’ rules – that will show that they are not welcomed and hence legitimize action against them. Part of the condition for such a referendum must be the participation of women – which is already legally binding in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
– Creation of a new state, ideas of which originates from the seventh century already, has always found strong appeal in the minds of fundamentalist Muslims and a desire to repeat the experiment in modern times. Can foundation of Talibanistan be an analogue to the old Caliphate?
– As I said, their expansionary motives will need to be contained and that would be part of the peace proposal. If the referendum favors it, Talibs can have their own emirate, but no expansionary caliphate should be even discussed.
– Can concentration of all Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan, where Islamic fundamentalists and terrorist organizations are operating (or, as you put it, an «Islamic Republic of Talibanistan») under Taliban’s reign solve all previous problems?
– The peace proposal would require a rejection of expansionary movements such as Al-Qaeda. Some hardliners would reject that, but proposing such attempt as part of a deal will create some opportunity for peace. Moreover, elimination of extremists Al-Qaeda will have to be handled through targeted law enforcement – it the same way, as we do with other criminals.
– The Taliban currently has «staying power» in Pakistan, because of high levels of Pakistani official’s support. Will Pakistan support the idea The Islamic Republic of Talibanistan?
– Pakistan has suffered more from Islamic extremism that any another country in the last two years and the military itself has been a repeated target of Islamist attacks. Only yesterday the ISI was targeted by a bombing in Faislabad. Thus, making such a claim without clear facts is irresponsible. It is true, however, that the Pakistani military wants some degree of influence in Afghanistan because of their previous conflict with India and its influence in Afghanistan. No doubt that regional solution for the Kashmir conflict will reduce traction that Islamists have.
– In this case, the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan should also be changed?
– Yes, the semi-autonomous region would also incorporate parts of extreme eastern Afghanistan.
Saleem H. Ali is Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and the Director of the Institute for Environmental Diplomacy and Security at UVM’s James Jeffords Center for Policy Research. He is also on the adjunct faculty of Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies and the visiting faculty for the United Nations mandated University for Peace (Costa Rica).
Professor Ali received his PhD in Environmental Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), an M.E.S. in environmental law and policy from Yale University, and his Bachelors Degree in Chemistry from Tufts University (summa cum laude).