Afghanistan goes backwards while Taliban chiefs live it up in Qatar

Taliban leaders came to Doha as a neutral base from which to negotiate with America - two years on they're driving fast cars and "making babies" with negotiations no closer

Share

Afghanistan is not the only place on the planet which makes a speciality of going backwards rather than forwards, but it is the most spectacular example.

As The New York Times reported this week, a group of high-ranking Taliban have been hanging about in Doha, Qatar, for more than two years, waiting for the Obama administration to make good on its offer of negotiations. These are not negligible people: the most senior is Tayeb Agha, chief of staff to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s founder, the one-eyed “Amir ul-Mu’minim” or “Commander of the Faithful”, the militia’s unchallenged leader. But back home in Afghanistan, the Taliban show little interest in pursuing the path of peace, the most vivid demonstration of that being the attack on a courthouse near the Iranian border the other day in which 46 people were killed, including judges, lawyers and all the assailants, during the course of an eight-hour blitz that left the complex in ruins.

How can anyone dream of negotiating with people whose comrades take such action against the West’s efforts to furnish Afghanistan with the rudimentary infrastructure of a state? Various Taliban have offered themselves as possible interlocutors, but “the Doha track” was said by an American diplomat to be “the most promising” of them. But for now that track’s going nowhere. “[The Taliban] are just living here, enjoying the air conditioning, driving luxury cars, eating and making babies,” according to an Afghan diplomat in the same city.  

There is no talking to these people, not only because their brothers are committing mass murder a few hundred miles away, but because there is not, and never has been, anything to talk to them about. We continue to go through the motions of state building, propping up Karzai’s deeply corrupt regime, pouring money and training into the Afghan National Security Forces (whose uniforms the Taliban who destroyed the courthouse were wearing), making good on our promises to the country. But as the endgame draws closer, the fragility of what we have made is painful to behold.

The Taliban gained the respect, however grudging, of millions of Afghans precisely because they had not done dirty deals with the West; they were not venal, they were the devout, pure, simple products of madrassas. Often it was true. They had memorised the Koran, but otherwise their education was often pitiful: I remember waiting for an exit visa in the office of the Taliban minister responsible, the last time they ran the place. It took so long, I was whisperingly informed by an aide, because he was illiterate.

The Taliban years are remembered for the brutality against women, the banning of all forms of entertainment and diversion, the public executions of blasphemers. All true. But equally true was the absence of any urge towards the creation of a modern country. These tribesmen squatted the British and Soviet ruins of Kabul much as our remote ancestors must have camped amid the crumbling villas left behind by the Romans. The key to their failure to evolve lies in the figure of Mullah Omar himself. Ever since, in 1996, when he donned a cloak supposedly once worn by the Prophet, fulfilling the legend that he would become the Leader of the Faithful, the Taliban have been stuck in their fanatical groove.

Wherever Islam rose to great power in the faith’s early days, whether in Arabia or what is now Turkey, it was because the leader succeeded in subsuming both piety and tribalism to the requirements of building a functioning state. The Ottomans did it through the Janissaries: kidnapped Christian children from the Balkans raised to be slave-administrators, free from all tribal ties. Often they rose to high rank, but could be sacked or executed on the whim of the Sultan.

Since 2002, NATO forces and the flood of experts and NGOs working under their protection have played the part of the Janissaries, a modern equivalent of those military and bureaucratic slaves who had no ties of kinship to the countryside, and who could therefore be depended upon to build courthouses, schools, hospitals and all the rest. But soon they will be gone. And the Taliban couldn’t care less.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Programme Test Manager

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

IT Network Manager - Shepherd's Bush, London

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Network Manager - Shepherd's Bush...

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary supply teac...

Modern Foreign Languages Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Full time German Supply Teacher...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Francois Hollande at the Paris summit on Iraq with ministers from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on 15 September  

What's going to happen in Syria and Iraq? A guide to the new anti-Isis coalition's global strategy

Jonathan Russell
The colours of autumn leaves are among the many pleasures of the coming season  

In Sickness and in Health: As autumn arrives, more of us should wear high-vis clothes

Rebecca Armstrong
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week