Ex-Taliban Officials Form New Political Group
A group of former Taliban officials in Islamabad recently announced the revival of the long-dormant group, Khudamul Furqan Jamiat, or Society of Servants of the Holy Koran. While the group has offered its support for the new Afghan government, it is unclear whether the KFJ will be a constructive or destabilizing force in post-Taliban Afghanistan.
The KFJ is a Pashtun-dominated organization, and, according to sources, is led by so-called moderate Taliban. KFJ leaders include former Taliban Minister of Foreign Affairs Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, Education Minister Maulvi Arsala Rahmani, and the Taliban's envoy to the United Nations, Abdul Hakim Mujahid.
These individuals are apparently trying to use the KFJ to shed their Taliban stigma and be included in Afghanistan's Loya Jirga, or tribal council. Already the group appears to have substantial access to officials of Afghanistan's interim government, led by Hamid Karzai. Another KFJ leader, Ahmad Amin Mujaddedi, has a close personal connection with Karzai, and is reportedly in contact with the new leader.
Karzai apparently would like to use the KFJ to solidify his credibility with the Pashtun community in Afghanistan. As the majority ethnic group in Afghanistan, any future government must have the support of Pashtuns, who, until recently, formed the base of support for their ethnic kin in the Taliban.
The Northern Alliance and its supporters, including Russia and Uzbekistan, insisted on excluding Taliban "moderates" from the Bonn talks. But the widespread support the Taliban had among Pashtuns will make it difficult to create a representative government, if Taliban officials continue to be excluded. The eventual inclusion of the KFJ and their former Taliban members may be therefore be essential to the political viability and subsequent survival of Afghanistan's government.
The former Taliban now comprising the KFJ may be sincere in their desire to play a productive role in Afghanistan's future government. While the Taliban claimed to advocate an extreme interpretation of Islam, most Islamic scholars agree that Taliban society was governed by a strict form of Pashtun tribal law, known as Pashtunwali, rather than the Koran. This attracted many Pashtuns to the movement, and when Arab Wahhabis such as Osama bin Laden began to gain influence over the Taliban leadership, many Pashtuns became alienated.
A rift seemed to develop between indigenous Afghan Taliban and those Pashtuns, including the movement's paramount leader Mullah Omar, who allied themselves with foreign pan-Islamists. This division within the Taliban was evident during the heated debate that preceded the eventual destruction of the Buddhist statues in Bamiyan. Thus, the KFJ may have been sincere when it recently denounced Mullah Omar and his collusion with foreign terrorists.
Yet the possibility looms that the KFJ is simply the latest means for Pakistan to reestablish its sway over post-Taliban Afghanistan. Pakistan has a long history of intervening in Afghan affairs, and the Taliban movement was largely nurtured and supported by Islamabad because they were perceived to be protectors of Pakistani interests. Specifically, a friendly Taliban government in Afghanistan provided the Pakistani army with vital strategic depth with India over the conflict in the disputed province of Kashmir. In addition, the Taliban's ostensible Islamist orientation suppressed the tribal identity of Pakistan's Pashtun minority, quelling the desire for secession and an independent "Pashtunistan."
Pashtun nationalist sentiment has reportedly surged in the wake of the Taliban collapse. Thus, Pakistan's present security context may make it difficult for Islamabad to resist intervening in Afghan affairs. Accordingly, the KFJ could simply be the latest creation of the Pakistani Inter Service Intelligence, and the presence of former Taliban does suggest that Islamabad is merely employing the same people to pursue the same Pakistani agenda under a different pretext.
The first incarnation of the KFJ was encouraged by former Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as a means of creating opposition to the government in Afghanistan. Many observers see this latest incarnation of the KFJ as history repeating itself. Thus, it is unclear whether the reemergence of the KFJ signals a real split within the Taliban or is simply a different venue for Islamabad's interests in Afghanistan.
Artie McConnell is a research fellow at the National Defense Council Foundation in Alexandria, VA. He specializes in Central Asian affairs.