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August 14, 2005
Former Taliban Reconcile Themselves To Democracy

The Washington Post reports that the amnesty program in Afghanistan continues to show success. Not only have large numbers of former Taliban supporters surrendered themselves to the new, democratic Karzai government, a few of them have reassimilated to the point where they have declared themselves as candidates for elections. The reconstructed former Islamists have had to understand that Afghanis do not want a return to the seventh century as a prerequisite to serious candidacy:

"The Taliban are like a medicine for Afghanistan that has expired," said Khaksar, 42, a white-bearded religious scholar who is running in parliamentary elections scheduled for September. "They want people to live like in the time of our Holy Prophet. I am in favor of how he lived, too. But it's impossible to bring that time back. The people of Afghanistan need something new."

It was a surprising assessment from a man who was once a senior official of the Taliban government -- an Islamic group so extreme that it outlawed television. Hundreds of Taliban fighters continue to wage a guerrilla war against the Afghan government nearly four years after the group was ousted.

But Khaksar's candidacy also points to a central paradox of the Taliban insurgency. While the extremist militia is mounting an unprecedented wave of attacks, apparently aimed at sabotaging the elections, several hundred former Taliban members have returned from exile in Pakistan to join a government reconciliation program. A handful of well-known Taliban figures have even decided to run for parliament.

The stepped-up attacks from the remnants of the Taliban regime -- comprising the hardliner core around Mullah Omar -- intend on disrupting elections and undermining confidence in the democratic process. However, the reappearance of so many figures from the old regime like Khaksar lends a legitimacy that Omaar's rockets and sniper attacks only reaffirms. The hundreds of former regime elements coming home and endorsing democracy, and in some cases participating publicly and enthusiastically in it, exposes Omar and his dwindling band as terrorists interested only in reimposing tyranny and the Islamist Dark Age which Afghanistan only recently escaped.

As the Post points out, the utter lack of an Islamist party with Taliban-like policies gives another hopeful sign of the allure of freedom. Even the former Taliban functionaries show little support for the former regime's policies. Khaksar says the holy-war ideology holds no appeal to himself or anyone else. Other candidates also find it necessary to distance themselves from policies such as the banning of music; one former Taliban candidate says he doesn't like music, but whether a ban is necessary is a question for the courts. A few deny they ever supported the Taliban at all, although from interviews done by N.C. Aizenman, that strategy appears unlikely to fool many of the voters.

The speed and relative ease of transition for this reconstruction gives some promise for the future of Afghanistan's democracy. Even though Omar's remnants still take potshots from the mountains, the Afghanistan people have mostly turned to face the future. They want an end to civil war and oppression, and for the first time in ages (perhaps ever), they see it in front of them. The amnesty gives everyone a chance to set old bitterness aside and come together not under one ironclad rule that brooks no dissent, but under a shared sense of self-government and a new sense that the people of Afghanistan can create the future they want for themselves.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 14, 2005 8:21 AM

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Over at the Captain’s Quarters yesterday, Captain Ed blogged about a number of former Taliban leaders have taken advantage of the amnesty program that was offered to them and are stating that they will cooperate with the Karzai government and... [Read More]

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