From the day the Afghanistan government collapsed on the 15th of August 2021 until now, high Pakistani officials have been speaking on behalf of the Taliban and sometimes even lecturing the world on Afghanistan culture. Despite Afghanistan having four other neighbors, none of them have shown the same enthusiasm for representing the Taliban and Afghanistan on the world stage as Pakistan has.
Why is that?
The reason for this enthusiasm is that Pakistan has been the backbone of Taliban support for the last three decades. Without their support the Taliban could not have come to exist and could not continue to survive. Just one day after the Taliban took over Kabul, former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan could not contain his appreciation and respect for the Taliban while lecturing in Islamabad. “When you become a mental slave, remember that mental slavery is worse than actual slavery. It is more difficult to break the chains of mental slavery. In Afghanistan, they have just broken the chains of slavery,” Khan said.
In an interview with CNN a month after the collapse of the Afghanistan government, Imran Khan again expressed his supportive views on the Taliban. He urged the world to work with the new Taliban government and to give them time to prove themselves. He also cautioned that the previous government had fallen because it was a puppet government, and he emphasized that it does not work in Afghanistan.
It is an established fact that in the last forty years, Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan has been one of the strategic depths. This country has undermined and supported Islamists in Afghanistan to overthrow any government which is not friendly, according to Pakistan’s view. This friendly government of Pakistan must be one of the Islamists.
A few days after the CNN interview, Imran Khan again lobbied for the Taliban, begging the world to “work with the Taliban” and not to isolate them. He attempted to provide justification for and legitimize the new government by pointing out that the Taliban had promised to respect human rights and form an inclusive government. But more than a year later, the Taliban government has failed to follow through on any of those promises. They have not compromised an inch from the brutal and misogynistic ideals seen in their previous regime.
Reconstructing Afghanistan Image
Since the collapse of the Afghanistan government in 2021, the Pakistan government has not only been acting as a spokesman for the Taliban but has also engaged in remolding Afghanistan’s image. Their antiquated depiction is inherited from the British colonial opinion of the Afghanistan nation. Pakistan has adopted and carried out this legacy from the British and caused it to flourish.
There are several elements in this reconstruction: the Pashtunization of Afghanistan and the demonization of Pashtuns. Just like the British, they saw Afghanistan as a country of the Pashtuns and then introduced Pashtuns as people who are barbaric, against education, and ungovernable. Pakistan has been very faithful to this false legacy, and you can hear time and time again from them that the Taliban are the culture of the Afghans. And specifically, the banning of women from education is the culture of Pashtuns.
About a year ago, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation gathered in Islamabad to discuss the Afghanistan situation. In this meeting, Imran Khan urged the audience to be sensitive to the Afghan tribal customs. He also theorized local human rights and women’s rights, by explaining that human rights and women rights are different everywhere. It is important to pay attention to the term he uses, such as “ tribal” which is a colonial-constructed and outdated term used for the Pashtuns. Just recently, the Pakistan ambassador to the UN brought the same agenda and explained to the world that banning women from education is the culture of Pashtuns. Again, Imran Khan and Pakistan’s ambassador speak with so much confidence about Afghanistan, as if they are elected representatives and spokespersons for Afghans or Pashtuns.
One wonders where and how they gained such confident knowledge about Afghanistan in general and Pashtuns in particular. They speak in a way as if they have done door to door urveys for forty million Pashtuns and concluded that most of them do not want education for women. Pakistan does not have authority to speak for Pashtuns.
It is important to deconstruct Pakistan’s image of Afghanistan. First, Pashtuns are not the majority of the Afghanistan population; they barely make up half of the population. Secondly, the majority of Pashtuns are actually for the education of women. A brief search of Afghan cultural history one will find that many writers, singers, artists, liberals, leftists in Afghanistan come from Pasthun ethnicity. In fact Imran Khan himself is a Pashtun. One should ask whether he or his family are against women’s education.
Are there Pashtuns who are against women’s education? Of course. This is true for a small minority of Pashtuns, just like you can find a small minority of people who are against sending their children to school even in very liberal and democratic countries like the United States. But let’s clarify something which Pakistan is trying to incorrectly imply about the people of Afghanistan.
As mentioned, one can find families in any country that think sending their girls or children to public schools is going to pollute their faith, or take them away from the right path. We also have such people in Afghanistan who are against the education of women. It has always existed. But there is a difference between not letting your daughter attend school and also insisting that no girls in Afghanistan may attend school. This attitude is very rare.
The Taliban who are a militant, conservative religious group, are the only people who do this and deny the right of education to Afghan girls. This is a group which Pakistan has and is still supporting, and perhaps they are guilty for bringing this fate to Afghanistan. If they ever feel guilty. So why does Pakistan do this? This is a purposeful misrepresentation of the Afghanistan culture to better serve Pakistani interests.
Why Pakistan speaks on behalf of the Taliban and Afghanistan
Having been the backbone of the Taliban for three decades, Pakistan is now in a panic mode. They know that when the Taliban seized power in the 90s they had a brutal and misogynistic regime that most of the world did not recognize, but Pakistan did. Eventually, like many other radical regimes who are self-destructive, the Taliban also destroyed itself. Pakistan is worried that the Taliban will follow the same path and will face the same destiny, rendering their decades of investment wasted once again. That is why they are urging the world to speed up, to be quick and work with the Taliban and recognize them before it is too late.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan colonial machine is busy fashioning a false image of Afghanistan. They are following British policies by promoting the idea that Afghans are tribal people, they are barbaric, and they are against education. This image serves the colonial agenda of Pakistan to have a “ friendly government” in Kabul.
It is important to know the reasons and motivations behind such construction of Afghanistan’s image by Pakistan. The world should not be deceived by Pakistan lecturing about Afghanistan and introducing the idea that the Taliban truly represents Afghanistan and the Afghan people. If the world wants to know Afghans, there is the right address to go to, and that is Afghans, not Imran Khan or another Pakistani politician.
[Photo by U.S. Department of State, Public Domain]
*Ershad Noorzai Balkhi is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Helsinki. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.