Sharia, the Law of the Land in Afghanistan

Beyond our current concerns with the coronavirus pandemic looms the “historic” formal agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban signed on February 29, 2020.

The three-and-a-half page conditional peace agreement (which is accompanied by secret annexes) provides a means for the U.S. to draw down its forces from 13,000 to 8,600 within 135 days of the agreement, then subsequently remove all of its forces from Afghanistan within 14 months. A major part of the agreement hinges on the ludicrous assertion that “Afghan soil will [no longer] be used against the security of the United States and its allies.”

Apart from concerns that the Taliban has no intention of disavowing its ties to multiple terrorist organizations (including its longtime ally, al-Qaeda), upholding a reduction in violence (RiV) or consenting to a permanent ceasefire; Afghanistan’s future political roadmap may be more than the Afghan government can bear after the current military balance tips the other direction -- in favor of the Taliban who have already gained control of more territory in Afghanistan since 9/11.

While there are four parts to the public agreement, “the obligations of the [Taliban] in [the] agreement apply in areas under their control until the formation of the new post-settlement Afghan Islamic government as determined by the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations.” It comes as no surprise the Taliban has refused to talk to the 21-member Afghan government negotiating team.

On January 26, 2004, the former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, ratified the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA) at a ceremony in Kabul. The text found within the document points to a deeper issue of the country’s need to confront the strict interpretations of Islamic law. Article three of the constitution states: “No law shall contravene the tenets and provisions of the holy religion of Islam in Afghanistan.” The broad point is that, according to the Constitution, no other proclamation will contradict Islamic law (sharia). The finer point is that -- as a result -- the United States officially entered a losing battle a long time ago.

Sharia, by its own definition, is supreme to any other form of law, including the U.S. Constitution, and certainly including any other kind of democratic structure. The Constitution of Afghanistan, the moment it was endorsed and authorized, is the moment the world lost its grip on the baton in the race. Once the precedent was set that sharia was going to be an essential component of their Constitution, the ability to successfully implement any sort of democracy or plan for peace was terminated.

The 2004 Constitution of Afghanistan establishes a latent baseline for the future of intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations. It actually provides a foundation for the Taliban to stand on, as the group can uphold such a constitution without actually violating Islamic law. As previously mentioned, “no law shall contravene the tenets and provisions of the holy religion of Islam in Afghanistan.” The re-establishment of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the implementation of sharia remains the ultimate goal of the Taliban in the South Asian country.

Throughout the process of withdrawal talks, plenty of news outlets around the world have expressed either their weariness or support for the agreement. In what could be considered an insignificant detail, some of the published articles are accompanied by photographs of Taliban members carrying white flags. This seemingly minor detail can easily be overlooked by most viewers. However, to the Islamic world, the significance could not be any plainer.

If a thousand people in the intelligence community were queried about the photo, it would be applaudable if more than a few could comprehend the significance of the image. It is quite disconcerting that throughout the peace negotiation process, Taliban members have been parading around with a white flag of victory, while holding an increasing amount of Afghan territory. And the Taliban is not going to cede one square millimeter of this territory. In spite of signing a withdrawal agreement, they continue to achieve what they have always intended to achieve -- territory under the jurisdiction of Islamic law.

The color of the flag confirms this premise. A black background with white lettering (of the Shahada or Kalma) equates to active jihad with no establishment of sharia. Conversely, the white background with black lettering represents jihad victory with sharia established.

Flag of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, used 1997–2001. The black text is the Shahadah. (source)

While the U.S.-Taliban agreement refuses to recognize the IEA, it does legitimize the Taliban as a force to be reckoned with. What does this say to every other flag-waving terrorist organization around the world? It legitimizes the use of terrorist attacks against an opposing government. And it says that after all of this investment of resources, time, and loss of life in Afghanistan, national security strategists still don’t have a clear understanding of how far the enemy will go to implement and maintain the supreme law of Allah.

Keep in mind, according to the March 2020 report from Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, “the Taliban has overtaken the Islamic State as the world's deadliest terror group.” And these are the folks partly responsible for the new post-settlement Afghan Islamic government when the U.S. finally packs up and leaves.

Terry Bishop specializes in a variety of topics related to the strategic influence of terrorism and subversion, counter-terrorism and national security. His many fields of interest and research include armed conflict and violence in South Asia with a specific focus on al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQS), the Taliban, and other Deobandi-linked terror groups

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