The Taliban are conquerors in their own land

In the coming weeks and months, the world will be offered a new and improved Taliban.  It is the essence of movements based on totalitarian ideologies to have two personas.  On the one hand, there is the face of the nation, Afghanistan.  This is the face with which totalitarian regimes deal with the external world and international diplomacy.  On the other hand, there is the totalitarian party, the Taliban, where the state's power resides.

The external face will present an image of comparative moderation.  There may even be as an outgrowth of ongoing negotiations in Doha a coalition government, but the real power will not be in the coalition, but in the political party.

There will be a showcasing of the commitments the Taliban previously made in negotiations at Doha to not exact vengeance on Afghans who supported the Americans and their NATO partners.  There will be voiced aspirations of opening the education system to girls and women.  Reality, however, will ultimately contradict propaganda.

In a sense, the positioning of Taliban fighters at the Kabul airport is symbolic of what the regime will look like.  The Taliban do not engage the American military on the tarmac, but are ruthless in their suppression of Afghanis who want to get into the airport to be evacuated.  The American soldiers represent the face of the outside world, while the Afghanis represent the internal policies of the regime.  One face for the outside world, a face of moderation, and another and harsher face for the people.

The ideological party is always a conqueror in its own land, for it represents neither the nation nor the state but the ideology it embraces.  The nation and state must conform to the ideology.  If not, it will be treated as harshly as an external threat to the regime.

In previous incarnations of totalitarian ideology, the nation-state was the window to the outside world.  The administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt believed there were moderate Nazis with whom it could deal and who, needing legitimacy in the international community, would ultimately make good on the debt Germany had previously incurred.  Had the American administration understood that the nation-state was a façade for the party, it would not have pursued this dead end.  The true interests of the party were seen when, unsatiated with a large chunk of Czechoslovakia, the Nazis invaded Poland and went on to invade the rest of Europe.

Despite verbal commitments, the Taliban killed surrendering Afghan soldiers.  They shot a woman who was not wearing a burka.  They have seized sex slaves for their fighters.  They have told women not to return to their jobs, and they have brutally turned back people who wanted to be evacuated.

The Taliban are the Taliban.  Their view of Islam has not changed. For the Taliban, Islam is Islam, an eternal truth not subject to compromise.  When we embrace this reality, we will know that negotiations with zealots do not follow the rules of negotiations with Western democracies or the model of labor relations.

The advantage the Taliban has rests in their cohesive ideology.  It knows — whether we like or not — what it represents.  We, on the other hand, are mired in a collection of grievances.  We are a nation-state increasingly divided by competing identities, trying to resurrect our past sins so we can flagellate ourselves with historical guilt.  We have no meaningful sense of time.  We do not understand that sometimes to protect a people and preserve an ideal, it is necessary to occupy areas for generations.  Instead, we have signaled the world that time will always be on the side of those who oppose us.  We have taken the first steps toward our irrelevance.  

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati.

Image: Public Domain.

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