Fifth Column: We cannot and should not do business with the Taliban, writes Tavleen Singh

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August 22, 2021 6:15 AM

At the surreal press conference that Taliban spokesmen addressed in Kabul last week, we were told that women would not be treated with brutality this time.

They would be allowed to study and work, the spokesmen said, they would be given all the rights accorded to them by the Shariat.They would be allowed to study and work, the spokesmen said, they would be given all the rights accorded to them by the Shariat.

Like a horror movie that we have seen before, the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan last week. And, for those of us who remember the last time that there was a Taliban government in Kabul, horrible memories returned. Memories of beheadings. Memories of women in blue burqas being tortured and beaten to death in football stadiums. Memories of magnificent statues of the Buddha being blown to bits in Bamiyan. Memories of a Pakistani diplomat in Delhi justifying this vandalism as the Taliban’s attempt to seek recognition. Memories of IC 814 on the tarmac of that desolate airport in Kandahar.

At the surreal press conference that Taliban spokesmen addressed in Kabul last week, we were told that women would not be treated with brutality this time. They would be allowed to study and work, the spokesmen said, they would be given all the rights accorded to them by the Shariat. Small comfort if you remember that this system of Islamic justice believes in stoning women to death for adultery and chopping off the hands of thieves.

The horrible truth is that the Islamic State that was destroyed in Iraq has been reincarnated in Afghanistan. And, just as India did not have diplomatic relations with that Caliphate, we must not have diplomatic relations with the Taliban. Too many retired diplomats and foreign policy ‘experts’ have expressed the opposite view. They are wrong. A Taliban government that may soon be recognised by our two worst enemies, China and Pakistan, can never be our friend. Besides, the kind of Islam that the Taliban believes in is the very antithesis of everything that India and India’s religions stand for. Never has it been more important for us to stand up for our values, because with radical Islam spreading like a virus in our immediate neighbourhood, it is important for India to become a beacon of democracy, modernity, justice and human rights.

There are idiots in the Sangh Parivar who believe that there is a need to Islamize the Sanatan Dharma so that it can more effectively fight the sort of religious ideas that the Taliban espouses. The opposite needs to happen. All Indic religions believe in the right to question and in the right to reform religious ideas that have become defunct or debased. It is this very modern idea of faith that we need to cherish and preserve if we are to win the fight against jihadi Islamism. Radical Islam has been in India for a while now, spreading slowly and poisonously from Kashmir to Kerala.

In the past seven years, jihadist Islam has found more adherents because too many senior BJP leaders have turned a blind eye to hate crimes against Muslims. When I asked an RSS leader, highly positioned in the Sangh Parivar, why he thought it was a sign of valour for mobs of fanatics to attack and kill unarmed Muslims, he said with a smile, ‘At least the Hindus have learned how to fight back.’ This is not just stupid but insane. There is neither valour nor courage in a mob attacking defenceless Muslim men. There is only cowardice.

The Prime Minister has long sought to be seen as a statesman in the eyes of the world. If he has failed to achieve this exalted goal, it is almost entirely because of his silence when hate crimes and hate speeches occur, giving them quiet sanction. In his first term it was beef and the cattle trade that were used as an excuse to lynch Muslims. In his second term, new ‘crimes’ have been added to the list, like love jihad and conversion. But as we saw in the most recent of these hate crimes, when a gang of Bajrang Dal activists beat up a Muslim man even as his little daughter clung to him begging for him to be spared, there now can be attacks without excuses needed.

If India is to be a beacon of enlightenment and reason in an increasingly ugly neighbourhood, the Prime Minister needs to make absolutely clear that he does not approve of hate crimes or hate speech. India’s core values are what will give us strength in this very uncertain time. It pleases me that India has so far not recognised the Taliban government in Kabul despite a small army of former diplomats offering gratuitous reasons why we should. They should remember what happened in Kandahar in those awful last days of 1999 when the Taliban went out of its way to help Pakistan and not us.

India was brought to her knees by the hijacking of IC 814. We were forced to release some of the vilest Pakistani terrorists in exchange for the lives of the passengers of that hijacked Indian Airlines flight. The Taliban showed us then that they would rather help the Pakistani hijackers than the desperate passengers of IC 814. They showed that their sympathies lay with Pakistan and not with India. This remains true today. No proof is needed of this, but it has been provided by Imran Khan who has openly celebrated the return of the Taliban as a moment in which Afghanistan has ‘shaken off the shackles of slavery’. We cannot and should not do business with the Taliban. This gang of primitive maniacs is no different to the Pakistani jihadist groups responsible for some of the worst acts of terrorism committed on Indian soil.

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