Taliban's Grand Assembly a disappointmentWritten by Mohammad Hashim Kamali
The meeting of some 3,000 religious leaders from across Afghanistan in Kabul on July 1-3 ended with an 11-item resolution that received a mixed reception by the Afghan people, and was seen as falling short of addressing public expectations.
Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, who was formally declared as Head of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), attended the meeting that was touted as a Loya Jirga, a grand assembly, but became, at a short notice, a large get-together of clerics.
This meeting was expected to consider and approve a plan of action and policy outline of the IEA that is still unknown even after 11 months of the Taliban takeover of power on August 15, 2021.
It failed to address issues such as allowing girls access to secondary education, with schools closed under the Taliban for almost a year. The 11-point resolution was also silent on a new constitution.
Commentators were critical of the fact that women were not included in the meeting.
It was widely publicised that in the discussion, only two participants from Balkh province raised the issue of the girls' schooling.
Mullah Hibatullah was quoted only to have said that "oppressors and despots should no longer be entrusted with public office", evidently reaffirming the much-criticised Taliban monopoly of political power in Kabul.
Soon after the resolutions were publicised on July 3, a large meeting was held by the women representatives in Kabul in protest against the Taliban preclusion of women in the meeting and silence over the much-expected reopening of the secondary schools for girls.
A separate meeting of teachers was also held in Kabul to protest that the meeting remained aloof to people's demands.
The resolutions spoke on issues of concern to the Kabul government and demanded the international community recognise the IEA and and resume normal relations with it.
The 11-item resolution also declared full support for Mullah Hibatullah's leadership and lauded the ulama for becoming effective political leaders of Afghanistan.
Yet, the Taliban themselves have remained non-responsive to what the world expected of them regarding women's rights to education, and the formation also of an inclusive government.
The meeting was occupied by non-issues, the so-called shop talk about the new era of Taliban leadership, and changes spearheaded by Mullah Hibatullah.
The Taliban are introducing changes that people can hardly be expected to accept. The traditional Loya Jirga historically consisted of people's representatives, but was changed to an ulama-only platform.
The religious leaders are thus arrogating to themselves powers that amount to overruling the constitution and customary convention.
They seem to be creating the Iranian Supreme Leader in the person of Mullah Hibatullah and beginning to arrogate to him extra-constitutional powers without mentioning a constitution or the rule of law.
In one or two interviews that were given immediately after the meeting by the Taliban spokesmen, themselves mullahs, there was much talk that ulama were the true spokesmen of the people and that the people of Afghanistan look up to them and will never go against their wishes.
This is in line with the Taliban actual behaviour in office over the longer stretch of time, the fact that they are keeping to themselves and do not seek popular engagement. This is just a repeat of Taliban dictatorship in a new garb.
There is no talk of elections, a constitution, or good governance, not just in the last few days, but ever since the Taliban rule.
The modern history of Afghanistan is one of persistent struggle for these purposes and now the people's trust is being played with by a group of dogmatic rulers who have little regard for democracy, good governance and the rule of law.
The people of Afghanistan have known that the purpose of a constitution is to mark a transition from the rule of persons to the rule of law and commitment to serve the people and not a group of self-willed dictators by any name.
Mohammad Hashim Kamali is founding chief executive officer of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times (online), Wednesday 06 July 2022