Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Taleban Officials Come to the Table

A surprising number of officials and supporters of the former regime are participating in the current constitutional convention.
By Danish Karokhel

At least 50 former Taleban officials are taking part in the Constitutional Loya Jirga, according to a national intelligence administrator, Even the Independent Human Rights Commission has no objection to their participation in the assembly.


Several of the former Taleban delegates told IWPR that they chose to participate in the Loya Jirga because they want to cooperate with the government and represent the people.


Abdul Hakim Munib, who was the deputy minister of tribes and borders under the Taleban, is one of the Loya Jirga delegates from Paktia province in southern Afghanistan.


He has been in contact with the regional government in Paktia and the central government since the Taleban regime collapsed, and said he supports them both. But, he said, his belief that Islam should be at the core of government still motivates him. “There is no doubt that I was, am, and will be a taleb (meaning "student") and my views don't change”, he said.


As a delegate, he said, “I have played my role in keeping Islamic values in the constitution”. He supports the changes approved on Monday that strengthen Islam’s place in the government.


“This is not a Taleban constitution – it is the constitution of the people of Afghanistan”, he said. “They have given their ideas and opinions, and the majority of the Afghan people will support it.”


Munib said he was a moderate in the Taleban government and that he often fought against the more extreme members of that administration – particularly on issues involving women’s rights.


“I have a national point of view”, he said. “I campaigned for women’s rights during Taleban times. They are our sisters. They are our families. Women shouldn’t be treated as animals.”


Munib said many of ministers in the former Taleban government were unaware of decisions being made in Kandahar, where the secretive and extremist leaders made their plans.


He said that today he feels endangered by those still active in the Taleban and some political parties. “I am afraid, but I am helpless”, he said.


Munib added that the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan and the Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan have not created any problems for him, but instead have given him security guarantees.


Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the remaining Taleban extremists, has deemed those cooperating with President Hamid Karzai?s administration as “wajeb-ul-qatl” (people who must be killed).


But it’s hardly unique for former Taleban officials to be playing a role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Two of the 52 delegates to the Loya Jirga appointed by Karzai – Ustad Mohammad Akbari and Ayatollah Sadeqi – were supporters of the Taleban government.


Malawi Ghulam Mohiudin Baloch, a former Taleban provincial governor, also serves as one of Karzai’s advisers. Baloch, and Qurban Ali Irfani, who was head of a leading party that supported the Taleban, are acting as observers in the Loya Jirga.


Presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin told IWPR that the Taleban no longer existed as a movement. He said that many of these former Taleban members and supporters are now just people who can take part in all affairs of the government. He added that the Karzai government will not give any part to Taleban who have blood on their hands.


Ludin said it would be unfair to think of all Taleban as terrorists who worked with al-Qaeda. “The number of [such] criminals among the Taleban [administration] was not more than 100”, he said.


The Taleban swept to power in the wake of the four-year civil war between mujahedin fighters after the Soviet Union was defeated. The Taleban’s strict law-and-order approach under the banner of Islam was welcomed by ordinary people, who were exhausted by the years of chaos and the resurgence of local warlords. When the militia arrived in Kabul in 1996, cheering crowds of people threw flowers at their tanks.


Munib said the former Taleban officials who are at the Loya Jirga now are the ones who fought against terrorism during the Taleban government, and that such moderates were attacked by the extremists.


“The brothers who are the representatives here have campaigned inside the Taleban government”, and would argue to change injustices, he told IWPR.


One of the delegates elected from Ghazni province, the province's information and culture department director Muhebullah Samim, was the director of the Polytechnic and then director of Kabul Medical Institute for four years under the Taleban.


He said he was always opposed to the Taleban policy of keeping women at home and out of the workplace and schools. As director of the Medical Institute, he sent all the female medical students to a 400-bed hospital to study secretly with doctors there.


Samim said he was elected by the demand of the people, because “I insisted on Islam in the constitution”.


Haji Mohammad Musa, 50, an elected delegate from Jalrez district of Wardak, was deputy of the planning ministry during Taleban times, and is a member of Harakat-e-Inqilab-e-Islami, a jihadi party, which previously supported the Taleban but now supports Karzai. Musa wants a strong presidential government system in the constitution.


Some people would just as soon not know the political background of the convention’s delegates.


Doing background checks on the politics of every delegate “could create problems”, because almost everyone in Afghanistan has had connections with communists or Taleban in their past, said Sadiq Mudaber, administrator of the elections for the Constitutional Loya Jirga.


In the 23 years of war in Afghanistan, personal and political allegiances shifted frequently. Alliances split up and then rejoined; enemies united to fight a common foe; and factions that had been unified turned against each other. Religion and ethnicity have often been used for political gain.


Mudaber said he doesn't consider it the responsibility of the constitution commission to find out who is Taleb and who is not.


Nader Naderi, spokesman for the Independent Human Rights Commission, said the commission has no problem with the former Taleban delegates because they were elected by the people. “Everyone who is elected according to the procedures is a delegate, and there is no legal problem”, he said.


Farid Hamidi, a member of the commission, said he was aware that Musa, Munib and other former Taleban officials had been elected to the Loya Jirga, but said he considers them innocent because there have been no charges against them and they’ve not been put on trial for any offence.


An administrator in the foreign relations department of intelligence (Amniat-e-Milli, or National Security), who asked not to be named, confirmed that the agency has a list of 50 former Taleban officials at the Loya Jirga – most of them delegates, but a few are observers. These 50 were deputy ministers, directors in the ministries, and governors of the provinces under the Taleban regime, he said.


He would not release the names, but said intelligence is not pursuing any of the 50 for arrest because they didn't commit any terrorist activities and don’t have any contact with the Taleban remnants now.


“They are people who want peace, and the people [citizens] elected them”, this official told IWPR.


IWPR has learned the names of 10 delegates who held high positions under the Taleban government. Most refused to speak about the experience.


Among them are a defence ministry commander in Maidan Wardak who was a military commander under the Taleban; a delegate from Zabul province who was a deputy director in the interior ministry in Taleban times; and a Logar delegate who, in the foreign affairs ministry, helped set up a web site for the Taleban government.


Danish Karokhel is an editor/reporter for IWPR in Kabul who is participating in in IWPR’s Loya Jirga reporting project. Bashir Gawkh, an independent journalist from Jalalabad, also contributed to this report.