Reflections on a Visit to Afghanistan
There has been much turmoil in Afghanistan during the last quarter of the twentieth century. After Zahir Shah was overthrown by his cousin, there were numerous other "revolutions" in the country in rapid successions. When communists took over the power, however, it sparked a rebellion from the Afghan people leading to the invasion by the Soviets in 1979. The United States saw this as an opportunity to wound its Cold War rival by helping the local rebels or mujahideen against the invading Soviet military. Fully assisted and supported by the US, the Afghans were able to oust the Soviets from their land. What followed was most unfortunate. The groups fighting against the Soviets were never united under a single banner. In fact, they had at one point joined hands under the leadership of Abdul Rasool Sasyyaf, and promised their allegiance to him in Makkah; soon thereafter, the seven groups based in Pakistan broke this pledge and splintered off in their own directions. The warning upon such behavior comes in Surah Tauba, "Then whosever breaks his pledge does so for his own loss." This loss manifested itself in the form of a civil war amongst these mujahideen groups after the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan. The amount of damage caused by this infighting far outweighed the destruction caused in the war with the Soviets.
Allah (SWT) then turned to the Afghan people in Mercy due to their immense sacrifices. In 1994, students of religious seminaries arose against the warring groups in a bid to stop the continuing turmoil. Mullah Muhammad Omer was a relatively unknown person during the Afghan war and had not even completed his studies at the time; he stood up and made a call. As a result of this effort, these seminary students (who became known as the Taliban) rapidly gained control of 95% of the nation and established complete peace, security, and order; being religiously trained, they also implemented the rule of the Shari'ah.
It had been my desire for a long time to visit Afghanistan and to see these changes with my own eyes. I had some handicaps and illnesses due to which this trip could not have been taken sooner. Although three delegations of Tanzeem-e-Islami were able to visit Afghanistan, I personally was not able to make the journey. This time I had decided that come what may, a trip must be undertaken without any further delay. We were a delegation of around 20 people from all over the country that visited Afghanistan.
The reception that was given to us in Afghanistan was far more generous, openhearted, and hospitable than I expected. I am neither a traditionally trained scholar nor a significant political personality. According to ordinary standards, our status did not match with the kind of reception that was accorded to us; indeed, words do fail me in expressing my feelings about being recognized with such honor as was given to myself as well as to the entire delegation. We had been informed that the Chaman border, unlike the one at Tuorkhum, is open without any need of formal requirements such as visas and passports. However, upon reaching the border, our delegation was stopped by Pakistani authorities; it turned out that I was labeled a "VIP" and it was deemed essential that proper procedure be followed in my particular case. We remained stranded at the border for 4 hours during which time the required formalities were fulfilled, and this delayed our arrival in Kandahar. Upon reaching Kandahar, we were informed that the burial of Mullah Rabbani was underway, and in spite of our fatigue we hastily made our way to the cemetery even though we could not participate in the funeral prayer. Despite the large number of people present at the funeral, there was no shouting, yelling, pushing or shoving. The level of peace, tranquility, and order in the entire gathering was especially noteworthy.
We remained in Afghanistan for 4 days and five nights, with a little over a day (and one night) in Kabul. The trip to Kabul was made via a military aircraft specially arranged for our travel, since the Afghan airline only flies once a week and the schedule did not suit us. In any case, the hospitality of the Taliban administration towards our delegation for the four days was exemplary. I was provided with the Deputy Foreign Minister Mulla Abdul Jaleel's personal "Land Cruiser" for the entire duration of our stay. Other members of our delegation had 4x4 Toyota pickups. These vehicles are almost essential for traveling since there are hardly any roads left in Kandahar. In Kabul we were hosted at the Aryana Hotel, which serve as the state guesthouse. It is a high standard hotel directly opposite the place where General Najeeb was hanged.
This trip corrected a major misunderstanding that I had about the Taliban administration. I was under the impression that the Taliban are of such a strict Hanafi following that they only have sympathies for fellowHanafis, and that too of only the Deobandi school of thought. My impression was that they have no consideration for members of other schools of thought, particularly those related to modern revivalist movements. It turned out that this was a completely false impression. On the contrary, they are quite openhearted with respect to Muslims of non-Hanafi background.
We met numerous people. First of all is Mulla Muhammad Omer, Ameer-ul-Mu'mineen. Then the Deputy Foreign Minister Mulla Abdul Jaleel (who spent a co,nsiderable amount of time with us as well), the Ministers of Industry, Education, Water and Power, Agriculture, Personal Secretary of Ameer-ul-Mu'mineen, Abdul Ghafoor Afghani (Chief Protocol Officer), Deputy Minister for Education, and the Governor of Kandahar. In addition to these, we had a detailed meeting with Mulla Abdul Kabir, the acting Prime Minister. Except for Mulla Omer and Mulla Abdul Kabir whom we met in a magnificent mansion adjacent to Zahir Shah's residential palace, all the other people came personally to meet us wherever we were staying. Our impression through these meetings is that these people are very humble, without any trace of arrogance or pride. They are all very balanced, calm, solemn, and committed people. All of them are relatively young, except the Governor of Kandahar and Moulvi Abdul Jaleel who might be a step beyond the age of forty. Mulla Muhammad Omer is only 42 years old this moment, and his personal secretary is a mere 25. This is a government of youths, as is said in Surah Al-Kahf, "These are youths who believed in their Lord so We increased them in guidance!"
At least from one perspective, that of simplicity, a reflection of the Khilafah Al-Rashidah was distinctly visible. When we went to see Mulla Omer, he was waiting for us outside the masjid as we were going to pray Asr behind him. He was in a simple Afghani dress with an ordinary cloak wrapped around him like everyone else. His home was once in the city of Kandahar, but due to an explosion nearby he had been shifted to a place just outside the city where the hills begin. His residence is in the shadow of a hill that looks exactly like Jabal Al-Nur near Makkah. His voice is very soft and he does not utter a word uttered more than what is necessary. There could be two possible reasons for such a demeanor apart from mere shyness. Either he is simply an introvert and deep thinker, or a very strict administrator, because such people also talk little but are rock solid in their enforcement. We got the impression from all the people we met that everyone holds Mulla Omer in great esteem, honor, and love. It appears to be no mere formality but a feeling that emanates from the depths of their heart. In our meeting with Mullah Omer, we presented to him the money we had collected for the Afghan people, which amounted to more than 68 hundred thousand rupees.
In one way, Afghanistan is very similar to the United States. When one visits the United States, one does not find in the streets any sign of the existence of a "government." It is as if the government is invisible, except for traffic police. Otherwise, there is no sign in any visible and obvious way of the government interfering in the lives of the people. It was this exact situation in Afghanistan. I did not see any sign of oppression or coercion of any kind. And traffic police were quite prominent doing their job on the streets. It appears as if the Afghans were getting back at the West by making these policemen dress in trousers and shirts, while the rest of the population wears traditional dresses. Just as the British rulers of India had made their domestics servants dress in the traditional outfits of the Nawabs and Maharajas, it appears the Taliban have reversed this phenomenon. Apart from the traffic police, there was no other sign of any uniforms or Western dress. It was business as usual in the market place, although the people are suffering from severe poverty. We saw many women and children begging. There was no woman in the streets without a traditional burqa (complete covering from head to toe).
Although there were no signs of any overt coercion, just as in the United States, there was one important difference., The American people are constantly confronted with the fear of crime, including murder and rape. The exact opposite situation exists in Afghanistan where peace abounds. This is in all likelihood due to the enactment of the strict Islamic penal law and the blessings of this enforcement. It was perhaps this impression that Dr. Javed Iqbal had when he visited Afghanistan some time back. Upon his return from the trip, he delivered a speech in Akora Khattak saying that he was certain that if the system , which is enforced in Afghanistan, is established in one or two other Islamic countries then the whole world will embrace Islam. Such is the state of peace and absence of crime.
We had a meeting with the Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan, Arif Ayub, who is a pakhtun from Charsadda. He appeared to be quite well informed of ground realities. He gave us some insights about places that were impossible for us to see for ourselves in the short span of our visit. One of the insights he shared with us is that although the Taliban are untrained from a military point of view, they perform far better than the best of trained armies. Another is his comment on the exemplary organization and discipline of the Taliban; even through they appear to be very simple people. Additionally, he complained about the CBR (Central Board of Revenue in Pakistan), which is restricting transit and different forms of trade with Afghanistan. He showed his frustration towards Pakistani policies, and said that the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan should be the closest being on full diplomatic terms, but Iran (which is siding with the opposition in the Northern Alliance) has completely stolen the market in Afghanistan by pursuing shrewd trade policies on the border. Only Allah knows the constraints on the Pakistani Government that are forcing it to implement such adverse trade policies.
These meetings with the various people brought before us different aspects of the story of the Taliban. These stories were mutually supportive and helped in clearing up many of our false notions. First of all, the term "Taliban" itself is a misnomer. This group came together after the mujahideen had been disheartened and dismayed by the infighting and abandoned the field, and the students of religious seminaries rose to the occasion (so was it indeed initiated by the Taliban), but all of these mujahideensoon joined this movement. The movement of the Taliban was initiated by the students at the call of Mulla Omer after he saw the gross injustices and anarchy in the aftermath of the long struggle against Soviet Union. Mulla Omer was himself a young and relatively unknown commander in the third line of one of the groups that fought against the Soviets, and Mulla Rabbani was in a similar position in another group. Both of these people did not have a significant role in the war against the Soviets. Secondly, I had been under the impression that during the various revolutions that took place in Afghanistan just prior to the Soviet invasion, although many Western and un-Islamic values were being propagated, the ulama had not launched any movement against any government; it was only after the Soviet forces entered into Afghanistan that the ulama reacted, since jihad had now become an obligation according to fiqhi understanding. However, our meetings revealed that this was not so. Even when the communists were making inroads into Afghanistan before Soviet invasion, the ulama had offered tough opposition and there were even occasions of serious confrontation. The belief that the Afghan ulama had become active only after foreign invasion thus turned out to be a wrong one.
Another observation was the blessings of the system of bai'yah. There is apparently a very well organized system under a unified form of government. The final say is in the hands of Mulla Omer, and obedience is instantaneous and without any resistance. The shura is established and he takes advice on every major issue. Even to the point that it was reported that there are serious differences of opinion between the late Mulla Rabbani and Mulla Omer to the extent that there were even speculations of an impending split. However, Mulla Rabbani denounced such speculations by publicly renewing his pledge of allegiance to Mulla Omer. Indeed, differences can remain but unity and order must not to be sacrificed, whether the listening and obeying is in ease or hardship, with inclination or with reservation. In many of our meetings I was able to point out that there is only one government in the world established on the Sunnatic basis of bai'yah and that is the Taliban, and to my knowledge only one jama'ah established on this basis and that is Tanzeem-e-Islami. It is a pity that religious groups have abandoned this system of organization in favor of Western models, which have roots neither in Islamic teachings and nor in Islamic history.
There was one item I discussed with most of the people there. My question was why the name of Afghanistan was kept as the "Imarah" and not "Khilafah." One reason for why this could have been chosen is that Khilafah gives the impression of a global phenomenon, and that all the Muslim states of the world would be obliged to join hands with them. However, the basic conditions of the Khilafah have been met in Afghanistan, which are as follows. First, the sovereignty of Allah (SWT) is to be accepted in totality, which implies the superiority of the Qur'an and Sunnah in all matters of legislation. Secondly, regarding areas or issues where there is no clear verdict or command in the Qur'an and Sunnah, then such matters are to be decided by mutual consultation among the Muslims. Since both these conditions are obviously being met in Afghanistan, the government should declare itself to be a Khilafah that is specifically limited to Afghanistan; this qualification is important because the Taliban are neither ready nor capable of receiving any Muslim from any part of the world as a complete citizen, which should be the inevitable final form of Khilafah. It is for this reason that we do not call the Tanzeem-e-Islami a movement of any particular part of the world. Any Muslim anywhere in the world is welcome to join the Tanzeem. However, Tehreek-e-Khilafat is specific for Pakistan, since Khilafah must first be established in one particular part of the world. In any case, when I first mentioned these ideas in Afghanistan most of the hosts listened attentively. Particularly, Mulla Abdul Jalil requested for my suggestions in writing so that they could presented before their shura. We gave them copies of my book Khutbaat-e-Khilafat, which had been provided to them earlier as well in appropriate translations. It is hoped that after my personal visit they will turn their attention towards these writings.
The acting prime minister Mulla Abdul Kabir's grasp of this issue was most noteworthy, when I pointed out that two of three pillars of a modern State have been established in Afghanistan (i.e. the executive and judiciary), whereas the third (the legislative) is absent. He said that this third pillar will be established once the situation stabilizes. I presented a copy of my book Khutbaat-e-Khilafat to him as well, and he promised he would study it.
We wanted to know whether there was any arrangements for writing down the events that were taking place; from their silence, it seems as if they have not turned their attention to this matter. But we must realize that history in the making is very different from history being recorded. This is why we get very little about the life of the prophet (SAW) in Makkah, whereas a lot more is known of his life in Medina. Therefore, when history is taking a turn, as it was in Arabia, it is not recorded but it is created. The giant historical turn that humanity is about to take (or is taking) at the hands of the Taliban is hard to express. If there is any sorrow or grief it is because of Iran's hostile attitude towards the Taliban. The whole world is against the Taliban but they have stood firm against all odds; however, their neighbor Iran should change its attitude, and we pray that it does.
The Afghans have stood firm in the face of all odds and pressures and have indeed made the greatest of sacrifices. They have sacrificed a million and a half people. They are no longer afraid of death. The truth is that when death seems far away then fear of it is magnified, but this fear disappears for those who see it close to them. For the Afghans, death is no longer something to be avoided.
We must realize that history is at a major juncture at this moment and events of historical significance are taking place in Afghanistan. The verses of Iqbal come to mind in which he has called Afghanistan the heart of Asia. If there is peace in Afghanistan, there will be peace in Asia, and if there is anarchy here then there will be anarchy in Asia. Iqbal has spoken much about the greatness of the Afghan people, particularly highlighting their love for Islamic traditions and fundamentals that keeps their relationship with the past intact, yet allows them to evolve and progress. Insha Allah, they are opening themselves up to the realities of the age in which they find themselves. This is a requirement for which the Taliban were not prepared when they started their campaign, but I am confident that Insha Allah gradually they will move towards fulfilling the necessity of making their form of government and administration more consistent with the demands of the modern age.
In the end, let me put before you the advice Mulla Omer gave us regarding our movement and efforts to establish Islam in Pakistan. He said that it is imperative to keep the struggle for Iqamat-ud-Deenalive with full force and sincerity in different Muslim countries. Indeed, the reality on the ground is that the Muslim Ummah today is fragmented in different nations and countries, each with its own peculiar circumstances. The struggle for Iqamat-ud-Deen needs to be carried out in different countries according to these peculiar circumstances. His second advice was that Islamic movements should remain within the guidance and under the council of the ulama. Although it has always been my effort to gain the confidence of the ulama and to bring about some sort of consensus amongst them for this cause, I will increase my efforts in light of the advice given by Mulla Omer. The third advice was to avoid any confrontation with the Pakistani government as much as possible; this advice shows that he is well aware of the internal situation in Pakistan as well the current international scenario. We prayed our Jumu'ah prayers in the Kharqa Masjid. Adjacent to this mosque is a shrine where the cloak of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is said to be housed. In the same compound is the resting place of Ahmad Shah Abdali, who the people of Afghanistan call Ahmed Shah Baba out of their affection for ,him. Abdali was the founder of modern Afghanistan and was also responsible for naming the country. He was also a great benefactor of the Muslims of India and Pakistan. Upon the invitation of Shah Waliullah in the 17th century, Ahmad Shah Abdali came to India with his armies to help the Muslims against the Marhattas.
In the Arabic sermon before the Jumu'ah prayers, the khateeb chose the ayaat from Surah Al-A'raaf that refer to the time when Prophet Musa (AS) was sent to his people and in retaliation Pharaoh heaped even greater torments on the children of Israel. In response Prophet Musa (AS) said to his people to be patient and perseverant because the earth belongs to Allah (SWT) and he gives authority and power to whomsoever He wills. But the Israelites complained to Prophet Musa (AS) that they had been suffering before his advent and are still suffering after he has come to them; Prophet Musa (AS) responded to his people by saying that it is very much possible that in the near future your Lord might destroy your enemy and then give you dominion and power in the land, and then He will judge as to how you perform as rulers! In light of these ayaat of Surah Al-A'raaf, we see today that Afghanistan is suffering under economic sanctions and oppression. Afghan people have been surrounded and besieged and there appears to be no way out. In addition, Allah (SWT) is further trying them with a period of drought. In spite of all of this, the Afghans are continuing on the path that they feel has been chosen for them by Allah (SWT), and they are doing this with inner peace, tranquility, and single-mindedness. The only concern that I had is the possibility of a revolt of common people against the Taliban Government as a result of these hardships, especially since they are a people who have had no opportunity to be religiously and spiritually trained for enduring such hardships. However, it is through such ayaat of the Qur'an that they are now being prepared and strengthened to endure whatever is to befall in the path of Allah (SWT)
Lastly, we visited the resting place of some the Companions of the Prophet (SAW) in Kabul. It was a great honor and privilege to visit such a place. These Companions had come here during the time of Caliph Uthman (RAA), and more than 70 of them are buried here.
The point of reflection for us at this moment is to give a practical shape within Pakistan to a truly Islamic order. Pakistan was created in the name of Islam and the Constitution of this country contains the basic clauses essential for making it an authentic Islamic State. It is for each of us to decide how to engage in this struggle. I have offered a methodology to establish the Islamic order, yet I am no prophet and there are other groups and leaders working for Islam. It is a pleasure to see so many people today taking an interest in the conditions of Afghanistan. It is time that we turn our attentions towards establishing Islam in Pakistan, and each one of us must do their part in this regard.