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Taliban’s ‘Zahir Shah’ Constitution Is Just a Pakistan Ploy for Recognition

The ‘constitutional cover’ is just to show the world that Afghanistan won't be run under an absolute dictatorship.

Published
Opinion
6 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Taliban fighters at a checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan.</p></div>
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On Tuesday, 28 September, 2020, the Taliban announced that they planned to adopt King Zahir Shah’s constitution of 1964 to govern Afghanistan – minus any provisions that are in conflict with Sharia or with the “principles of the Islamic Emirate”. Taliban’s Minister for Justice, Shaikh Abdul Hakeem Sharaee, was quoted as having told this to the Chinese ambassador in Kabul.

But Pakistani Senator Afrasiab Khattak had made the startling revelation in his piece in the Prothom Alo over an entire month earlier on 25 August, that the Taliban’s Pakistani patrons (read the Pakistan army and the ISI in particular) had come up with the bright idea of a constitutional cover such that a Taliban-run Afghanistan can be presented to the world with a semblance of a state that is run under some form of rule of law, and not as an absolute dictatorship of a terror group.

He wrote, “Sources in Islamabad say that the Pakistani deep state is persuading the Taliban to bring their Islamic Emirate under the cover of the 1964 Constitution of Afghanistan for making it acceptable to (the) international community. The 1964 Constitution was promulgated by the former King Zahir Shah for transitioning his absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy – and it formed the basis of democratisation. In the proposed new arrangement the Taliban top leader would fill the place of the monarch.”

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A 'Made in Afghanistan' Solution

The advice from the ISI to the Taliban, according to Senator Khattak, had included elevating supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada to the status of King. Having accomplished what it has been trying to for the last twenty years, Pakistan knows it cannot run Afghanistan via its proxies without funds, which can only flow if the Taliban govt is recognised internationally, its reserves are released, it is not isolated financially and diplomatically, and is not placed under any kind of sanctions.

Therefore, Pakistan is desperate to have the Taliban regime recognised, especially initially by the Chinese, who would be spooked by the very name of the state “Islamic Emirate”, given their own Uighur problem in the west.

And hence, the foxy idea of the 1964 constitution that appears to be a “made in Afghanistan solution”, and that harkens of an era of forty years of peace and unity under the former King Zahir Shah, a much-loved figure in Afghanistan. His reign is remembered as one of the most tranquil periods in Afghanistan’s turbulent history.

In a diabolical move, the Pakistani establishment is using the constitution of the very man it was dead set upon preventing from coming back from exile in the early 1990s to unite and lead Afghanistan after a decade of the Soviet war. Many of Zahir Shah’s loyalists among the refugees were murdered. Since 1973 at least, Pakistan’s deep state has always preferred Islamist proxies over any nationalist, progressive forces to rule Afghanistan. But the cunning attempt to try and dress an Islamist terror proxy in the apparel of a secular, progressive, and revered man appears too clever by half.

The Zahir Shah Constitution and Taliban's Actions Just Don't Align

The choice of Zahir Shah’s constitution, which ended his own absolute monarchy to a constitutional one, is a fiendish ploy to on the one hand raise the Mulla Akhundzada to the status of a monarch, and on the other seek to give the impression that Afghanistan will be governed by a progressive, rights-based legal framework for all Afghans. But the latter part cannot, and will not, be the case given the Taliban’s stated caveat of adopting only those articles that are not in conflict with ‘Sharia and principles of the Islamic Emirate.

‘Sharia’ as per the Taliban is whatever it deems Islamic (the get-out-of-jail-free card), and the principles are not defined or written anywhere, so no one knows what they are.

Even if Sharaee had not caveated his statement, it would still be a given that the Taliban would not actually follow the constitution for reasons I discuss below.

The very preamble of Zahir Shah’s constitution defines the nature of the state as one that would lay the foundations of a political, economic, and social democracy, and to create a “progressive society based on social co-operation and preservation of human dignity”. It envisions organising the functions of the state to include ensuring the liberty of an individual.

One cannot imagine a single one of these concepts — of democracy, human dignity, or liberty of the individual — to be featured in any Taliban government, whether one goes by its previous rule in the 1990s or its recent record of seizing power, torturing and mutilating opponents, or clamping down on every imaginable liberty down to the liberty to shave one’s face. The Taliban does not believe in democracy, but in brute force to usurp power and then impose its will on the people. The word ‘progressive’ alone is enough to understand the Taliban will never adopt the constitution in letter and spirit, for the entire body of its endeavours from the distant and recent past shows it wants to pummel the Afghan society into some model that springs from its obscurantist vision of seventh-century Arabia.

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Deceptively Gaining Acceptance

One of the most fundamental features of the constitution that directly contradicts the essence of how the Taliban has come to power and how it intends to remain in power, of course, is that it provides for direct, secret ballot — elections — and adult franchise for the establishment of upper and lower houses of legislatures. Can there be a bigger joke that the Taliban and their handlers in Rawalpindi are trying to play on the world to deceptively gain acceptance? Adopting the constitution would mean allowing the formation and operation of political parties and holding fair and free elections within months!

In its definition of the state of Afghanistan, the constitution states, “Sovereignty in Afghanistan belongs to the nation” — not to Allah. Who is gaslighting whom here? This to the Taliban would be blasphemy.

Thus, it would seem that the only articles of this constitution the Taliban would gladly actually adopt would essentially be those dealing with the monarch’s powers, among others. As the world may have noted, the Taliban has not said which articles it considers violative of Sharia or the ‘principles’.

But it doesn’t take rocket science to figure out which parts of the constitution will be deemed to be against Sharia or the unknown principles of the Emirate. Articles 25 to 40 enshrine fundamental rights and duties. They guarantee equality to women, the right to get education and work to every Afghan citizen, the right of free assembly, freedom of thought and expression, protection from torture, inviolability of residence, and inviolability of privacy, etc. But as we speak, each one of these fundamental rights of Afghans is being violated by the Taliban.

One could finish bottles of ink giving examples of barbarity and fascism from just the last one month and a half, with so many incidences in different cities of beating peaceful women protesters, sending female and students and teachers and other job holders home, occupying and confiscating the properties of the Hazara and the Panjsheris, killing “collaborators” (people working in the armed forces, government, NGOs, embassies, etc.), killing artists and intellectuals, and hanging the accused from public buildings.

A Healthy Dose of Mistrust is Important

One striking article in Shah’s constitution is that all judicial verdicts would be executed as a matter of course, except that of the death penalty, which would require his signature.

During his forty-year reign, executions were rare, and the king was reportedly reluctant to sign death warrants. It’s needless to ask one to compare this with the summary executions of the Taliban at local levels with little to no process of law.

How the Taliban is keeping a straight face while floating this idea is hard to imagine, but it has probably been hard sold this idea by its handlers as the only option under the circumstances. The handlers have got away with deception for decades, and they probably think they can help the Taliban do the same, yet again, after it failed to keep the next-to-nil promises of the Doha deal. It is thus important to view this trial balloon with the healthy dose of mistrust it deserves.

(Gul Bukhari is a Pakistani journalist and rights activist. She tweets @GulBukhari. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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