Afghanistan needs an Amanullah, not Taliban

Markandey Katju and Amile Gulzar

An agreement has been signed in Doha, Qatar, between the US government and Taliban to end the 18 years old war in Afghanistan. Under this agreement, the US troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan in 14 months. One should ordinarily have welcomed a deal which brings peace to Afghanistan. The Afghan people have suffered a lot by the conflict which has ravaged their country. But the question is whether they can prosper under the Taliban rule? We submit they cannot, and would like to present our view.

Before we do so, we wish to state that we admire the Afghan people because of their love for freedom. Their country was repeatedly invaded but they never surrendered before the invaders, whether it was Alexander the Great, the Mughals, the British, the Russians or the Americans, and turned their country into a graveyard of the invaders. However, in our opinion expelling an invader is not enough. The Afghan people must have progressive-minded leaders like Mustafa Kemal Atatürk of Turkey to rapidly industrialize and modernize their country, if they wish to prosper, and the Taliban are anything but not modern-minded. They are, in fact, theological people with feudal mindset.

To prosper, the Afghans must have leaders like King Amanullah Khan (1892-1960) of Afghanistan. Although he failed in his effort to modernize Afghanistan due to the machinations of the British imperialists hand in glove with the reactionary clerics and feudal class, but he deserves to be applauded for his effort. If he had succeeded, Afghanistan would today have been a modern welfare state, with its people enjoying a high standard of living, and would have been spared all its suffering in recent times.

Amanullah was king of Afghanistan during 1919-29. Before him, Afghanistan had hardly any freedom, being caught up in the rivalry between England and Czarist Russia, both of which wanted to exercise hegemony over the country. On assuming the throne, he declared in a grand durbar: “I proclaim myself and my country completely free, independent and sovereign in all domestic and foreign issues. My country will thus become an independent state, just as other countries of the world.”

He then sent this message to the great Russian leader Lenin: “Although Afghanistan by its spirit and nature, has always been a supporter of freedom and equality, however, due to certain reasons, it was deprived of the opportunity to maintain relations with other states and peoples. I am therefore happy to send you on behalf of the Afghan people, who are striving for progress, this friendly message from independent and free Afghanistan.” Lenin responded immediately, and the Soviet Union then signed a treaty of friendship with Amanullah, inter alia providing that neither state would allow its territory to be used against the other. This scared the British authorities, who were allergic to the idea of a free, anti-imperialist Afghanistan.

King Amanullah then introduced like Mustafa Kamal Ataturk’s modern, progressive and democratic schemes in Afghanistan to pull it out of its centuries of backwardness and poverty. He opened up new schools and technical institutes, both for boys and girls and planned to develop the economy, women's emancipation, and to limit the power and influence of the reactionary clergy. He planned to send young Afghans to Europe for technical education and banning of polygamy.

Towards the end of 1923, the first Afghan Constitution was framed and promulgated. This Constitution proclaimed the independence and sovereignty of Afghanistan. The people were granted fundamental freedoms, equality before the law, personal freedom, and abolished religious inequality and feudal duties. The organs of the state were modernized. Land reforms were introduced, and the clergy restrained.

Amanullah went on a tour of Europe, like Peter the Great who modernized Russia, to study conditions there personally. All these measures met with fierce resistance from the feudal class, who felt that their vested interests and influence over the masses would be mortally affected, and this resistance was backed by the British imperialists who paid a huge amount of money to the Mullahs and feudal chieftains for this. The Britain also supplied British rifles to the Afghan rebels and organised a military coup which deposed Amanullah in 1929.

How different Afghanistan would have been today if the King Amanullah had succeeded. Today, what Afghanistan needs is not the Taliban but another Amanullah, if it is to become a developed and prosperous country.

Markandey Katju is the former Judge of the Supreme Court of India, whereas Amile Gulzar is an advocate of the Lahore High Court.

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