Express News Service

NEW DELHI:   Ever since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, the widespread feeling was it would impose strict Sharia law. However, in a surprising turn of events, the Taliban has seemingly presented a moderate face. Their spokesperson was seen interacting with a woman journalist on live TV and they also announced general amnesty for government officials.

Experts are still divided over this so called new avatar of the Taliban. While a few say the change is genuine and a bid for legitimacy, others say the group’s association with extremism and human rights violations cannot be ignored.

“The Taliban’s commitment to extremist frameworks is well known. The scale of human rights violations in the run-up to the takeover of Kabul cannot be brushed under the carpet based on a few statements. Therefore, the talk of Taliban softening stand is premature,” said Sanjay Pulipaka, senior fellow at Delhi Policy Group.

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Russia-based analyst Andrew Korybko, however, had a different take. He said the gradual change in the group’s functioning was not taken seriously. “But its latest press conference shows it is at least very serious about signalling its intent to change. The optics certainly help to build the case for its legitimacy as Afghanistan’s de facto rulers, but there’s also a pragmatic dimension to it. The group knows it can’t sustain its rule if it doesn’t change its style. Its prior history of leadership over 90 per cent of Afghanistan for half a decade taught it some valuable lessons in this respect,” he said.

A researcher at Jawaharlal Nehru University, who did not wish to be named, pointed out the Taliban is wary of social media because any atrocity it commits would be out in the open through these platforms. “Hence, they are careful about what they are doing or at least about what they are portraying to the world, especially at a time when their legitimacy is at stake. It is very plausible that the Taliban could go back to its old ways once it is recognised by powerful nations,” said the researcher.

Korybko is of the opinion that the militant group is also showing a new avatar in a bid to integrate Afghanistan into the region. “To this end, the Taliban must present themselves as respectable and responsible leaders in order to not scare away regional partners like Russia, China and Iran. It must convince them it will respect minorities’ and women’s rights and will not do anything that could potentially threaten their trade and investments through and within Afghanistan,” he added.