Fazlur Rehman, the head of the Islamic political party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), recently demanded that Islamabad officially recognize the religious Taliban government in Afghanistan.
Rehman is one of Pakistan’s most powerful clerics, and also heads the Pakistan Democratic Movement, the country’s largest coalition of opposition parties.
He has a massive following in Pakistan and has considerable influence in the country’s religious and political circles.
Of the 36,000 Pakistani Islamic religious madrasas, more than 18,000 belong to the strict Deobandi ideology, which emphasizes adherence to Islamic law.
The Afghan Taliban, and Rahman, both adhere to the Deobandi ideology, and Taliban officers and foot soldiers alike study in these madrassas, some of which are said to be under the control of JUI allies.
Although the Taliban are attracting governments around the world for their international recognition of their “Islamic Emirate” in Afghanistan, no country officially recognizes their rule.
Several members of the Taliban leadership are also on the international terrorist list.
After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, there have been reports of public executions, violent crackdowns on the media, suppression of women, bans on girls’ schools and violations of the rights of ethnic minorities.
Islamic groups say Afghan Taliban ‘legitimate’
Islamist extremists in Pakistan say they support the Taliban’s application of Sharia law to govern Afghanistan.
JUI believes that it is in the national interest of Pakistan to recognize the Taliban.
Rahman’s aide Jalal Uddin told DW that the Taliban is a “Pakistan-friendly” government, and recognition from Islamabad would further strengthen ties between the two Muslim-majority countries.
Even though many critics in Pakistan believe that the Taliban came to power through force, and view their government as illegitimate, religious groups in Pakistan are pushing back.
Right-wing religious groups say liberal Pakistanis have launched a campaign against the Afghan Taliban.
Hafiz Ihtesham of the Shaheed Foundation, an Islamic organization affiliated with Islamabad’s Red Mosque, claimed that the 2001 US-NATO invasion ousted the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan and that their rule has now been “restored”.
“We think Pakistan is a sovereign and independent country and should ignore Western pressure and recognize this government,” he told DW.
Ihtesham said his organization was considering contacting the government with a request to recognize the Taliban.
Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali, leader of the Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami, says that his party chief is demanding that Islamabad recognize Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
“We will make this demand in Parliament as well,” he told DW. He said the party is also starting mobilization for the purpose.
Will Pakistan be able to recognize the Taliban?
In 1996, when the Taliban first occupied Afghanistan, Pakistan was the first country in the world to recognize their government. The Taliban ruled the country with iron at first, inflicting inhuman punishments and severe restrictions on women.
The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia also recognized the Taliban’s first Afghan government.
This time experts believe that Pakistan cannot afford to anger the West by recognizing Islamists.
Islamabad is dealing with a faltering economy, relies on international monetary institutions for help, and has more than $100 billion in debt.
Hussain Haqqani, director of South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think tank, said Pakistan will see how other countries react before taking a decision.
He said that DW Islamabad would be isolated, as it was in the 1990s, if it hastened to recognize the Taliban while the rest of the world condemns their rule.
Haqqani said Islamabad should ignore pressure from right-wing religious parties.
However, a Pakistani lawmaker from the ruling party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) dismissed the notion that it did not recognize the Afghan Taliban due to US pressure.
Muhammad Bashir Khan said that many Pakistanis and PTI members support the recognition of Taliban.
“We have very cordial relations with the government of Kabul and we would like to recognize them in consultation with China, Russia and other regional states,” he said.
Pakistan’s secular society stands in opposition
Pakistan’s secular political parties are shocked by the Taliban’s treatment of women and minorities. They strongly oppose any formal recognition of the Taliban.
“I am a democrat and I believe in a government that comes to power through a democratic process,” said Taj Haider, a veteran leader of the Pakistan People’s Party.
He told DW that the Taliban takeover was undemocratic and that their harsh interpretation of Islam goes against fundamental human rights.
“There is no reason to recognize that government,” he said.
Women’s rights groups say that if Islamabad recognizes the Taliban regime, it would encourage regressive forces in Pakistan and the region.
Women’s rights activist Farzana Bari told DW that the Taliban had already banned women’s education, employment and participation in social and political life.
“They should not be given any recognition until they decide to hold fair and free elections, remove all restrictions on women and accept all international covenants on human rights,” she said.