It is certainly nostalgic to read and hear about an old Afghanistan in the years and decades prior to the tumultuous years of 1980's when the kind of militancy and radicalization that we see today did not cross even the wildest of imaginations. Extremism, militancy and armed radicalization of the type we see today were largely alien to Afghanistan and its predominantly rural people. These might sound like a hyperbole but it's a historical fact, backed by mountains of evidence that as far as religious armed militancy and intolerance is concerned, these qualities have more or less been imported into a geography called Afghanistan from the Subcontinent which forms Pakistan and India of today.
The Deobandi School of Islamic jurisprudence, which flourished in India for decades in the 19th and 20th centuries, and to which the religious underpinnings of Afghanistan's Taliban can be traced, is a quintessential example of how religious extremism has spread its tentacles from the Subcontinent into Afghanistan and beyond.
The Deobandi school of Islamic Jurisprudence is indeed the spiritual and religious father of Afghanistan's Taliban movement. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, the brand of Islam long practiced in this land has largely been tolerant of other faiths as reflected in Afghanistan's long-standing Sufism and Tassawuf tradition.
While the Subcontinent too has had a long tradition of mystical Sufism, Deobandi and similar schools arose from the Subcontinent and reached a point where, today, Sufi shrines are routinely bombed and their pilgrims attacked. What has been most unfortunate is that the religious extremism and militancy of the Subcontinent has increasingly got mixed with petro-dollars coming from the Persian Gulf states.
Backed by tens of millions of dollars or even more of petro-dollars generously being poured into the Subcontinent, the wave of religious intolerance, militancy and extremism have taken a sharp turn for worse in recent years.
Billions of dollars in oil revenue windfalls and extremist religious schools together form a dangerous cocktail. In cities and towns across India and Pakistan, one can visibly see the results: neatly furnished and financially-strong religious schools spring up out of nowhere in the middle of poor and impoverished neighborhoods and attract students in tens of thousands.
The Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan can have a reason to be happy as the international oil prices will continue climbing higher and a stream of ready recruits are being trained and brought up in seminaries across the land!
What is deeply worrying is that this brand of intolerant and radicalized religion might sweep further northwards into Afghanistan. For example, many seminary schools across border regions' tribal areas have for decades propagated the importance of killing those people who they consider as not "pure" enough Muslims.
The recent wave of killings of Hazaras in Pakistan is a result of such preaching. But, interestingly enough, you can find virtually no religious school or seminary in the whole of Afghanistan where teachers would preach such venomous and extremist ideas.
The result of such widespread religious radicalization in the Subcontinent and its two countries, Pakistan and India, has been a country which is in virtual civil war and descending into further chaos and another in which even, in some cases, software engineers working for Microsoft leave their jobs and computers and join what they see as "jihad" by planting bombs in Indian cities and towns. If the religious militants in Pakistan come out of seminaries and religious schools, in India, they, so far, have largely come out of universities and engineering colleges.
So we have a situation in which the religious school of thought to which the Taliban of Afghanistan adhere is a phenomenon right out of the Subcontinent and not native to Afghanistan itself. Therefore, the religious dimension and aspect of the Taliban movement is, by and large, imported into Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's brand of religion for centuries has been the beautiful and mesmerizing world of Sufism and Tasawwuf. What is worrying is that petro-dollar backed religious fanaticism of the type that Taliban propagate finds its way into more areas of Afghanistan. If our neighbor in the Subcontinent has already been radicalized (beyond repair), what the nation and people of Afghanistan should guard against is that this kind of religious radicalization should not find its way into Afghanistan.
The sheer poverty of Taliban's narrative
The Taliban in Afghanistan insist on a certain reading and interpretation of religion which, interestingly enough, has never had any place in this geography called Afghanistan. The narrative that they offer is alien to this nation and its people and has no roots in this soil.
Ours is more of tolerance and inter-faith understanding. Theirs is one of hatred, hetero-phobia, mindless violence and reactionary interpretation of religion which have never had any place in this land and among its people.
What do the Taliban, who so ferociously insist on taking over the country and its people, have to offer to this people, except for mindless violence in abundance, an archaic, impractical reading of the religion and a political, social, cultural and economic order which would hardly suit a society of today? This is the sheer poverty of the Taliban in every respect.
A historical aberration
There is no question of Afghanistan returning to the 1990's and a complete rule of the Taliban as it was back then. It is impossibility in all aspects - political, military and even cultural. Taliban and Talibanism simply cannot have any place in today's Afghanistan although we must guard against the closet Taliban in suits and ties.
Their sheer poverty fades in the face of the rich heritage and culture of this people. Why and how they managed to take over Afghanistan in the 1990's was a historical aberration and nothing suggests as of now that the history is bound to repeat itself.
The choices and options before the government and the people of Afghanistan, therefore, is to either move ahead on the path of development and progress or get bogged down and tied in a never-ending cycle of war and conflict with the Taliban always on one side of the conflict. As the ground realities suggest, the wars and conflicts are going to last for many years into the future. There seems to be no light at the elusive end of the tunnel.