Powerful Islamist groups in Pakistani politics are putting pressure on the government to officially recognize the Taliban government in Afghanistan.
Fazlur Rehman, leader of the Islamic party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), recently called for Islamabad to officially recognize the theocratic Taliban government in Afghanistan.
Rehman is one of the most powerful clergy in Pakistan and heads the country’s largest opposition party alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement.
He has a huge following in Pakistan and wields considerable influence in the country’s religious and political circles.
Of the 36,000 Pakistani Islamic religious seminars, over 18,000 belong to the strict Deobandi school of thought, which emphasizes compliance with Islamic law.
The Afghan Taliban and Rehman both follow the Deobandi ideology, and Taliban officials and foot soldiers alike have studied in these seminars, some of which are allegedly under the control of JUI members.
Although the Taliban governments around the world vie for international recognition of their “Islamic Emirate” in Afghanistan, no country officially recognizes their rule.
JUI supporters block a street during an anti-government protest in 2019
Several members of the Taliban leadership are also on international terrorist lists.
After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, reports of public executions, violence against the media, the repression of women, banning girls from school and violating the rights of ethnic minorities increased.
Islamic groups consider Afghan Taliban “legitimate”
Islamic hardliners in Pakistan say they support the Taliban’s application of Sharia law to the government of Afghanistan.
The JUI believes that recognition of the Taliban is in Pakistan’s national interest.
Jalal Uddin, an advisor to Rehman, told DW that the Taliban are a “Pakistani-friendly” government and that Islamabad’s recognition will further strengthen relations between the two Muslim-majority countries.
Even if many critical voices in Pakistan believe that the Taliban came to power by force and that their government is illegitimate, religious groups in Pakistan are pushing back.
Right-wing religious groups say Liberal Pakistanis launched a campaign against the Afghan Taliban.
Hafiz Ihtesham of the Martyrs Foundation, an Islamist organization affiliated with the Red Mosque in Islamabad, claimed that the 2001 US-NATO invasion deposed the Taliban as legitimate rulers of Afghanistan and that their rule is now “restored”.
“We think that Pakistan is a sovereign and independent country that should ignore pressure from the West and recognize this government,” he told DW.
Ihtesham added that his organization was considering reaching out to the government to ask for recognition of the Taliban.
Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali, a leader of the Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami, says his party leader is calling for Islamabad to recognize Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
“We will also make this request in parliament,” he told DW. The party is mobilizing for this too.
Will Pakistan recognize the Taliban?
When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1996, Pakistan was the first country in the world to recognize its government. The Taliban ruled the country with an iron hand, imposing inhuman punishments and severely restricting women.
The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have also recognized the Taliban’s first Afghan government.
This time, experts believe that Pakistan cannot afford to infuriate the West by recognizing the Islamists.
Islamabad is facing a flagging economy that is dependent on international monetary institutions and over $ 100 billion in debt.
Husain Haqqani, director of South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington, said Pakistan will likely see how other countries react before making a decision.
He told DW that Islamabad would be isolated like it was in the 1990s if the Taliban were recognized quickly while the rest of the world condemned their rule.
Haqqani added that Islamabad should ignore pressure from right-wing religious parties.
A Pakistani MP for the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, however, rejected the idea of âânot having recognized the Afghan Taliban under pressure from the USA.
Muhammad Bashir Khan said that many Pakistanis and PTI members support recognition of the Taliban.
“We have very cordial relations with the Kabul government and want to recognize them in consultation with China, Russia and other regional states,” he said.
Pakistan’s secular society is in opposition
Pakistan’s secular political parties are appalled at the Taliban’s treatment of women and minorities. They vehemently reject 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 longtime leader of the Pakistani People’s Party.
He told DW that the Taliban’s takeover was not democratic and that their rigid interpretation of Islam violated fundamental human rights.
“There is no reason to recognize this government,” he said.
Women’s rights groups claim that if Islamabad recognizes the Taliban regime, it will strengthen the backward forces in Pakistan and the region.
The Taliban have already banned women from education, employment and participation in social and political life, women’s rights activist Farzana Bari told DW.
“They should not be recognized unless they decide to hold fair and free elections, lift all restrictions on women and accept all international human rights treaties,” she said.