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'Taliban' Author Fears Threats To Civil Society Progress Made By Afghans


We're going to focus now on the Taliban, the group that has taken provincial capitals one by one and is now effectively running the country. For that, we turn to Ahmed Rashid, a journalist and the author of "Taliban: The Story Of Afghan Warlords." Ahmed Rashid, thanks for joining us.

AHMED RASHID: Thank you.

GONYEA: We're trying to understand the Taliban of 20 years ago versus the Taliban of today, how they've managed to maintain power and now take the country. You spoke to NPR earlier this week and told us that with the Taliban, not much has changed in these two decades. Could you elaborate on that?

RASHID: Well, I certainly was one - somebody who was very hopeful that once the Taliban entered into negotiations with the Americans last year that they had changed and that they understood the importance of legitimacy in foreign relations and they treat women with more respect. But what we've seen is, of course, that the older generation of Taliban, the ones I knew in the early '90s and the ones who were defeated by the U.S. after 9/11 were - have, in fact, become more educated, more cultivated, et cetera.

The younger commanders are much more fiercely Islamic and radical. Many of these commanders have been in Guantanamo or they've spent years in American jails. They're very anti-anything-Western. And they're very proud of what they accomplished in the '90s. They're very proud of the way they treated women and education and the rest of it. And that really is a huge tragedy because these commanders are likely, I mean, these commanders led the charge up to Kabul. So you can't ignore them. And the elder Taliban, the elder generation of Taliban can't ignore them either.

GONYEA: Well, their advanced throughout Afghanistan happened much, much more quickly than people expected. And they've been able to overrun Afghan forces with ease. What does this piece of it tell you about what they've been up to over the last 20 years?

RASHID: Well, they've certainly been preparing. They've been training. They had established their own special forces unit, the red unit, they called it. They had mimicked a lot of the - what the Americans were aiming to do in Afghanistan. They copied a lot of it. And, of course, they had the support of the sanctuary of Pakistan. The entire Taliban leadership was based in Pakistan. Their families were there. They were doing business there, buying property, et cetera. And they had access to the outside world. And, you know, any guerrilla force which has a sanctuary which is safe and which is able to provide supplies and ammunition and other such things, then they become unstoppable.

GONYEA: You wrote an opinion piece a few days ago in The New York Times about the need to protect Afghan journalists at this time. But what else are you worried about?

RASHID: Well, this time, there's going to be press freedom, but it will be dictated wholy and entirely by the Taliban. So the press freedom will extend as far as lectures on Sharia, Islamic law and other such things. It won't extend to having a free press. And, of course, all the social issues, I mean, civil society has made so much ground in the last 20 years - the level of education, of participation of women, of jobs, of technology, computerization, everything. There's been so much progress. And it's very difficult to see how much of this the Taliban is going to retain because there's always this problem between technical abilities and technology and at the same time keeping a strict Islamic point of view.

GONYEA: I was going to say the present-day Taliban leadership will have to deal with that more educated populace - right? - and the presence of more technology. How, practically speaking, does that make it different from them this time around when you compare it to 20 years ago?

RASHID: Well, I think, you know, the Taliban who've been living in Pakistan have become quite well educated. But you don't see any of that in decision-making or policymaking by the Taliban. For example, all this one year of talks in Doha in Qatar, you never saw any young people come up and say that, you know, well, we are computer savvy, and we are logging everything down. They probably do have such people, but it's not something they want to publicize. And that's not very helpful. Of course, they had no women in their delegations when these talks took place. You never saw a Taliban woman in any delegation of any kind whatsoever. And that's something that is - bodes ill for the future.

GONYEA: That's journalist Ahmed Rashid. He's the author of "Taliban: The Story Of Afghan Warlords." And he joined us by Skype. Ahmed Rashid, thank you for your time today.

RASHID: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.