All posts by zchunyu

The Tide of the Taliban

The Taliban formed in early 1990s by an Afghan faction of Islamic fighters, who resisted the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.“Taliban” means students in Pashto. The Taliban won popular support because it promised to impose stability and the rule of law. In 1996, the Taliban took the capital Kabul and declared Afghanistan an Islamic emirate and Mullah Omar its head of state. Since then, the Taliban tried to act as a government because Mohammed wanted to disarm the population (rivalry ethnic groups) and impose a puritanical Islamic order. It controlled 90% of the country before its 2001 overthrow. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan enforced a strict version of Sharia under which women were denied education and careers, were required to wear clothing covering them from head to foot, and were forbidden from leaving homes if no male family members were home. Men were required to wear long beards. The regime neglected social services and other basic state functions. Because of its extreme social discrimination and standards, the Islamic emirate was isolated internationally except for Pakistan, South Arabia, and the UAE. The UN imposed sanctions on the regime for harboring al-Qaeda. In 2001, the Taliban was overthrown by U.S. after its refusal to give up Osama Bin Laden, who led the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

After the Taliban was driven out of power, remainders either fled to Pakistan organized under Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan(TTP) or stayed in Afghanistan to rebuild power. The Taliban gained local support because Afghans don’t consider the current government as legitimate and see it as corrupt. In the Taliban’s resurgence, its factions have adopted warlord-like behavior: They levy taxes, extort companies in protection rackets, exploit natural resources, and traffic opium poppy.

The Taliban’s main financial income comes from the drug trade. Drug revenue accounts half of the Taliban’s income. The Taliban once exported drugs from Afghanistan in the form of opium syrup and then built labs to process opium into morphine or heroin. The Taliban’s action makes Afghanistan the world’s largest opium producer and exporter. Money from drugs is used in every aspect to finance the Taliban. Other income also includes, foreign donations, illegal gem mining, lumber trade, kidnapping, and extortion.

The Taliban has spread its power in the present days and created an organizational structure as government to manage both national and international issues. The Taliban nowadays has controlled or contested most areas in the south of Afghanistan and even spread its power to the north and the capital Kabul. By September 2017, the Taliban reportedly controlled or contested up to 45 percent of Afghanistan. It is still trying to act as a government and has been able “to create an organizational structure in which the top level provides strategic guidance and oversight while military political officials in the field make operational and tactical decision.” Mullah Akhundzada is responsible for overseeing the courts and judges. The Quetta Shura, the group’s ruling council, is responsible for much of the Taliban’s operations in southern and western Afghanistan. Below the emir is the deputy emir, reported to be Sirajuddin Haqqani. The Deputy emir is responsible for determining the “political and military affairs of the Emirate” according to UN. The Quetta Shura reportedly appoints a simulated government structure for Afghanistan, assigning “shadow” governors to many Afghan provinces and reviewing the performance of each governor.  In 2009, the Shura established a committee to receive complaints about the governors from Afghani locals. The Shura installs ‘shari’a’ courts to deliver enforced justice in controlled areas. It claims “to provide security against a corrupt government and to protect Afghan and Muslim identity against foreign encroachment”. In Jan. 2017, Akhundzada recently replaced Taliban shadow governors in 16 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and appointed eight additional provincial-level officials as part of an effort to consolidate his influence. 

Akhunzada has attempted to win Afghan hearts by funding some development projects and promising to reform the education system. Today’s Taliban leaders abandoned the ban of no entertainment but use more technologies to advertise their websites, Twitter feeds, videos, and magazines for propaganda.

The Taliban is a strong guerrilla group that has functioned and aspire to function as a government, and its success is due to intense corruption of Afghan government.

“Father Lee Knows Best”

Unlike many military leaders in Myanmar and Cambodia, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore wasn’t a tyrant who brutalized or impoverished his people. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore was the longest-serving prime minister in the world for 31 years and even held advisory positions for his two successors including his son. Fortunately, Lee Kuan Yew’s 52 years serving in government guided Singapore to one of the leading financial centers and ranked third GPA per capita in the world. Many people believed that Singapore reflected Lee Kuan Yew’s principles as an efficient, unsentimental, incorrupt, inventive, forward-looking and pragmatic government.

Lee’s “Singapore model” including centralized power(one party dominant), clean government and a laissez-faire economy that was actually a soft form of authoritarianism: suppressing political opposition, free speech and public assembly, and creating a climate of caution and self-censorship. Lee concentrated on attracting investment and creating jobs but enforced some rigid laws and regulations restricting media and political freedoms and even selling of chewing gum.

As an extreme example of his control, Since 2004, the government has not allowed buying or selling any gum, and there is a $700 fine for spitting out gum on the streets. One time, an American reporter asked Lee’s opinion about a scientific research result that chewing gum may help boost people’s creativity. Lee responded, “Putting chewing gum on our subway train doors so they don’t open, I don’t call that creativity. I call that mischief-making. If you can’t think because you can’t chew, try a banana.” Lee claimed that he wanted social peace but he never believed that democracy would work in Asia. He was immune to pressures for the political liberty in the British tradition even though he went to Cambridge University.

The commentator Cherian George described Mr. Lee’s leadership as “a unique combination of charisma and fear.” Lee was proud to describe himself as a political street fighter more feared than loved. He was a master of “Asian values”: the good of society took the first place before individuals and autonomy. In fact, people trusted Lee to keep order and bring prosperity. Lee managed to build strong working relationships with other Southeast Asian leaders. Lee made a ground-breaking visit to China in 1976 when other countries was still deeply suspicious of Beijing’s role in supporting in chaos and received Deng Xiaoping in Singapore two years later. Lee stepped down as prime minister after 31 year in 1990 and was succeeded by Mr Goh Chok Tong. He was appointed Senior Minister on Nov 28. In 2011, he stepped down from the Cabinet and died in March in 2015.

Following Lee’s retreat from government in 2011, Lee’s People’s Action Party lost 40% of the seats in parliament to the opposition in the same year. Lee’s party is not enough for young Singaporeans anymore. Especially after Lee Kuan Yew died in March, 2015, the young generation want more opportunities to speak up. One example was Amos Yee, a teenage boy who uploaded a video titled Lee Kuan Yew is Finally Dead several days after Lee died. Yee was arrested and convicted for a serious criminal charge but many people supported and praised him. They saw him as a free speech advocate who inclined to openly speak up against the system as a kind of hero, and worthy of praise.

Experts believe that now it is the moment for Singapore to embrace democratic principles fully because people are increasingly unhappy with one-party rule and growing income inequality. Lee’s leadership and legacy directed Singapore from old British chaotic colony to an economically prosperous country. However the problem with successful dictators is that there is no guarantee the successors are capable enough. There was only one Lee. Now Singapore may be more ready for practical pluralism.