Understanding the Taliban

Jonathan Steele notes that during almost a decade of war with the Taliban, none of their top leaders have been interviewed which leaves many important questions unanswered.

Have the Taliban changed in the decade since they lost office? Is there a neo-Taliban, as some suggest? What of the younger generation of field commanders who lead today’s resistance to the Americans and British? Are they in regular touch with Mullah Omar and do they answer to him in any practical sense, either in military strategy or in their political objectives? Above all, is there room for compromise between the Taliban, President Karzai and the Tajik and Uzbek leaders who surround him in Kabul so that, if the US withdraws in the next few years, a power-sharing government can have a chance of lasting?

Some evidence that the Taliban have moved on since they were in power is provided by Antonio Giustozzi, a scholar at the Crisis States Research Centre at the London School of Economics, who has edited a collection of essays entitled Decoding the New Taliban. For one thing, the technology has changed. Men who used to reject television now put out propaganda DVDs and run a website of news and opinion, complete with pictures. More important, their social attitudes have shifted. Giustozzi argues that the Taliban realise their old position on education was self-defeating and lost them support, and the line is now being reversed. In Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, according to Tom Coghlan, one of Giustozzi’s contributors, people in September 2008 ‘reported a strikingly less repressive interpretation of the Taliban’s social edicts.’ They no longer ban TV, music, dog-fighting and kite-flying; nor do they insist on the old rule that men grow beards long enough to be held in the fist.

Some analysts believe that US air strikes have been so effective in killing senior Taliban that the war is now being run by a new generation of men in their twenties and thirties, with no experience of the anti-Soviet struggle that schooled the mujahidin warlords as well as Mullah Omar and his Taliban colleagues. Whether this means they are more radical than the previous generation is unclear. Coghlan quotes a Taliban cleric near Lashkar Gah in Helmand in March 2008 as saying: ‘These new crazy guys are really emotional. They are war-addicted.’

Recent reports suggest that most Afghans, tired of the all-pervasive insecurity, want negotiations with the Taliban. A survey of 423 men in Helmand and Kandahar, carried out in May by the International Council on Security and Development, found that 74 per cent were in favour of negotiations. In Kabul in March, I interviewed several women professionals, the people who suffered most from the Taliban’s restrictions on girls’ education and women working outside the home. To varying degrees they all supported the idea of dialogue with the Taliban. They felt the top priority was to end what they saw as a civil war – not an insurgency, as Nato calls it. They saw the Taliban as authentic nationalists with legitimate grievances who needed to be brought back into the equation. Otherwise, Afghans would go on being used as proxies in a long battle between al-Qaida and the US. It was time to break free of both sets of foreigners, the global jihadis and the US empire. Shukria Barakzai, an MP and women’s rights campaigner, put it like this: ‘I changed my view three years ago when I realised Afghanistan is on its own. It’s not that the international community doesn’t support us. They just don’t understand us. The Taliban are part of our population. They have different ideas but as democrats we have to accept that.’

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5 thoughts on “Understanding the Taliban

  1. scott

    The general ignorance of Islam among Americans has us unarmed in our fight. I have long argued with those so concerned with women’s rights and other “civil rights” issues in Muslim lands that the Quran offers enough material to fight a good fight and appeal to the best angels of these Muslims. The Quran makes education of women mandatory, women have far more protections under the Quran than can be found in any other religious tome. The Quran says, “let there be no compulsion in religion” many, many times. We would be well served to appeal to the liberal aspects of Islam, which these guys can’t argue with.

  2. DE Tedooru

    There was a picture in NYTimes of a GI in a Baghdad home’s livingroom in ull gear: helmet, armor, boots and equipment sitting in a chair with rifle slung around his neck, his index finger holding on the trigger. The caption said that American soldiers were trying to make friends by visiting Iraqis in their homes ($##%!@^^%!!). Intel blind, culture dumb and language deaf it never occurs to Americans that the very gear that attracts young men to enlist in the military….because it makes them look “real bad man,” like awesome beasts, is exactlky what insults the homeowner, a “towel head” with no armor, helicopters of rockets.

    Petraeus and McChrystal, two of the mediocrities the West Point class of ’76 produced never realized that you can fool some of the people some of the time but never all of the people all of the time. We’ve been found out in Afghan homes– AS IN IRAQ– not as honored guest but as invaders barging in and offering nothing but broken promises. As we’re about to TOTALLY pull out from Iraq, imagine what Afghans think Iraqis got in return for all the chaos and bloodshed America brought into their lives. As it is, Americans shoot blind on automatic needing constant re-supply. Most Americans don’t know but all Afghans know that 15% of our $billions budget for logistics is paid off to Taliban so they won’t shoot up our trucks. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Americans come in, shoot up the place and then, when they can no longer afford it, leave. In the meantime, as in Iraq where KBR stole so much that it had to move its HQ out of the US to avoid prosecution, once again, Gov. audits of funds to American corporation based in Kabul leave $billions unaccounted for.

    We’re not fighting an insurgency but an NEO-TALIBAN Islamic revolution that began AFTER Bush’s “mission accomplished” extravaganza. While Rumsfeld was cannibalizing the Afghan force Congress approved in order to present Congress with a fait accompli in Iraq (“you can’t refuse to fund war in Iraq as our soldiers are already in the field”) the neo-Taliban came into existence. IT is local, not us. We had a chance to offer Afghans a revolution– MODERNIZATION– we didn’t; instead we robbed OURSELVES blind! Like unruly kids the generals yell out after every stupid failure: DO OVER! DO OVER! There is no do over. Petraeus is like a surgeon so ignorant that he botched an operation. Somehow the patient nevertheless survived and so Dr. Petraeus insists that the patient *MUST* let him try and operate again because his reputation as a surgeon is at stake. Meanwhile, the “ain’t my kid going to war” disconnected American cheers Petraeus on as he gets more of our mom&dad soldiers killed (making for lots of widows and orphans at home): yea, give him another shot at it; after all, I can’t stand to see America lose AGAIN!

    Alas, America is broke. It could have helped the Muslim World with a counter-revolution– MODERNIZATION– as richer Arabs like the Saudis did for themselves. Instead America ate its own children for corporate profits. Like Rome we’re doomed because we’re “bad,” real bad!

  3. Christopher Hoare

    “Some analysts believe that US air strikes have been so effective in killing senior Taliban that the war is now being run by a new generation of men in their twenties and thirties,”

    Now, there’s a real use for all those assassination drones and their missiles — Washington is full of old men in positions of power who are far beyond their ‘best by’ dates. Bring the drones home.

  4. scott

    DE T. you mention a point I think needs to be made, our soldiers need to wear closed toe sandals, so they can take their shoes off before entering a Muslim home. I know the whole time our boys are in their homes and mosques every man and woman are staring at their muddy boots. It’s a small thing, but reveals so much insularity and ignorance.

    I do heavy landscaping and work in these type sandals, though I keep boots in my truck at all times. You can’t run in those sandals, but nor can you with all they gear they have anyway. We kidnapped a friend who was too much of a pussy and financially strapped to go on a camping/hiking/backpacking trip with us. He worked for me and my other friend. We packed everything he needed except we forgot to get his boots. He hiked up the Chisos Mountains with a 50lb pack in the sandals he was wearing. He bitched about everything, as is his nature, but not about his sandals. We even bought that ingrate some companionship across the border in Mexico. He later reflected on that as one of the best times he ever had, but, again, our boys could fight in sandals, and need to.

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