In Search of Good Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

Military brass and strategists have been pining away at the good Taliban – the ones with whom we can deal in order to manufacture some sort of Afghanistan tribal “awakening” on the order of the Anbar campaign.  Thus the secret negotiations continue, attempting to stop the leak through the dam that is the Afghanistan insurgency.  The Captain’s Journal has struck a cautionary note concerning these so-called negotiations, especially without the accompanying force projection by U.S. troops, but a commentary in the Times of India does a good job of summing up the problem in a recent commentary.

According to certain strategists, in Pakistan as well as in the US, the Taliban can be broadly drawn into two categories -one, the socially ultra-conservative Islamists, who demand the rule of sharia in areas where they dominate, and, two, the global jihadis. It’s being suggested that the world can do business with the former, if only to isolate and eliminate the latter, the bad ones.

Is this a valid distinction? When General Musharraf suggested that there were “moderate” Talibs, the then external affairs minister Jaswant Singh had called this an “oxymoron” – and most of the world, the West certainly, would have agreed. And yet now, when the Taliban is threatening to overrun Pakistan, there are some who are proffering the “good” Taliban theory as a key foreign policy input for the US.

This is the theory that guided Islamabad to strike a deal last month in Swat with Muhammad Sufi, the same man who sent thousands of Talibs to fight the Americans when they went into Afghanistan after 26/11. He is today being seen as a “moderate” who is not interested in affairs outside Swat, unlike Baitullah Mehsud, the bad Taliban, who heads Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and is waging a war against the state.

US strategists tend to divide the Taliban into three groups: first, based in Afghanistan under leaders like Jalaluddin Haqqani, responsible for the violence in Afghanistan; second, the Pakistan Taliban; and third, the ones led by Mullah Omar of the Quetta Shura, the core of al-Qaida. Some American strategists believe that by exploiting the divisions among these groups, US could achieve its objectives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre.

Experts here say there are several reasons why flirtation with any kind of Talibanism is dangerous. They point out that, good or bad, all Talibs who demand the enforcement of sharia invoke a variant of Islam that also calls for Islamic domination by global jihad. Besides, to accept the “good” Taliban theory is to write off the rights of Muslim women, allow public stoning and summary executions.

So this commentary groups the Taliban in three divisions.  First, there is Jalaluddin Haqqani, ex-anti Soviet fighter and commander, now anti-U.S. commander.  Second, the Tehrik-i-Taliban, and third, Mullah Omar and the more traditional Afghanistan Taliban who have sought refuge in and around Quetta.  He has aligned al Qaeda with Omar when perhaps they should be more aligned with the Tehrik-i-Taliban, but let’s not quibble over details.

In a commentary for the Washington Times, Georgie Anne Geyer shills for the current administration in a pitiful piece on a symposium entitled “NATO at 60,” sponsored by the European Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations.  Geyers’ piece is just horrible for anyone who knows anything about Afghanistan or Pakistan, but she does give us an interesting quote.

As Ali Jalali, former Afghan interior minister and now a specialist with the National Defense University, said of his country at the symposium: “There are three kinds of opposition – the traditional insurgency of people who have been mistreated by the government and is not ideology-backed, the classic ideological Taliban-type movement, and the global movements using Afghanistan for their own purposes.”

Now it must be understood that this comment pertains more to Afghanistan than Pakistan, but the divisions Mr. Jalali gives us is as follows: indigenous insurgency, Afghan Taliban and the globalists.  This division is troubling because it fails to recognize what is pointed out by the commentary at the India Times, namely that all Talibs who demand the enforcement of sharia invoke a variant of Islam that also calls for Islamic domination by global jihad.

This requires careful thought.  The author is not saying that everyone who invokes Sharia is a Talib.  The author is saying that the Taliban who invoke Sharia do so in concert with a hermeneutic of Islam that is accompanied by a globalist import.  The distinction means everything, and the reader is advised to read the last several sentences again.

Thus The Captain’s Journal has been very wary of such “negotiations,” believing that the kinetic operations that will necessarily precede the next phase of the campaign have not yet occurred.  We have seen only the precursors.

As for the brief analysis by Jalali concerning the Afghan Taliban, we are afraid that he doesn’t group the traditional Taliban with the globalists, a mistake we made prior to 9/11.  It’s all about the hermeneutics rather than sociology.

But there is a group with which we can bargain and maneuver.  It is the indigenous insurgency who fights for monetary well-being.

FARAH, 5 March 2009 (IRIN) – A 25-year-old man we will call Shakir has told IRIN he rues rejecting an offer of “work” from a Taliban agent whereby he would get 500 Afghanis (about US$10) a day for carrying out attacks on government offices in Farah Province, southwestern Afghanistan.

Those who accepted the offer are better off, he thinks.

“People are jobless, hungry and destitute so they agree to do anything for a small payment,” he told IRIN, refusing to give his name for fear the insurgents would kill him.

The Farah ring-road linking southern and western provinces is risky for relief convoys. Dozens of food aid trucks hired by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) were attacked there in 2008, and Farah Province is seen as a hotbed of insurgency: two districts have been taken over by the insurgents in the past two years, according to local officials.

Shakir was deported from Iran three times in 2006-2008 and his efforts to find a job in his home district of Pushtroad have been unsuccessful. “I cannot marry and start a family because I have no money… Wherever I go [for work] I return empty-handed,” he said.

“The Taliban pay 500-1,000 Afghanis [$10-20] for a day of action against government and American forces,” said Lutfullah, 23, from Helmand Province.

By contrast, government employees get less than $2 a day.

In for a penny, in for a pound, as the saying goes.  We must address the situation holistically, but we must be careful with whom we negotiate and who we pay – and with whom we fight.

It is estimated that there are on the order of 20,000 hard core Taliban fighters alone in Helmand, and more in the balance of Afghanistan.  The Captain’s Journal seriously doubts that we can align any of these elements with the U.S. on a long term basis.

The indigenous poor are a different story.  This may be the doorway we are looking for.


You are currently reading "In Search of Good Taliban", entry #2338 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Taliban,Tehrik-i-Taliban and was published March 6th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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