4 years ago
Now comes a good and well-informed article in the same spirit as our own articles on the Taliban, from Asian Correspondent. Concerning the primarily Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ahsan Butt observes:
Isn’t it instructive that scholars who actually know the area, such as Ijaz Khan (University of Peshawar) or the oft-cited Farhat Taj, completely and unequivocally reject the Imran Khan thesis? This idea that the Taliban are somehow representative of the Pashtun nation, and are fighting and dying for them, is just silly.
Within the study of civil war in political science, non-state movements are generally divided between ethnically focused and ideologically focused. Obviously this is often a too-rigid categorization, but it’s useful because the two types of mobilizations often have different goals.
Those movements that are ethnically motivated are generally what we call nationalist movements. These tend to be focused heavily on a particular piece of territory, since group identity and territory have a very strong relationship. So if all xs are concentrated in region X, then it’s unlikely that the xs will launch a movement, violent or otherwise, in regions other than X. This is because (a) they don’t care about regions other than X; in fact, their mobilizations are often motivated by demanding increasing separation from X and non-X areas, and (b) there’s not enough xs in the non-X region for them to congeal in a movement worth worrying about. Examples include the Tamils in northern Sri Lanka or the Bengalis in former East Pakistan.
Those that are ideologically motivated tend to be focused on control of the state or political unit at large. They are not interested in controlling a sliver of territory, they are interested in re-orienting the state. The important thing to note is that granting a piece of territory to the agents of the movement is unlikely to satisfy them, since their movement is not based on the control of territory in the first place. Examples include the Communist Party of China or the various right-wing militias operating in Latin America during the Cold War.
This distinction matters because it gets at the heart of the debate on the war in Pakistan and whether it is worth fighting. If you believe that the Taliban and their local affiliates are nationalists, then it makes sense to give them control of various districts or maybe even a whole province, in the hope that that’s what they want, and will therefore cause them to stop mounting violent challenges to the state.
If you believe that the Taliban and their local affiliates are ideologues, then it doesn’t make sense to give them control of various districts because they will only use that control to consolidate their material capabilities to launch yet further assaults on the state and its citizens.
I wish we lived in a world where the Taliban were indeed nationalists because it would mean that there is fairly self-evident solution to the violence. Unfortunately we do not and there is not. Imran Khan, however, continues to believe that they are and that there is. Reasonable people can disagree on the extent to which force should be used, what type of force (air power vs shock troops vs full-blown incisions) is to be used, how negotiations should be constructed, which actors should be invited to the negotiations, and so on. But no reasonable person can believe that the “war can be ended in 90 days” or that the Taliban are likely to go quietly into the sunset if you hand over a bunch of territory to them.
Just so. And it’s a mistake that has been made from the beginning, i.e., believing that this is some sort of classical insurgency/counterinsurgency campaign. To be sure, there are still the so-called “ten dollar taliban,” but more and more we are finding that they fight for ideological reasons, not for a parcel of land to control.
If no involvement in the political system is sufficient solution to the immediate crisis, then that complicates matters indeed. If they are somehow – gasp – ideologically aligned with the radical elements in al Qaeda, Haqqani, the various Kashmir groups, etc., then inviting them to the negotiating table is a ridiculous ruse trying to hide abject surrender and failure on our part. And if this surrender obtains, then we will be worse off for our loss in Afghanistan. But perhaps we’ve already discussed that.