Distinguishing Between Good and Bad Taliban?

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 7 months ago

In an interesting and rather strange Asia Times article on the intertwined relationship between Iran, the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan, pro-Iranian commentator Kaveh L Afrasiabi sees possible cooperation between Iran and the U.S. on logistical supply routes to Afghanistan and other things associated with Operation Enduring Freedom.  If one can get by the dreaming, he makes this interesting statement.

“The difference between then and now is that the US officials are now distinguishing between the ‘good Taliban’ versus the ‘bad Taliban’ and hoping to sow divisions between them and reach a compromise with the former, perhaps as part of an emerging post-Karzai scenario,” said a Tehran University political scientist. The scholar added that he believes Iran does not like this “new approach” and finds it “simplistic and defeatist”.

He adds that the existing Karzai regime is backed by Iran.  The Captain’s Journal is no fan of Karzai, and we have already mentioned that a break with his administration might be necessary.  But it’s unlikely that Iran and the U.S. have mutual interests in anything.  For every U.S. interest, there is a corollary counter-interest by Iran, with regional Persian hegemony being the ultimate aim.

But of interest is that it is now understood worldwide that the U.S. is trying to delineate between “good” and “bad” Taliban.  True enough, there will be some amount of adolescents, teenagers and ne’er-do-wells who got sucked into the Taliban and might be able to be separated from the pack.  But we believe that this fraction is somewhere between very small and vanishingly small.  Hear carefully the words of one Taliban.

Abdul Shafiq is around 30 years old and has sacrificed his family life for two things: reading the Koran and fighting.

After years in exile following the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, this Taliban commander is back in the mountains of his birth, having left behind his old life with his family for one mission: chasing out the “infidel” Americans.

Abdul Shafiq — an assumed name — looks like any other Afghan, except that he has never been as unhappy as in times of peace.

In hiding in Kabul, he rarely spends two nights in the same place, taking a break before returning to the fight.

In the mountains, he heard of new US President Barack Obama “who will change nothing” and of Palestine “where something is happening”.

His future seems set: “As long as the Americans are here, we will fight them,” says the Taliban militant, whom AFP could only meet through local intermediaries …

It was in the northern mountains that he heard, over Taliban combat radio, on September 11, 2001 that planes sent by Al-Qaeda, had struck at the heart of the United States.

That was beautiful, delicious to hear, everyone was happy,” the warrior says with a smile.

But when the United States invaded Afghanistan the following month, Shafiq and his comrades soon realised they could not withstand the deluge of US bombs and fled. Some went to Pakistan. Others, like Shafiq, went west to Iran.

The Iranian government and the Taliban may have little in common, but they shared virulent opposition to the United States.

Iran took in Taliban in their thousands … In Kabul, the US army, sure of itself, branded the Taliban finished.

It was then that Shafiq slipped quietly home to Wardak. “They told us that the Americans were stopping the Taliban much less,” he says.

He took charge of a group of 30 men who lived on the move, going from one safehouse to another, he says.

Even before then, the Taliban started to regroup. “Everything is structured. The orders come from our leaders in Pakistan

So much for Iran’s suspicion of the Taliban as suggested by Kaveh L Afrasiabi.  There are many lessons wrapped up in this one interview, only parts of which are included above.  Iran supports the Taliban.  The hard core Taliban will fight until they die or we lose.  They get their orders from leaders Pakistan.  They believe that the U.S. has stood down in the effort to roust the Taliban.

As for the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan, another Asia Times article gives us what The Captain’s Journal believes to be a correct snapshot of the evolution in their thinking.

In some places they aim to enforce strict sharia law. In others, the Taliban want to establish bases from which to work in support of the resistance against foreign forces in Afghanistan.

In yet other areas, the purpose is simply to create chaos and anarchy so that militants can engage the Pakistani armed forces and deter them from supporting the global “war on terror”.

However, the ultimate mission of the groups is steadily harmonizing, that is, to support the regional war and then the global war against Western hegemony; this is the concept driving the neo-Taliban.

Whether the Afghan Taliban who are committed to war against the U.S. in Afghanistan, or the TTP who are committed to war against the West from Afghanistan to New York and London, the goals and aims of the “Taliban” are gradually dovetailing.  There will be fewer and fewer “good” ones left, if there ever were any to begin with.


  1. On January 30, 2009 at 10:54 am, armchairanalyst said:

    While I don’t generally disagree with your analysis of the golas fo the TTP, I think you are reading way too much into the comments of a single insurgent regarding the role and interest of Iran in Afghanistan. In fact the US and Iran have many common interest in Afghanistan (it remains to be seen whether these interests are sufficient grounds to overcome other disagreements between Washington and Tehran).

    Iran has never been fond of the Taliban. While the Taliban are radical Sunnis, Iran remains the bastion of Shia revolution. In Afghanistan Iran often views itself as the guardian of the Hazara who are also Shia and have long been oppressed by the radical Sunni Pashtun. While Pakistan is predominantly Sunni small Shia pockets can be found throughout the country. Sectarian conflict within Pakistan often perpetrated by radical Sunni groups allied with the Taliban has long been a concern in Tehran.

    As far as the balance of power is concerned, Iran has also consistently been on the anti-Taliban (anti-Pakistan) side. During the Afghan civil war in the 1990’s Iran, India, and Russia backed Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara factions of what was the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. In 1998 Iran mobilized hundreds of thousands of troops for a potential invasion of Afghanistan after the Taliban slaughtered more than a dozen Iranian diplomats in the Mazar. In the aftermath of 9/11 and our invasion of Afghanistan Iran allegedly sent a message to Washington through the Swiss that they were prepared to strike a grand bargain with the U.S. One of the features of this bargain was to be close cooperation on Afghanistan (admittedly the details of this proposal and its existence are not proven, i.e. I don’t think either side has ever officially confirmed its existence).

    Accusations of links between Iran and the Taliban are completely exaggerated if not completely specious. In Iraq, Iranian backing for Shia militias was plausible and real (in fact better relations with Iran on Iraq led to as much or more of the reduction in violence in Iraq as the troop surge). Becuase Iran does not back or control the Taliban in Afghanistan, greater U.S. Iranian cooperation cannot bring the kind of success in Afghanistan that it did against al-Sadr and other Shia in Iraq.

    Nevertheless, Iran has powerful historical interests and ties to Afghanistan many of which could help reinforce our own goal of defeating the Taliban. The U.S. clearly maintains hegemony over the Persian Gulf. Greater U.S. Iranian cooperation will not chnage that. Furthermore, the prospect of improved U.S. Iran relations might help end Tehran’s nuclear program and thus, in actuality, do more to perpetuate our dominant position in the than undermine it.

  2. On January 30, 2009 at 1:54 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Where analysis of the alleged Shi’a-Sunni divide in Islam fail the analyst is with the Persians. AQ has no love for Hamas, as Ayman al-Zawahiri, for example, has rebuked them for being nationalistic. AQ hasn’t found it in themselves to cooperate with those who don’t see eye-to-eye. One main column in the AQ – Wahabist outlook is the non-existence of nations and borders. The Iranian Mullahs see this the same way, but they operate differently.

    The radical Mullahs are globalists, no doubt, as Michael Ledeen has shown in his book The Iranian Time Bomb. But they cooperate with Hamas in spite of the fact that Hamas is nationalistic rather than global in its outlook and reach. You might say that whereas AQ applies their ideals in their interactions with other militants, Iran has a more pragmatic eye towards things.

    Iran, for example, has also been a haven for AQ in the past in spite of the fact that AQ is predominately Sunni.


    It isn’t likely that Iran and the U.S. will be able to cooperate on anything because of the radical world view of the Mullahs.

    As for the bomb, they will have enough high enriched Uranium by the first or second quarter of 2010. No amount of cooperation or diplomacy will dissuade them from their pursuit, contrary to the popular faith and belief in the power of talk found in the current administration and State Department.

  3. On February 3, 2009 at 11:52 am, armchairanalyst said:

    Objective sources.

    I think the most that can be said regarding Iran’s aid to the Taliban is that they haven’t necessarily gone out of their way to track and apprehend militants moving between Iraq and the Pakistan/Afghanistan border.

    Saying that negotiations are “in vogue” in Foggy Bottom does not ispso facto say anything about whether the U.S. and Iran share some common interests in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

    You are right about one thing though: Iran is pragmatic (i.e. strategically flexible) AQ is not. But that would suggest that while military force is the only way to deal with AQ, coercive diplomacy might bear fruit with Tehran.

  4. On February 3, 2009 at 4:35 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    No, more can be said than what you asserted. I’ve said it in the post. I’ve said that Iran actively aided the Taliban. There. I’ve said it again.

    You see things through Western eyes. We’ve engaged in coercive diplomacy and talks with Iran for 25 years, and some twenty eight times during the Bush administration alone.


    The tendency for the new administration – and also of those who have infinite faith in the power of talk – is to believe that we are now the first on the face of the earth and in history that have ever tried this tactic. There is nothing new under the Sun, including talk.

    The world view of the radical Mullahs effects their strategic and tactical objectives, and it is still highly dubious that Iran will cooperate with the U.S. in Afghanistan any more than it cooperated with the U.S. in Iraq (while it sent weapons, money, special groups, Quds, IRG and other rogues into Iraq to destabilize the country).

    Finally, considering my discussions / forecasts of interdiction of supplies in Khyber a year before it began, the need for more troops in OEF when General Rodriguez claimed the opposite, the need for the surge in OIF (for which I began to argue in 2006), the need for lighter body armor due to lower extremity injuries, etc., etc., I am right about a great many more things than just one.

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You are currently reading "Distinguishing Between Good and Bad Taliban?", entry #2016 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Iran,Pakistan,Tehrik-i-Taliban and was published January 30th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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