6 years, 10 months ago
Admonitions to spin off factions of the Taliban or Taliban-sympathizers against the so-called “hard core” Taliban are becoming commonplace. But who are the Taliban? We have already discussed the disaggregation of the Taliban into drug runners, war lords, petty former anti-Soviet commanders, criminals, Afghan Taliban, Pakistan Taliban, al Qaeda, and other rogue elements in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Drug runners, local war lords and other criminals can be dealt with differently than the Taliban. Drug runners will likely not have strong inclinations to Islamic fundamentalism and certainly not the global expansion of the same. On the other hand, the religiously motivated fighters within Afghanistan likely number as many as ten thousand fighters, including 3000 or so full time insurgents.
Then there is the Afghan Taliban who are not located within Afghanistan but who are indigenous to Afghanistan, under the leadership of Mohammed Omar who is probably in or around Quetta, Pakistan. They continually resupply Taliban fighters and give them rest and sanctuary within Pakistan. Quetta is a revolving door of support for Afghan fighters.
This group is organizationally disconnected with the Tehrik-i-Taliban, or Pakistan Taliban. These are groups of Taliban who are led by various commanders, the most powerful of whom are Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan, and Mullah Fazlullah in the SWAT valley. The Tehrik-i-Taliban number tens of thousands more fighters. It is estimated that Mehsud alone owns 20,000 fighters.
The Tehrik-i-Taliban are different than the Afghan Taliban in that they have brought a hard core global expansionist focus to their radical religious views. It is what Nicholas Schmidle calls the Next-Gen Taliban.
Some Afghan Taliban have laid down their weapons and taken up the Taliban cause in politics. They have not changed their belief system – the same one that allied itself with the Taliban fighters and al Qaeda prior to 9/11. The Afghan fighters who remain active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan have not laid down their weapons and still harbor hopes of regaining the leadership of Afghanistan. The Tehrik-i-Taliban are hard core radicals, and shout to passersby in Khyber “We are Taliban! We are mujahedin! “We are al-Qaida!” There is no distinction.
Not a single group or subgroup listed above can be violently turned against the active Taliban fighters, mostly because their are ideologically aligned. In Anbar, Iraq, the more secular Sunni tribes had the religiously motivated al Qaeda thrust on them from the outside with all of the oppressive violence, and it didn’t take long for them to rebel. The same is not true of either Afghanistan or Pakistan. The proof is pre-9/11 history in Afghanistan where the hard core fighters – including al Qaeda – had safe haven.
There are repeated instances of misdiagnosis of the problem.
Given this state of affairs, Karzai and his foreign allies will not be in a position to do much against the Taliban and its supporters unless they work on three main objectives simultaneously. One is to address their political and strategic vulnerabilities; another is to widen and speed up reconstruction. A third is to re-establish a stable Afghan-Pakistan border by pressuring Pakistan to halt all support for the Taliban.
True enough for potential future Taliban fighters whom we wish to keep in the fold, this prescription is wrong for the existing Taliban because the ailment has been misdiagnosed (and besides, pressure has already been put on Pakistan, to no avail). For the Taliban, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum has the right suggestion: “NATO forces must be united in their commitment to wage war against the Taliban.” No single group can be spun off to fight the Taliban in lieu of Western military operations against them.