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amborin Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-05-08 03:54 AM
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The Challenge of the Taliban: Mother Jones
Edited on Fri Dec-05-08 04:18 AM by amborin
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Who Are the Taliban?

The Afghan War Deciphered

By Anand Gopal

"If there is an exact location marking the West's failures in Afghanistan, it is the modest police checkpoint that sits on the main highway 20 minutes south of Kabul. The post signals the edge of the capital, a city of spectacular tension, blast walls, and standstill traffic. Beyond this point, Kabul's gritty, low-slung buildings and narrow streets give way to a vast plain of serene farmland hemmed in by sandy mountains. In this valley in Logar province, the American-backed government of Afghanistan no longer exists. <snip> The police say they don't dare enter these districts, especially at night when the guerrillas rule the roads. In some parts of the country's south and east, these insurgents have even set up their own government, which they call the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the name of the former Taliban government). They mete out justice in makeshift Sharia courts. They settle land disputes between villagers. They dictate the curricula in schools. Just three years ago, the central government still controlled the provinces near Kabul. But years of mismanagement, rampant criminality, and mounting civilian casualties have led to a spectacular resurgence of the Taliban and other related groups. Today, the Islamic Emirate enjoys de facto control in large parts of the country's south and east. According to ACBAR, an umbrella organization representing more than 100 aid agencies, insurgent attacks have increased by 50% over the past year. Foreign soldiers are now dying at a higher rate here than in Iraq.


Who exactly are the Afghan insurgents? Every suicide attack and kidnapping is usually attributed to "the Taliban." In reality, however, the insurgency is far from monolithic. There are the shadowy, kohl-eyed mullahs and head-bobbing religious students, of course, but there are also erudite university students, poor, illiterate farmers, and veteran anti-Soviet commanders.
The movement is a mlange of nationalists, Islamists, and bandits that fall uneasily into three or four main factions. The factions themselves are made up of competing commanders with differing ideologies and strategies, who nonetheless agree on one essential goal: kicking out the foreigners. It wasn't always this way. When U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government in November 2001, Afghans celebrated the downfall of a reviled and discredited regime. "We felt like dancing in the streets," one Kabuli told me. As U.S.-backed forces marched into Kabul, the Afghan capital, remnants of the old Taliban regime split into three groups. The first, including many Kabul-based bureaucrats and functionaries, simply surrendered to the Americans; some even joined the Karzai government. The second, comprised of the movement's senior leadership, including its leader Mullah Omar, fled across the border into Pakistan, where they remain to this day. The third and largest groupfoot soldiers, local commanders, and provincial officialsquietly melted into the landscape, returning to their farms and villages to wait and see which way the wind blew.
Meanwhile, the country was being carved up by warlords and criminals. On the brand-new highway connecting Kabul to Kandahar and Herat, built with millions of Washington's dollars, well-organized groups of bandits would regularly terrorize travelers. ", thirty, maybe fifty criminals, some in police uniforms, stopped our bus and shot our windows," Muhammadullah, the owner of a bus company that regularly uses the route, told me.


Onto this landscape of violence and criminality rode the Taliban again, promising law and order. The exiled leadership, based in Quetta, Pakistan, began reactivating its networks of fighters who had blended into the country's villages. They resurrected relationships with Pashtun tribes. (The insurgents, historically a predominantly Pashtun movement, still have very little influence among other Afghan minority ethnic groups like the Tajiks and Hezaras.) With funds from wealthy Arab donors and training from the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence apparatus, they were able to bring weapons and expertise into Pashtun villages. .......In one village after another, they drove out the remaining minority of government sympathizers through intimidation and assassination. Then they won over the majority with promises of security and efficiency.

<snip> At the same time, the Taliban's ideology began to undergo a transformation. "We are fighting to free our country from foreign domination," Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi told me over the phone. "The Indians fought for their independence against the British. Even the Americans once waged an insurgency to free their own country." This emerging nationalistic streak appealed to Pashtun villagers growing weary of the American and NATO presence.

<snip>....It assisted in a complex assassination attempt on President Karzai last spring and was behind a high-profile ambush that killed ten NATO soldiers this summer. Its guerrillas fight under the Taliban banner, although independently and with a separate command structure. Like the Taliban, its leaders see their task as restoring Afghan sovereignty as well as establishing an Islamic state in Afghanistan. Naqibullah explained, "The U.S. installed a puppet regime here. It was an affront to Islam, an injustice that all Afghans should rise up against." The independent Islamic state that Hizb-i-Islami is fighting for would undoubtedly have Hekmatyar, not Mullah Omar, in command. But as during the anti-Soviet jihad, the settling of scores is largely being left to the future.

<snip>Blowback abounds in Afghanistan. Erstwhile CIA hand Jalaluddin Haqqani heads yet a third insurgent network, this one based in Afghanistan's eastern border regions. During the anti-Soviet war, the U.S. gave Haqqani, now considered by many to be Washington's most redoubtable foe, millions of dollars, anti-aircraft missiles, and even tanks. Officials in Washington were so enamored with him that former congressman Charlie Wilson once called him "goodness personified."
Haqqani was an early advocate of the "Afghan Arabs," who, in the 1980s, flocked to Pakistan to join the jihad against the Soviet Union. He ran training camps for them and later developed close ties to al-Qaeda, which developed out of Afghan-Arab networks towards the end of the anti-Soviet war. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. tried desperately to bring him over to its side.
However, Haqqani claimed that he couldn't countenance a foreign presence on Afghan soil and once again took up arms, aided by his longtime benefactors in Pakistan's ISI. He is said to have introduced suicide bombing to Afghanistan, a tactic unheard of there before 2001. Western intelligence officials pin the blame for most of the spectacular attacks in recent memorya massive car bomb that ripped apart the Indian embassy in July, for exampleon the Haqqani network, not the Taliban. The Haqqanis command the lion's share of foreign fighters operating in the country and tend to be even more extreme than their Taliban counterparts. Unlike most of the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami, elements of the Haqqani network work closely with al-Qaeda. The network's leadership is most likely based in Waziristan, in the Pakistani tribal areas, where it enjoys ISI protection.

<snip> While the Pakistani military establishment never completely eradicated al-Qaedadoing so might have stanched the flow of aidit kept up just enough pressure so that the Arab militants declared war on the government. By 2004, the Pakistani army had entered the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a semi-autonomous region populated by Pashtun tribes (where al-Qaeda fighters had taken refuge), in force for the first time in an attempt to root out the foreign militants. Over the next few years, repeated Pakistani army incursions, along with a growing number of U.S. missile strikes (which sometimes killed civilians), enraged the local tribal populations. Small, tribal-based groups calling themselves "the Taliban" began to emerge; by 2007, there were at least 27 such groups active in the Pakistani borderlands. The guerrillas soon won control of areas in such tribal districts as North and South Waziristan, and began to act like a version of the 1990s Taliban redux: they banned music, beat liquor store owners, and prevented girls from attending school. While remaining independent of the Afghan Taliban, they also wholeheartedly supported them.

By the end of 2007, the various Pakistani Taliban groups had merged into a single outfit, the Tehrik-i-Taliban, under the command of an enigmatic 30-something guerrillaBaitullah Mehsud. Pakistani authorities blame Mehsud's group, usually referred to simply as the "Pakistani Taliban," for a string of major attacks, including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Mehsud and his allies have strong links to al-Qaeda and continue to wage an on-again, off-again war against the Pakistani military. At the same time, some members of the Pakistani Taliban have filtered across the border to join their Afghan counterparts in the fight against the Americans.
Tehrik-i-Taliban proved surprisingly powerful, regularly routing Pakistani army units whose foot soldiers were loathe to fight their fellow countrymen. But almost as soon as Tehrik had emerged, fissures appeared. Not all Pakistani Taliban commanders were convinced of the efficacy of fighting a two-front war. Part of the movement, calling itself the "Local Taliban," adopted a different strategy, avoiding battles with the Pakistani military.

In addition, a significant number of other Pakistani militant groupsincluding many trained by the ISI to fight in Indian Kashmirnow operate in the Pakistani borderlands, where they abstain from fighting the Pakistani government and focus their fire on the Americans in, or American supply lines into, Afghanistan. The result of all this is a twisted skein of alliances and ceasefires in which Pakistan is fighting a war against al-Qaeda and one section of the Pakistani Taliban, while leaving another section, as well as other independent militant groups, free to go about their business. That business includes crossing the border into Afghanistan, where the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda, and independent fighters from the tribal regions and elsewhere add to the mix that has produced what one Western intelligence official terms a "rainbow coalition" arrayed against U.S. troops. <snip> Despite such foreign connections, the Afghan rebellion remains mostly a homegrown affair. Foreign fightersespecially al-Qaedahave little ideological influence on most of the insurgency, and most Afghans keep their distance from such outsiders. "Sometimes groups of foreigners speaking different languages walk past," Ghazni resident Fazel Wali recalls. "We never talk to them and they don't talk to us." <snip> Al-Qaeda's vision of global jihad doesn't resonate in the rugged highlands and windswept deserts of southern Afghanistan. Instead, the major concern throughout much of the country is intensely local: personal safety. In a world of endless war, with a predatory government, roving bandits, and Hellfire missiles, support goes to those who can bring security. In recent months, one of the most dangerous activities in Afghanistan has also been one of its most celebratory: the large, festive wedding parties that Afghans love so much. U.S. forces bombed such a party in July, killing 47. Then, in November, warplanes hit another wedding party, killing around 40. A couple of weeks later they hit an engagement party, killing three. "

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FrenchieCat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-05-08 04:00 AM
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1. Very informative....
but, there are copyright considerations unless you are the author.

Trimming and keeping only 3 to 4 paragraphs is our responsibility to some extent in order for the Democratic Underground not to be sued.
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amborin Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-05-08 04:06 AM
Response to Reply #1
2. 'kay
Edited on Fri Dec-05-08 04:07 AM by amborin
but i actually broke it up into more and more paragraphs for readability
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