Having finished Antonio Giustozzi’s book Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop, a study of the rise of the Neo-Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan between 2002-2007, I feel further qualified to comment on the Afghan debacle. It’s not really any clearer, but the nuances are coming. The book is, in the words of one Amazon reviewer, “a very dry, factual book on the nature of the Taliban’s return to Afghanistan after the Northern Alliance’s victory.” It’s not particularly well written either—it is awash with page-and-a-half-long paragraphs. But it is most definitely very enlightening.
Another piece I have read recently is Bernard Finel’s open question to the internet: “Doesn’t everyone in Afghanistan have ties to the Taliban?”
This is a valid question. It’s one that is difficult for the Afghan Outsider (this is a collective pronoun, I’m not given to referring to myself in the third person) to answer, and I think that it would be difficult for any Outsider to fully understand, let alone an insider.
Giustozzi, Gretchen Peters, David Kilcullen and, to a certain extent, David Macdonald have me thoroughly convinced that there is little cohesion to the “Taliban’s” efforts, or even the Taliban as an entity. The example of the recent “peace talks” that have been called lends more credence to this idea.
However, Robert Haddick points out that “only the Quetta Shura branch of the Taliban, led by Mullah Mohammad Omar and based in Baluchistan, is participating.” The Haqqani Network, a group that is much more feared by the international community than any other faction of the Taliban, is not attending the talks. This is despite one Afghan diplomat’s insistence that Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has recently taken over leadership of the group from his father, Jalaluddin, “realises he could be a nobody if he doesn’t enter the [peace] process.”
Interestingly, the unnamed diplomat draws parallels with the Northern Irish peace process, saying: “The Haqqanis know they have to make the transition from the IRA to Sinn Féin.” It’s not the first time that Afghanistan has been compared to Northern Ireland.
There are so many complexities involved in the Afghan conflict. (This piece made me very angry, but it highlights something of these complexities, I suppose.) The duplicitous nature of the American’s dealings with Pakistan; the divided nature of the “Taliban,” although they are largely still referred to as a single entity (I don’t know enough to comment fully on this, but as conjecture, and to continue the Northern Irish analogy, is this not similar to the “splintering” of the IRA in the final years before the peace agreement?); the role of drugs and particularly the role of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime; the impact of the constant changes in policy—one source points out that changing strategy every twelve to eighteen months amounts to not having a strategy at all.
I won’t try to address any of these issues in this post, but I am thinking of making a series, so I might create a list of ideas that add to the complexity of the situation, and try to break them down to create/develop a greater understanding.
It is my present view that the complexities within Afghanistan are such that they cannot necessarily be explained in linear, prose form. Perhaps some kind of graphical thinking is necessary. Although, maybe not PowerPoint. We’ve talked about that before, haven’t we?
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