Sunday, October 18, 2009

THE TALIBAN ARE REPUBLICANS, AL-QAEDDA IS AL-QAEDDA


From 1994  until 2001 the Taliban controlled Afghanistan with the support of Pakistan. Pakistan’s ISI guided the Taliban. They assisted the establishment in the lucrative poppy and opium trade, they protected and provided much of the Taliban’s arms, allowed the madrassas to form and flourish in Pakistan territory, and enabled the Taliban to grow into the brutal, dictatorial, supernumerary warlords of Afghanistan. The Taliban, in effect, became the dominant warlords of Afghanistan.


The mujahideen’s victory over the invading Soviets filled Muslims throughout the Arab world with pride over the ability of Muslim forces to destroy the invaders of Afghanistan, especially over a perceived world superpower. The Taliban picked up the splintered mantle of a resurgent Islamic alliance, unified it, and brought it to fruition in Afghanistan. During the 1994-2001 period Al-Qaedda and numerous mujahideen used the friendly Taliban regime as a place to train and plan for a global jihad. Pakistan turned a blind eye to the activities of Al-Qaedda in both Afghanistan and in Pakistan itself. There was no reason to alienate the Taliban, their creation. The U.S., aware of the potential of Al-Qaedda, but lulled into inaction by the notion that potential doesn’t mean reality, was, at best, slow to respond to the global threat that Al-Qaedda was becoming. The Taliban were willing enablers Al-Qaedda but had no global plans. They were happy running Afghanistan and the growing poppy trade.


Then 9/11 happened and the Taliban were easy targets of a justifiably enraged America and western world. Most of the Arab dictatorships recognized the threat of Al-Qaedda, especially Iran and Saudi Arabia who saw in Al-Qaedda a mortal threat. The Taliban were threatened by the “Northern Alliance” led by Ahmad Shah Massoud, the “Lion of Panjshir,” but he was killed on September 9, 2001 by either agents of the Taliban or Al-Qaedda. He and the Northern alliance represented the only real threat to the Taliban and Al-Qaedda. The die was cast.


The Taliban of 1994-2001 are not the Taliban of today, anymore than the Republican party of 1865 is the Republican Party of today. They are the same in name only. Today the Taliban enjoy the support of the mujahideen who deconstructed the Soviet Army between 1979-89. We have become the Soviets to the Afghanistanis, or the French to the Viet Minh, or the Chinese to the finally unified Vietnamese. We are another in the long list of foreign invaders of a country that has withstood the most powerful of empires for a thousand years.


Al-Qaedda is a stateless, murderous organization whose stated aim is to destroy western influence in the Muslim world. They are more a state of mind than any physical location. Al-Qaedda operates in Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and many other countries. They have metastasized into isolated cells throughout the world. “The Looming Tower,” by Lawrence Wright, provides one of the best historical analysis of the roots of Al-Qaedda from its beginnings in the 1920’s until today.


The Taliban of today will not leave Afghanistan; Afghani history and culture prides itself on autonomy and independence. With the support of the ISI and a nuclear Pakistan we are cutting away at the branch we are on, hoping the tree will fall. There is no defined mission and no defined strategy for our troops in Afghanistan; if we have no strategy, we have no tactical plan of operations. What about the Taliban in Pakistan? The last time the Taliban hooked its wagon to Al-Qaedda they ended up living in caves. The new Taliban doesn’t need Al-Qaedda anymore than Al-Qaedda needs the Taliban. There is now a new Taliban, one cloaked in the mantle of the mujahideen.


The names we use to describe events and groups makes it easy to define the characteristics inherent in each thing. The use of nomenclature helps us understand complexity. Yet, simplifying complexity into one or two words also allows us to lose sight of reality. The reality of events on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan is extraordinarily complex and fluid. The Pakistanis are fractured: the ISI is in conflict with senior Pakistani army officers, the government is at odds with many of the Pakistani people, and its relationship with the U.S. is hardly perceptible. Pakistani control of the territory within its borders is tenuous, at best. The Taliban, and their secure madrassas in Pakistan still provide a steady stream of new recruits to wage war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


It is in to this morass that President Obama is now preparing to commit more American troops to Afghanistan. Make no mistake about it, this is a war of choice, not necessity.




“Tell me how this all ends?” General Petraeus to Rick Atkinson,  March 2003



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