The Taliban: local or international threat (IV)


The issue of whether the Taliban are insurgents with strictly local grievances or an Islamist movement with international ambitions is one that I’ve addressed frequently in this space.

It’s an important question, because if the Taliban are concerned only with Afghanistan, then Canada, the United States, and other countries with troops and aid workers in the country can pull out without endangering themselves. Abandoning Afghanistan to thugs such as the Taliban, who have recently taken to shooting alleged adulterers in Pakistan, might be cruel it wouldn’t be risky for the West. (Why so many on the left who spent decades trumpeting their supposed internationalism are content with this option is something I’ll never understand, though Terry Glavin has some ideas.)

If, on the other hand, the Taliban are allied with al-Qaeda as part of an international jihadist movement, we can’t really afford to abandon our fight there. It’s a war of necessity rather than choice.

Afghanistan is a country for which I have deep affection. I was there in the weeks after 9/11 in the company of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. It was dangerous. I got sick, shelled, and shot at. Colleagues were killed. But I still remember my time there with fondness and pine to go back. The memory of my Afghan translator, a man who owned very little, pushing gifts into my hands as I left is one I’ll never forget. Because of these memories, even if I believed the Taliban were strictly an Afghan problem, I couldn’t advocate ceding them the country. I care too much about the people who live there.

But none of this really matters. Countries almost always fight wars because they believe it is in their national interest. And I believe Afghanistan is in ours, precisely because I think the Taliban are an international threat. I’ve outlined some of the reasons why in previous posts: the fact that they hosted Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda when the 9/11 attacks were planned and carried out; recent threats by Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban, to attack Washington; the movement’s violent growth in Pakistan; and its ongoing cooperation with al-Qaeda, according to Ahmed Rashid, arguably the world’s foremost expert on the Taliban.

I’d be remiss, however, not to present opposing evidence. Senior Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihollah Mujahid recently gave an interview to Afghan Islamic Press in which he distances his movement from al-Qaeda: “We are not responsible for the affairs of other parties or the world. We are only concerned about Afghanistan. It is up to al-Qaeda and the rest of the world whether they resolve their problems or not. Such issues have nothing to do with the Taliban.” The Jamestown Foundation has a summary of the interview.


The Taliban: local or international threat (IV)

  1. it’s entirely possible for the Taliban to be an international threat AND for the West to be able to pull out of Afghanistan without endangering itself (or for it to be the less risky of options). It’s not necessarily that way, but to put it as exclusive isn’t a given, either.

  2. “And I believe Afghanistan is in ours, precisely because I think the Taliban are an international threat.”

    That’s nice.

    • I am especially wary of those who use the “I care so much about these people..” argument to justify war. In a world where Bush blundered into teh Iraq war on ridiculous fear mongering lies, can we allow ourselves this kind of dangerous sentimentality? Iggy made the “I’ve been there, I’ve seen how these people are forced to live” argument too, and to me that might be the single biggest argument he don’t have what it takes to be PM.

  3. The US has as much of a chance winning the war on terrorism as it does winning the war on drugs.
    This is not Grenada or Panama – not by a long shot. Forty million pashtuns presently live in an area that their ancestors have held onto for about three thousand years in spite of attempts by Mongols,Persians, Greeks, Britons and Russians and others. Think they’ll just give up and hand over bin-Laden? That’s about as likely as Cheney and rest of the neo-cons going on trial at The Hague. Ever read Sun Tzu? There is an abundently clear warning about the cost of a military occupation. The US treasury is broke and just about out of credit. This is isn’t the time to be running a long term military occupation anywhere for any reason.

    So much power; so little wisdom.

    • Robin,

      War is terrorism! Please stop calling it by the ridiculous moniker "war on terrorism."