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The Taliban: local or international thugs?

One expert describes the level of cooperation between al-Qaeda and the Taliban as ‘very close’


 

090331_taliPrime Minister Stephen Harper seems to think the Taliban and al-Qaeda are two very different entities – one of which poses a threat internationally, and the other a deadly but local nuisance. Here he is speaking to the Financial Times over the weekend:

“The Taliban is primarily a domestic force, not to say that it isn’t a source of significant instability and one that the Afghan government currently can’t manage on its own, but that is very different than al-Qaeda, whose target is the United States and the developed world.”

Harper is not alone in this view. And there is some evidence to support it. Few if any Afghan nationals have been tied to international terrorist attacks in places like New York, London, Bali, and Madrid. And if the Taliban are strictly an Afghan problem, sending Canadian soldiers to confront them, while noble, isn’t necessary to protect Canada from future terrorist attacks.

I personally don’t accept this argument. I think the fact that the Taliban gave al-Qaeda a base in Afghanistan the last time they ran the country is a good enough reason for Canada to fight to deny them control of territory in Afghanistan today. But I also think that Harper, and others who hold to the theory that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are distinct threats, misjudge the level of cooperation and integration between the two movements.

This is something I’ve discussed several times with the Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid, the world’s foremost authority on the Taliban, and I’ve gone over my notes from our previous discussions.

“The top leadership is very highly influenced by the ideas of al-Qaeda and global jihad,” Rashid said in a 2007 interview, describing how the Taliban have evolved. “In that sense the top leadership has moved on from where they were in the late 1990s, and of course that makes them more intransigent and more difficult to talk to.”

He described the level of cooperation between al-Qaeda and the Taliban as “very close.”

“We have seen, for example, the Taliban being introduced to Iraq, being taken to Iraq, and learning the new tactics and then coming back. And more Arabs coming from Iraq to teach the Taliban new bombs and new improvised explosive devices, and all the rest of it. That kind of cooperation has been carried on with the help of al-Qaeda.”


 

The Taliban: local or international thugs?

  1. But Michael, hasn’t al -Qaeda spread its crap all over the planet? Sure, the Taliban are creepy protectors of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but would you not agree there are other creepy protectors elsewhere?

    No quarrel with the idea that they’re both oxygen-wasters, but is there not merit to seeing the global threat of al-Qaeda differently than the regional cancer of the Taliban?

    • Of course. The point I’m trying to make is that even if we were morally comfortable with abandoning Afghans to the atavistic brutality of the Taliban – and I’m not – we cannot safely do so because of the Taliban’s symbiotic relationship with al-Qaeda.

      • Unfortunately, we are going to do just that — because the Afghan mission has been systematically misrepresented as “Doing Afghans A Favour” instead of “Fighting Al-Qaeda’s Friends.” Watch Al-Qaeda move right back in when we leave in a few years’ time. Then, of course, we’ll have to invade again, hopefully with the stomach to declare our own interests.

      • Fair enough. But I see Harper’s comments not as “abandoning” Afghans to the Taliban, but rather seeing to it that the Afghans are in shape to handle this local gang of thugs themselves. Sure, we’re not there yet, but surely that’s our goal?

        • Helloooo!

          Pay attention. Anyone reading the poppy petals understands that what Harper has been saying, and what Obama’s plan is really all about is exactly that: We’re going to be leaving the Taliban problem to the Afghans and Pakistanis, as soon as we have eliminated as much of the Al Qaeda as we can.

          And no one has too much hope for the Afghans in that equation. But there is a hope that the Taliban have learned a lesson about again letting Afghanistan become a launching ground for global terrorism.

          That’s the realpolitik of it all. And yes, it is likely to be very sad for Afghan school girls.

  2. The basic problem in Afghanistan is the coordination of the message of the objectives of the Karzai government to the multiple tribal areas, followed by hard evidence to prove the message means what it says. In the end it is up to the local leaders to reflect the will of their people rather than their own cliques and personal interests. Thousands of years of political control by tribal leaders has to be changed and it can’t be done overnight. al Qaeda is a stranger in a foreign land. They will be used as is anyone else so long as they appeal to the strongest factions. Harper is correct. The entiities are separate and can be looked at according to their separate weaknesses, strengths and political objectives.
    I have no idea how effective the Karzai message is being communicated to the people. I do know many dispair of change and trust no one except what they see, touch or feel. It is a very difficult problem and won’t necessarily be solved by the west.

  3. AQ as a concept is an international terror organization. in reality, it is a muslim thing…

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