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Talking to the Taliban

June 27, 2012

By Tim Foxley

The Taliban’s website continues to offer a fascinating insight into the mindset of the “organisation” – and not just all the things that they want you to know about.   Reading between the lines it is possible to gain understanding of concerns, disagreements, debate over strategy, confusion, etc.  Last year, there was considerable interest in a message entitled “Rethinking Afghanistan” posted on the Taliban website on 26 July 2011.  Even a year – and numerous  complex attacks – further on, it is still possible to read it as an attempt to politically “reach out” to the international community.  There have been several similar messages over the months and years – but intermingled with many messages of intolerance, violence, threats and “Jihad”, making it difficult to judge with confidence what the Taliban are trying to achieve.  Most of the time I wonder whether even the “Non-monolithic” Taliban themselves really actually know what might come next, what their real goals are and what their strategy should be.

So the Taliban generally struggle to come up with plausible political, social and economic content.  The sense they give is that they recognise the need to be seen to be saying something in this sphere, but they either don’t understand what it is they should be saying or it is a very low priority.  It should be of interest when they do comment on these subjects, if it only serves to demonstrate and confirm the lack of depth to their thinking.  It generally is not, because “the war” is much more interesting.  In the last two weeks they have made three statements – one to praise the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),

 The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan supports as per its policy each and every NGO which is useful for the ordinary Afghan and does not support the foreign invasion.

one to talk positively about the role of India

No doubt that India is a significant country in the region, but is also worth mentioning that they have full information about Afghanistan because they know each other very well in the long history. They are aware of the Afghans’ aspirations, creeds and love for freedom. It is totally illogical they should plunge their nation into a calamity just for the American pleasure.


and another to express concern for the victims of a recent earthquake in Afghanistan.

Your tragedy is our tragedy and your grief is truly ours and the nation’s collective grief which has caused us all immeasurable pain. May Allah (SWT) out of his mercy forever protect and immune us from such heartbreaking tragedies and may He bestow us all with patience and perseverance in the face of such catastrophes.

And, actually, today, the Taliban have commented on the Egyptian elections

The success of the Islamic Government in Egypt is considered to be the strongest blow in the Middle East and the whole world to the American and Zionist expansionism. May the Muslim Nation of Egypt and their newly elected government take good advantage of this important occasion and historical victory in the defense and achievement of the interests of the Islamic Ummah.

Therefore the Islamic Emirate congratulates the Muslim Nation of the brotherly country Egypt and their elected president Dr. Muhammad Mursi on this glorious occasion and presents its best wishes.

This latter statement is probably the first time The Economist and the Taliban have been in agreement since the Economist launched that global jihad last year.  Only joking.  I actually think that the “Arab Spring” is an existential threat to the Taliban – a popular uprising spread rapidly by high tech communication technologies fuelled by a desire for jobs, development, fairer allocation of the nation’s resources, rejection of dictatorship  and the opportunity to have a genuine political say in the country.  If there is any solution to Afghanistan’s problems, it probably lies in pushing the Taliban to develop what is a currently very naïve understanding of the world and “what people want”.   They need also to be guided (rather than “attacked”) into providing specifics on their approaches to, say, provision of assistance to earthquake victims, long-term relations with India and the role of (still crucially important) NGOs in Afghanistan.   An aggressive ISAF military IO Tweeting campaign of unproven utility should probably take a step or two back and some social, political and economic discourse be directed by, for example, the UN.

Whatever you might think of the last eleven years in Afghanistan’s life history, the people of Afghanistan have been exposed to “modernity” at a rate never before experienced.   The Taliban understand that the mobile phone, the  internet and Twitter is great for poking ISAF and issuing non-specific proclamations, but they may not yet realise that these are also great means for people to discuss, complain, criticise and form opinions.   Society is (slowly) changing.  Popular expectations and understanding do not match the Afghanistan of the 1990s and the Taliban will never be able to return to this time (let alone the days of the Prophet).   Popular feeling – and the means to communicate this quickly – cannot be put back in the bottle – as whatever Egyptian government that now stands up is about to find out.  The Taliban do not yet understand this and it is up to the international community to try and help them before we move into another twenty years of civil war.


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