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On the Taliban getting their act together…

April 12, 2013

“One really has to wonder why TB doesn’t concentrate on getting act together, trying to present a more cohesive front…” (comment by @SuzanneSues57) I said I would comment…

Taliban flagPhotos of Afghan maps 006I don’t think the Taliban are willing or able to understand the implications or the urgency.  But, to be fair, nor is the Afghan government, for that matter, even just going by Ruttig and Rashid’s frustrated observations yesterday.  I am starting to form the view that both sides (Afg govt and Afg TB) will drift by default into continuing the fight after 2014 – the government has a shiny new army which it might want to fight with first, before decisions about talks are made.  And the Taliban are still in the fight – even though large scale operations look beyond them.  From their perspective they have seen off a 40+ nation international army.

In terms of “act” and getting it together, the Taliban do suffer from poor command and control, across two countries, together with some justifiable paranoia about the risks of arrest etc by ISI.  Not to mention what seems to be a significant divide between “talkers” and “fighters” in the leadership.  And perhaps even raising the issue of talks within the fervent atmosphere of “jihad”, can be a divisive and difficult thing to do from Quetta.

Finally, I don’t think the Taliban yet really know what they want.  But does the US or Karzai?  I sense that realism and prgamatism are currently in short supply in this part of the world.  I really liked the expression that Ahmed Rashid used at the conference: “lets open the minds of the Taliban”, because it fits exactly in line with the paper I am currently writing on the use of messaging.  My DIIS contribution to their paper was a briefer flavour of some of these ideas.  In terms of the media environment, somewhere between the poisonous and damaging propaganda war and useful/credible talks there is a whole unexplored area that involves engaging with the Taliban on political, social and economic themes that might guide, shape, coax and encourage them to understand some of the realities of the modern world.  If they have a better political mindset and understanding before they go into talks, perhaps the result might be more sustainable.

What do you reckon?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 13, 2013 7:54 am

    I imagine Sun Tzu would shake his head dolefully at all parties to this decades-long struggle. Here’s the beginning of his advice to warring parties:

    The Art of War
    By Sun Tzu
    Translated by Lionel Giles

    I. Laying Plans

    1. Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to the State.
    2. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.
    3. The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one’s deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field.
    4. These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline.
    5,6. The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger….

    Here’s the link to the whole thing:

  2. April 13, 2013 11:02 am

    Hi Ron and thanks. But I can’t help wondering if what we see in Afghanistan fits into more of a twilight zone between Sun Tsu’s perhaps more black and white war or peace? Wouldn’t even Sun Tsu get a headache on this one?! Can I now look forward to a Pavellas perspective on Sun Tsu…? And I wonder what Clausewitz would think?

  3. April 13, 2013 1:46 pm

    If it isn’t war, and I ask this without irony, what is it? We writers are at a disadvantage with having to use words–such imprecise entities–which attempt to capture the reality of the moment. The people without power want peace and security and a chance to raise a healthy family, through farming or whatever the family’s marketable skills may be. The people with power want–what? More power? Probably, but toward what end(s)? The stated and the real ends will often differ, thus creating confusion in in everyone, including those who seek more power. It’s “for the people”; or, it’s “for the greater glory of God”; or, it’s to “establish a true nation “, or, it’s to “keep the trouble-makers within manageable borders”; or, it’s to “control this valley (or region)”, or,… It seems Afghanistan just can’t be left to the Afghans. The country’s geography invites invaders, interlopers, adventurers, troublemakers, etc. Perhaps there will always be deadly struggle in this region. If so, it’s a pity for the people who want just to be left alone.

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