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What do the Taliban want? What do they do? Snapshots from Helmand, Logar and Wardak

June 5, 2019

Summary: AAN and USIP both looking at local Taliban actions and expectations.  The Taliban do not seem to have changed the attitudes much.  Neither do they appear to have thought deeply about what might come after peace talks and a US withdrawal

Two very good pieces of analysis from two different sources but overlapping on many key themes regarding how the Taliban think, plan and operate in localities that they control.  Goes without saying that both reports should be read in full.  The Afghanistan Analysts Network have a series of pieces out under the title “One Land, Two Rules”.  They look at how the Taliban and the Afghan government are operating concurrently (and competitively) to deliver public services.  Part Six focuses on how the Helmand district of Nad Ali copes with the challenge of having both government and the Taliban attempting to control and influence the area.

  • The district remains unstable from a security perspective – it is an “active stalemate”
  • The government and NGOs fund public services but the Taliban have a strong say in how resources are allocated
  • A “dual rule” sees the civilian population pragmatically tolerant of government and Taliban, while learning to navigate this “dual rule”
  • The Taliban control much of the educational curriculum – girls do not have schooling beyond 6th grade
  • Health services are sub-standard and inadequate – the Taliban prioritise their injured fighters for health resources
  • Locals do not care who is in charge as long as it is one of the the other, but not both competing
  • The Taliban collect taxes
  • In Taliban controlled areas the TV, radio, music and smartphones are banned.  Mobile phone networks are shut down between 4pm and 7am.
  • In Taliban controlled areas, some NGO activity is permitted (water, wells, pumps).  Not clear is this is because the Taliban are keen to avoid alienating the population or because they benefit from taxing them.  Perhaps both.
  • Population do not enjoy this complex dual governance but have adapted.  They are used to having some levels of basic public services (however low grade) – this will need to be  taken into account in the future.

The USIP piece from Ashley Jackson parses a series of interviews with Afghans – non-combatants and Taliban – in areas controlled by the Taliban.  Questions focus on peace talks – how the Taliban perceive the talks, what the goals are and how might the Taliban move into a post-US future.

  • Most non-combatants just want the fighting to end.
  • Taliban local fighters do not plan to disarm until their two core demands are met: US withdrawal and an appropriately Islamic government.
  • Few Taliban have concrete ideas on what an appropriate Islamic government would mean and how it might differ from the current Islamic government
  • Few Taliban want to talk with the current Afghan government
  • Local Taliban and non-combatants alike assumed that the Taliban would retain control over their strongholds
  • Most women strongly object to Taliban restrictions over their lives
  • Strong belief that a process of justice, punishment and, as necessary, forgiveness was necessary, once peace was achieved

From these, my brief thoughts are that the Taliban do not seem to have changed that much, particularly in attitudes to women and education.  They do not appear to have much strategic debate about the future, beyond generalities – an idea of “first the fighting must stop, then we will decide”.    They appear emboldened.  Finally, they do not appear able to run and administer services effectively – only able to provide basic public systems if someone else is paying for it – the Afghan government, the international community, NGOs.  The sense is also that much of this funding is siphoned off into supporting the Taliban’s war effort.  Where they do run a service, their strict interpretations of Islam seem uniformly to hamper the quality of service provision.  Without education for women beyond the 6th grade, is it any wonder that there are only a handful of nurses and mid-wives in the district?

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