Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Olivier Roy on the problem of the Taliban

We have to listen when Olivier Roy talks because he has had so much experience on the ground in Afghanistan and Central Asia generally. The other day I copied his recent piece from the NYTimes. Here is another similar statement written for the Christian Science Monitor. Here I preserve a few details worth taking close note of. RLC

Obama agenda in Afghanistan: Don't forget about Pakistan
By Oliver Roy - The Christian Science Monitor - Wed Dec 2, 4:00 am ET Florence, Italy –

It is true that, at a time when the Taliban are on the move and the Kabul government embodies more than ever a failed state, nothing can be done without a military surge. The Taliban smell victory and have no interest in negotiating. The only alternative is to leave or to escalate the fighting.

But can the new counterinsurgency work? ….

The Taliban insurrection is both an ethnic and a social movement. The Taliban embody both a Pashtun irredentism and a shift in the traditional tribal system. The insurgency is limited to Pashtun-populated areas or pockets: the south; and, in the north, Baghlan, Kunduz, Balkh and Badghis, often delivered by the Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. In Pakistan, too, the "liberated Islamic areas" are all Pashtun. Non-Pashtun Islamic militants choose other ways to act.

The issue of Pashtun frustration at being shut out of power has not been ignored by the Western powers. . . . .

But now the non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan have no more military means to protect themselves from a bloody Taliban comeback, and they cannot rely on an Afghan national army. Thus the quandary is how to placate the Pashtuns without weakening further the other ethnic groups whose fears of a Taliban comeback make them the best allies of the NATO troops.

President Hamid Karzai was appointed largely because he could embody a traditional Pashtun identity. . . . Yet, this has been to no avail because the tribal aristocracy he represents has lost its roots in the tribal areas. . . .

[I]n Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan, traditional [tribal] leaders of this [Iraqi] kind have almost disappeared. They have been replaced by a new elite of young madrasa-educated Taliban, more connected to Pakistan and the Gulf than to the West.

What of the role of Pakistan? . . . Until now the Pakistani Army has used both Taliban and Islamist militants as a proxy tool of its regional policy of "strategic depth" vis-à-vis India. It still wants a Pashtun Islamist government in Kabul.

This complex and dangerous cooperation between the Army and the Taliban was based on a deal: The Taliban, Afghan or Pakistani, might push their agenda in Afghanistan or in the northwest territories in Pakistan but should not contest the leadership of the Pakistani Army. Islamabad is off limits.

The Taliban broke this deal when they made a foray from their Swat stronghold through Buner in the direction of Islamabad. The Army had no choice than to counterattack. But the objective of the Pakistani Army is not to destroy the Taliban. It is to bring them back into the fold after a red line has been crossed.

. . . Pakistan has been fighting through proxies in Afghanistan for more than 30 years. It can wait for American and NATO troops to leave the region.

Only finding a way to alleviate Pashtun frustration in Afghanistan and getting Pakistan to give up its decades-old policy of supporting Islamists in power there will change anything fundamental.

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