The Logic of War Against Taliban and Talibanism
Ali Asghar Kazemi
May 15, 2009
Ever since September 11, 2009 events, Taliban and Talibanism have been chased and killed by masses, yet, they are still full of zeal and causing widespread troubles in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Recent Pakistani raids on their agglomerations on the initiative of the United States bring about a number of crucial problems about the rationality of Obama’s recent policy in this respect.
While I have no fond of these fanatical groups who fight with rudimentary means the most equipped and powerful forces representing the NATO, I have serious doubts about the logic of this protracted war and the humanitarian aspects involved therein.
In this short comment I venture to examine the flagrant flaws of American policy under Obama to open new fronts against Taliban in Pakistan with the objective of eradicating this movement, which supposedly is endangering the legitimate government of a nuclear power state.
Indeed September 11 attack was an awful experience and humiliation for the United States and changed many precepts in international relations including prevailing conceptions on war, terror, religion, radicalism etc. We shall not attempt here to trace the dubious account of the creation and support of Afghan Mujahedeen including Taliban- since, it is now well known that they were recruited and equipped while studying in Pakistani religious schools (Madrassa) during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980s. It is believed that Pakistan’s army intelligence is the godfather of Taliban. Surprisingly, the same forces are now tasked to carry on the new American strategy against Taliban in that country.
American invasion of Afghanistan to topple the self-invented Taliban, who had ousted Russians from their land, momentarily, satisfied Washington’s desire for revenging Al-Qaeda. But, the United States and its allies in the NATO failed to understand the nature of the threat and characteristics of their enemies. Taliban only represented a radical idea of traditional Islam and a culture that cannot be defeated by naked force.
The collapse of the Soviet empire and the decline of communism in the last decade of the 20th century led to the resurgence of dormant ideologies imbedded with religions inspired rigid traditionalism, especially in the Middle East. The fact of the matter is that religious motivated movements have been so far able to free occupied territories and to fight against powerful countries for people liberation by using tactics which is labeled “terrorism” for simplicity. In such case the freedom fighters or liberation movements sought justification for their operations via the attainment of a legitimate cause. For example, the Algerian struggle for independence turned into terrorism, once the rebel armies were virtually beaten in the field by the French forces. It was only after recourse to such activities that French military might in Algeria came to its knees.
The Moslem Shiite Militia in South Lebanon pushed the Israelis out of their occupied land through harshest “terrorist” activities. Afghan Moslem Mujahedeen (Taliban), too fought a Superpower (USSR) through guerrilla warfare and “terrorist operations” in occupied Afghanistan. They caused the most trouble to Moscow, as did North Vietnamese to the United States.
Surprisingly, after so many years of fighting and subjugation, Taliban are now on the move anew against NATO forces in Afghanistan, considered as enemy and occupiers. Taliban have already demonstrated that they can achieve disproportionately large effects with a relatively small number and limited capacity for violence. More recently in Pakistan, they have caused widespread alarm, compelling governments with a clear preponderance of conventional military power to negotiate with them, to grant them concessions or simply to back down with humiliation.
Urban guerrilla warfare, low-level violence or mob actions directed by religious groups are dimensions of ideological conflicts and revolutionary theories which now manifest in form of domestic and international terrorism. Dissidents of tyrant leaders and dictatorial regimes find their voice heard and their cause achieved through what we call "terrorism" for sake of simplicity, but they consider it legitimate “jihad” or just struggle against the infidels and their enemies.
Religiously inspired terrors are understandably more ferocious and crueler than mere political violence’s or mob actions. When for example, martyrdom is considered as a grace and blessing of God, a Moslem extremist and dedicated believer can easily risk his life in a suicidal attack in order to do damage to his ideological opponents. The resurgence of the Islamic fundamentalist movement in the Middle-East whose participants preach total devotion and submission to the will of God, and negation of earthly materialism, is indeed a crucial development of our time which is capable of destabilizing the international system and world order.
There is no doubt that Pakistan army is powerful enough to cause extensive damage to the so-called Taliban. But, one should understand that they are only fighting a concept; a tradition and culture which happen to be more visible in that country. The collateral damages of recent offensive are unfortunately very high and in breach of the accepted norms and 1949 Geneva Conventions and related 1977 additional protocols. The consequences of this policy will be very costly for the region and for the American as well. Since, those who are familiar with tribal character and strict Moslem traditions, realize that this fratricide will only deepen the hatred and enmity among people of this country and the West for generations.
Fighting Taliban with hard power, i.e. force of guns, artillery and fighter planes will surely not solve the problem; neither in Pakistan, Afghanistan or anywhere else. Americans and their allies should realize this bitter fact that they are fighting an idea and not a group of devoted people who could regenerate itself through time and more ferociously. They must search for avenues to cope with intolerance and fanaticism in this hostile region. They should find appropriate ways and means to neutralize that idea through education, cultural change and economic development. Otherwise, the world will experience much worse condition in the future. /
Ali Asghar Kazemi is Professor of Law and International Relations in Tehran-Iran.