What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Decoding the Taliban: Two books (research note, updated, already)

I shall mention two books here that I have recently read, and which are equally important to understand the Taliban movement, both that of old, and that of the newer Taliban. To illustrate their worth, I will point out seven things that I learned from them. All are important pieces of the overall puzzle which we are only slowly, gradually able to put together (those who are trying). The first three discussion points are from Kamal Matinuddin's 1999 book, The Taliban Phenomenon: Afghanistan 1994-1997 (published by Oxford University Press). The rest come from the more recent publication, edited by Antonio Giustozzi, Decoding the New Taliban: Insights from the Afghan Field - rightly praised so widely as it is for its many excellent chapters.
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1. While the Kandahari taliban may have thought of themselves as a distinct group of likeminded people, in fact Haqqani's or Hekmatyar's recruits, as well as even Ahmed Shah Massoud's, who came from madrasas, were taliban, in the sense that they had madrasa studies behind them. That should be stressed in order to see peculiarity in how distinct the Kandahari taliban fronts' members saw themselves apparently from the rest of those fighting around them (based on Abdul Salaam Zaeef's recent book), even while they did not see themselves so distinct from other taliban (of HiG and other tanzeems) that they trained together with in Pakistan, back in the 1980s.
2. As to under whose authority the Kandahari taliban were fighting in the 1980s, the best answer seems to me to be that they were connected to several of the Islamist factions active in the south. To Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and Khalis, for example. Mullah Omar may have been connected to both. At the end of his participation in the anti-Soviet jihad he is said to have handed in ammunition and weapons to Sayyaf's men, but he was also well connected to Yunus Khalis' faction of Hizb-i-Islami, as it was HiK commander Haji Isa Khan's son, Haji Bashir Noorzai (his name is often transcribed as Haji Bashar), who gave them logistical assistance and weapons to be able to take on warlords in their area in 1994. (Remember Haji Bashir's story - he is in prison in the U.S. now.)
3. My above conclusion may seem to be confirmed in that the Taliban's early top cadres were a mixture of people affiliated with either HiK or Sayyaf's Ittihad-i-Islami. Kamal Matinuddin names as key early joiners the following: Shaikh Haji Moawin Mullah Mohammad Rabbani, Haji Mullah Mohammad Shahid, Shaikh Mullah Mohammad Hassan, Mullah Borjan and Haji Amir Mohammad Agha from HiK; Shaikh Nuruddin Turabi, Ustad Sayaf, Mullah Abbas, Shaikh Mullah Mohammad Sadiq and Shaikh Abdul Salaam Rocketi from Sayyaf's Ittihad. (See an earlier post on this blog about Abdul Salaam Rocketi; on the basis of that I don't believe Matinuddin is correct in naming him as one of the founders of the Taliban, but there may have been another Abdul Salaam, also from Zabul, just like "Rocketi," among the actual founders and this may have led to this misunderstanding. Perhaps this founding-member "Abdul Salaam" was Abdul Salaam Zaeef in reality; that would make sense based on what I know.) As to the organisation of the launching of the movement, the story here is told differently than in Abdul Salaam Zaeef's book - and my suspicion is that Abdul Salaam Zaeef's book is the superior account in fact. It suggests intensive networking in advance by many "travelling envoys" of the proto-movement, while Kamal Matinuddin cites the better known (but ultimately less realistic) explanations based on accumulating grievances and even on magical dreams either Omar or others may have had, guiding Mullah Omar in his decision and attempt to collect men against a brutal warlord nearby. (Outrage over what was going on in Kandahar at the time was important in mobilisation, of course, but the organising force had to be more than just the anger of some men.)
4. All the Uzbeks settled in Waziristan may not be originally from the IMU, as it could be comfortable to imagine. Many of the Uzbeks fighting nowadays with the IMU, the Taliban or other factions seem to have come from Dostum's force. Some suggest that they may have left it at the time when Dostum turned against the "Communist" government of Najibullah, having been its ally earlier on. I wouldn't say all the details of this, or even the logic of this, are clear to me, but I have a feeling that this is plausible, and I may be missing a detail that would even make it make clearer sense. The hint, regarding this, in the footnotes, that some of Dostum's men were actually trapped in 1991 in Khost, when the town fell to mujahideen, and that they may have ended up in South Waziristan, could be part of such an explanation. (This change of sides, if it happened, is in a way reminiscent of how many former communists, people who were organised into the Taliban movement back in 1994/1995, joined it from among Pashtun (Afghan) army officers of the Khalqi faction - with some networking assistance from people like Hamid Gul and, if one takes Hamid Gul's word on this, even British diplomat Sir Nicholas Barrington, the UK's Ambassador/High Commissioner in Afghanistan in 1987-1994, and co-author of this book.) The Uzbeks' fate is ironic, again, if the above described thesis is true: on a number of occasions some of them may have been directly fighting Rashid Dostum's JeM forces during the Taliban's advance to the north later on.
5. Naseerullah Babar, Pakistan's interior minister under Benazir Bhutto at the time when the Taliban put up their first checkpoint on the Herat-Kandahar road, in Hawz-e-Mudat, the guy who was among the first to see the chance for a new policy in partnering with the Taliban (before the ISI, actually), was also part of training Afghan Islamist forces for the first Islamist (sort-of) uprising against Kabul, back in 1975.
6. Saifurrahman Mansoor, a leader of the still potent Mansoor network active in Loya Paktia, was the one leading a mix of his own and foreign fighters' stiff resistance against Operation Enduring Freedom forces that descended on their turf in Operation Anaconda, back in 2002. Time wrote about this back in 2002, but it was only after reading Thomas Ruttig's chapter on Loya Paktia's insurgency, where he devotes a long section to "the Mansoor network," that I came to understand the significance of this faction on its own (even while it may have declined by today).
7. Finally, I will also add an important detail to my picture about mullah Omar's life. Earlier on I wasn't certain (because of contradicting accounts) whether he was from Uruzgan or from Kandahar. Now the author writing under the alias Abdul Awwal Zabulwal (from Zabul) seems to clarify this for good, stating (on page 180) that mullah Omar's family was originally from Shinkai district in Zabul province, and that they later moved to Uruzgan where Omar was born. (And based on what I know from elsewhere, his birthplace must have been the Deh Rawod area there, perhaps Deh Rawod proper.)
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These are the books that enlightened me on all of the above:

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