[News] The Taliban: Who are they? Why are they fighting?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Aug 13 10:56:49 EDT 2009

The Taliban: Who are they? Why are they fighting? And what will make them stop?


August 13, 2009 By Ian Sinclair

If you take some time to consider the 22 Taliban that were killed by 
the US-led coalition in Afghanistan on 10 July according to an 
Associated Press report, chances are you are probably imagining a 
group of fanatical, irrational, medieval-minded men hell bent on 
destroying the very foundations of Western civilisation.

Or at least that is what Western propaganda would have you 
believe.  But is this an accurate, or useful, description of those 
people violently resisting British forces on the ground in 
Afghanistan or merely a simplistic demonisation of the official state 
enemy?  Indeed, it seems to me the very word 'Taliban' has become a 
reductive, disparaging catch-all that successfully limits debate 
about exactly who the British Army are fighting - and killing - in 
Helmand province.

Thousands of miles away from the war zone, British politicians are 
keen on trotting out the line that 'our brave boys' are in 
Afghanistan to protect the population from the Taliban.  However, as 
Jason Burke, arguably the British journalist with the most expertise 
in the area, notes, "the tougher truth is that the Taliban, almost 
exclusively composed of the Pashtun tribes who comprise at least 40% 
of the country's population, are an integral part of the Afghan 
people."  This inconvenient fact was well illustrated by Fazel 
Muhammad, a member of a district council to the west of Kandahar, who 
told the New York Times in June that about 80 percent of insurgents 
were local people.

So what is motivating these people to attack British forces? Speaking 
to me last year, James Fergusson, a freelance journalist who has 
travelled to Afghanistan several times and met members of the Taliban 
in 2007, explained that those fighting British forces have "a large 
variety of reasons and motivations and it's a complex patchwork and 
it's always changing."

However, Fergusson's own discussion with a Taliban Lieutenant 
strongly hints at the main motivation of many of the insurgents. Deep 
in Wardak province, the articulate Afghan turned to the British 
reporter and pointedly asked, "Supposing thousands of Afghans had 
invaded your country, and bombed your villages and killed your wives 
and children, what would you do?" Strangely this analysis is broadly 
supported by none other than the former British Secretary of Defence 
Des Browne, who argued over three years ago that "the very act of 
deployment into the south has energised the Taliban".

Complementing Fergusson's and Browne's evidence is an illuminating 
poll of Taliban fighters in Kandahar, conducted by the Canadian Globe 
and Mail newspaper in 2007. Speaking to 42 insurgents, the survey 
found the typical Taliban foot soldier battling Canadian troops and 
their allies "is not a global Jihadist who dreams of some day waging 
war on Canadian soil" but a young man who knows someone "killed by a 
bomb dropped from the sky" and "fervently believes that expelling the 
foreigners will set things right in his troubled countries."

The Globe and Mail's findings jar uneasily with Gordon Brown's 
assertion that Britain has to fight in Afghanistan "to prevent 
terrorism coming to the streets of Britain." As Rory Stewart, the 
former-Coalition Deputy Governor of Maysan province in Iraq who is 
currently running an NGO in Kabul, argued in the Guardian this week, 
"The idea that we are there so we don't have to fight terrorists in 
Britain is absurd... the people the Americans and British are 
fighting in Afghanistan are mostly local tribesman resisting foreign forces."

Perhaps most surprising - at least for those who receive information 
about the war solely from the mainstream media - is the news the 
Taliban have been pushing for a negotiated settlement, a course of 
action supported by 64% of Afghans according to a BBC/ABC poll 
published earlier this year. The Taliban and other insurgent groups 
have been talking to intermediaries about a potential peace 
agreement, reported the New York Times recently, with their first 
demand the withdrawal of all foreign forces in Afghanistan over the 
next 18 months. This would be followed by the appointment 
of  transitional government comprised of a range of Afghan leaders 
(including Taliban leaders), the introduction of a peace-keeping 
force drawn predominantly from Muslim nations and, when Western 
forces have left, nationwide elections.

With the extent of public support for the war currently a matter of 
intense public debate, seeing our 'enemy' in Afghanistan as human 
beings with rational concerns and legitimate grievances can only 
damage the Government's increasingly unpopular case for the 
continuing occupation. Only when people begin to ignore the deluge of 
Government and military propaganda pouring out of their newspapers, 
televisions and radios will they clearly see that the escalation of 
the conflict ordered by President Obama can only lead to more 
civilian deaths and refugees, an increase in the terrorist threat to 
the West and, most disturbingly, act as a successful recruiter for 
the very people the US and UK are fighting to defeat.

*An edited version of this article recently appeared in the Morning Star.

Ian Sinclair is a freelance writer based in London, 
UK.  <mailto:ian_js at hotmail.com>ian_js at hotmail.com.

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