[News] The Taliban: Who are they? Why are they fighting?
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
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.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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