Here is a summary of Elizabeth Rubin's excellent article, “In the Land of the Taliban” in the October 22, 2006 edition of the New York Times Magazine . Rubin's intent is to try to understand how and why the Taliban were making a comeback five years after they were driven from power....
• Mullah Omar and his followers formed the Taliban in 1994 to bring justice to Afghanistan and fight predatory warlords. In the eyes of many Taliban supporters, these regional warlords have re-established themselves under the Karzai government, with American financing, to fill the power vacuum that coalition forces and fledging Karzai government are unable to fill.
• Taliban (also labeled as Anti-Coalition Militias – ACMs) are using propaganda extensively not only in Afghanistan but also Pakistan in order to garner support. Video disk and tapes in the markets invoke the nostalgia for the jihad against the Russians and inspire the viewers to now rise up again against the new invaders – the US and NATO. Turning today’s Taliban fighters into the folk heroes of yesterday.
• From 1994 to 2001, the Taliban were a cloistered clique with little interest in global affairs. Today they are far more sophisticated and outward looking. They are no longer concerned with just districts or provinces. Now they have links with other networks. While the current Afghan insurgency is still fueled by local grievances and power struggles, the propaganda and Taliban links now place their struggle within the larger struggle of the Muslim “umma” against the West. And are reputedly receiving support from Arabs – not only in terms o money but also in terms of IED tactics and procedures.
• While it is not clear whether Afghans really want the return of the Taliban but Afghans are fed up with the corruption of the warlords that are now in power and having their homes searched by Coalition forces with their young men rounded up in the name of a counterinsurgency. Many Afghans say that under the Taliban:
o Police officers and other government officials did not commit rape but pursued law and order.
o Ban on poppy growth was enforced – 2006 crop was the largest –6,1000 metric tons compared with 4,100 last year. Legitimate job holders (school teachers, govt clerks, etc.) took off from work to help harvest the crop – earning $12 a day versus $2 a day for wheat. Profits filter up through the local, provincial and national levels.
o Economics is driving the people and the Taliban to promote the poppy industry – warlords want their take. Both Afghan and Pakistani border police are paid off as opium and heroin is moved into Pakistan.
• While in the eyes of the Afghan smuggler, the US has turned a blind eye to the drug trade, Iran has steadily cranked up its drug war but the free flow of trade (both of drugs and guns) continues.
• Ethnicity plays a role – Pushtuns who have two main branches see Karzai’s Durrani tribe as the dominant ruling elite of both the Taliban and certain warlords. The Ghilzai are the ones who are being persecuted. The Taliban are playing on these ethnic schism and perception between “haves” and “have nots” to garner support.
• The new Taliban fighters are of three types – the old addicted jihadist second generation Afghan refugees (madrassa students mainly); young taliban that had jobs and prestige but now have nothing. Additionally old competitors are coming together in much the same way as the different mujahedin factions came together to fight the Russians. Mullah Omar named a 10 man leadership council and continues to consolidate groups from throughout the country but allegedly using Quetta in Pakistan as their base of operations and support.
• Many reasons why Pakistan may want to assist the Taliban – Disputes over the Durand Line that separates Pashtun tribes; supporting the Taliban allows Musharraf to appease the religious parties who support extension of his presidency; privileged military class in Pakistan want to retain power but also have a strong religious affiliation that causes them to have suspicion of the US and Afghanistan.
• Musharraf’s attempts to gain control Waziristan has been unsuccessful – elders supportive of the Pakistan Government have been killed; Taliban still provided sanctuary; attacks from Waziristan into Afghanistan have increased 300%.
• Musharraf must balance his role as a leader of a Muslim nation; desire to bring Kashmir into the fold; remain a check against Indian expansion of influence in Afghanistan; and, balance the US-Pakistan relationship with his domestic constituency. Pakistan and its leaders must look beyond both Karzai and American presence and support the jihad and their ability to control the region.
Conclusion: All players use the ungoverned spaces to Pashtun areas to their advantage. Each player has their own goals and loose alliances appear and disappear.