An Interview: The Taliban’s Long View - 07-11-2012, 05:03 AM
By ALISSA J. RUBINThe Taliban are prepared to accept less than full control over Afghanistan after American troops leave, but are still fighting to play a major role in the country’s future, according to an interview with a senior Taliban commander in which he lays out the movement’s long-term political views.
The wide-ranging interview will appear in full in the July 12 edition of the British political magazine New Statesman. The edition was guest-edited by the British Labour Party politician David Miliband, a former foreign minister who has been a proponent of a political process in Afghanistan that would give the Taliban, along with other groups, a place at the table in determining the country’s path.
The interview was conducted by Michael Semple, a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights at the Kennedy School at Harvard and one of the leading authorities on Pashtun politics, the Taliban and reconciliation. Mr. Semple was asked to leave Afghanistan by the Afghan government in 2007 when serving as a diplomat there for the European Union after he and another diplomat met with some Taliban leaders to explore peace talks.
Mr. Semple’s article quotes a man he describes as a “veteran Taliban commander” and “confidant” of the Taliban leadership and covers considerable ground, including the type of government the Taliban envision in the future here.
The commander is not identified by name because the Taliban keep a tight leash on any public statements, but Mr. Semple says that he has verified the man’s identity and background and believes the man gives a “faithful account of how he and his Taliban colleagues view the current situation.”
The Taliban are an increasingly factionalized movement, and it is hard to judge how widely this particular commander’s views are held. But the interviewee’s tone and comments are consistent with public statements by the Taliban, although those tend to be less candid, more oblique and more filled with rhetoric. Perhaps most interesting, the commander, whom Mr. Semple calls Maulvi, an Islamic honorific, describes without bombast or grandstanding the Taliban’s complete lack of regard for the current Afghan government.
The quotes that follow are from the full interview, provided to The New York Times and The Guardian.
On Al Qaeda, which the American and the Afghan governments have long demanded that the Taliban renounce, the commander says most Taliban no longer have any brief for the group. The only reason they have not broken with them publicly, he says, is that the Taliban view breaking off relations as something they will need to explain to some of their supporters. While the commander does not mention fund-raising as a reason, reports from the American military suggest that a portion of Taliban financing comes from donors in Arab countries who support Al Qaeda.
“At least 70 percent of the Taliban are angry at Al Qaeda,” Maulvi said. “Originally, the Taliban were naïve and ignorant of politics and welcomed Al Qaeda into their homes.
“Part of the problem with Al Qaeda was that the Afghans around Jalalabad are in the habit of welcoming everyone who comes. They do an attan [Pashtun dance] for them. To tell the truth, I was relieved at the death of Osama. Through his policies, he destroyed Afghanistan. If he really believed in jihad he should have gone to Saudi Arabia and done jihad there, rather than wrecking our country.”
On reconciliation, it appears that the Taliban are still a long way from the bargaining table. The commander says that while the Taliban do not have a realistic hope of retaking Kabul, they have no intention of giving up the fight and believe that they will gradually become one of the strongest factions in the country.
“The Taliban believe that they are obliged to fight for a certain period to gain acceptance as a power that people have to deal with,” he said. “They also believe that over time they will become stronger than the Karzai regime.”
In particular, he said the Taliban had no interest in negotiating with the government of President Hamid Karzai, which they view as a tool of the Americans and lacking any indigenous legitimacy.
“The Taliban have observed that NATO does everything to prop up the Karzai regime,” Maulvi said. “The regime’s political power is entirely dependent on the military backing provided by NATO.”
“The Kabul regime has no authority in the issues that matter in a war — power and control of the armed forces,” he said. “There is little point in talking to Kabul. Real authority rests with the Americans.”
And when it comes to joining the political system, he said, the Taliban believe it is the Americans who control the outcome, giving them little incentive to strive to become part of it.
“Under the current system, we believe it is basically the Americans who get to pick the president,” Maulvi said.
- Malcolm X
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