Sorry...We misunderstood you!

The recent study entitled ‘Separating The Taliban from Al-Qaida’ of the Center on International Cooperation, New York University, authored by the two editors of “My Life with the Taliban” a memoir of an ex-diplomat of the Taliban government, is apparently an ‘academic /field research’ project. But in essence, this study comes across as propaganda to influence international perceptions (mainly the American audience) about the Taliban to facilitate a quick and hasty withdrawal of the international community from Afghanistan. Quick withdrawals without a cohesive transition have been the root cause of the perpetual cycle of conflict in Afghanistan. The study comes with a message that “Actually, the Taliban are misunderstood, so we need to pack and leave, and let the Afghans deal with the mess that we have created for them since it’s none of our national security business”.

Although, one would not find anything new in this study but this adds to the ongoing propaganda guised in the name of research and study, it is entirely a political drama. While the study can be questioned for its credibility as its seen as a one-sided commentary based on some anonymous interviews of alleged Taliban members, the evidence for such an important claim ‘Separation of Taliban from Al-Qaida’ has come to little in this study.

What is more pathetic about this study is the portrayal that the entire confrontation, insurgency and counter insurgency is merely a clash between the Taliban and the West - mainly the United States of America. The study deliberately overlooks the price that Afghans have paid and continue to pay with their lives fighting extremism and terror. This week, the Afghanistan Rights Monitor reported that only in 2010, Afghanistan lost over 700 children in different incidents and violence. These children were not even active combatants nor their perceptions about enemy had formed, but they lost their lives in their struggle to survive in Afghanistan.

In its key findings based on numerous interviews with anonymous Taliban commanders and members, the authors claim that ‘ Taliban and Al-Qaida remain distinct groups with different goals, ideologies, and sources of recruits; there was considerable friction between then before September 11,2001 , and today that friction persists’.

What difference does this analysis make for the lost lives of 3,000 people in the Twin Towers attack? Or for the lost life of the seven-year old child who was executed in Helmand and remained hung on the tree for the crime of ‘spying for the international forces'? Even though, the two groups might be geographically distinct, they feed each other’s objective to spread terror and extremism. The manifestation of such conviction might defer in the doctrine of Taliban and Al-Qaida so while the former behead the teachers and blow off schools in Afghanistan, the latter explode metros and train stations in Madrid or London. What is the ‘distinction’ being claimed by this study between the two forms of terror?

While the roots of Taliban formation was a product of post- Cold War civil unrest in Afghanistan, the movement turned into a contaminated objective of Pakistani intelligence to insert Pakistan’s ‘strategic depth’ interests in Afghanistan. If the Afghan population has been passive in resisting this exported insurgency, it has to do more with the failures of international forces to protect the civilians and a national government that has lost its definition for national security or threats against national security.

The failure to question the external support for the movement and declaring it as home-grown and only restricted to Afghanistan is a major weakness of this study. The authors realize that the moment they start unpacking the external support on the Taliban movement, they would go against the very essence of what are they claiming , separation of Taliban from Al-Qaida.

The study further misguides the dynamics of peace and reconciliation processes currently ongoing in Afghanistan by highlighting the ‘ core grievances and political inequalities’ that gave birth to the insurgency and ignoring the crimes and atrocities carried by the militants against the people of Afghanistan in all parts of the country. History reveals not only in Afghanistan but throughout the world that if a peace process does not address the issues of justice, the unjust peace perpetuates the status quo and will continue the vicious cycle of violence. The kind of ‘soft approach’ towards insurgency being preached through this study has already created a sense of disillusionment and agony among the security forces in Afghanistan. While thousands of Afghanistan National Army and Police are deployed to ‘secure’ the population centers around the country, the same Army and Police become disenchanted when their arrested militants are freed without a due process through the political interventions, who in turn re-join insurgency and kill more police and army. Not to mention the inconsistency of paradigms and approaches at work in Afghanistan, while a fierce counter-insurgency is taking momentum with body counts as its success indicators, a political reconciliation distracts military gains. Afghan population is confused more than ever on where to place themselves in a tyranny of ‘fight and talk’.

Afghanistan has been the subject of ongoing international experiments and studies, but it is increasingly becoming clear that these forms of analysis only serve the purposes of the powerful fronts. Through such exhibitions, Afghans are told what to expect to happen in their homeland and they continue bearing the brunt of such decisions that are taken miles away.

A relative of Hamida Barmaki who lost her life and five other members of her family in a terrorist attack in Kabul in late January said, “If the international forces are fighting with air bombs, drones and tanks, we are fighting this war with our lives by not compromising and complying to the rules of the extremists and militants who want us to live in the stone age and remain illiterate for generations to come. Hamida Barmaki, the law professor, and a human rights advocate and Commissioner fought extremism through her work and activism, so who is actually fighting this war and who should dictate the rules of the war”?..... A question being asked by many Afghans but they continue being at the receiving end of their life decisions.