June 24, 2014:
In Afghanistan the Taliban have ignored heavy losses and the inability to carry out a successful warm-weather offensive for over a decade. Worse, heavy losses have persuaded many pro-Taliban tribal leaders to try and negotiate peace with the government. Yet the senior leadership (safe since 2002 in Quetta, a city in southwest Pakistan just across the border from Helmand province) refuse to consider making peace. The official reason is the belief that after the foreign troops are gone (most by 2014, the Americans by 2016) the various other tribes (Tadjik, Uzbek and Hazara) will not be able to remain united and the Pushtuns, led by the Taliban, will take back control. Taliban leaders inside Afghanistan don’t see any serious lack of unity among the other tribes (who comprise 60 percent of the population and an even higher portion of the military personnel) and remain with the Taliban because it pays well. That is the case because the Taliban income grows with the amount of activity by the gangs that produce and export opium and heroin. The drug gangs have some armed men on the payroll but their most formidable weapon is cash. The gangs bribe anyone who might interfere with business and only call on the Taliban (or other armed groups on the payroll) to apply force to prevent some hard ass official from threatening what produces so much cash for so many people.
In addition to their cut of the drug business, the Taliban have established themselves as regular gangsters as well with growing income from extortion and protection (payments from tribes and businesses to protect them from Taliban attack). The more pragmatic Taliban leaders don’t care what the old men in Pakistan are hallucinating about as long as the money keeps coming and there are no major threats to this ancient way of life. The foreign troops were definitely a threat, but there were not enough of them and there were plenty of government officials and security force (army and police) commanders willing to take a bribe. It was still dangerous, but with the foreign troops gone it is a lot less dangerous.
Where does this leave all the Taliban religious baggage? It’s still there but diluted more and more by even more powerful urges to get rich, get high, get laid or simply get your way. The Taliban religious baggage is the exception while greed is still the rule.