Winning: Taliban Tribulations


January 26, 2012: In Afghanistan the Taliban's past, and future, is catching up with it. Over the last year there have been an increasing number of battles between Taliban factions. This is happening on both sides of the border. On the Afghan side the Taliban have been under heavy and continuous attack for two years now. It's the same situation on the Pakistani side, even though the Taliban have two sanctuaries there (North Waziristan and Baluchistan). The North Waziristan sanctuary has been under constant attack by American UAVs armed with missiles. These have killed hundreds of key Taliban personnel and made North Waziristan seem more like a shooting gallery than a sanctuary (from the Pakistani military, which it is).

Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan (southwest Pakistan), has been a sanctuary for the Afghan Taliban leadership since 2001. But that leadership has grown out of touch with what is happening across the border in Afghanistan. There, several generations of leaders have been killed. The most recent replacements are inclined to be more violent (than the Quetta based bosses want) and independent minded in general. The drug gangs, which subsidize many Taliban factions, have noted this disconnect and have been more frequently working directly with Taliban middle management in Afghanistan. The senior Taliban in Quetta have tried using force (via more loyal factions in Afghanistan) to restore discipline but this has just created more Taliban-on-Taliban violence.

Finally, generational and tribal differences have also led to divisions within the Taliban. The Quetta leadership contains a lot of guys who were junior and middle-management in the 1980s, during the struggle against the Russians. Times have changed. NATO is much harder to fight than the Russians and the Quetta crowd has a hard time appreciating this. But the younger commanders also have a different attitude towards the modern world. While the Quetta leadership still believes that tradition is paramount, the younger leaders are more flexible. While still Islamic conservatives the young guys are more willing to blend the new with the traditional. That means forming tighter relationships with the drug gangs and a willingness to use force to oppose orders from Quetta to toe the party line.

Then there is tribalism. Most Taliban factions are based on allegiance to a tribe or clan. Increasingly, tribal disputes are being settled by Taliban factions from opposing tribes. Mixing tribal and Taliban politics has been very destructive for the Taliban.

NATO and the Afghan government (a coalition of anti-Taliban tribal leaders) have been exploiting these divisions and evolutions within the Taliban. Thus some tribes have convinced their Taliban branches to make deals with the government, for the sake of the tribe, and the sheer survival of the tribe-affiliated Taliban.

In the midst of all this turmoil the Taliban are also becoming more paranoid. The U.S. and NATO have been establishing informant networks for a decade now. The monetary and other rewards (like relocation outside Afghanistan) have been effectively tempting. The result is that the Taliban are less certain who they can trust. This makes it more difficult to keep the peace within the organization.

Finally, there's the realization by a growing number of Taliban leaders, especially those inside Afghanistan, that most Afghans hate the Taliban. This hurts, and has caused many lower level Taliban to reconsider their career choices.




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