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Posted by on Jul 12, 2009 in International, Politics, Religion, War | 3 comments

Can we divide the Taliban?

The experts’ views are diametrically opposed. As far as I can tell, there is no partisan element to this disagreement. In Foreign Affairs [subscription only], Fotini Christia and Michael Semple write:

The idea that large groups of armed men bent on killing Americans and other Westerners can be persuaded to change sides may seem fanciful at first. But it is not — at least not in Afghanistan. After continuing uninterrupted for more than 30 years, war in Afghanistan has developed its own peculiar rules, style, and logic. One of these rules is side with the winner. Afghan commanders are not cogs in a military machine but the guardians of specific interests — the interests of the fighters pledged to them and of the tribal, religious, or political groups from which these men are recruited…Thus in Afghanistan, battles have often been decided less by fighting than by defections. Changing sides, realigning, flipping — whatever one wants to call it — is the Afghan way of war.

In contrast, Gilles Dorronsoro of the Carnegie Endowment insists,

While it is true that the
Taliban have multiple commanders, some with “star” quality that may suggest internal rivalry, this does not mean that the Taliban are inchoate or divisible. The Taliban’s structure is resilient: centralized enough to be efficient, but flexible and diverse enough to adapt to local contexts…

The Taliban are not confused or in conflict over who is in charge in a particular district or province. Foreign observers recalling Iraq may wishfully imagine exploiting competition or infighting among Taliban commanders, but the fissures are not there.

Don’t look at me. I don’t know who’s right.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly