It’s good to be the Taliban

Published November 29, 2015
The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

AFGHANISTAN is back in the news and you’ve heard the boys’ version. They want to make peace happen, but there’s only so much they can do.

The Taliban aren’t our puppets. We can’t just tell them what to do. And the Afghan government won’t listen to us. They are unreasonable. There’s only so much we can do.

We mean well. Give us time. Help us help you. Trust us.

It’s a good story. The Americans seem to politely agree. The Chinese are sympathetic too. Possibly because there’s some truth to it. More likely because they don’t have a choice — keep your eye on the prize, nod in sympathy, gently nudge along.

Man, it’s good to be the Taliban.

Think of it this way. If it’s all true, have the Taliban played us for patsies or what? Look at all that they’ve got from us in just the recent years.


If you could dream of a partner, there isn’t one better — with more advantage and less cost to yourself — than the Afghan Taliban have found in Pakistan.


We gave them sanctuary to survive the onslaught of the superpower surge. Mullah O — the fabled Mullah O who would rather die than leave his beloved Afghanistan — died in the best hospital in the biggest city we have.

Then, when he died getting the best medical care Pakistani rupees can buy, we helped maintain the lie about his death. Because, y’know, it could hurt T morale just when they really needed it in Afghanistan.

And all of that before the real kick to the head. When news of Mullah O’s dead is leaked to the world, we dive deep into the Taliban rabbit hole to keep the T united. Because a broken Taliban would be easier to fight militarily and manipulate politically.

So the new guy — Mullah Mansour — and his buddies are allowed to hold court in Quetta. None of that clandestine business even; right there in plain sight. Somehow, we convince the outside world, minus the Afghan government, to look the other way and not to pay too much attention to the Afghan government’s protests.

Meanwhile, over in Afghanistan, the TTP types helpfully nudged out of Fata are helping the cause of the preferred Afghan Taliban. Challengers to the Mansour camp are being mowed down.

And now the second kick to the head — we can’t tell Mansour what to do. Because he does what’s in his interest. And the Taliban’s interests and the Pakistani interest are not symbiotic.

So months, weeks, days after we help Mansour get his dream job, it’s already gone to his head and he won’t listen to us. Though he was listening to us when he was No 2, though really No 1 because we and he knew Mullah O was dead.

And now we can’t just go over to his place and make him listen — because, well, we can’t. Not unless the Afghan government plays nice first.

Man, it’s good to be the Taliban.

We should just hand over the keys to our place to them — with their smarts, if the Afghan Taliban were running Pakistan, Kashmir would already be ours and Delhi would be begging us to conquer them.

And all of this for what? The Taliban are the greatest beneficiaries of the Pakistani paranoia about India — perhaps second only to the boys themselves.

If you could dream of a partner, there isn’t one better — with more advantage and less cost to yourself — than the Afghan Taliban have found in Pakistan.

Ah, but history is history, you’re thinking. There ain’t anyone who can do anything about it now. In the here and now, we did say that we would bring the Afghan Taliban to the table and we did.

It wasn’t our fault that the talks were sabotaged. Now, we are again saying we’ll make it happen, and it’s in everyone’s interest to make talks happen, so let’s listen to the folk who can make it happen — the boys here.

But those with longer memories and more sceptical minds could point to three things.

One, once upon a time, during the talks that led to the Geneva Accords, we did a familiar-sounding thing — what we said at the table was very different to what we were doing on the ground. Today’s Afghan-led, Afghan-owned echoes that Geneva lore of non-intervention, non-interference.

Two, you could not make up a better script for these talks than the Taliban have got. Had Murree-II gone ahead and some big concession been made without the world knowing Omar was dead it would have shattered the T’s credibility. Murree-I, perversely, helped flush out the secret the Taliban had trapped themselves inside of.

Now, Omar’s shadow is disappearing and the military push by Mansour has made the Taliban the quintessence of the strategy that is talk and fight — the gains on the battlefield will be reaped at the negotiating table. And the gains are huge. For the Taliban.

Three, we’ve alienated and diminished the one leader who represented a historic opportunity — Ashraf Ghani. Instead of partnering him — like the N-League wanted, but was brushed aside partly because of — we’ve weakened Ghani at home and diminished him abroad.

If peace was the real purpose and the only goal, the most obvious route would’ve been to create capital for Ghani to help him fend off the hawks at home. Instead, we’ve demanded he do more for us.

So, yeah, Afghanistan is back in the news — but change you can believe in? Wait until you see it.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2015

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