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Afghanistan: Government Aide Discusses Taliban, Insurgency

Suspected Taliban fighters captured in northern Afghanistan in 2002 ( June 6, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Najib Manalai is an adviser to Afghanistan's minister of culture and youth affairs and a frequent commentator on the Taliban and, more broadly, militancy in Afghanistan. Manalai spoke recently with RFE/RL correspondent Muhammad Tahir. He discussed the Taliban and its subgroups, the current insurgency and its roots, and possible solutions to the ongoing violence.

RFE/RL: Who are the current Taliban?

Najib Manalai: Well, the Taliban are no longer a single group, one single entity. The Taliban, at first, were students -- Afghan students who traditionally wanted to study theology. In the beginning, they were a group of Afghans who had very good intentions after five years of anarchy in Afghanistan -- they just wanted to bring peace to Afghanistan. They were very popular. Then this movement was somehow hijacked by Pakistani intelligence services and by international terrorist groups. Now when we talk about the Taliban, we are talking about a kind of amalgam of different forces, such as people who are unhappy about government forces because they can't find their place in the present confederation of Afghan policies; people who are committed to other interests -- foreign interests, mainly from the Pakistani circle; and there are people with the fundamentalist ideology of the international Islamic movements. "The Taliban" is a composite of these components.

RFE/RL: You mean that currently they don't have any unified leadership?

Manalai: They don't have a unified leadership; but in truth they have leadership that is de facto leadership. As a matter of fact, people who are very active in the present day war situation in Afghanistan are those Taliban with ties to international terrorism. And they have leadership that is known as Al-Qaeda, with an agenda that is really a terrorist agenda. I think their objective is not to seize power in any country; they only want to destroy the existence of a system of references and values.

RFE/RL: Al-Qaeda is a known terrorist group. But we can see a difference between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in that the Taliban have ruled a country; they in fact had a regime in Afghanistan. But Al-Qaeda didn't. Now you say the Taliban are not seeking to take power. So what is the difference between these Taliban and those Taliban? What has changed?

Manalai: What I said is that the Taliban is a composite group. And some of them wanted a kind of representation of Islam in Afghanistan, and they have seized power for this purpose. In the beginning, they even pretended to hand over power to the king, because they didn't regard themselves as a political force in Afghanistan. When [Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence] got tangled up in Afghanistan's politics, they made this group a political group that was heading a government. But still, that government was a government based on Islamic roles and with very slight ideological charge. And then, in 1998 when [Osama] bin Laden was thrown out of Sudan and he came to Afghanistan, then Al-Qaeda took actual power in Afghanistan -- and Mullah [Mohammad] Omar was an image of power but not actual power. And what was important for Al-Qaeda was not that there was an Islamic government in Afghanistan but that there were 650,000 square kilometers of land where they could train their people for action anywhere in the world. So we see through history that those people who held power in Afghanistan and those who were behind the scenes leading this movement are not the same.

RFE/RL: At the beginning of our discussion, you mentioned that the Taliban is a composite of many groups. One of those groups, you said, is people who are unhappy with the government. If we take this part of your comment into account, we see many warlords who are also unhappy with the current government. Do you see any cooperation or links between the Taliban and those warlords?

Manalai: Actually, the issue of warlords is a different issue. Many warlords came to power [on the coattails] of the international coalition -- took power after the fall of Taliban. These people wielded power during the process of democratization [and] of establishing [the] central government, and now some of them have lost part of their power. Some of those people are linked with those who are engaged with the armed opposition -- globally, people call them Taliban. This is the best example of what I have said -- that all people are not Al-Qaeda, [or] Islamic fundamentalists, [or] genuine Taliban. There are people who just want to play a role in Afghan politics and they want to play this role through violent means.

RFE/RL: So under the current circumstances, it seems like a very complicated situation. So what are the ways to defeat these insurgents?

Manalai: Well, to defeat these people, the first thing is in my opinion to distinguish these three groups. Al-Qaeda is a group -- with them you can't reach any constructive result through dialogue...with these people. It's very hard to fight against them, but you have to fight them everywhere in the world. Another group -- which is led by foreign interests in Afghanistan -- to deal with them is very easy: You just go to the source of their power, their financing, their equipment and training; if you dry up their source of income, they will fall by themselves. The third group is genuine Afghans who lost their way in different circumstances throughout history. You can discuss with them, through discussion bring them to the democratic process of Afghanistan's reconstruction.

So as long as we don't differentiate [among these] three components of this big entity that we call the Taliban, we won't get very far in solving the current military situation in Afghanistan.

RFE/RL: We have heard a lot about foreign involvement in the reemerging Taliban insurgency. But Afghans themselves also have some role to play in that. So how can the Taliban attract ordinary people, many of whom say they are tired from 25 years of war in Afghanistan?

Manalai: Yes, why ordinary people welcome Taliban propaganda... I think the answer is very easy: When the Taliban [regime] was ousted from Afghanistan, Afghans had huge hope and expectations. And all these expectations didn't come true. We were hoping for economic developments, but there is no economic development. The international community tried to resolve the opium issue by destroying opium fields; but they didn't offer any alternative for the people who have been living on this means of income. We still do not have light industries in Afghanistan; Afghanistan is a consumer country. In a country where you don't have any local production -- except opium -- you cannot expect to eradicate opium and [make] people happy. So this is one reason.

And the other reason is the international forces who are present in Afghanistan. They came to Afghanistan, but they didn't try to understand the country. They came with Western formulas and they thought they would work in Afghanistan. And they [made] mistake after mistake -- bombing the wedding parties, for instance, killing innocent people. These are all things that could happen in a war, but when these things [happen] repeatedly and there is no readjustment of the action, it creates some [anxiety] in the population.

RFE/RL: As we analyze the situation in Afghanistan from abroad, reports are mostly based on fighting between Taliban and foreign coalition forces. Are you happy with the role that the Afghan government is playing in this fight?

TheAfghan government is part of a coalition, so I think the Afghan government plays its due part in this fight. But I am not happy with the situation, because if we want to win, we must "Afghanize" this war.... In five years, we have been unable to [create] a reliable Afghan National Army with the equipments it needs, with the level of training it needs, and with the people it needs. So during the last five years, we lost many [opportunities] to create a reliable Afghan National Army. Think about one thing: When NATO sends one soldier to Afghanistan -- and these soldiers are coming from European countries -- it costs, let's say, $10. But with these same $10 you can train, equip, and [deploy] maybe five to seven Afghan soldiers. So as long as we have not "Afghanized" this war, we will not win it. And these people who are coming from outside, they came only for a limited period of six to eight months, and they are also unfamiliar with the cultural situation of Afghanistan. But the Afghan guys, who were born and grew up in Afghanistan, could deal with all these potential cultural problems. So the first thing is to "Afghanize" the war.

The second thing is to distinguish among the enemies. There are some enemies to whom we will not speak, but there are some enemies that we can make friends if we speak to them. So why not speak to them? In my opinion, in the last five years the Afghan government has not used all [opportunities] to speak to them; and sometimes Afghan government is not responsible for this lack of communication. Misunderstanding of the Afghan situation by foreign assistance forces is one of the main factors that has led the Afghan government to not succeed.

The Afghan Insurgency

The Afghan Insurgency

A U.S. military vehicle damaged by insurgents near Kandahar (epa)

HOMEGROWN OR IMPORTED? As attacks against Afghan and international forces continue relentlessly, RFE/RL hosted a briefing to discuss the nature of the Afghan insurgency. The discussion featured Marvin Weinbaum, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and RFE/RL Afghanistan analyst Amin Tarzi.


Listen to the entire briefing (about 83 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media


RFE/RL's coverage of Afghanistan.


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