Winning: Taliban Fight Each Other Over Traditions


July 9, 2007: In Afghanistan, even the radicals are having problems with their radicals. The Taliban are undergoing something of a civil war, and it's all about tribal traditions. The Taliban, on both sides of the border, are basically political manifestations of traditional Pushtun tribal culture. That is, very conservative, especially when it comes to the treatment of women and in religious matters. Not all Pushtun tribes share the very conservative attitudes espoused by the Taliban. In fact, the reason why the Taliban is now a struggling minority is because so many more moderate (or less radical) Pushtun tribes have rejected the Taliban ideas. But even among the Taliban true believers, there are moderates and radicals, and that has led to a growing civil war within the Taliban.

It breaks down like this. The moderates believe that Afghanistan should be ruled by a Taliban that followed traditional Pushtun customs. This means restricting the killing to adult males, and honoring the duty to protect guests and tribal elders. The Taliban radicals are more influenced by al Qaeda, which many Pushtuns see as an alien, and somewhat evil, influence. The Taliban radicals believe it is OK to kill women and children (especially when it involves the use of suicide bombs), and that tribal elders and chiefs are fair game if they don't agree with you. Thus, in the past two years, over a hundred tribal chiefs and elders have been killed, mostly in Pakistan (where most of the Taliban support it).

All this has gone beyond mere disagreement. The Taliban moderates (or "traditionalists") believe their radical foes have turned into homicidal maniacs. The radicals, in turn, see their less bloodthirsty Pushtun brethren as weak and not up to the task. All those dead chiefs and elders have generated dozens of nasty blood feuds. This is making it more difficult for the Taliban to keep operations going. The much publicized "Spring Offensive" was a bust partly because the Taliban could not get enough of their people across the border and into Afghanistan. Too many Taliban were still back in Pakistan, fighting other Taliban, or non-Taliban Pushtuns.

The consensus among tribal and political leaders on both sides of the border is that the Taliban radicals are going to be the agents of their own destruction. The terrorism works, up to a point. But if you antagonize enough of your fellow tribesmen, you will find yourself up against impossible odds. In Pakistan, the government is capitalizing on this by providing artillery and air support to tribes, or tribal factions, that will take on the Taliban. Same thing on the other side of the border, except that the Afghan and foreign troops will go after the Taliban directly. That's why the recent "Spring Offensive" was more about NATO troops conducting a grand hunt for Taliban gunmen, and killing over a thousand of them.


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