As NATO troops leave Afghanistan, writes national security scholar Abbas (South and Central Asia Program/National Defense Univ.; Pakistan's Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army and America's War on Terror, 2005, etc.) in this provocative study, they leave the Taliban increasingly back in charge.
There was a time that the Taliban was not such a nefarious organization, providing a means of “stabilizing the war-torn land of Afghanistan.” Since it was built around the triad of “power, dogma, and money,” the Taliban draws on long-running trends in the history and ethnic traditions of a region that was among the last in South Asia to convert to Islam but that has since embraced it with a peculiar zeal—even if theirs is an Islam that matches the most conservative elements of the religion with a mistrust of all things foreign. Yet, by the author’s account, there are differences between traditional Pashtunwali and the ideologies of today: The Taliban is bound up not just with al-Qaida, but also with criminal elements. Where it was once said that the Taliban cleaned up the heroin trade in Afghanistan, in fact, the group has bound up the trade. Enabling it all is Pakistan’s military establishment, which finds advantage in its neighbor’s instability. There are some ironies in all this. Abbas, for instance, notes that though drone strikes fuel anti-American hatred, they are also met with quiet support on the part of moderate Pashtuns, largely due to the fact that the drone program “accomplishes what they and the Pakistani security forces could not achieve.” Abandoning Afghanistan entirely, Abbas argues, will likely deliver power to the Taliban again; he urges that the United States instead abandon an interest in precisely who holds power and instead support good governance, while expanding educational aid programs to Pakistan to combat “ignorance and bigotry, the two fundamental planks of the Taliban ideology.”
Important reading for students of geopolitics and Central Asian affairs.