Monday, May 04, 2009

Joshua Foust on Robert Kaplan

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(Image from Registan)

Joshua Foust over at his Registan blog takes issue with Robert Kaplan's Foreign Policy article that I commented upon and linked to yesterday. In particular, Foust dismisses the notion that the Taliban in any way signify Pashtun nationalism:
The Taliban are not an expression of Pashtun nationalism. As but one example, Abdulkader Sinno argues in excruciating depth that the Taliban were successful only because of their organization (and the disorganization of the mujahideen), and not necessarily because of their ideology or sense of nationalism. In fact, neither Afghan nor Pakistan Taliban are nationalist -- they are explicitly pan-Islamist. They want an Islamic State, not a Pashtun one (their ethnicity is merely how they are organized, not motivated).
Now that I think about the point, I realize that I ought to have recognized this myself. I've been reading about the Taliban since the 1990s, when they were relatively unknown but successfully bringing order to Afghanistan's chaos while also imposing their strict, Wahabi-funded version of Islam upon the areas that they had 'pacified.' I knew nothing then of an ethnic base to the movement, and the point made at that time was that this Islamist movement was being funded by Saudi Wahabists and organized by Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI. Or so I read in the papers that I was reading in those days, e.g., The Guardian, The International Herald Tribune, various German papers.

At the time, if I recall, one big question concerned their ideological motivation. Did they want Afghanistan alone, or did they have larger aims? The attacks of 9/11 focused attention on the fact that the Taliban was hosting Bin Laden, and even if they had not directly contributed to the attacks, the fact that they protected Bin Laden after 9/11 raised suspicions that they might have aims beyond Afghanistan.

Since 9/11, I've noticed that the Taliban are strongest in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, so Kaplan's view that the Taliban is an expression of Pashtun nationalism sounded plausible. But Foust is right about the Taliban: "their ethnicity is merely how they are organized, not [how they are] motivated." They are pan-Islamist, which helps explain why they would want all of Pakistan, why they have links to Al Qaeda, and why they have foreign jihadists among their fighters.

I need to read Joshua Foust at Registan more often (and thanks to John B. of Clever Turtles for the tip).

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