Where have I heard this before?

Stephen Walt at ForeignPolicy.Com makes_a_point on Afghanistan I’ve been constantly repeating:

In fact, we have only one vital national interest in Afghanistan: to prevent Afghan territory from being used as a safe haven for groups plotting attacks on American soil or on Americans abroad, as al Qaeda did prior to September 11. It might be nice to achieve some other goals too (such as economic development, better conditions for women, greater politicalparticipation, etc.), but these goals are neither vital to U.S. nationalsecurity nor central to the future of freedom in the United States or elsewhere. Deep down, we don’t (or shouldn’t) care very much who governs in Afghanistan, provided they don’t let anti-American bad guysuse their territory to attack us. As I recall, President Bush was even willing to let the Taliban stay in power in 2001 if they had been willing to hand us Osama and his henchmen. 

In fact, I would argue that a Taliban dictatorship is in US interests.  I can hear a collective “Rob, stop doing drugs” from the readership but hear me out.  There’s two reasons:

1) Having some form of centralized rule is critical to the sole US interest of preventing Afghanistan from turning into an Al-Qaeda launching pad
2) The Taliban is the Afghani group most capable of achieving some semblance of centralized rule

“But wait,”  some might say in response, “they are terrorists.”  Actually, they aren’t: The Taliban has  never employed terrorism against the US, or, for that matter,  targeted it in any way. 

 Sayyid Imam’s latest “revisions”  (read more about him here) were mostly 100 pages of worthless rambling but in his desire to embarrass Al- Qaeda, he did reveal some interesting CT titbits.    According to Imam, Bin Laden deceived Mullah Omar regarding 9/11, violating a pledge he made not to overrule Omar’s authority when it came to plotting attacks against the US (which Omar opposed).  When some members of AQ heard that Bin Laden was plotting a big attack inside US territory (9/11) they got mad and reminded him of the pledge.    Bin Laden then pulled a Jihadi Bill Clinton and said “no, no, we pledged allegiance to Mullar Omar inside Afghanistan.  We can do whatever we want outside Afghanistan.”   From Al-Masri Al-Youm newspaper, 11/21/08:

بدأ الإعداد لتفجيرات ١١/٩/٢٠٠١م قبل سنتين من وقوعها، ولما اكتملت التجهيزات أعلن ابن لادن فى ٦/٢٠٠١ أن هناك عملية كبرى ستقع ضد أمريكا بدون تحديد لمكانها أو تفاصيلها. فاعترض عليه بعض أتباعه خاصة من لجنته الشرعية بأن أميرهم الملا محمد عُمر نهاهم عن الصدام مع أمريكا وأنه لا طاقة له ولا لدولته بذلك، فاخترع ابن لادن هذه البدعة «محلية الإمارة» للرد على منتقديه من أتباعه، وقال لهم إن محمد عُمر أميرهم داخل أفغانستان ولا دخل له بما يفعلونه خارجها. والرد على ذلك من وجوه:

إن الأمر الشرعى بطاعة الأمير لم يقيد ذلك بمكان «داخل أو خارج» كقول الله تعالى: {… أطيعوا الله وأطيعوا الرسول وأولى الأمر منكم…} «النساء: ٥٩»، وكقول النبى [: «من أطاعنى فقد أطاع الله، ومن عصانى فقد عصى الله، ومن يطع الأمير فقد أطاعنى، ومن يعص الأمير فقد عصانى» متفق عليه.

وكذلك نصوص الوعيد لمن عصى أميره غير مقيدة بمكان، كقول النبى [: «من خلع يدًا من طاعة لقى الله يوم القيامة ولا حُجة له» رواه مسلم.

Imam is hardly an objective observer of Al-Qaeda but this account is consistent with what I read in the Arabic press and the people I’ve talked to. 

So what’s the moral of the story?  The Taliban did not know about 9/11 beforehand and would have opposed it if they knew.  They have never committed acts of terrorism against the US and almost certainly never will — these are a bunch of  unsophisticated, illiterate  hicks from the countryside and from a CT perspective, these guys wouldn’t ever get past Kabul airport.    All of this supports my argument that the Taliban is not a natural enemy of the US; whether they are in power is not important to the US, provided they don’t give Al-Qaeda free reign to plot attacks against the US, which they really haven’t done before.

6 Responses

  1. It is interesting that the theory you put forth about Afghanistan is similar to what I’ve heard concerning Israel and Hezbollah. Isreal is better off having a rational enemy with interests that can be attacked, thereby providing the basis for deterrence. In that case Israel cannot defeat Hezbollah, but they can deter them. Similar situation for US and Afghanistan. The US has already demonstrated that it can cause severe pain to the Taliban, and the Taliban is demonstrating that they cannot be defeated at a reasonable cost.

  2. Ron,
    Thanks for your comments. You make a good point and post-events of 9/11 I think your comparison is valid.

    But in the big picture of basic Taliban-worldview, the US has never really been an enemy, and this is something that numerous Middle Eastern scholars say. From the Taliban’s perspective, they had an Islamic state, some people who were given sanctuary (Al-Qaeda, or more specifically Bin Laden) then used that, without the Taliban’s knowledge, to provoke the US into attacking Afghanistan. They would argue that they had nothing to do with 9/11 or no knowledge of it, but that the US came and drove them out of power.

    But lets also remember that the Taliban has never even attacked the US

  3. I feel pretty much the same way about Somalia.

    But what about Pakistan?

  4. what about Pakistan? I dont really understand the question

  5. The argument is valid insofar as the major preparations for the 9/11 attack were performed in Hamburg/Germany where the terrorists lived over years as students. In Afghanistan they never had been able to acclimate to western society which was key to success for the attacks.

  6. […] is a “failed state” or even “on the brink.”  (See three examples  here, here,  and here).  In fact, I would say that MediaShack’s coverage of Afghanistan-Pakistan […]

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