A Historical Look at the Taliban’s Capabilities and Popularity

By Oved Lobel on 1 September 2021

Ahmad Shah Massoud meeting with his fighters in Afghanistan | IMAGE CREDIT: Sandy Gall

Below is a translation of a report by the Russian outlet Kommersant on 20 June 1997 by Oved Lobel, an analyst focused on inter alia Russia’s role in the Islamic world and who recently wrote a report on the history of Afghanistan’s war dating back to the early 1970s. The article is interesting in many respects, perhaps most of all in showing the very limited military capacity of the Taliban, intimately linked to its overwhelming unpopularity among Afghans. The article discusses some of the draconian practices of the Taliban that made it so despised, as well as its governing structure, and focuses on the situation in the summer of 1997, when the Northern Alliance broke the Taliban’s hold on Pul-i-Khumri and halted their offensive on Mazar-i-Sharif. As we now know with hindsight, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Army would rescue the Taliban from this predicament. The Pakistani role in underwriting the Taliban’s military advances is covered in the article, and this pattern of Taliban retreats that forced an escalation of Pakistani intervention was a repetitive one during the late 1990s. Ultimately, indeed, as covered in Oved’s report, the Taliban enterprise would basically crumble in 2000 and the Pakistan Army had to overtly invade to allow the jihadists to conquer Taloqan. This history remains relevant at the present. As Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told U.S. President Joe Biden three weeks before his government was overwhelmed by the Taliban on 15 August: “We are facing a full-scale invasion, composed of Taliban [with] full Pakistani planning and logistical support”. Continue reading

Al-Qaeda Congratulates the Taliban on its Victory in Afghanistan

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 31 August 2021

Al-Qaeda’s General Command released a statement earlier today through As-Sahab Media congratulating the Taliban on its victory in Afghanistan. This is the first statement from Al-Qaeda Central since the cataclysmic events in Afghanistan over the past few weeks. The official silence of the organisation heretofore—even as its operatives worked in lock-step with the rest of the coalition of jihadists run by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to conquer the country—is almost certainly deliberate, to allow the Taliban and the United States political cover to ensure the American departure while avoiding the ramifications of Al-Qaeda controlling the Afghan state, the very thing the mission in Afghanistan was intended to (and had succeeded in, so long as it was sustained) undoing. The statement itself is exactly what one would expect: gloating about the West’s defeat and the damage to American hegemony, saying this proves that jihad is the only way, and that the Taliban’s “Islamic Emirate” is merely the first step in a global campaign to bring the world under the rule of the shari’a. The text of the English-language statement is posted below, with some minor editions for transliteration and translation. Continue reading

Islamic State Turns Attention to Kashmir

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 30 August 2021

Al-Naba 301, page ten, headline reads: “Abu Khattab al-Kashmiri — May God Accept Him”

The Islamic State’s weekly newsletter, Al-Naba, released its 301st issue on 26 August. Page ten has an obituary for an Indian jihadist named as Zahed Dass (Abu Khattab al-Kashmiri). Continue reading

Islamic State in Afghanistan and Putting Pakistan Back into the Discussion

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 26 August 2021

Islamic State Khorasan Province

The suicide bombings at the Kabul airport are almost certainly the work of the Islamic State’s “Khorasan Province” (ISKP), the branch of the organisation in Afghanistan and Pakistan that was officially recognised by Islamic State (ISIS) “Centre” in 2015. The group had been oddly quiet since the fall of Kabul, and we can now see why. Continue reading

Signs of Improvement in the Media Coverage of Pakistan’s Role in Afghanistan

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 26 August 2021

Taliban patrol in Wazir Akbar Khan, Kabul, 18 August 2021 [image source]

Having recently complained about the lack of emphasis in the media coverage of Afghanistan on the fact that Pakistan controls the Taliban, it is only right to note that there have been some recent signs of improvement. Continue reading

Islamic State Reacts to Taliban Takeover of Afghanistan, Detects American Conspiracy

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 22 August 2021

Page three, Al-Naba 300

The Islamic State (IS) released the 300th edition of its weekly newsletter, Al-Naba, on 19 August, wherein the main editorial on page three dealt with the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban on 15 August. The editorial was entitled, “Finally, They Elevated Mullah Bradley”. IS has used the term “Mullah Bradley” or “Mullah Bradley project” to refer to the Taliban, the accusation basically being that the Taliban are American agents. (The Taliban obviously are agents of a foreign power, but not the Americans.) The rest of the editorial fleshes out this idea that the U.S. and the Taliban have conspired in the Talibanization of Afghanistan, and the fact that all other Islamists support this—the Sururis, Muslim Brotherhood, etc.—only shows that IS is the sole standard bearer of Islam. Continue reading

Getting Real About Pakistan After the Jihadist Takeover of Afghanistan

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 20 August 2021

Khalil Haqqani, a senior Taliban leader and simultaneously a leader of Al-Qaeda’s Haqqani Network, leads Friday prayers at the Pul-i-Khishti, the largest mosque in Kabul, 20 August 2021

When the Taliban swept into the capital of Afghanistan on Sunday, little of the coverage focused on Pakistan and yet that was where this victory was made. This is a pattern that has persisted throughout the war. Continue reading

Pakistan and the Taliban

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 17 August 2021

Afghan government forces guarding Taloqan, Takhar province, Afghanistan // July 2021 // AFP photo

Kabul fell to the Taliban on 15 August. There is so much more to be said about the disastrous decisions the United States that precipitated this calamity, not least the so-called peace process whose only concrete effects were to weaken and demoralise the Afghan government, while bolstering the ranks of the Taliban by forcing the release of thousands of jihadists. The chaotic Saigon scenes have testified to the incompetence of Joe Biden’s administration, even at administrative tasks, and the horrors are only just beginning.

This post has a slightly different focus, namely the role of Pakistan, specifically its military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), as the author and operator of the Taliban and allied jihadists. This factor—absolutely fundamental to the conflict—has been, for twenty years, bizarrely absent in much of the coverage, and suggestions recur to this day that the Taliban is actually a problem for Pakistan. When the Pakistan dimension does come up, it will either be to note that Pakistan has some kind of role in funding or otherwise “supporting” the Taliban, and at its strongest the Taliban will be called a “proxy” of the ISI.

Even the word “proxy”, however, underplays the extent to which the Taliban is Pakistan, a wing of its (deep) state power. Continue reading

Joe Biden Chose Disaster in Afghanistan

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 16 August 2021

The Taliban took over Afghanistan’s capital on Sunday after a nine-day offensive captured one provincial capital after another. The United States had already decided to abandon the country, and without the US the other NATO states had no choice but to leave. It was quite clear that the Afghan state would crumble in the absence of a Western presence, though it seems President Joe Biden thought he would have a longer “decent interval” before the Saigon evacuation scenes and the massacres began. Continue reading

The Trouble With “Ending Forever Wars”

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 12 August 2021

In early July, President Joe Biden confirmed his intention to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by September 2021. Biden cited a February 2020 U.S. “agreement” with the Taliban that he had “inherited” from the Trump administration. In truth, President Donald Trump had made no agreement. He had already begun pulling troops out by October 2019 and signed a fig leaf to cover his unconditional withdrawal.

Biden reassessed other Trump policies and could have reassessed this one, not least since the Taliban were in violation even of their vague paper promises — most notably on their commitment to deny space to al Qaeda and negotiate peace in good faith. The truth is that Biden is ideologically committed, as Barack Obama and Trump were, to ending American involvement in “forever wars.” Regardless, this does not mean those wars end or the threats that drew the United States in actually go away. Continue reading