Taliban: The Rebels Who Aspire to be Rulers

Date01 April 2016
Published date01 April 2016
Subject MatterArticles
Taliban: The Rebels Who
Aspire to be Rulers
Shanthie Mariet D’Souza1
Notwithstanding an existential crisis, which has wracked its operations following
the announcement of the death of its supreme leader Mullah Omar, the
Taliban-led insurgency remains a potent force drawing their sustenance from a
wide range of sources both within Afghanistan as well as outside. Not only has
it been able to withstand the military prowess of a vast coalition of international
forces for a decade and half but also it has grown in strength by coalescing
with large number of anti-government elements and criminal networks in the
Afghanistan–Pakistan (Af-Pak) region. The advent of the Islamic State (IS) has
added an interesting competitive dimension for area domination between these
groups resulting in a surge in violence levels. As the attempts to co-opt elements
within the Taliban insurgency through peace deals and negotiations intensifies,
the anti-talk constituency within the insurgency has demonstrated its c apacity to
scuttle such peace processes. Regional power politics, local political opportunism
and criminal aspirations of individual groups will continue to inject life into the
Taliban, Afghanistan, Pakistan, insurgency, Islamic State
Except for its fractured existence today, the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan
does present a curious picture. Interplay of domestic as well as systemic factors
that once elevated a ragtag army of insurgents to the position of power in Kabul,
sustained their official position for 5 years and then led to their collapse, can
indeed unfold again to sanction some amount of legitimacy behind the movement.
However, amid these seemingly uncomplicated narratives, are the stories of super
power as well as regional rivalry, local political ambitions, criminal aspirations as
1 President and Founder, Mantraya, India.
Corresponding author:
Shanthie Mariet D’Souza, Plot 18, Secter 12, Dwarka, New Delhi 110078, India.
E-mail: shanthie.dsouza@mantraya.org
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
3(1) 20–40
2016 SAGE Publications India
Private Limited
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2347797015626043
D’Souza 21
well as attempts at peace negotiations. These stories indeed make the study of this
insurgency intriguing. This article is an attempt to examine these stories and their
impact on the relevance of the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan’s history,
present and future.
The article is divided into five sections. The first section provides a brief
history of the Taliban, its rise to power in Kabul and its subsequent fall following
the intervention by the United States (US)-led forces in the wake of the 9/11
attacks. The second section provides an analysis on the intractable Afghan conflict
focusing on the key question: ‘Why is the Taliban-led insurgency so hard to
resolve?’ The third section of the article analyzes the transformations taking place
in Afghanistan’s conflict ecosystem in the wake of the leadership struggles within
the Taliban and advent of the Islamic State (IS). The fourth section provides an
analysis, on the basis of the findings of the earlier sections, regarding the future of
insurgency in Afghanistan and evaluates whether peace is a possibility in conflict-
ridden Afghanistan. The last section concludes the article by briefly highlighting
the findings in each of the earlier sections.
The Taliban: A Brief History
A few years after the Soviets marched into Afghanistan in 1979, toppling the
presidency of Hafizullah Amin, the refugee camps in Pakistan, where an esti-
mated 2.8 million Afghans had sought refuge, became the recruiting grounds for
combatants both by the anti-Soviet mujahideen and also by the ‘radicals whose
aim was not to resist the Soviets so much as to prepare for the struggle against the
moderate Muslims once the Soviet presence came to an end’ (Maley, 2006). The
camps also attracted the attention of radicals from other parts of the world,
including Arabs from the Middle East and North Africa, and young Muslims from
Southeast Asia. This provided the setting for the emergence of the Taliban move-
ment (literally meaning the students) in 1994 led by Mullah Omar, a mujahideen
who fought the Soviet intervention. Following the withdrawal of the Soviets,
Afghanistan sunk into further chaos as the mujahideen oversaw a period of bitter
ethnic clashes. In Pashtun areas straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Taliban
promised to restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of
Shariah (Islamic law) once in power.
From southwestern Afghanistan, where they were initially influential, the
Taliban extended its control and in September 1995, captured the province of
Herat, bordering Iran. A year later, in September 1996, the Taliban seized control
of Kabul toppling the Burhanuddin Rabbani-led government; few months after
Mullah Omar announced himself as the Emir al-Mu’minin (Commander of the
Faithful) in Kandahar in April that year. There are two major views about the
Taliban occupying power in Afghanistan.
One theory explains Taliban’s rapid success in terms of social conditions such as anar-
chy, the people’s need for security and the immoral conduct of many warlords. The
other theory argues that the Taliban movement was organized by Pakistan to promote

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