Since the 9/11 attacks, numerous books have been written about the Taliban, documenting its history and resurgence.
Many writers fault the United States for failing to turn Afghanistan into the Shangri La that it could be, claiming that beginning with the Bonn conference in December 2001, the Afghanistan war has been a disaster punctuated by one missed opportunity after another, guided by a hubristic new imperialism.
Some recurrent themes pervade this literature. To begin with, it is believed that the Taliban is not as bad as is commonly thought and that its actions should be equated with those of others, thereby implying that bad behavior is the norm. It has likewise been argued that the Taliban can be coaxed into behaving better if only Washington will provide the right combination of carrots and sticks, and that isolating the movement, and holding it accountable for its atrocities, will only embolden it. Finally, there is the view that the West in general and Washington in particular must excuse the Taliban’s “excesses” as just another way of life: This requires treating Pashtunwali (the tribal code of behavior traditionally governing Pashtun society), Shari’a, and democracy as merely different approaches to living, none better, none worse than another.
Through often learned prose, plenty of repetition, and the kind of authorization conferred by academic presses, these placating chroniclers have greatly burnished the Taliban’s image in the West. As U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan shifts from surge to surgical strikes to peace talks, Americans had better get to know the real Taliban.
Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism
As a correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review, Ahmed Rashid reported on the rise of the Taliban as it happened. Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, first published in 2001 prior to 9/11 and now in its second edition (2010), was among the first book-length examinations of the Taliban. Rashid’s work is best known for the section, “The New Great Game,” which outlines a new colonialism in which Iran, Russia, China, the United States, and even Japan control the fate of the region. He faults Washington for the rise of the Taliban because it failed to provide the proper circumstances and funding that could have prevented its resurgence. As Rashid puts it: “The pipeline of U.S. military aid to the Mujahedin was never replaced by a pipeline of international humanitarian aid that could have been an inducement for the warlords to make peace and rebuild the country.”
In a chapter for the new edition—”The Taliban Resurgent 2000-2009″—Rashid argues that excluding the Taliban from the Bonn conference was a disastrous oversight but fails to acknowledge that the Taliban would certainly have opposed its goal—to create, in Rashid’s words, “a broad-based, gender-sensitive, multi-ethnic and fully representative government.” He goes on to blame the Taliban resurgence on U.S. failure to commit adequate forces to the country in its “rush” to move on to Iraq: “even a few more U.S. troops could have made a huge difference.” What he neglects to mention, though, is that even if the Bush administration had decided to commit every person, dollar, and piece of equipment that went to the Iraq war to Afghanistan, much of it would have spent years sitting at Bagram Air Base, awaiting transportation over Afghanistan’s nonexistent infrastructure.
While Rashid acknowledges that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence has provided safe haven and intelligence to the Taliban since its founding, he downplays those efforts, putting them on equal footing with “problems within NATO and lack of U.S. focus.” These problems, however, are not on equal footing. Nothing short of a full invasion of Pakistan could have prevented the Taliban from resurging.
Rashid’s solution has always been to negotiate with the Taliban, bringing it into the civilized world, in part, by honoring it. He argues that the Taliban of the 1990s was “essentially a peasant army rather than an international terrorist organization. This is what they still are … not a monolithic organization, but one in which there [are] several interest groups, some of which could be won over.” Here Rashid makes the same error of omission made by many of the Taliban’s enablers: He pretends that Washington has never treated the movement with the same kind of diplomatic engagement it treats genuine governments. In fact, from 1995 until January 2001, the Clinton administration negotiated with the Taliban. Michael Rubin has documented the steady stream of U.S. diplomats (Thomas W. Simons, Robin Raphel, Warren Christopher, John Holzman, Madeline Albright, Donald Camp, William B. Milan, and Bill Richardson) who negotiated with the Taliban. Clinton administration insiders Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon claim that Karl Underfurth, then assistant secretary of state for South Asia, met with “Taliban representatives at least twenty times between the August 1998 [African Embassy] bombings and the end of the Clinton administration.” The Japanese government negotiated with the Taliban in an attempt to remove and purchase the fourth-century twin statues of Buddha overlooking Hazara before their destruction in March 2001. Those negotiations too came to naught. And what is a diplomat to make of the fact that Mullah Omar will not meet face-to-face with non-Muslims?
In 2011, the Karzai government set up the High Peace Council (HPC) to pursue diplomacy, naming as its leader Berhanuddin Rabbani, the closest thing Afghanistan had to an elder statesman. U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker marveled at the monumental accomplishment of getting the Taliban to the negotiating table. But soon the Taliban began behaving like the Taliban: On September 20, 2011, one of its “negotiators” detonated a bomb hidden in his turban, killing Rabbani and four other HPC members. When former “moderate Taliban” Arsala Rahmani succeeded Rabbani, he too was murdered, gunned down on the way to work. As might be expected, no one is currently clamoring to fill the job of chief HPC negotiator.
The Taliban Shuffle
In The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Kim Barker, former foreign correspondent for The Chicago Tribune covering India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, describes her love affair with Afghanistan and Pakistan as “more all consuming than any relationship I had ever had.” If this kind of glib, colloquial prose, adored by Rolling Stone and New York Magazine, was her book’s only fault, it would not be so bad. Unfortunately, readers learn more about Kim Barker—what she eats, drinks, wears, or with whom she flirts, travels, and has sex—than about the Taliban.
Barker only shallowly explores the damage done to the image of the West caused by the collection of journalists who invaded first Kabul and then the rest of the country after the Taliban was toppled in November 2001. She describes toga parties, trampoline orgies, rooftop raves, and general drunken revelry at journalist hangouts but never speculates that such behavior may have presented the West in the most negative light possible to the Afghan people. Instead, she is quick to blame George W. Bush, the U.S., British, Canadian, German, and Dutch militaries, the CIA, and frequently India, for the woes of Afghanistan and Pakistan. To her mind, Western aid is never quite enough. (Even the non-Western Chinese government is faulted for its insensitivity in including pigs as a gift to the Kabul Zoo.) After complaining about the deplorable state of clinics built by U.S. Agency for International Development contractors all over Afghanistan, some of which had no medicine and no doctors, Barker blames Washington for the deficiencies rather than the Taliban who prevented the female half of the Afghan population from becoming physicians, regularly destroyed clinics before 9/11, and made life in Afghanistan generally miserable and unsafe for foreign physicians.
Alongside an explanation of the concept of jihad that is embarrassingly shallow, Barker has an astonishing penchant for tolerating shortcomings, including outright predatory sexual behavior, among the native peoples. She notes the irony of the situation of “Islamic clerics [who] forced me to wear a black abaya showing only my eyes, but then privately asked to see my face and hair,” but is unwilling to label it hypocrisy. After a lengthy description of the tendency of Pakistani men to engage in frequent “ass-grabbing free-for-all” sessions, she explains: “An ass-grab was about humiliation and, of course, the feeling of some men in the country that Western women needed sex like oxygen, and that if a Pakistani man just happened to put himself in her path or pinched her when the sex urge came on, he’d get lucky. I blamed Hollywood.” But why not blame Pakistani men? This condescending and infantilizing tendency to write about Afghans and Pakistanis as dependent on others, unable to think or act critically or curb their impulses, makes Barker’s book a useless exercise in West-bashing.
Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban
A more insightful look into the Taliban comes in Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban by Jere Van Dyk, student, chronicler, and former prisoner of the Taliban. Having first ventured into Afghanistan in the 1970s on the so-called “hippie trail,” Van Dyk returned after the Soviet invasion, living and traveling with warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani and his followers. Those years were documented in his book In Afghanistan: An American Odyssey. In 2008, believing he could get inside the new Haqqani network (now run by Jalaluddin’s son Sirajuddin) with the right fixers, he returned. In search of a group of Pashtuns identifying themselves as members of the Taliban who were to take him to meet up with the Haqqanis, he and his fixers were captured shortly after crossing into Pakistan and eventually released only when CBS paid a ransom.
In preparation for the mission, Van Dyk grew his beard, dressed like an Afghan, and wandered the streets of Kabul studying and imitating the mannerisms he observed. His one handicap? An inability to speak Dari, Pashto, or Nouristani. The whole enterprise smacks of Gonzo journalism and extraordinary naiveté:
I wanted to find out what the Taliban were really like, to see how different they were from the mujahideen. I wanted to learn what they thought and what their goals were. I wanted to go to their training camps. I wanted to explain the Taliban to the outside world. I wanted to go deep into the heart of Taliban country, to get to their leaders, men I knew from the 1980s, and through them perhaps even Osama bin Laden himself. I felt that with my contacts, my history with the mujahideen, and my knowledge of Pashtun culture, I could do what no one else could do. I knew these people. We had once been friends.
Van Dyk’s love of Afghan culture blinds him to its horrors as when a description of Pashtun tribal code ends with the blithe observation: “Under Pashtunwali, a rumor can end a woman’s life.” His jailer Gulob promises freedom and safety if he will convert to Islam. Van Dyk complies in order to save his skin, leading to effusive passages of admiration for his captors and their culture and a refusal to condemn the Taliban for what it did to his beloved Afghanistan. Stockholm syndrome overtakes him, and he soon begins to pray, speak, wash, eat, and even think (or so he says) like a Pashtun.
Nonetheless, there is a good deal of information to be gleaned from Van Dyk’s considerable experience in the region, and he comments on his own situation with humor and insight. In retrospect, the most interesting bit of information has to be Gulob’s comment that “Osama and al-Zawahiri are not in the tribal zones. They are being protected by institutions. Pakistan will never give them up.” It would appear that Van Dyk did get the inside scoop after all.
Taliban: The Unknown Enemy
Scottish journalist James Fergusson’s Taliban: The Unknown Enemy incorporates every element of the pro-Taliban-anti-U.S. agitprop template. The title bespeaks the book’s thesis—we in the West do not really know the Taliban.
Fergusson even questions the validity of the term “Taliban,” or as one unnamed British special forces officer put it: “In 2006, when the fighting started, we called everyone who resisted us ‘Taliban.’ But they really weren’t necessarily. They were just the community’s warrior class who had always defended their community against outsiders and were bound to do so again. The ‘Taliban’ in that sense were an enemy of our own creation.” The anonymous officer may be correct in the sense that the Taliban has grown beyond the original Pashtun warlords who pledged loyalty to Mullah Omar between 1994 and 1996. But the term has not lost its significance or its usefulness. “Taliban” has become something of an umbrella term capable of signifying a movement of diverse characters sharing the same goals. Arguing whether those loyal to Hekmatyar, Haqqani, or Lashkar-e-Taiba are “genuine” Taliban is a bit like arguing whether al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Ansar al-Islam in Iraq, the Somalian al-Shabab, and Nigerian Boko Haram are “genuine” al-Qaeda. Their goals, enemies, tactics, and beliefs are the same. Taliban fighters may be Kashmiri or Punjabi; they have even been known to admit Americans like John Walker Lindh.
Fergusson’s revisionist history of the Taliban portrays the regime as not quite as bad as the West has painted it. Women were not really treated as badly as was believed—denied education, barred from working, or forced to hide themselves. Fergusson reassures us that “women were not always automatically beaten for showing their faces,” which must come as quite a relief to all.
This intentional whitewashing of one of the most destructive regimes of modern times covers all bases. Fergusson underreports well-known Taliban atrocities like the (literal) poisoning of the wells on the Shomali plains in 1997. On the destruction of the Bamiyan buddhas, Fergusson quotes (but does not document) a decree from Mullah Omar to protect the statues as a source of tourist revenue but is unable to explain how the decree was ignored. As the “first Western journalist in more than two years to interview the fugitive warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar,” Fergusson essentially becomes a cheerleader for the terrorist leader and his group by promoting what might be called the “wing theory” of terrorist organizations, whereby a group poses as a bicameral enterprise in which its “political wing” promotes an agenda peacefully while a “militant wing” promotes that same agenda violently.
Ameliorating the guilt of the Taliban requires playing up someone else’s to explain Afghanistan, and there is a long list of guilty parties in the book. Hamid Karzai bears the brunt of the scorn reserved for Afghans. Karzai’s greed and his government’s corruption are now well-known, but Fergusson goes too far in describing it as no better and perhaps worse than the Taliban’s. Offering no evidence, he refers to the current National Directorate of Security as “the successor to the KHAD,” the much-feared Afghan iteration of the KGB secret police run by the Soviet puppet Muhammad Najibullah.
But Washington is the true villain in Fergusson’s telling. Beginning with the cliché that after 9/11 the “international community” was sympathetic to the United States, he proceeds to lament that “Americans failed miserably to exploit this tide of goodwill.” And then it gets absurd when he writes that “with just a little more patience from the U.S., bin Laden might have ended up in a courtroom, al-Qaida might have lost its figurehead, and 9/11 and the entire War on Terror might never have happened.” The “U.S.’s reliance on proxy local forces” is faulted on one page and the U.S.’s excessive militaristic footprint on another.
So what should Washington do according to Fergusson? Invest in Afghanistan and coerce further investment from the “international community.” As his friend Mullah Abdul-Basit told him in 2007, had U.S. forces arrived in Afghanistan unarmed, solely to rebuild the country, “you would have been our guests … If your engineers and agriculture experts had come to us and explained what they were trying to do, we would have protected them with our lives.” Perhaps such an idea would not seem quite so absurd had the Taliban no history of (and penchant for) kidnapping and killing aid workers.
As a result of Fergusson’s partisan revisionism, in which the group is more sinned against than sinning, the real Taliban remains “unknown.”
Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban
Unlike Van Dyke, who was ransomed from his captivity, Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad paid the ultimate price for his inside connections. Nearly everyone, the U.S. government included, believes that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence killed Shahzad for his reporting on the close and growing ties between it, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda.
But Shahzad’s posthumously published book, Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11—the go-to source for all the minutiae on the post-9/11 Taliban—is no antidote to the reflexive anti-Western tracts reviewed above. For Shahzad, the word “terrorist” only refers to the U.S. government as he prefers the term “militants” or “Commanders” (always capitalized) for the Taliban he befriended. Likewise al-Qaeda is “a resistance movement against Western Imperialism,” fighting the “occupation forces” of the “U.S.-NATO-led war machine.”
Inside Al-Qaeda does have some value, outlining in stunning detail the post-9/11 Taliban, comprised of extremist Taliban, malleable Taliban, Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban, tribal Taliban, Taliban affiliates, and al-Qaeda-Taliban affiliates. He painstakingly explains the various rivalries that divide the tribal Taliban and seems to have known (and liked) everyone involved. Ignoring the pre-9/11 connections between al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Shahzad insists that the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan drove them to collaborate, rather than the other way around.
While still alive, and in this postmortem book, Shahzad gave credibility to the assortment of Taliban fighters, mullahs, and “Commanders” who spoke freely to him. Though they certainly said things they wanted the world to believe, stretching the truth in the process, if even half of what they told him is accurate, the West is still greatly underestimating the dangers posed by al-Qaeda and the Taliban in all their iterations.
Taliban Life, Poetry, and Myth
Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn have become the Taliban’s most generous supporters and most prolific apologists. The two moved to Afghanistan in 2006, settling in Kandahar, where they set up the now-inactive blog, AfghanWire.com. By running cover for the Taliban, minimizing atrocities, and deflecting blame elsewhere, they ingratiated themselves with Mullah Mohammed Salem Zaeef and became the editors of his self-pitying and evasive biography My Life with the Taliban. This work promised the ultimate insider’s history of the Taliban but delivered little more than an anti-U.S. polemic, peppered with passages of execrable (and unintended) irony: “The Taliban had also started to implement shari’a law: Women were no longer working in government departments, and the men throughout the city had started to grow beards. Life in the city was returning to normal.”
Another piece of Van Linschoten and Kuehn’s charm offensive on behalf of the Taliban is an anthology titled The Poetry of the Taliban, the goal of which is to humanize the Taliban fighters. The poems themselves are inconsequential, neither great nor terrible by today’s admittedly low standards. As one might expect, there are poems about killing, waging jihad, confronting the enemy, glorious Shari’a, and so on. What is perhaps most interesting (and ignored by Van Linschoten and Kuehn) is that among the list of predictable Taliban obsessions (Bush, Obama, Karzai, Guantanamo Bay) emerges the true enemy: the Western invention of human rights and, collaterally, the nongovernmental organizations that oversee their implementation and report on their absence.
But far more important than the quality of the poems themselves is their utility in selling the idea that the Taliban is morally and culturally equal to the West. Take, for example, the back cover blurb where Harvard’s Michael Semple writes that the Taliban is not “culturally backward” but is in fact “inspiring a people to resist a dull global plan to modernize them.” The bulk of this rhetorical salesmanship is found in Van Linschoten and Kuehn’s introduction. One of their tropes equates poetry written by British combat veterans who fought the Taliban with examples of Taliban verse: “Both sets of poets take leave of their mothers before they leave for the front, both are in turns thrilled and fearful when the moment of battle arrives, and both grieve at the death of friends and family.” The sales pitch may convince some, but it fails on the follow-through: When their war is over, returning British soldiers will not try to close girls’ schools, compel non-Anglicans to join the Church of England, and force everyone to eat, work, and play as they do in a coordinated effort to efface and annul the very idea of human rights.
Van Linschoten and Kuehn’s latest effort is an academic revisionist history, An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban-Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, which tries to dispel the “popular discourse” that al-Qaeda and the Taliban have merged into a singular entity they call “Talqaeda.” The first problem is the failure to convince that such a discourse is popular; even Shahzad did not suggest a merger so much as a symbiotic convergence of interests leading to cooperation. Aside from its thesis, the book has serious methodological flaws. Nearly every important assertion hangs on a footnote that reads merely: “Interview,” followed by a location and date. While anonymity may be acceptable for a journalist’s fixers, drivers, and perhaps even translators, it has no place in “for-the-record” sources. It is simply impossible to gauge the veracity of the work without being able to assess the credibility of the sources. Ironically, the authors reject sources like the 9/11 Commission Report as being unreliable, along with information “extracted under duress from Khalid Sheik Mohammed.” The cumulative effect of this work of pseudo-scholarly journalism renders the project little more than a book of rumors cloaked in a veneer of academic paraphernalia.
Van Linschoten and Kuehn’s primary goal is to disassociate al-Qaeda from Mullah Omar’s movement, but history is not on their side. By their account, the Taliban leadership was completely unaware of bin Laden prior to 1996, and they even fatuously claim that the Rabbani-Massoud government invited bin Laden to Afghanistan. In seeking to absolve the Taliban of all guilt relating to the 9/11 attacks, they unconvincingly argue that its leaders neither knew the attacks were coming nor approved of them after. Even the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud on September 9, 2001, when he was leader of the Northern Alliance (and therefore the Taliban’s number one enemy in the region), caught the Taliban by surprise according to the authors. Their insinuation that al-Qaeda’s desire to restore the caliphate and the Taliban’s desire to restore Afghanistan to some kind of Qur’anic Khurasan are incompatible is based on scant evidence.
Finally, the book closes with what reads like an opaque threat: Unless “serious negotiations” conducted “on multiple levels” about the future of Afghanistan include the Taliban, the “escalated levels of conflict … will increasingly resemble the violent civil war of the 1990s.” Work with the Taliban, or else.
In Taliban lore, the indigenous Afghan mujahideen defeated the Soviet Union with very little help from the outside just as earlier generations of Afghans defeated a steady stream of foreign invaders from Alexander the Great to the British, each bent on enslaving them. The myth of Afghan invincibility endures today with the United States portrayed as the latest invader, no different than the Soviet Union. The myth-makers’ adherents are confident that history will repeat itself. In the April/May issue of Azan, Taliban propagandists push the U.S.-U.S.S.R. comparison by blending the names Obama and Gorbachev into Obamachev, “meant to draw parallels between … the USSR under the leadership of Mikail Gorbachev on the eve of Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 with that of the United States under Barack Obama amid the upcoming U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014.”
This facile equalization of all foreign invaders, especially the Soviet Union and the United States, is understandable from Taliban sources, but far too many Taliban experts are complicit in these gross misrepresentations. Washington’s involvement in Afghanistan has always been motivated by the desire to oppose enemies (Soviet, Iranian, al-Qaeda) and to ameliorate the lives of the Afghan people. The Soviet Union, by contrast, sought to own Afghanistan. In the post-Kennedy era of U.S. largesse, so much aid went to Helmand province that it became known as “Little America.” In the 1980s, Moscow’s top scientific minds devised bombs resembling toys so as to attract and maim children. In contrast, in the days between 9/11 and the October invasion, U.S. planes dropped untold tons of food along with leaflets explaining to the Afghan people that better days were coming. Perhaps the Taliban leaders really cannot see the difference between Soviet perfidy and U.S. attempts to wipe out al-Qaeda and make life better for all Afghans, but Western scholars and journalists know better. Rather than lending credence to Taliban propaganda, they ought to admit that were Washington to adopt Soviet-style tactics, Afghanistan would never stand a chance.
As we enter a new era in which the Taliban is seen as a legitimate political force, there can be little doubt that it will eventually take over Afghanistan. From Vice President Biden’s claim that “the Taliban, per se, is not our enemy” to the ongoing rewriting of history, its enablers, apologists, and admirers assist the takeover in big and small ways by denying that the era of Taliban rule was a travesty of governance during which abominable crimes were committed. And though the constant drumbeat of “negotiate, negotiate, negotiate” finds a willing audience in the Obama administration, the Taliban is interested in negotiation only to gain, not to compromise.
So when the announcement of three-way negotiations in Qatar between Washington, the Karzai government, and the Taliban were applauded this spring in the usual circles as positive progress, the Taliban immediately showed its true nature: On June 16, Mutasim Agha Jan of the Taliban praised the upcoming talks as “a major step in formulating a channel for talks between Kabul and the Taliban,” but on June 18, the Taliban office in Doha opened bearing a plaque and the banner of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” (the name used under Mullah Omar from 1996-2001) and publicly denounced Karzai as a U.S. puppet (implicitly likening him to Najibullah and predictably prompting the Karzai government to pull out of the negotiations). As Davood Moradian of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies recently put it: “A peace that is ‘Made in Pakistan,’ promoted by London, sold by Washington, and financed by Qatar is doomed to fail.”
As of this writing, the diplomatic enterprise appears to be on hold, but it will surely be restarted. And if Mullah Omar is allowed to emerge from hiding in Quetta and revive his atavistic, seventh-century utopian fantasy, the world will see just how unregenerate the Taliban is. Only this time around, no one will be able to claim ignorance.
first published in Middle East Forum
A.J. Caschetta is senior lecturer in English at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He can be reached at email@example.com.
 Yale University Press.
 For information on Afghanistan’s infrastructure, see “South Asia: Afghanistan,” World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency, Washington, D.C., July 10, 2013.
 Jayshree Bajoria, “Backgrounder: The Taliban in Afghanistan,” Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, D.C., Oct. 6, 2011.
 For background on Richardson’s discussion with the Taliban, see Bruce O. Riedel, “Islamism Is Not Unstoppable,” Middle East Quarterly, Dec. 1999, pp. 51-60.
 Michael Rubin, “Taking Tea with the Taliban,” Commentary, Feb. 2010.
 The Age of Sacred Terror (New York: Random House, 2002), pp. 272-3.
 Reuters, Mar. 5, 2001.
 New York: Doubleday, 2011.
 New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2010.
 New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1983.
 Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2011.
 Peter A. Olsson, “Homegrown Terrorists, Rebels in Search of a Cause,” Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2013, pp. 3-10.
 London: Pluto Press, 2011.
 New York: Columbia University Press, 2010; see, also, “Brief Reviews,” Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2011.
 New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.
 New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012.
 The Jihad and Threat Monitor, no. 5329, Middle East Media Research Institute, June 6, 2013.
 All Things Considered, National Public Radio, July 5, 2010.
 CBC News (Can.), Oct. 28, 2000; M. Siddieq Noorzoy, “Afghanistan’s Children: The Tragic Victims of 30 Years of War,” Middle East Institute, Apr. 20, 2012.
 ABC News, Dec. 19, 2011; Fox News, Dec. 19, 2011.
 Tolo News (Kabul), June 17, 2013.
 The New York Times, June 19, 2013.
 “Taliban Guns Send a Message about Obama’s Peace Process,” The Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2013.
Effective measures to control Afghan border
It is essential to point out before dwelling upon this issue that international terrorism in its current shape remains one of the most challenging global threats. The area of responsibility of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is no exception.
Even though the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda (which are banned in the Russian Federation), and the armed terrorist groups linked to them have sustained severe losses both in Syria and Iraq, we are nevertheless concerned about a serious threat coming from these international terrorist organizations.
The fact is that it would be a mistake to underestimate the ability of present-day terrorists to, figuratively speaking, mimicry, quickly adapt to the changing environment. So, as soon as it became clear that the above mentioned terrorist structures were facing a defeat in the Middle East, their leaders began to reorganize the system of command and control of their groups and units. While they were doing so, they focused on training militants to popularize extremist ideology and recruit new members, to raise financial support, and to mount units responsible for the preparation and execution of terrorist attacks.
In a word, terrorist leaders devised a fairly effective strategy which envisaged regrouping forces and resources according to the network principle. According to experts, in practice this means a well-coordinated approach in place of a chaotic movement of interconnected and autonomous Islamic State groups from the Middle East to countries of Europe, Central and Southeast Asia. Incidentally, foreign terrorists do not have any particular difficulty in entering countries of their further stay, since they use mainly legal channels of labor and humanitarian migration.
Naturally, CSTO experts are keeping an eye on this so-called “rotation”. The stake is on foreign terrorists returning to countries of origin or settling on the territory of other states. Before that, they, as a rule, are trained in Islamist camps, acquire the skills of subversive and sabotage activity, and, finally, set up underground cells. Thereby, as they say, they automatically increase the combat potential of existing terrorist groups and structures.
As for the CSTO area of responsibility, what triggers particular concern is the situation in Afghanistan. The fact is that international terrorist organizations in Afghanistan are reinforced by terrorists from Syria whose major purpose is to create the so-called “Islamic Caliphate Khorasan” with its further spread to the neighboring states of Central Asia. Unfortunately, the situation is aggravated by the fact that there are quite a few citizens of the CSTO member states in these terrorist organizations. Accordingly, we are aware only too well that under the circumstances the threat of terrorist acts on the territory of our states increases significantly.
What should we do given the situation, and what has already been done?
First of all, proceeding from the analysis of the situation on the border between the CSTO and Afghanistan, the CSTO heads of state, during the Council’s meeting in October 2016, took a “decision to introduce additional measures to counter international terrorism and extremism, which provide for a number of organizational steps to boost political and military cooperation and strengthen the CSTO’s antiterrorist potential. ”
As a result of this, the Organization has significantly increased the effectiveness of its annual regional operations. Among these is Operation “Channel” to combat drug-related crime, operations to curb illegal migration, codenamed “Illegal”, and “PROXY” – an operation to counter crimes committed with the use of information technology.
Thanks to the above measures, in 2018 alone, the law enforcement agencies confiscated over 16 tons of drugs, psychotropic and strong-impact substances, 407 units of rifled firearms, detained 443 people from the international wanted list, started 30 criminal cases on crimes related to terrorism and extremism, and exposed more than 10 thousand information resources that were disseminating information in the interests of terrorist and extremist organizations.
What other measures? An operation codenamed “Mercenary” was held in the spring of 2019 as part of the CSTO’s “Additional measures”. It was designed to block the recruitment channels, the entry and exit of citizens of the CSTO member states to participate in the activities of international terrorist organizations and neutralize their resource base in the CSTO area of responsibility.
Besides, a special task force has been formed and is training intensively with a view to address counter-terrorism agenda within the CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Forces.
It is quite obvious that military exercises “Border”, “Interaction”, “Indestructible Brotherhood” and a number of special drills and operations conducted in tandem with the Collective Forces have become a serious deterrent and a demonstration of the intentions of the CSTO to resort to force if necessary.
I would also like to say a few words about preventive measures which are being taken by the relevant CSTO structures. According to the analysis of the situation in the Afghan provinces bordering the southern borders of the CSTO, not only has there been reported an intensification of terrorist activities, but there has also been a significant increase in drug production. According to the UN Agency on Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan remains one of the world’s leaders in the production and export of opiates – today it accounts for more than 80% of the global drug market.
Here are some more facts and figures to this account. Reports say the gross annual income of international terrorist organizations in Afghanistan ranges from 300 to 400 million dollars. About 200 million dollars come from underground drug production. Operating in the provinces of Kunduz and Takhar, bordering Tajikistan, are 48 large drug groups that, in cooperation with international terrorist organizations, smuggle drugs out of the country in exchange for weapons and ammunition.
It is no wonder then that such terrorist structures have been making their presence felt and have been expanding the scope of their activities. As a result, clashes between law enforcement agencies of Afghanistan and the country’s irreconcilable armed opposition, as well as terrorist activities of the Taliban movement, of militants of the Afghan wing of ISIL (Vilayat Khorasan) and other similar organizations have long become habitual. Moreover, according to expert estimates, the intensity of hostilities in 2018 increased by almost 40% compared to the previous year. The beginning of 2019 saw a series of terrorist acts, including in Kabul, and an increasing activity of terrorists in the provinces of Kandahar, Faryab and Farah.
And one more important observation. According to analytical services of the CSTO, military operations in Afghanistan have shifted to the northern provinces — to the borders of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan. Clearly, by the end of 2018, most of the northern areas of Afghanistan had found themselves instability zones or areas under permanent control of militants of the armed opposition.
However, an increase in hostilities on the border with Tajikistan is a minor thing compared to other issues of concern. There is growing concern over the fact that another terrorist enclave controlled by ISIL (banned in the Russian Federation) is de facto being formed in the provinces of Jowzjan and Sari-Pul, which are located very close to the Turkmen border. According to the expert community, there exists a real threat of traditional one-man sabotage terrorist acts, and of a direct invasion of armed terrorist units with the establishment of control over transnational criminal networks related to drug smuggling and the creation of uninterrupted drug trafficking channels in the CIS countries.
Apparently, amid the present instability in the IRA, the Afghan issue is permanently on the agenda of the statutory bodies of the CSTO. Given the situation, it is very important that the Organization is developing and implementing projects of the CSTO Intergovernmental Program on the strengthening of the Tajik-Afghan border and is following the List of Additional Measures aimed at reducing tension on the Tajik-Afghan border.
In addition, a Working Group on Afghanistan was set up at the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the CSTO, which examines the situation in the country and drafts recommendations aimed at coordinating regional security efforts.
Notably, experts from the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the OSCE Secretariat and regional anti-terrorist structures participate in meetings of the Working Group on a regular basis.
Undoubtedly, all the above measures pursued by CSTO funtion as a deterrent containing the activities of international terrorist organizations within our area of responsibility.
From our partner International Affairs
The Nuclear Dimension of Cyber Threats
The subject of the interrelation of threats in the fields of information and communication technologies and nuclear weapons is gradually becoming one of the dominant topics in current international security issues. In early summer 2019, a group of researchers working under the auspices of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) presented the Russian version of the “Nuclear Weapons in the New Cyber Age” report prepared by the Cyber-Nuclear Weapons Study Group (hereinafter referred to as the NTI Report). Russian assessments of the proposals put forward by American experts may contribute to finding constructive solutions that may be ultimately transferred to international communication platforms.
Understanding the Threats
The NTI Report is structured very logically and succinctly. The authors give specific examples using formalized scenarios and demonstrate the practical dimension of specific threats and their consequences. This is followed by concrete proposals. On the whole, this approach is conducive to understanding the essence of certain phenomena and is useful both for experts in the area under consideration and for the general public. Moreover, one would like to think that decision-makers in various countries will be interested in the problems considered.
The authors considered four “illustrative scenarios”:
Scenario 1: Warning systems provide false indications of a nuclear attack during a crisis.
Scenario 2: A cyberattack disrupts communications between officials, operators and nuclear systems, and/or international counterparts in a potential crisis.
Scenario 3: An adversary introduces a flaw or malevolent code into nuclear weapons through the supply chain or otherwise in a way that could compromise the effectiveness of those weapons
Scenario 4: An adversary is able to achieve unauthorized control of a nuclear weapon through cyber-assisted theft and/or defeating of security devices.
These scenarios look quite realistic. We will not go into detailed descriptions (or, more precisely, retellings) of them. A brief summary is given in Figure 1.
At the same time, we will note that each scenario has an element of simplification, which is generally justified from the point of view of the research objectives. An important clarification should be made, at least for the first scenario. An early warning system comprises many elements, and it is highly improbable that the decision to deliver a retaliatory strike will be made on the basis of a single sub-system. The probability of the “entire set” malfunctioning or being hacked and providing the exact same information appears to be very low. At the same time, when nuclear powers are in a crisis that has an obvious military aspect to it, the threat of a hastily made decision will also increase.
A Search for Solutions
The authors of the NTI Report propose the following three guiding principles that should be taken into account when developing approaches to minimizing the risk of cyber threats against nuclear weapons:
- The United States will continue to require a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear deterrent as long as nuclear weapons remain a central element of its security strategy.
- Technical measures alone are unable to completely eliminate the cyber threat to nuclear weapons.
- The cyber challenge is global, and a unilateral approach is not sufficient.
These principles appear to be quite sound and constructive. Item 1 is certainly reasonable for Russia and for other nuclear powers.
Maybe such statements should be also reflected in bilateral (or even multilateral) declarations on international security issues and strategic stability. Naturally, conditions should emerge first for such declarations.
The experts make several very specific proposals, which are grouped as follows:
reducing the risk of launch as a result of miscalculation;
reducing risks to the nuclear deterrent;
reducing the risk of unauthorized use;
taking a global approach to the cyber threat to nuclear weapons systems.
On the whole, this approach seems logical, but the feasibility of these proposals is questionable.
Certainly, the key task shared by all nuclear powers is to guarantee the impossibility of accidentally interfering with nuclear weapons and related infrastructure through information and communication technologies. What is problematic is the attitude of various states to interference that is deliberate, i.e. intentionally carried out by government services against probable adversaries. This contradiction sharply limits the room for joint action to minimize threats.
In particular, the recommendation contained in the NTI Report on bilateral and multilateral steps towards developing certain new rules of behaviour in cyberspace are unlikely to be fully implemented. This is primarily due to one of the key features of cyber weapons: the impossibility of reliably ascertaining the adversary’s target, even if the malware itself has been detected. Identical cyber weapons can be used to collect information and interfere with the systems into which the malware has been introduced.
Unilateral and Multilateral Approaches
At the same time, much can be done in the context of unilateral measures to minimize cyber threats.
It would seem that the most important task in this area is the training of qualified military personnel for the nuclear forces. Excellent knowledge of relevant weapons and military equipment, as well as the rules of operation in any situation and basic “digital hygiene” will evidently contribute to the overall reduction of threats.
Comprehensive rules and regulations for protecting equipment from external interference already exist. However, given that individual components are purchased from foreign manufacturers (this problem is relevant for both Russia and the United States), there is still danger of hardware implants. Let us hope that personnel of the relevant departments in the military and the special services have the necessary qualifications to detect such threats.
At the same time, certain national measures for enhancing the cyber protection of the nuclear weapons infrastructure should be compiled into some sort of “best practices” collection. Perhaps P5 countries (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) could prepare some handbooks to be distributed, for instance, as part of a Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. This would to some extent demonstrate the responsible approach of recognized nuclear powers to current issues related to nuclear weapons.
As we have mentioned before, developing a relevant section in the Glossary of the Key Nuclear Terms could be a useful step, as fine-tuning the Glossary is supposedly still on the agenda. A dialogue based on a uniform conceptual and categorial framework leads to negotiations being more effective. At the same time, forming a uniform terminology should not be viewed as a trivial task. The solution of this task requires both political will and a deep understanding of the subject of negotiations. And still, even if such procedures do not have a positive outcome, such communications promote an improved understanding of assessments, approaches and paradigms among partners.
We should remember the Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on strengthening global strategic stability today, which envisages, among other things, a joint “analysis of the regulation of new strategic security dimensions” related to the “possible impact of achievements in science and technology.” Moreover, Russia and China consider it appropriate to conduct a multilateral study of the relevant problems and their legal regulation on the basis of the United Nations.
Expanding the Context
As we have already mentioned, the crucial feature of cyber weapons (that kind of links it with “kinetic” weapons, primarily strategic weapons) is that the delivery vehicle and the payload are two different things: the same product can be used to introduce malware intended for monitoring and spying, as well as for control hacking and disabling.
Maybe classifying cyber weapons by hostile impact type can create conditions for searching for points of contact between various countries and international organizations. In general, the task of formalizing and coordinating definitions is one of the most complicated stages of any negotiation process, and a key stage that determines the success of the negotiations and the prospects for adapting the agreements to the rapidly changing reality against the backdrop of the scientific and technological progress.
As for deliberate cyberattacks that may be of interest to states that have the requisite capabilities, we should take note of the opinion of the UK-based Chatham House, which draws attention to the complex dynamics of military-political relations in the event of a further escalation in rhetoric concerning cyberattacks preventing combat missile launches as part of the so-called “left of launch” concept, which the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation calls “pre-start intercept.” The problem is that the hypothetical “Party A,” fearing an attack of such kindby “Party B,” may decide to use weapons at the early stages of a conflict. And if “Party B” is bluffing, then calling its bluff may result in the “failure” of the deterrent tactic. If “Party B” is confident in its supreme cyber capabilities, then its actions can easily become overconfident and result in a “hot” conflict.
Strictly speaking, the problem of the “rules of the game” in cyberspace is important in and of itself, without being tied to nuclear weapons. For instance, attempts can be made to train “cyber soldiers” to follow the rules of international humanitarian law, as, for instance, Professor Götz Neuneck from the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH) suggests. And the specific content of such concepts as “proportionality” and “military necessity” when applied to cyberspace requires additional research. Joint international exercises, including those related to nuclear systems, ideally with the participation of “probable adversaries,” could be a useful event in this area. Thus, states could gain some experience of acting in a simulated combat situation and gain experience of interaction through emergency communication channels, which is of crucial importance.
Safe Communication Lines
For decades, information and communication technologies have been developing at breakneck speed, and the militarization of cyberspace accompanies these processes. In general, any technological changes result in new threats, and “Neo-Luddism” will hardly be a suitable cure for such threats. “Nuclear abolitionists” are unlikely to achieve their goals in the foreseeable future either: we are seeing a return to the international rivalry of great powers, and nuclear weapons are one of the principal elements confining death and destruction in the course of this rivalry within relatively moderate bounds.
The only way to preserve strategic stability and prevent catastrophic consequences from the incorrect use of nuclear weapons is to perform an in-depth analysis of the impact that new technologies have on the relevant systems. This analysis should be as open as possible and involve an element of international dialogue at both the state and expert levels. At the same time, it is necessary to “increase literacy” in information and communication technologies and nuclear weapons (and their control systems) both among military personnel and among civilian specialists and decision-makers. The NTI Report and the subsequent communication activities of its authors are a step in the right direction, especially since representatives of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation attended the presentation of the report at the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
From our partner RIAC
Omani national security and the kind of political and military cooperation with the United States
Historical documentary evidence suggests that the United States has always had a strategic partner in the region. Oman is undoubtedly the closest Iranian southern neighbor to the Persian Gulf, with its common cultural and religious roots with the land of Iran. But it should be noted that the effects of convergence between the United States and Oman have an impact on Iran’s national security. Also, after the US Secretary of State Visits Oman and his visit to Sultan Qaboos and the Pompeo positions in Amman, the question is: How much is Oman to do with US sanctions against Iran?
Oman has a geographical isolation in the Arabian Peninsula. The country has only a frontier from its western region, and the three UAE, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are neighbors. On the other hand, the majority of the Abbasid religion of this country has led to its religious isolation in the Islamic world, and Wahhabism has entered into conflict with the followers of this religion several times since its inception, and still considers the abbots from the divergent difference of the Islamic world, And excuses.
Oman is relatively weak in the economic field, dependent on oil and the outside world. However, the Omani dealings with the United States are not high, and most of it is in the military arms sector. The demographic structure of this country, in particular the population of about 5% Shiite, who has a lot of strength and wealth, with the Baluchis, who have traveled to Oman many years before Iran, actually created a situation and the Omani government will not be in a relationship with Iran. If this issue is analyzed along with the influence of Wahhabism on the Omani population, it will be more important if it is to be analyzed.
It should be borne in mind that the Sunnis in Amman claim that they are the majority of the citizens of this country. Oman considers the Gulf Cooperation Council to be important in the framework of this cooperation, in addition to external problems, to prevent Arab aggression, the Omani are well aware of the history of Saudi Arabia’s deployment to its neighboring countries, and therefore the balance Power will not be pleasing to Saudi Arabia. Oman, which seeks to reduce dependence on oil and economic diversification in its 2020 and 2040 prospects, avoids any kind of conflict and conflict in the region, because the arrival of capital, tourists and goods, and services and manpower require security in this country. And stability in the region. They are working to strengthen Qatar in the Gulf Cooperation Council and are working with the United States to provide their own resources in the region, and because strengthening Qatar and removing Saudi and Qatari hostilities are in the interest of the country and necessary to curb Saudi Arabia. Greetings from the United States.
But the question is whether Oman can adopt an independent policy at the level of engagement with global powers such as the United States?
In August 2010, Oman and Iran signed a security agreement; of course, it cannot be said that the relations between Tehran and Muscat are generally without problems and is a full-fledged relationship; for example, the Oman navy does not participate in Iranian military maneuvers while Which is in the military maneuvers of the Gulf states, the United States, India and Pakistan. Oman has given America’s military partner its ports and bases. It has shown its willingness to participate in the US missile defense shield, which is aimed at creating security against Iran’s threat to the countries of the region.
From the point of view of Oman, the military conflict between the United States and Iran has a huge geopolitical and economic risk. To reduce this danger, the Omani government has acted as a bridge between Tehran and the West; that is why the Oman kingdom, unlike Saudi Arabia and some countries of the Cooperation Council, Which wants Iran to lose its position in the region, does not want Iran to be attacked by the military and tries to increase the capacity of Iran in the region by means of a synergy.
The geographic proximity of Iran and Oman in the Strait of Hormuz, Oman’s geographical remoteness from the Arab world, and the geopolitical and geopolitical importance of the Strait of Hormuz, Iran and Oman, have required good relations. Accordingly, and despite the fact that Oman has always had close ties with the United States, this has not had any effect on Iran’s friendly relations with the country. In fact, the different Muscat approach to the Tehran Cooperation Council has had a dramatic impact and has effectively reduced the influence of Riyadh on the smaller member states of the Council for the purpose of convergence, and undermined West’s efforts to isolate Tehran.
It should now be seen that in spite of important approaching variables such as geographic continuity, geopolitical situation in the region, oil, the need for stability in the region, and … the main causes of the security scene in the region.
In the past, in the context of security-related security with national power, there was a belief that with increasing military power security would increase, and with the number of military forces and equipment representing the power and security of each country, but now beliefs have changed and should be noted. National security is not a unilateral process that can only be increased by increasing its military power, but has a broad and comprehensive concept.
It is possible to maintain the national security of each political unit by increasing national power and balancing its constituent elements, and increasing one of these factors, if not accompanied by an increase in other factors, could threaten national security. In this regard, today, national security has taken a cross-border dimension; in other words, it is not just inside the border. Of course, security is not military power, so sometimes increased military strength reduces security and insecurity.
The Omanian kingdom has a different look at the position of the Gulf Cooperation Council on the issue of convergence; on the one hand, it contributes to economic issues within the framework of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council, but on the other hand, in foreign policy and disputes between the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council Persian countries has not entered and has been trying to play a role in the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council by assuming the role of the Hammer of Equilibrium. However, now it seems that, despite the differences between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, it is not very willing to remain in the Gulf Cooperation Council. This approach may lead to a gap in the Gulf Cooperation Council, and will split countries into two different blocks. In this regard, Muscat tries to maintain its impartiality in the internal conflicts of this council as well as the differences between Iran and Arab countries, while playing a positive role.
Now the kingdom of Oman is not willing to pay for the rest of the world; therefore, in view of Muscat, Egypt’s entry into the Gulf Cooperation Union is very dangerous. On the other hand, the Omani kingdom does not differ much with other countries, but it is not pleasing to Saudi policies (which are trying to dictate their policies to other Gulf States). The country has repeatedly objected to Saudi apparent interference in foreign policy of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and if the situation continues, it is foreseeable that the Gulf Cooperation Council will collapse in the future, and even Qatar, along with the Oman kingdom, will cooperate with the Co-operation Council Gulf exits and form an alliance with Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. In contrast, Bahrain, UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are on the other.
In the future, Muscat tries to maintain its impartiality and, in its relations with the United States, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, and …, continues its policies and tries to play a positive role in resolving regional crises, as The meetings of Iran and the Western countries over the past years with Oman’s administration show that the king wants to mediate Iran’s relations with the West.
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