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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
 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.
The Diversification of Violence and Foreign Policy
In a recently published essay for e-ir.info, Marianna Albuquerque, Coordinator of the South American Political Observatory, provides a succinct and accessible history of the theory of war as it has evolved according to shifting economic, geopolitical, and institutional realities.
Beginning with a brief discussion of what Élie Tenenbaum has elsewhere referred to as the system of “Westphalian regularity” that for many centuries defined the parameters of traditional warfare between and among states, Albuquerque pivots to an analysis of “irregular” or “asymmetrical” wars that, to a certain degree, have become anever more commonplace aspect of inter- and intra-national conflict in the modern era. She is keen to point out, however, that while irregular war does not in and of itself constitute a wholly new phenomenon, what is of significance is “the extent of its use.”
Accordingly, with the advent of not just new kinds of war but also of the ways in which wars are conceived of and prosecuted, Albuquerque asserts that right now what is needed is a “new lexicon” that “must consider the social character and the human consequences of the diversification of violence” (emphasis added).This richly suggestive phrase establishes a useful prism through which it becomes possible to consider the potential ramifications of the various ways in which nations or non-state entities, be they corporations, drug cartels, or revolutionary organizations, aggressively pursue their interests.
Of primary importance is the necessity to briefly consider the relationship between the diversification of violence and the proliferation of violence. In the simplest of terms, the primary difference between these two ideas or concepts is what some analysts and scholars have identified as the emergence of new forms of violence or discord and merely the exponential multiplication of violence as a defining element of present-day politics. Ultimately, it is not that violence has expanded or increased in terms of magnitude. Rather, what is noteworthy is the observation that it is highly adaptive; that is, violence changes as a function of or response to innovations in the fields of technology, politics, commerce, and industry, among others.
It is impossible to provide a full and exhaustive catalogue of the many new forms of irregular or asymmetrical war that the world faces today. Included below, however, is an admittedly short and incomplete survey that can serve as a point of departure for further analysis of novel types of conflict and for thinking about how a progressive foreign policy can respond to the challenges they present.
The emergence and evolution of cyber warfare as a serious threat to national security and economic stability is certainly high on the list of potential disruptors to the global status quo.From the sophisticated joint U.S.-Israeli Stuxnet attack on Iranian nuclear infrastructure, to the North Korean operation against Sony Pictures in the wake of that studio’s production and release of the satirical film The Interview, cyber warfare has become an increasingly common tactic employed by states and non-state actors to project power and influence beyond and across borders.
Similarly, the well-documented and exhaustively covered attempt by Russian troll farms and twitter bots to influence the American presidential contest in 2016 reveals the extent to which social media has become weaponized in order to sow chaos and confusion on the world stage. Regardless of the eventual result or actual degree of effectiveness of this campaign, what is certain is that this operation did cause many observers to call into question the integrity and security of U.S. elections and to raise doubts concerning the sanctity and legitimacy of the democratic process in this country.
Of related and increasingly relevant concern is the emergence of so-called of “stochastic terrorism.” In a post from January 2011, an anonymous blogger breaks down this concept into two constituent elements: 1. The use of mass communication to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable. 2. Remote-control murder by lone wolf. Thus, in an age in which a post on a message board or a provocative tweet can potentially lead to catastrophic violence, it is imperative to address the fragile balance of preserving the fundamental right of freedom of expression and the need to predict and prevent acts of terror.
Other manifestations of irregular war include the evolution of the exploitation and deployment of mercenaries, paramilitary forces, and private security contractors in various hotspots such as Libya, Afghanistan, and Mozambique. Again, while this practice is not in and of itself entirely “new” per se, the extent of its use and its wide acceptance as an instrument of state power or international relations certainly demands the attention of those tasked with diplomacy and de-escalation of conflicts.
Additionally, economic policies like the institution of tariffs and the placing of sanctions, the formation of regional trade blocs and associations, and even debt ownership as a means of exerting influence over poorer nations, are ways in which different governments around the world often times project power.
In order to adequately address this diversification of violence, then, a progressive foreign policy must include certain fundamental priorities. Among these are taking the concrete and verifiable steps necessary to adhere to international peace treaties, trade agreements that protect workers and the environment, and promises to decrease and regulate existing stockpiles of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.
Furthermore, it is of paramount importance to re-evaluate government spending priorities and resource allocation in order to properly fund and support the necessary work of various international aid organizations and non-profit groups that advocate for increasing the health and well-being of vulnerable and marginalized populations. And perhaps most obviously, as the climate crisis becomes ever more acute with each successive year, the increased investment in new technologies that continue to diminish our reliance on fossil fuels and that address the profound threat posed by the scarcity of resources, including the limited availability of fresh water and adequate housing, should be a primary concern.
Finally, in a time defined as it is by increasingly high levels of insecurity, imbalance, and turmoil, revisiting the idea of hybrid peacebuilding has the potential to yield positive results. In its simplest formulation, hybrid peacebuilding“ signals a willingness to accept and work with traditional institutions and values based on religious, tribal, and kinship connections, and to explore how they can be combined with those of modernity to bring a lasting peace.”Perhaps by constructing lines of contact between the global and the subnational, an innovative and mutually beneficial solution to the problem of the diversification of violence can be achieved.
Covid-19: Impacts on Pakistan’s Cybersecurity
The Covid-19 pandemic still remains the most dominant factor affecting global scenario. Neither the superpowers nor the developing countries are spared of its curse. Whole world is in a crisis like situation whether it’s a super power or state like Pakistan, which has already been facing external threat and internal instabilities. Like every other state in the world to continue the routine activities, Pakistan has shifted its workload to online databases. The shift to online forum has increased dependence on internet making the country equally concerned about safeguarding its cyber security – as safeguards and security systems of our cyber infrastructure are not so protective keeping in view the dynamic nature of cyber security. The government has recently launched its Digital Pakistan Policy which has acquired renewed significance in the current pandemic. Although it is a good initiative to facilitate the public but there are some loopholes that need to be addressed as Covid crisis seems to have prolonged indefinitely. There is a need to adopt effective measures so the weakness in the system can be effectively resolved on priority bases.
The current crisis situation has adversely impacted the educational hubs and other academic institutes which almost stopped functioning for a while. The government encourages the online classes and examination system. This not only helped schools and universities, but the research thinks thanks and other organizations were also able to resume their functions by utilizing online forum. Here the challenge for a country like Pakistan is the provision of fast and smooth internet connections in all the districts of country. But now days, students of KPK, Balochistan, Gilgit Baltistan and even in some districts of Punjab are facing connectivity issues. Students have raised their voices through social media forum and student Unions. Other than smooth provision of internet facility, state need to have a robust independent network security systems during Covid-19 because of more dependence on computer and internet networks and keep up with the rapidly changing cyber technologies. Dependence on foreign developed applications like ‘Zoom’ can be harmful in the longer term for privacy. Recently, an intrusion occurred during the webinar of Institute of Strategic Studies (ISSI) due to non-encrypted internet connection. In encrypted connection the risk factor still exists as the de-encrypted data is retained with the developers who can use it for their self-interest to harm the security of any state especially the states like Pakistan which is still in the nascent stage of acquiring and developing advanced cyber technology related tools. Another such incident occurred wherein the official website of Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission was attacked by scammers but later on it was clarified by HEC that it was just that someone just took the screenshot and make changes in its HTML coding and uploads it , which seems to be , that website is hacked . Although this scam carried out in anger by internal rudiments was not so harmful and serious, but still it’s an alarm to be prepared for the rising threats and technological challenges that could be hazardous. It is, thus a big question mark on the Pakistan’s preparedness to face such challenges in future that could be serious in their nature.
Covid-19 has quarantined the people inside their homes; activities are limited to internet and computers. This has provided the cyber-criminals with the opportunity to breach the privacy and use it for their own interests. During this quarantine, people to kill boredom are downloading different kind of applications in their mobile phones and PCs and agreeing to give that application access to mobile data. This can be harmful and data of people can be used to cause damage to personal as well as national security, because this is an era of information warfare and any entity or state can take advantage of the data provided to them unknowingly. Cyber criminals and hackers whether they are from within the state or outside; sponsored by rival states can easily exploit the loophole of the existing cyber infrastructure as previously before Covid-19 crises, Pakistani infrastructure has been attacked several times which includes the banking sector as well as armed forces infrastructure. For instance cyber-attacks carried out by Indian organization Rattle snake on Navy’s Public relations Branch tried to manipulate the statements released by Public relations Branch. Above mentioned attacks carried out by India before Covid-19 were very alarming and threatening to national security. One can gauge the level of threat during Covid-19 when the whole country is working online. There have been efforts to digitize all the sectors of Pakistan with which whole data will be shifted to data clouds. This may lead to losing control over the data because once data is placed online, it will be available to everyone who can then penetrate easily and will be hazardous for national security.
To address the threats to data and preserve its national security, Pakistan needs a workable solution to protect its servers to store such huge bulks of national data. It also needs to maintain backup of the data to be on safer side. It needs to develop its own strong firewall security software against online viruses and Trojan horses to protect the data rather than being dependent on borrowed technologies and software because dependency in such domains in the longer runs can be harmful. So keeping in view the upcoming technological era and Covid-19 has to some added acceleration in the process of doing so. At this very moment, Pakistan needs to have a formalized national cyber security policy as an important pillar of national security.
The theory of hybrid warfare as developed by Generals Gerasimov and Primakov
The first complete development of the “hybrid warfare” theory by Russia – which, anyway, invented it – can be found in an article by General Gerasimov, the Russian Armed Forces’ Chief of Staff of the time, in an essay published in the weekly magazine Corriere Military-Industrial Courier in February 2013.
The high-ranking officer of the Russian Command started from a simple consideration, i.e. especially in the post-Cold War period, but even earlier, any regional or continental military action increasingly came closer to the line in which peaceful operations and military operations in the proper sense of the term tended to get confused.
The article was entitled- in a rather anodyne way – “The Value of Science is in the Foresight”. A cryptic reference, but indeed very clear later on, as we will see.
The post-Cold War experiences marked General Gerasimov’s central idea: at the beginning of the strategic theory of the Russian General, however, there was the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), i.e. the U.S. doctrine of the 2000s that placed the relationship between new technologies and the overall reorganization of the North American Armed Forces at the core of the debate.
Both Russia and China placed the RMA – which they saw operating well in Iraq – as the terminus a quo of their necessary transformation of technologies, goals, but above all, military organizations.
The defeat of Caporetto was organized by a very young German lieutenant, Erwin Rommel, who – without considering ranks and hierarchies too much – made up a unit that broke the contacts between the Second and the Third Italian Army with its assault squads consisting of only 11 soldiers and three machine guns, having a counterattack function.
The paradox, however, is that it was instead a great Russian and Soviet General, Ogarkov, who invented the same RMA, which he called the Military Technological Revolution.
In General Ogarkov’s mind, new technologies such as robotics and direct energy weapons, would design the whole new space of operations and even the political function of war, thus marginalizing the vast masses of infantry that were once necessary to win.
Just think here, by contrast, of the USSR victory against the Third Reich, which has always been a model for the modern thinking of the Soviet Union and later of Russia.
In essence, “hybrid warfare” is a way to add the necessary masses on the ground, but exactly as a function of the RMA and the new applications of psychological warfare.
Hence without unnecessarily regimentalizing them in an old nineteenth-century-style army.
General Gerasimov also rightly maintained that the basic rules of war had changed: the role of the non-military structures useful to achieve goals that were previously reached exclusively by war increased out of proportion. Here Russia had in mind the operations of Soft Power and economic and cultural influence by the United States and NATO, but also, in many cases – and this is the point that gave rise to the concept of “hybrid warfare” – the non-traditional means that achieved and sometimes outperformed the effects of conventional weapons. Financial warfare? War of information manipulation? War for raw materials? It depends on where you are.
Hence conventional warfare is related to armies and their size defines their ability to “last”, but only up to the enemy’s breaking point.
Lasting, a philosophical and even strategic concept that Henri Bergson, the great French philosopher – who walked around, with the yellow Jewish star, in front of the Nazi SS units in occupied France – described in his La Force qui s’use et la Force qui ne s’use pas.
In his hybrid warfare, General Gerasimov thought about the great peacekeeping forces, which currently consists of as many as 11,000 U.N. “policemen” – often with Rules of Engagement which apply above all to children playing football in parks – but will rise to 16,900 in three years’ time.
We shall solve the cases of Darfur, Chad and the Central African Republic, which the U.N. and its peacekeepers shall convince to reach the umpteenth peace agreement between the Justice and Equality Movement and the Janjawid.
The NGOs, an excellent instrument of influence – as also General Gerasimov admitted – serve to cure the effects of war operations on the population, nothing more.
Hence, again in General Gerasimov’s mind, the final victory came above all from the covert and symmetrical work of many organizations: local volunteers; allied military; the more or less “spontaneous” people’s organizations; companies’ safety nets; criminal organizations (which everybody used anyway) and large mass demonstrations, as well as the traditional psyops operations.
This was the initial Russian response to the U.S. and NATO operations in the former Yugoslavia, where Russia was particularly interested in Serbia, as the axis of its national interest in the Balkans, which obviously exists.
The United States, however, responded by choosing, above all, the jihad, in spite of Russia’s quick entry – as a surprise operation – into Kosovo in 1999, when the Russian troops based in Bosnia entered Pristina – breaking an old agreement with NATO -by bringing Russian troops to close the border between Kosovo and Serbia.
That was the moment in which the United States radicalized – due to an anti-Russian bias – in the protection of Balkan countries that were almost completely jihadist at the time.
There was also the subsequent and stable U.S. presence in the Bosnian jihad, with Alja Izetbegovic, when Sarajevo was often visited by Osama bin Laden.
General Gerasimov, however, was a good prophet: the irregular forces in the Crimea, the other ones in Chechnya, many other “little green men” in Georgia and then in many peripheral areas of the new Russian empire did an excellent job and will still do so.
Because certainly technological superiority counts – indeed it is essential – but what really matters is the full and absolute political power on a territory or on a specific technology, operation, influence or Denial Area action.
China’s doctrine of hybrid warfare is very different from the Russian one. For Russia a stable relationship between its West and the Eurasian peninsula is always and in any case necessary – otherwise the Russian Federation would only be mostly Asia, Islam and the Siberian Far East.
For China the hybrid warfare doctrine is always direct heir to Sun Tzu and is currently defined as the technique of “winning without fighting”.
Meanwhile, China wants to securitize the peripheral territories in which it is interested, but without firing a shot.
The area of South China Sea, of the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands, of Guam, of the Vietnamese Sea, as well as the Guam air base (with the “Andersen” and “Apra” locations), which is fundamental for the United States to reach the Philippines and obviously Taiwan.
Nevertheless, whether you want to understand it or not, also the jihad has learnt the hybrid warfare lesson with great intelligence.
It has merged it – even neglecting some secondary Koranic rules – with the new conception of war that China interprets as “unrestricted warfare”.
The United States and Westerners interpret all this new hybrid warfare only as “terrorism”, thus attributing it to some “madmen”, according to the outmoded script of the reductio ad hitlerum. But it is indeed avery new form of war, a new war “from weak to strong”, like the French nuclear weapon against the Soviet Union (and not only it) and as it is currently thought by Russia, albeit by equalizing the nuclear potential.
The hybrid warfare gathers all the walks and parts of civil society, manipulates them, puts them together and turns them towards a Stay Behind-Gladio-style guerrilla warfare, but adapted to modern and future times.
Here it is not a matter of putting up resistance, as in the old Gladio structures, until “people rise up”, or to slow down the almost certain conquest, by the Warsaw Pact, of the Po Valley, because the new invaders and their friends will be well careful not to hurt the feelings or clash with the habits and needs of the non-belligerent local population. And they will not take their territory, but their resources.
Quite the reverse: again with its hybrid warfare, Russia will mainly carry out operations “from weak to strong” blocking its enemy’s information actions, backing their population and mixing with them, thus becoming unrecognizable and, above all, carrying out fully unconventional operations.
Either you take the radio and TV stations, as Nasser did at the beginning of his revolution with his “Free Officers”, or currently you control social media remotely, either through fake news – which are true instruments of “unorthodox” warfare, as it was called by NATO when a Marine officer, who led it, found himself lured and tricked by a pretty girl from the GDR Intelligence Services – or possibly even with the techniques of support, local manipulation and protection of the local population.
Hence currently Russia mainly plays the game of non-State actors, even imitating them, but there is the whole panoply of the current unorthodox war. It is evangelically waged on a small-scale with the small countries and on a large-scale with the big ones.
The important thing is always to eliminate the buffer areas around the enemy which, for Russia, is always the West and the United States.
The manipulation of illegal immigration, for example, or the organization of coups or separatist operations – shaping the aforementioned mechanism as the United States did with OTPOR, “Resistance”, the old brand that nowadays no one uses or understands any longer, which organized the fight against Milosevic from the basements of the U.S. Embassy in Hungary – or even the targeted assassination, or also the use, as strategic weapons, of energy assets.
Westerners’ tunnel vision towards “Islamic terrorism” did the rest – and forced them into the tunnel.
While it expected an enemy operating with very different criteria from the usual ones. This is the reason why, until now, the West has failed with the jihad. Another enemy arrived, mimicking the jihad but from State to State, and was much more dangerous.
In the 1990s Russia drafted four strategic documents.
In the NATO evaluations of the same period, especially in the field of hybrid warfare, there was little or nothing of politics and little of operational matters.
It seems that the von Clausewitz’s rule that “victory is the imposition of one’s own will on the enemy” has been forgotten and precisely by Westerners.
A sort of “damage reduction” theory, as with youth drugs, or a memory of the time when we were good, during the Cold War, at launching leaflets on the enemy’s population.
Too little. Much more was done by the carpet/saturation bombing, developed by the British Sir Arthur Tedder, after many Nazi examples.
All these Gerasimov-Primakov’s notes, however, are contained in the various military doctrines signed by Putin.
In January 2000, the Russian President signed the first modern Gerasimov-style National Security Concept, which listed the destabilization factors that are also those that Russia sees in the operations currently existing in the East: ethnic, nationalist and religious factionalism, a theme that is much far from Western doctrine, which exalts precisely factionalism, as happened in the template of the hybrid warfare of the time, the Second Yugoslav War.
There is also the weakening of the current mechanisms of international crisis control, which we see currently operating within the United Nations and its peripheral organizations, in which, indeed, the United States no longer wants to participate. There is also the “illegal implementation of military power and strength under the pretext of humanitarian operations” – and this is precisely dedicated to the West.
The response of this Russian document was directly targeted to the 1999 NATO Strategic Concept, in which the Russian side stated that only the U.N. Security Council could establish legal rules for regional interventions.
Certainly to be later present together in the West and control it.
The Russian national interests, reaffirmed in the 2000 document, were still the same: military cooperation in the CIS, on which Russia does not want foreign eyes; the creation of a unified military area (which is the basis for hybrid warfare), as well as stable unity with Belarus, where Western agents are now actively operating.
For Russia the criterion is always that of “broad security”.
What about NATO? Since 2015 – and severely late, indeed – the Atlantic Alliance has reached its own “doctrine” for hybrid warfare.
Again for NATO, which has probably not understood the size and the types of threat (and, in fact, it lost in the Crimea), hybrid warfare is “propaganda, strategic deception, sabotage”.
Probably it was so in the past, but nowadays hybrid warfare is much more, as we have quickly noticed.
Moreover, the responsibility of countering hybrid operations, which are not well defined in the NATO documents, falls within the allied nation.
With regard to Russia, the 360°approachadopted by the Alliance in July 2018 established that NATO planned to implement an advanced deployment of conventional deterrence forces in the Baltic States.
Furthermore, NATO is creating a centre for cyber operations to strengthen also “resilience” – now a magic and fashionable word -in the countries concerned.
All right, but there is never an attack strategy. Certainly the Alliance is only defensive, but it would be good to have a clear idea that, from Thucydides to the present day, defence and attack have always been closely interwoven.
There is also the support for the countries of the Southern Flank, with a very generic strengthening of the “fight against terrorism”, as already noted above.
Certainly, the 360°approachclaims it has “bogged down” Putin in the Crimea, but it already accepts the basic defeat in the Southern Flank where, however, there would be an enhanced “fight against terrorism”, regardless of what this expression means.
Hence “all-out war” – not palliatives – even in times of peace and this is the real final goal of “hybrid warfare”, while the world war is today kept as a remote option by the U.S. residual power of conventional or not conventional first and second strike – which will certainly not last forever.
The only ones who are thinking about the new scenarios – leaving aside Italian pettifoggers in the Intelligence Services and in other organizations – are the French.
General Thierry Burkhard, a man of the Foreign Legion, is thinking of a new concept: after the defeat or, however, the marginalization of the jihad, the real future clash will be the return of the old into the new, the struggle between States and States.
The conflicts of the future will be symmetrical again, State against State. He also maintains that Europe has become structurally weak; it does not “think” about the conflict, so it will lose it.
Hence General Burkhard thinks that France shall military strengthen its Armée de Terre and then focus on credible deterrence, also at nuclear level, as well as on the new concentration of its future operations both in the cyberspace and on the ground.
A hybrid counter warfare. In Italy, as usual, we have mere accountants in power, not even particularly brilliant, and the rest goes accordingly.
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