Security vacuum and Taliban resurgence

Last week our group spent some time discussing the international community’s last footprint in Afghanistan, which, according to Seth Jones, is an indirect cause of the growing insurgency. Yesterday, we went one step further and explored the power vacuum that, since 2005/2006, permits the resurgence of the Taliban. Very much like in the early 1990s, the Taliban manage to take advantage of the lack of local governance and justice to rise again, using a mix of propaganda, coercion and intimidation to gain some popular support in rural areas. Confronted to violence and insecurity, it seems that people tend to side with whoever is more likely to bring them some sort of stability and justice. It is a trade-off between freedom and security. In practical terms, it means that Taliban supporters and sympathizers do not necessarily share their ideology.

However, they often share the Taliban hatred towards the Afghan government and/or coalition forces. Aerial bombings play an important role in the growing insurgency. Civilian casualties fuel people’s anger and shape their perceptions of the international community. It creates new insurgents every day. Indiscriminate violence turns out to be counterproductive and coalition forces have difficulties winning Afghan hearts and minds. Both make extensive use of propaganda tools. The Taliban use Islam to undermine their enemy and legitimize their own cause, while ISAF undertakes psychological operations (PSYOPs) to influence people’s emotions, motives and perceptions. In this context, it is often very difficult to know the truth.

Insecurity is a vicious circle. It keeps the Afghan government and the international community away from unsafe areas, whose population progressively side with insurgents against a government which is incapable of delivering. The security situation in these areas deteriorates to such extent that coalition forces are reluctant to send their nationals on the ground. (This in turn creates tensions among coalition partners). They thus rely on aerial bombings, which, as previously mentioned, create more anger and fuel the insurgency.

In such a complex environment, what options do the Afghan government and the international community have to fill the security vacuum? Different solutions have already been explored. We mentioned in class the failure of the auxiliary police experiment, due to a lack of legitimacy at the local level. We also briefly discussed the idea of forming village and tribal militias modeled on the Sons of Iraq. One might argue that at least they would have some legitimacy in the eyes of the local population. But even that is a subject for debate. For example, how do we define legitimacy? Other possible options include relying on regional strongmen such as governor Atta (Balkh) or governor Sherzai (Nangarhar), or sending more foreign troops to conduct a surge of operations, like in Iraq. All these different scenarios involve necessary trade-offs and need to be discussed in further details. We will in the following weeks, as we start looking at the current counterinsurgency strategy (COIN).

About Afghanopoly

I am an Assistant Professor of peace and conflict studies at Radboud University's Centre for International Conflict Analysis and Management (CICAM). I completed my PhD in Political Science at Northwestern University and Sciences Po under the supervision of Will Reno and Bertrand Badie. Among other things, I teach students about the politics of international intervention in Afghanistan and elsewhere. My research focuses on the political strategies that Afghan strongmen use to consolidate and legitimize their authority. I am particularly interested in how these actors manage to conduct their own forms of international relations. My field research brings me in contact with Afghan community leaders, politicians, diplomats and foreign military officers.
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18 Responses to Security vacuum and Taliban resurgence

  1. Ahmad Muslem Hayat says:

    Power vacuum , From former Mujahedeen’s in in rural area so called DDR program was the rise of Taliban.

    The international community,s should have realised Ex mujahdeen the have had strong rull for bringing security in the country .

    same as iranian have done in 80, ( formation of revolutionary guards),still strong loyalist to islamic republic of Iran.

    If we look back in80 at the cold war US allies form Mujahedeen parties and have supported them against USSR troops in AFG.

    It was great impact for soviets troops and result of that fallen of Berlin wall ,collapse of soviet union,

    After 2001 war against terror it would have been best chance to used Anti taliban mujahedeen for bringing security and also reconstruction for post war country.

    under umbrella of IOM or NDS,
    Taliban has started also propaganda US back karzai Government they are against Islam and mujahedeen.

    In cold war mujahedeen were hero but now they are war lords and terrorist……. etc.

    In one meeting i was witness one famous pro late Massoud commander from Kandahar said ,we have upper handed all weapons for DDR program,

    Also government calling us war lord ,we have not received our salary ,from now we will never support US and Karzai Government. we will not stop taliban any more,

    It was not problem of justice at all it was gap , very good chance again for taliban started recruitments. it was the mean point of re insurgency.

    Also false intel for targeting hunting taliban from Afghan officials,killing innocent for tribals own enmities or problems. as well as ISI strategy for NATO

    presence in AFG. also fouling sending more fighters for JIhad against US troops from refugee camps and madras’s

    Arial bombardment is very effective for hunting AQ or other insurgents both side of AF PAK borders,ISI is always critic and against using of drones attack ,this attempt of PAK government is to reduce risk for taliban and AQ opratives ,
    dispatchs in safe heaven of taliban ,Waziristan.

    The auxiliary police experiment is good idea for long tearm. forming militias from locals creating job for youths is one of security solution.


  2. I will be back to comment more but I just wanted to share the opinion piece in the NYT today by Zalmay Khalilzad:

  3. Valkyrie says:

    In such a complex environment, what options do the Afghan government and the international community have to fill the security vacuum?

    A corrupt government that people fail to take seriously is a large part of the problem, obviously, because people need to have faith that their government is capable of getting important things done (and that it is willing to do so). Unfortunately, it is not a big surprise that those who crave power for the sake of having power end up governing in a corrupt manner, and this is certainly not a scenario unique only to Afghanistan.

    Merely having some type of governing body doesn't help the situation in the absence of a real sense of legitimacy, because corrupt government officials are so easy to manipulate (they're easily bought).

    Unfortunately, it seems as if the corrupt Afghan government is still currently the least worst in light of the other actors over there (the brutal Haqqani tribe, being among the worst, obviously).

    Afghanistan desperately needs a legitimate government coupled with sufficient security forces, but it's currently such a royal mess that getting organized seems very rough going. What seems to make sense, of course, is attempting to suppress the activity and influence of the insurgents, because in the absence of effective suppression, nothing will stop the situation from further deteriorating (if entropy represents the amount of disorder within a given system, then Afghanistan is seriously a high entropy zone). There's really no way to even begin to reverse the mess without effective suppression, even if it's not possible to eradicate every last potential insurgent. As was pointed out in class, it's like dealing with criminal gangs or the mob; they still operate, despite law enforcement's attempt to keep on them, but due to being suppressed and delegitimized by the mainstream, they operate more in the shadows, rather than openly run major regional areas.

    Afghanistan needs a functional, effective, and sustainable internal security force, as well as assistance from external sources (to help train them in being effective).

  4. Valkyrie says:

    OK. Pardon my mess, but I’ve had little sleep, lately. That entire post was NOT supposed to be in italics, just the quoted part.

  5. Afghanopoly says:

    Here is a link to a very interesting article published in the New York Times today. The author challenges the “conventional wisdom” that the security vacuum prevents aid organizations from doing their job.

  6. Kredox says:

    I agree that Afghanistan needs a functional government in order to have control over Taliban and bring security to its people. But it seems to idealistic that functional government would rise over night. Afghanistan needs time, money and international intervention in order to bring security to assure safe environment for rebuilding new government and new country. Also people need to have security first and believe that international involvement can bring that security instead of more mess and fighting. If people would trust international troops they will eventually trust Afghan government. Of course assuming that Afghan government will eventually have low corruption rate.
    Also I read an article in New York Times this morning about Hamid Karzai admitting receiving money from Iran and other neighbors for his office expenses. He also admitted that he received “bags of cash” from US.
    If anyone can explain me why is it a problem??? As I understood this money goes only to his office and not to people itself, but on the other hand this money could be used to build the strong government if used correctly. Of course my opinion that it is mostly used for personal gain as we all know about government corruption. So any thoughts on that????

    • Valkyrie says:

      If people would trust international troops before their own government??
      People distrust government even when corruption isn’t as widespread, so it would seem nothing short of miraculous if people could trust international troops.

      Recall that we talked, in class, about how the US basically abandoned Afghanistan after the Soviets were no longer an issue over there, and that this has created a great sense of resentment towards the US among the Afghan people.

      I don’t know about you, but if someone screwed me over, I’d probably elect not to trust them again (even though past behavior doesn’t necessarily predict future behavior, you’re just hardwired to be more inclined towards learning from past experiences and not forgetting about massive negatives).

      I do not think earning their trust is anything but a long-term task (certainly not short-term).

      In theory, if they would just trust international troops, sure, but in reality, you’re dealing with human psychology; humans are naturally hardwired (learning preparedness) to recognize and remember situations detrimental to their survival (such as being absolutely abandoned, for example).

  7. Kredox says:

    Doing today’s readings I had another thought that I think we started to discuss at some point but didn’t agree on. Who is Taliban??? I previously argued that Taliban consists of two groups of people, one group is extreme and ideologically involved and the other one more “moderate” as I used the term to refer to people who had joined Taliban for whatever reason, usually money or political gain. Martin van Bijlert in “Decoding the New Taliban” clarified that point for me. Taliban actually consists of not two but five groups which vary in their involvement and ideology. One of the Taliban groups especially got my attention- the Taliban-e khana-neshir (the Taliban sitting at home). They are people who held positions during Taliban regime, but have not been actively involved in the movement since its fall.
    So why am I distinguishing between these groups? International intervention could have targeted these groups after the fall of Taliban, especially those Taliban members who are not active or who joined Taliban more money in order to bring them to the government and under US “supervision”. By using their influence we could have escaped the power vacuum that appeared after the fall of Taliban, and by investing only in Karzai’s government seemed like a bad idea to me, because of the tribal structure Afghanistan had for centuries.
    Also I wanted to ask anyone if they have any ideas how US could have escaped power vacuum in Afghanistan. Idealistic view of “good” government is too simplistic and impossible. Any thoughts?

  8. zenpundit says:

    Hey Afghanopolists…..

    Re: Iraq, Afghanistan and neo-COIN theory

    Kilcullen, who is on a book tour, at least around the greater DC area, had some candid remarks recently:

    “Addressing the difficulty of the COIN efforts he used New York City as an example. With the best assets for dealing with COIN in the world, the New York City Police Department still has profound difficulty dealing with the multiplicity of ethnic, social, cultural and political groups and issues in the city. He said to imagine sending Iraqi police to New York to deal with unrest. Then he said to imagine sending Iraqi military to act as police in New York City. That example is analogous to what the U.S. is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. COIN is intrinsically very hard but doing it in the context of another culture, language, ethos, mindset, and outlook is profoundly difficult.

    ….Outlining other approaches to model COIN measures he related that FM 3-24 was written specifically for Iraq but does not at all apply well to the culture and environment of Afghanistan and he pointed out that there is a big difference between a tribal insurgency and a peasant insurgency.”

    Very true. Subsistence agriculture and land tenancy/debt peonage and “weak” network ties creates a different social and economic basis for insurgency than does pastoralism/raiding with “strong” ties of lineage and honor debt/obligations.

    Having followed Dr. Kilcullen’s thinking since he published 28 Articles, he has been fairly consistent over the years about the difficulties of COIN and the primacy of local conditions over “globalized” insurgency.

    One counterpoint though is Mackinlay’s analysis in The Insurgent Archipelago. Another is the literature on hybrid war, in Frank Hoffman’s formulation, and variations of 4GW scenarios – Lebanon in the 1980’s, West Africa in the 90’s, Mexico and Congo today- where insurgents have departed from the traditional Maoist model that so deeply influenced original COIN theory.

  9. naijel says:

    We will describe taliban as a force of evil, which was created by Pakistani intelligent service and master minded by the CIA.

    Who is in the driving seat of taliban?
    Mullah Omar, the invisible man with little information about his past. We heard that he was the Mojaheddin Commander during soviet invasion; he lost his eye and lag but no evidence to support all such information.

    Abdul Hakim Mojahed: spoke man of taliban in the USA and still has protection and live in the USA.

    Mullah Wakil Mutawakil: taliban foreign affairs Minster: He was handed over to US army after 9/11 to face justice but he is returned to Afghanistan with diplomatic immunity under USA Guards protection.

    The majority of Taliban leadership are now part of the Hameed Karzai Government and some information available that the current Afghan President was part of the taliban movement and he was supporting this movement when he was working in the Afghan foreign office under president Rubbani.

    The question is still remain that why the USA invade Afghanistan?
    To destroy (Al- Qeda) network and those who gives protection to this network, bring pace and justice, democracy, law & order and make this world free from Afghan Narcotics with democratically elected government.

    The 9 years battle, billions of expenses, lost of many lives, destroying many villages killing dozens civilians and what are the achievements?

    Al-Qeda still operating worldwide, Taliban is back to power with a high degree of military capability, controlling many provinces in Afghanistan, cultivating high quality and quantity of opium, creating a save passage and environment for export internationally under protection of foreign forces.
    Corrupted government, non-professional members in the house of law, warlords, drugs dealers and other criminals gripping power in the House of Lords under the USA umbrella and practicing a new model of democracy furthermore, the concern of neighbouring countries such as Iran , Pakistan, Russia for the unpleasant presence of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

    The structure of society, ethnic loyalty and preferences, religious and cultures, non self-sufficient economy, g -political location, irresponsible allies and illegitimate authority playing part towards security vacuum.

    • Valkyrie says:

      “The 9 years battle, billions of expenses, lost of many lives, destroying many villages killing dozens civilians and what are the achievements?”

      Well, the US government has certainly succeeded in achieving a police state in the USA in aftermath of 9/11. Due to the extended reach of the PATRIOT Act, government can now stalk your phone calls, your emails, your bank account transactions, and whatever else (in the name of greater security), but 9 years later, there’s still no end in sight to the chaotic mess that is the current state of affairs in Afghanistan.

      In trying to allegedly bring democracy and freedom to the Afghan people, the US government has greatly curtailed ours.

      Way to go!

      Pardon the snark, but I thought I’d take this class and figure out the proper direction the IC needs to take. Instead, it all seems a very long slog to attempt to reverse the mess over there, and we’re nowhere near having an end in sight. And yet, if we abandon operations over there (and the Afghan people), yet again, it won’t help the situation, either.

      I think Pakistan should be encouraged to disallow safe haven for the troublemakers. How to go about this, I’m not at all sure, but it would be a bit of a start. They know they have a safe base of operations, so as long as there’s a swamp in which they can hide out and stage operations from, then they will do so. That’s a large part of the problem (Pakistan).

  10. CPT Caveman says:

    First, great discussion and blog.

    Second, lets think outside the box a little. Why should we help recreate a top down, beurocratic, Western style government for the Afghani people, when our own is crumbling under its own weight? The momentum in our own society is toward smaller, more local, more easily accountable governance. Which is exactly what we should be encouraging among Afghani’s.

    It worked for me in Iraq. Working with the Provincial governor was a waste of time. Working with local mayors, mullahs, sheiks and buisnessmen brought real, measurable results in security, infrastructure development and economic expansion. Money and resources provided above the local level was largely pissed away.

    We are, after all, talking about a largely rural, tribal culture (at least, that is how most Afghani’s self-identify, even if their actions may tend to contradict that). Encourage local solutions first.

  11. tabasco7ml says:

    Everything old is new again! From the banana wars in Latin America in the 1980s, civilian assistance agencies learned that if the village built the school, the FMLN or the FARC (depending on country) left it alone. A school built by the government was burned the next week. We found in Salvador that the Frente was at least as entrepreneurial and capitalistic as their adversaries. Same in Iraq. Municipal, and to a certain extent provincial, governments were the spine of civil government presence in Colombia, Mexico, Salvador, Iraq, and remarkably, early Afghanistan. Unfortunately, Hanif Atmar in the Afghan MMR was overruled in 2005 and municipal government withered on the vine. Civil municipal and provincial government delivered no services, hence had no role or legitimacy. In the countries cited, including Afghan provinces, local governments live at the interface between competing powers. Of necessity, they accept constraints on liberty to relieve their families of violence, informal taxes, and forced conscription.
    Soldiers cannot replace civil government without being perceived as occupiers. Any study of COIN has to be accompanied by understanding of the psychology of the residents as they weigh the options of how to stay alive in the crossfire. COIN doctrine is transferable as a whole from one theater to the next. The local response to COIN will be specific to each location.

  12. Valkyrie says:

    While this link is for a more current WaPo article, I am posting it on this thread, as it is most relevant to the topic of resurgence.

    Or, if you want the secured version…

    Good reading.

  13. naijel says:

    KABUL, Afghanistan— Scribbled notes from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar have surfaced in mosques all over Afghanistan’s ethnic Pashtun heartland, threatening death to anyone who takes up a government offer to negotiate for peace, according to a longtime Taliban member.

    Trying to quash rumors of a break in their ranks, the Taliban also have vehemently denied report that representatives of the militant group were involved in negotiations with the Afghan government.

    The leadership could be worried that commanders might strike separate deals that would threaten to undermine the insurgency and cripple the morale of their rank-and-file fighters.

    President Hamid Karzai has made reconciliation a top priority and recently formed a 70-member High Peace Council to find a political solution to the insurgency. At the same time, the U.S.-led coalition has ramped up its military campaign in an effort to pound Taliban commanders to the negotiating table.

    There are no signs that either strategy is having much effect on the senior Taliban leadership.

    A veteran Taliban member who recently visited the powerful shura — or council — in the Pakistani city of Quetta and controlled by Mullah Omar said there was no talk of negotiation among those who control the insurgency.

    “None of the big Taliban is talking,” the bulky, bearded Taliban member said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from both the government and the religious movement. “I have been to Quetta and I know the council there is not talking.”

    He said the handwritten scribbled notes started appearing in mosques shortly after news of Karzai’s peace overture was broadcast around the country. In the past, Mullah Omar has used notes and sometimes audio recordings to get his message across.

    “We heard it on the radio,” the Taliban member said of Karzai’s overture and reports of contacts between the Taliban and the government.

    “No one in our village has televisions,” explained the man, who has played an integral role in the Taliban for the past 15 years and has been interviewed numerous times by the AP since the 1990s. “The Taliban don’t allow televisions.” During Taliban rule, television was banned as un-Islamic.

    Even if the top Taliban leadership did not participate, a number of exploratory talks have taken place with the militants over the past two years, according to lawmakers, peace council delegates and former and current members of the Taliban.

    The talks were held in various places, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan, said Habibullah Fauzi, a peace council member who once served as the Taliban’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    “It’s not because they can bring Taliban fighters with them that they are talking,” Fauzi said. “Some are facing problems and don’t know if they can stay safe in Pakistan; or some were not given the powerful positions in the Taliban they thought they might have.”

    According to peace council members, those who have held talks with government officials include Maulvi Abdul Kabir, the former Taliban governor of Nangarhar province; Aga Jan Mohtasim, a former Taliban finance minister and current member of the Taliban council in Pakistan’s North Waziristan area; Maulvi Akhtar Mansoor, a former Taliban minister of civil aviation; Qatradullah Jamal, a former Taliban information minister; and Tayyab Agha, a special assistant to Omar.

    One member of parliament told the that he personally met four times with Mohtasim.

    “These are not official negotiations. They are Taliban meeting with people they trust to try to know what the government and the international community is thinking,” said the parliamentarian, who declined to be identified because it would compromise his relationship with the Taliban.

    some previously reported that Kabir and two other midlevel Taliban leaders met with Karzai in mid-October to discuss the Haqqani network, an al-Qaida-linked group that controls much of eastern Afghanistan.

    A former Afghan official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media, said the discussion did not focus on the peace effort, but rather on weakening the Haqqani network’s influence in eastern Afghanistan by dividing tribal loyalties between its leader and Kabir.

    The Taliban and Karzai’s spokesman Waheed Omar both contested , saying this meeting never took place.

    In his interview, the 15-year Taliban veteran painted a picture of increasing violence as the group shifts its fight from the south, where it is constantly attacked by NATO forces, to eastern provinces such as Ghazni.

    Taliban fighters overran a county seat in Ghazni on Nov. 1, captured its headquarters and police station and set both ablaze. They then melted back into the mountains — with at least 16 police officers who apparently defected to the Taliban.

    “Ghazni now is worse than Helmand because the Taliban are everywhere, and the Americans are bombing and attacking Taliban every day and in the night they come with their helicopters,” he said. “We have Punjabis, Arabs, Chechens and Pakistani Pashtuns coming over the mountains.”

    In the Pakistani city of Quetta, he said, Afghan Taliban are sheltered by members of Jaish-e-Mohammed, an extremist group believed to have been organized a decade ago with the help of Pakistani intelligence to fight the Indians in disputed Kashmir.

    He said those who cross the frontier from Pakistan bring bombs, which they assemble in Ghazni and then give to local fighters for use elsewhere, adding that he personally saw this happen several days earlier.

    “In front of my eyes, we were sitting and talking and they were making their bomb,” he said

    • Valkyrie says:

      Quick FYI that unless you, personally, wrote that piece, you might want to cite the source that it came from, not just cut/paste (or copy) text.

      It looks like a news article, but there’s no source.

      It is just always proper to either cite the source or put up a link to the page where you found it.

      Unless, of course, you wrote it yourself (if so, good writing!).

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