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Why are the Taliban still capable of mounting deadly attacks in Afghanistan?

3 May 2017 No Comment

By Arwin Rahi in The Express Tribune, May 2, 2017
The writer is a former adviser to the Parwan governor in Afghanistan.
The Taliban, in a show of force, attacked the Afghan Army’s 209 Shaheen Corps on April 21. With estimates of up to 300 soldiers killed and as many wounded, the attack was the largest single-day military loss for Afghanistan since the Taliban’s resurgence. And the actual casualty count could be even higher.

A source in the National Directorate of Security – the Afghan intelligence agency – said on condition of anonymity that the government is strictly censoring the number of casualties in an effort to keep the morale of the embattled security forces high. With its 30,000 personnel, the Shaheen Corps is responsible for the security of 114 districts in nine northern Afghan provinces. The Taliban, on their official website, have linked the attack to the Corps’ utilisation of “brutal tactics in their operations” against civilians, and the killing of the Taliban governors of Kunduz and Baghlan provinces.

Seeds of extremism: While from the Afghan government’s perspective, it is imperative to make sure such a catastrophe never befalls it again, the Taliban will continue to have the upper-hand on the ideological front of the conflict for the foreseeable future. Rewinding to the ‘jihad-era’ of the 1980s, the US, through General Ziaul Haq’s regime in Pakistan, adopted the promotion of extremism and religious militancy as a policy tool to confront the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. As a result, the US systematically infused hundreds of thousands of Afghans with the idea of a holy war, in its strictly militaristic form, against kafirs – nonbelievers – in general, and against the Soviets in particular. This policy, the impacts of which are still widely felt, would backfire with disastrous consequences for Afghanistan.

Today, scanning through the textbooks provided by the US to Afghan students in Pakistan in the 1980s, and in Afghanistan throughout the 1990s instils fear into one’s heart. Militancy-oriented and extremist content filled the pages of school textbooks. For example, the teaching of basic arithmetic to six and seven-year-olds starts with one rifle, two hand grenades, then three rifles, four bullets, and finally bullets. Addition and subtraction also provided for perfect examples of brainwashing kids with acts of violence. Examples like: “There were three nonbelievers; a mujahid killed one of them, how many nonbelievers were left?” Or “If there were two mujahideen and as many more joined them, what would the total be?” Even jokes, aimed at entertaining students, were geared toward promoting violence. Killing kafirs or getting killed by them in combat were the values taught for decades. Thus, an entire generation of Afghans was fed a steady dose of extremist literature.

Ironically, it was only after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 that the Americans realised that the very textbooks that they had designed in the 1980s – which were still in circulation in one form or another until 2002 – contained extremist content, and should be banned. By then, however, the damage to Afghan society had been done and religious extremism had been thoroughly ingrained. It was only a matter of time for the Taliban – and now Islamic State – to capitalise on it. In post-9/11 Afghanistan, because of US intervention, explicit content promoting militancy has been removed from textbooks in the government-controlled areas. Nonetheless, non-governmental extremist elements have resumed their activity. For instance, the Ashraful Madares in Kunduz province has been promoting extremism for several years. After its initial success in the provincial capital, the madrassa has opened additional 13 branches across the province. It also supplies teaching materials to madrassas in other provinces. Ashraful Madares’s teachers could travel to, and participate in religious functions in, the Taliban territory unhindered. Locals suspect the madrassa of being foreign-funded, but no one dares speak of this in public.

Furthermore, based on a 2015 report by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, the Taliban, among other extremist groups, are sponsoring extremist and anti-government activities in schools and madrassas in at least 18 provinces in the government-controlled areas. It is worth noting that nearly half of Afghanistan has been overrun by the Taliban and Islamic State. If the Taliban could engage in extremist and anti-government activities in the government-controlled areas, it would be fairly logical to deduce that the Taliban and Islamic State would be training another generation of Afghan extremists in the territories they control. There is even some evidence for that. Islamic State in Afghanistan teaches children as young as four theoretical lessons in militancy, and practical lessons in using small arms. Moreover, a number of mosques across Afghanistan have been suspected of being involved in extremist activities, including sheltering suicide bombers.

Despite 16 years of protracted war in Afghanistan, not only have the Taliban not been defeated, but they have become much stronger. Lately, Islamic State has also made inroads in Afghanistan. In fact, the very presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, especially when it’s not clear when they will leave and when the war will end, gives the Taliban an opportunity to exploit. By resorting to extremism, and at times out of context interpretations of religious texts, the Taliban easily appeal to the religious fervour of a considerable portion of the Afghan population, especially those living in rural areas. It is in such a conducive environment for engaging in militant activities that the Taliban and Islamic State either recruit insiders or infiltrate maximum security areas.

No doubt there are multiple factors – including clashing interests of countries in the region and beyond – that have prolonged and complicated the Afghan war, with no end in sight. But one cannot overlook the ideological dimension of the conflict, where the field is fertile for the Taliban to sow the seeds of religious militancy. So long as the Taliban can keep the government on the back foot, Shaheen Corps-like attacks might be repeated again. Afghanistan needs a country-wide modern and moderate school curriculum as a long-term sustainable solution to rid itself of religious militancy at the grassroots level. But for the time being no such hopes could be entertained as the government has lost the initiative, and could hardly extend its grip outside large urban areas. https://tribune.com.pk/story/1399030/taliban-still-capable-mounting-deadly-attacks-afghanistan/

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