The rapid conquest of Afghanistan by the Taliban took a lot of surprise, but the commentary moved just as quickly in assessing its impact on U.S. national security. Conversations have largely focused on whether the Taliban will aid or encourage another 9/11 “mega-terrorist attack” on the United States, forcing Washington to once again attack the “graveyard of empires.” Given the American experience with Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda, which retains a important presence in the country and reciprocal loyalty to the Taliban, this fear is understandable, but it is just as specious.
After twenty years of war, the Taliban seem to have learned some lessons from the value – or at least the appearance – of moderation. The group explicitly promotes its intention to the respect women’s rights, within the limits of Sharia, of course; engaging with women journalists and stop others to be injured; and promising to engage with the international community on the basis of “peaceful relations. “Those advise skepticism towards the avowed terrorist group do not need to insist on this point, but we must not overlook the fact that, like America, the Taliban, too, are not interested in more war, especially s ‘they want to run their country like their own Emirate.
In this regard, the Taliban could “reform” along the same lines as another supposedly rehabilitated terrorist group, the Lebanese Hezbollah. As Matthew Levitt wrote in Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of the Party of God in Lebanon,
Ironically, the al Qaeda attacks of September 11 proved to be a turning point for Hezbollah, the group responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any other terrorist group until September 11. “Hezbollah appears to have made a conscious decision to roll back its international operations and to keep its efforts to strike Israeli targets as focused and limited as possible.
Could the Taliban learn from Hezbollah? The two groups share some commonalities: both have come under heavy scrutiny and pressure from the United States in the aftermath of 9/11, position themselves as defenders of the Islamic faith and engage in tremendous criminal behavior to finance their activities. But Hezbollah is no longer the simple terrorist insurgency it once was; the group is now a recognized political actor in Lebanon and among certain members of the international community, where various countries differentiate between the “legitimate” political wing and the militant “terrorist” wing of the group, a distinction no difference that the group has exploited to its advantage. The Taliban probably view his status with envy.
Indeed, Hezbollah has worked tirelessly to emerge from the shadows, building bases legitimacy through social action focused on fighting corruption and restoring the dignity of the Lebanese after years of civil war and Israeli occupation (a notable similarity to the Taliban’s promise to fight against corruption and end in the United States Occupation). Over time, Hezbollah began to offer services, a system of Islamic courts alongside state courts, and even education to develop a loyal and growing constituency. He has even achieved representation at parliamentary, ministerial and municipal levels of government, establishing a true “state within the state” where, Lina Khatib of Chatham House has Noted, the group wields immense political power without the accountability traps that typically limit state institutions. This arrangement, which Iran seeks to reproduce through Iraq Popular mobilization forces– allowed Hezbollah to co-opt the Lebanese state on its own, siphoning state resources for the benefit of its own interests; using force at its own discretion; and manipulating state security institutions to forge security documents, arm intelligence gathering, smuggle weapons and smuggling, and monitor Lebanese across the country.
Yet the Hezbollah case study is only so useful for the Taliban, who, as the sole ruler of Afghanistan, must appeal to a heterogeneous constituency – not just the Shia Arab population of Lebanon – and seek to shape their own government, not to sink into an existing government. Accordingly, the Houthis of Yemen provide a useful corollary. In their war to overthrow the internationally recognized government and gain control of Yemen, the Houthis have had to face both internal rival tribal factions and an external Saudi-led coalition that includes the United States. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is also actively fighting in the country, although, unlike Afghanistan, this branch of Al-Qaeda has paradoxically in partnership with the allies of the United States roll back the advances of the Houthis.
But the value of the Houthi example to the Taliban does not end there. As they conquered Yemen, the Houthis used intelligence files and records seized from the Yemeni government to to favor alliances and “tribal solidarity” with local clans and recruited members of the Ministry of Defense of the transitional government. Likewise, the Houthis in partnership with ousted former President Ali Abdullah Saleh – an official he once helped overthrow – in 2015 to help him take control of the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, by capturing an array of heavy weapons and ballistic missiles and by accessing government intelligence services, whose capabilities it has integrated into its war machine. From that moment on, Michael Knights wrote for the West Point Counterterrorism Center, the Houthis “forced the demobilization” of military forces loyal to Saleh while enlisting “indispensable individuals” to “bring all critical capabilities” in-house “and disarm any opposition potential ”.
While the Taliban’s challenges do not exactly match the struggles of the Houthis, Afghanistan shares the tribal structure of Yemen, and the Taliban also appear interested in integrating voluntary elements of the late Afghan government’s intelligence and security apparatus into his new diet. Much like the way the Taliban employed local tribal elders to ceasefire broker and surrender with Afghan National Army forces in the months leading up to the fall of the government, the Taliban will have to rely on a mixture of diplomacy, coercion and incentives to find allies, or at least convince the clans unhappy and suspicious of not Take up arms against. As a result, the Taliban’s extension of amnesty members of the civil and military institutions of the former Afghan government and confiscation US and Afghan intelligence files can be a boon to the group, if it plays its cards right.
International recognition and assistance are also priorities for the new Afghan government, which faces no shortage of challenges. However, unlike the Houthis and Hezbollah, the Taliban have already established diplomatic relations with a number of leading countries, including Russia, China, and the United States. But the Taliban must exercise caution in the conduct of their affairs. Although it is an ostensibly nationalist organization, the world is watching carefully how it plans to rule, and any missteps, like, for example, harbor terrorist groups– could jeopardize its sovereignty, reconstruction and external relations. This is especially true when it comes to avoiding international sanctions, especially those taken by the United States.
However, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan may have found an ally in the Islamic Republic of Iran who has a long history of resisting US sanctions and adapting its behavior to satisfy international partners while continuously cooperating with it. terrorist and militant organizations. Despite the strained relations between Iran and the Taliban at the end of the twentieth century – the two countries almost went to war in 1998, precipitating Iranian support for the overthrow of the Taliban by the George W. Bush administration in 2001 – the two countries two have largely filled their division in recent years on common goals such as defeat the United States in Afghanistan.
Today, Tehran has a lot to teach the Taliban, as the Islamic Republic has launched two strategies that have been implemented by Shiite militants to achieve power and legitimacy across the Middle East. The first is the deliberate assimilation of an existing government agency into a new regime. As has been reproduced by its proxies in Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq, Iran’s feat dates back to the early days of the Islamic Republic, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini incorporated members of the deposed Shah’s SAVAK secret service in his new internal security and intelligence force, SAVAMA, which today functions as Tehran’s Ministry of Intelligence.
Likewise, in the years that followed, Iran implemented a second strategic shift by altering its modus operandi of committing overt acts of transnational terrorism (v. Notably, Iran’s decision to supplant what Hassan Hassan calls an “international terrorist campaign organized by a radical and stateless vanguard” with a “state-sponsored Shiite militancy” gave the impression that Tehran’s pugnacity by proxy is a legitimate exercise of its power, as the states around the world are behaving similarly. Moreover, this tendency has spread to all of Iran’s proxy forces, which, like Al-Qaeda, have undergone parallel conversions: giving up targeting “the enemy far away” – the United States and the West. – to cultivate local populist political enterprises. This has provided political cover for states like Russia and China to partner with Iran – despite their anxiety over Islamic extremism and terrorism – in the pursuit of common economic and geopolitical goals.
The Taliban may also harbor similar views. While the Taliban openly announces itself as a nationalist project, they potentially have a long-term vision of global jihad also. If this is the Taliban’s real goal, then its relationship with Iran could prove invaluable. Iran is not only keen to improve relations with the Taliban, Tehran maintains its open embassy in Kabul, refuse asylum to Afghans fleeing Taliban control and seeking to expand bilateral trade as a way to ease the spur of US sanctions – but he also maintained a love relationship with Al Qaeda and shares the Taliban’s hatred for ISIS. While Iran’s relations with Al Qaeda are more marriage of convenience that an alliance forged in mutual allegiance, a burgeoning new Tehran-Kabul axis, focused on progressive and prolonged jihad, could change the nature of that relationship. For example, Iran could release some of the leaders of Al Qaeda resident within its borders in Afghanistan, or use its experienced Afghan Shiite militia, the Fatemiyoun Brigade, to strengthen an Afghan-Iranian security partnership. The possibilities are worrying, although the outcome is far from certain.