Who Are the Taliban and What Do They Want?

| 5/26/2009 12:14:26 PM

The invisible map

The Taliban have again taken up residency on the front pages of our newspapers. Bill Moyers asks historian (and one-time Pakistan resident) Juan Cole a question many of us might feel silly asking after all of these years of war in Afghanistan and worry over Pakistan: “Who are the Taliban and what do they want?”

Cole’s response (and the entire Moyers segment) provides a foothold on the mountain of nuance we’re missing in the coverage of what is now being called the “Afpak” war:

What we're calling the Taliban, it's actually a misnomer. There are, like, five different groups that we're swooping up and calling the Taliban. The Taliban, properly speaking, are seminary students. They were those refugee boys, many of them orphans, who went through the seminaries or Madrassas in northern Pakistan back in the nineties. And then who emerged as a fighting force. Then you have the old war lords who had fought with the Soviet Union, and were allied with the United States. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Jalaluddin Haqqani, they have formed insurgent groups to fight the Americans now. Because they had fought the Soviet occupation, they now see an American occupation, so they've turned on the United States. They were former allies.

So we're calling them Taliban. And then you have a lot of probably disorganized villagers whose poppy crops, for instance, were burned. And they're angry. So they'll hit a NATO or American checkpoint. So we're scooping all of this up. And then the groups in northern Pakistan who are yet another group. And we're calling it all Taliban.

Want more? The interview (which also includes Pakistani-American journalist Shahan Mufti) is a must read for anybody trying to make sense of our growing entanglement in Afghanistan and Pakistan 

5/27/2009 5:36:44 AM

Economic development and peace talk issues are equally important. These two concerns must not be neglected, the peace problem has a direct impact toward achieving a sustainable economy. It is good to hear that in the midst of the uncertainties two different leaders made a joint effort in creating a peaceful community. Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled an idea to replace defense contractors entirely, with the budget providing for hiring 13,000 civil servants to start with. Granted, part of the cash advance loans of the stimulus was to create jobs, but this creates and takes away simultaneously. Part of the budget is an additional $5 billion for jets, and more funding for the withdrawal from Iraq and increasing activity in Afghanistan. After we heard so many promises to cut government spending, we now are on the hook for more cash advance loans in the defense budget. http://personalmoneystore.com/moneyblog/2009/04/06/defense-budget-cutbacks-gates/

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