- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2001

If the Talibans destruction of ancient statues reflects anything, it is the utter impotence of that movement within their own country. Far from negating their potential for foreign mischief, it enhances it.
Unable to win a complete military victory and to consolidate its hold on power, the Taliban also has not known how to govern or to address the many problems of its society. Its main avenues for action have been in the realm of prayer, in the brutal disregard for human dignity, and now in lashing out at objects of stone. Their much-touted control over 90 percent of their countrys territory does not reflect meaningful reality. There are within that area numerous extraterritorial "islands" in which Taliban law does not apply. Those are the terrorism camps dotting the Afghan landscape. The Taliban are not simply refusing to hand over Osama Bin Laden. They may just not be able to.
These terrorist training camps, with very few exceptions, are situated in the northern portions of Afghanistan. Many are in well-protected, difficult-to-get-to places. U.S. press reports going back to March 1994 claimed that there were some 20 such camps in eastern Afghanistan in an area between Kabul and the Khyber Pass. From my talks over the past four months with various influential persons in the countries surrounding Afghanistan, it would seem that the total is close to twice that number now. That is also the number mentioned in an intelligence report from one of the neighboring countries.
The presence of Arabs and other foreigners in these camps, from various regions of the globe, having nothing to do with that poor beleaguered country, has gone far beyond the Taliban-generated description of honored guests.
A journalist friend of mine had managed to get into one of these camps in 1998, and only miraculously escaped with his life. Not long after his having entered the camp, he was suddenly set upon by what he described as two Arabs pointing guns at him. After some sound beatings, he was brought before a group of four Arabs and condemned to death on the spot. He was rescued at the last minute through the intermediary of an Afghan who had recognized him from years back and had reported his capture to a Pushtun Afghan commander. That commander rushed to the journalists help that very day and was able to persuade his captors to let him go. The commander informed my friend with evident frustration, resentment, and embarrassment that Afghan law no longer applied in the camps.
There is little doubt that the simplistic faith of the Taliban leaders (described by some as "semi-literate") accords well with the world view of the likes of Bin Laden. The Taliban were not the ones who first invited these outsiders. It is even conceivable that their initial willingness to accept Bin Laden and some others was done with little thought to possible consequences or implications. The Talibans continued ineptitude, however, has produced a situation that may now have escaped its ability to control. The Arabs apparently now run these camps with little regard for the wishes of the Taliban.
The Taliban and their Arab "guests" may well be "spiritual brothers," but they are increasingly on a collision course with each other. It isnt just the Pushtun commander who rescued my journalist friend who resents this foreign intrusion by Arabs. Many other Pushtuns the Talibans ethnic base do not appreciate the latters disregard for Afghan norms. There have been well-substantiated reports of growing Pushtun disaffection with the Taliban that have included violent confrontations.
Growing numbers of Afghans have become increasingly disillusioned with the Talibans inability to deliver anything beyond a modicum of security. The growing pressures and embarrassment brought by the presence of the terrorist camps is bound to increase further anti-Taliban feelings within Afghanistan. It is probably no exaggeration to say that the Taliban continue to endure absent any obvious alternative.
It is possible, but doubtful, that the Taliban leadership remains blind to the growing problem posed by these terrorist camps. Given both their limited capabilities and their public stance on their honored guests, little constructive action should be expected from the Taliban.
The wave of horror at the Talibans destruction of statues is already generating calls to action to counter the Talibans nefarious activities. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that the current revulsion is leading to anything but more of the previous emotional, and mostly counterproductive, reactions.
The good news is that trends are working against these terrorist bases and the Taliban. The internal dissatisfaction and growing resentment are significant elements that will contribute to a possible solution. It is increasingly likely that the removal, not just of Bin Laden, but of the whole network of terrorist bases, can be accomplished in good part from within Afghanistan. For that to occur, however, it has become more crucial and urgent than ever to have a comprehensive U.S. strategy that goes beyond simplistic symbols and actions.


Elie D. Krakowski is senior fellow at the Central Asia/Caucasus Institute, SAIS, Johns Hopkins University, and a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.

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