Washington’s ill-planned approach strengthened the Taliban insurgency. Now, Kabul risks doing the same to Daesh-K.
The Taliban’s military success in Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, showcased its military might. The little resistance the group faced in its march across Afghanistan whetted their appetite for a grand battle that would add glory to its conquest. And what better jewel than Panjshir, a region that had defied the Taliban throughout their years in power and contributed to the collapse of its regime in 2001?
The scorched-earth strategy the Taliban used in the battle of Panjshir meant they were attempting to transform from a guerrilla group into a military force through the use of conventional warfare. The brutal tactics earned the Taliban the short-term victory they desired; however, it also strengthened the cycle of hatred and vengeance that will turn into the undesirable long-term effects the Taliban will have to face.
The Taliban’s experience at Panjshir also fed into the delusion that coercive force was a viable tool against all security threats. We now see the Taliban applying the same strategy in a very different context regarding the threat from Daesh in Khorasan Province (Daesh-K/IS-K).
The Taliban are failing to learn from the United State’s failure at counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. The US’ ill-planned and culturally insensitive approach strengthened the insurgency rather than weakening it.
The indiscriminate bombing, night-raids, rendition and inhuman detentions were some of the key factors that led to the resurgence of the Taliban in 2003. The approach also served to further legitimise the Taliban’s narrative of the US being an invading army which had little good will towards the larger Afghan population. The Taliban are now repeating the same strategy against Daesh-K in Afghanistan.
Unlike the killing of ex-Afghan National Security Forces (ANDSF) members across the country, the strategy of killing suspected Daesh-K members seems to be an informed policy by the group.
The Taliban’s crackdown against anyone suspected of collaboration with Daesh-K echoes the Republic’s tactics of unlawful detentions, torture and extra-judicial killings.
The Taliban’s killing of a well-known Salafi scholar, Obaidullah Mutawakil, less than a month after the group’s takeover of the country, was one primary instance. In recent weeks, many who were picked up by the Taliban in the Nangarhar Province have been found dead on the sides of roads.
One such example is Mawlawi Izzatullah Mohbi, who was a father of five children and head of the youth wing of Hezbi Islami, an ideological forefather to the Taliban and a party that had declared unconditional support for the movement when it came to power.
Izzatullah served five years in prison under the Republic and was later picked up by the Taliban under suspicion of links with Daesh-K. Izzatullah’s beheaded and tortured body was found on the side of a road in Sorkhrod district of Nangarhar.
Such bodies are found every few days in the outskirts of Jalalabad, and the deaths are widely thought to be linked to the Taliban’s attempts to counter Daesh-K.
The enemy of my enemy
The Taliban’s brutal strategy against Daesh-K, its lack of control over local commanders who kill ex-ANDSF members, and its ruthless campaign in Panjshir, is bound to drive its opponents to find common cause.
There are reports that ex-ANDSF members have been turning to Daesh-K in order to bolster their chance of survival against the Taliban.
The difficulty of engaging with the Taliban diplomatically is due to its lack of compliance with international norms and respect for human rights. This has driven countries like Iran to discuss alternatives to the movement.
Rasool Musavi, the director of the West Asia desk of Iran’s Foreign Ministry, recently highlighted how Daesh-K was the only available alternative to the Taliban — but that it’s a much worse alternative. The fact that such thoughts are being said out loud is a dangerous sign.
The US refused to engage with the Taliban when the group offered to surrender in 2001. It then failed to reassess its counterinsurgency strategy against the group, only to hand the country over to them 20 years later.
If the Taliban continues down that road and keeps up its heavy-handed counterinsurgency strategy, it will push the population towards endorsing Daesh-K and any larger resistance movements.
The Taliban seems to be setting itself up for an unwinnable war. In any insurgency, each day the government doesn't win, it loses. And each day the insurgency doesn't lose, it wins.
The Taliban must be nuanced in its counterinsurgency approach and adapt to its new role of being the head of government. Its limited capacity to govern and maintain security will be a challenge it has to address, and fast.
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