Taliban Are Not Our Brothers
On Friday, April 21, 140 Afghan soldiers were brutally killed in a rampage by the Taliban in the northern province of Balkh, Afghanistan. The attack took place in an army base as targeted soldiers who had just left the mosque after Friday prayers were preparing for lunch. Though the official death toll has not been reported, a shortage of coffins has been affirmed, leading some to speculate that the death toll could be as high as 200.
In a press briefing, former Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, condemned the attack, and said, “After this attack, I can no longer call Taliban as our brothers.” This statement is antithetical to Karzai’s policy of ten years; he constantly sympathized with the Taliban and attempted to negotiate with them. While several Afghan officials had been “pro-Taliban” all along, Karzai came into office with a “pro-America” and “pro-Western” stance. However, as his relationship with the west evolved and deteriorated, he became more desperate for the Taliban’s cooperation. “I didn’t see a war in Afghanistan—I saw a conspiracy,” he said in an interview only two weeks after the end of his term. Karzai believed Afghanistan was being played by the United States and that only innocent Afghan blood was being shed in this conspiracy. He then referred to the Taliban as the Afghans’ brothers, and painted a picture of the insurgent group as innocent children who had lost their way and needed their siblings' help to reintegrate into the society.
Karzai’s rhetoric was severely lethal. While the government was desperately pleading for negotiation and venerated the group, Taliban leaders consistently refused to negotiate. The group unfailingly kept burning schools and launching attacks that took the lives of thousands of innocent Afghans.
Karzai was not the only Afghan official guilty of this. Farooq Wardak, the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, is a strong proponent for empathizing with the Taliban instead of denouncing them as the country’s enemies. Abdul Karim Khoram, former Minister of Culture and Information and a notorious Pashtun nationalist, has also repeatedly referred to the Taliban as “our brothers,” identifying with the group and even canonizing them. Numerous parliamentary members and several other ministers have joined in this practice as well.
These officials have condemned Taliban’s attacks, but they have hesitated or, in some cases, refused to denounce them as a group. Some parliamentary members, though opposed to the Taliban’s methods, agree with the group’s ideologies and the radical Islamic form of governance, and thus refuse to fully reprimand them. The current Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, started his administration with a similar tone as Karzai’s. He freed many Taliban prisoners and attempted to continue the peace negotiations. However, the administration has changed its policy over the past several months, publicly denouncing the group and suspending all peace talks.
The United States has sympathized with the Taliban as well, but in a different manner. In addition to losing Karzai’s trust by challenging the country’s sovereignty, the official U.S. Department of State Foreign Terrorist Organizations List does not include the Taliban. The Taliban were only recognized a state by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, yet the group has often been referred to as a government. In fact, the official Wikipedia page describes the Taliban as a militia group from 1994-1996, a government from 1996-2001, and an insurgent group thereafter.
This is partially due to the vague definition of terrorism, which indicates that only non-state actors can commit acts of terror. Deeming the Taliban a government would suggest that it is not a terrorist group, but a different ideology, and therefore, legitimizes them. However, even when adhering to the definition of terrorism, recognition from three states does not make a terrorist group a government. The Taliban had an unstable rule in the country; they have consistently employed terroristic tactics and have refused to negotiate. For millions of Afghans who left to the neighboring countries of Iran and Pakistan with the belief that they could go home in a month or two, the Taliban were most certainly not a government--they were a terrorist group.
Both Afghan and foreign officials have legitimized the group over the years. Karzai’s words after this attack, in addition to the current government’s response, demonstrates a potentially compelling strategy to combat the Taliban. While this strategy alone won’t suffice, it can decrease the Taliban’s legitimacy, thereby lessening their influence in the country.