In Brief: What Joe Biden Still Doesn’t Get About the Taliban
There are numerous things that Team Biden has gotten and continuing to get wrong.
There’s a lot the Joe Biden got wrong with his disastrous retreat from Afghanistan, and we may only just be beginning to see the consequences. Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute lays out some of the things Biden “still doesn’t get about the Taliban.”
The Taliban is unveiling the government that it now claims represents Afghanistan: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will be the Islamic Emirate’s political leader in Kabul, while Haibatullah Akhundzada will be the group’s religious leader in Kandahar.
Diplomats and analysts continue to discuss how various Taliban factions and groups might fill out the remaining ministries and to question whether the Taliban will incorporate other political leaders into a broader tent. Hamid Karzai, the former president known in Afghanistan more for his conspiracies and corruption than for the merits of his previous tenure, has met with the Taliban and may seek a position. So too could former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. The Taliban have also reportedly offered a position to Ahmad Massoud, the leader of the anti-Taliban resistance in the Panjshir Valley, who made clear he would rather die than accept their offer.
That many American, European, and Indian officials still believe that a broad tent could moderate the Taliban suggest three mistakes: First, a belief that ministerial portfolios matter shows a profound ignorance about the movement nearly two decades after the war began. Second, rather than approach the Taliban and its government with realism, the State Department and many of their counterparts in Europe and India continue to amplify the importance of factions over the reality of the ideology that rogue regimes impose. And, third, too many presidencies and foreign ministries continue to accept the illusion that the Taliban is an indigenous force rather than a foreign proxy operating under Pakistani control which essentially invaded Afghanistan.
Rubin makes a key point that is often neglected or underestimated: Even for the last 20 years, “Islam was the country’s official religion, and Afghanistan drew its laws to conform to with Islamic law.” That’s going to become a real problem under the new regime.
The last problem afflicting Washington’s analysis is the assumption that the Taliban is indigenous to Afghanistan. In reality, it is a foreign movement whose leaders lived and directed the movement from Pakistan and grew dependent on the resources and instructions of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Even those who claim to be Afghan spent nearly the entirety of their lives in Pakistan and maintain families there.
Afghanistan’s new leaders, Rubin says, don’t “have any ability to counter ISI diktats or commands.” ISI is the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence. “The real leader of Afghanistan today is ISI chief Faiz Hameed.”
To engage at all with the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate is to play into Pakistani hands and affirm Islamabad’s fantasies. Instead, it is time the United States put aside its delusions about the Taliban, acknowledge that Biden’s policy was both a surrender and defeat, and acknowledge that the best way forward rests not in placing any faith in moderate Taliban or collaborationists, but rather in supporting the Panjshir resistance and sanctioning Pakistan.
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