Thursday, December 3, 2009

Nahme-notes: Decoding the New Taliban, Antonio Giustozzi editor

I'm usually pretty hestitant to give wholehearted "Read This Book" recommendation to anything. But read this book. Giustozzzi has taken time away from writing two books to edit this collection. I really like what he did. He got 12 writers (plus himself) to come together and have everyone write 15-40 pages about their focus in Afghanistan. Most writers chose to look at a province or a region, while others looked at something a bit more systemic. Overall, you get many readable articles that are dense with information. Some I agreed with, some I thought were coming out of left field, but by putting them all togehter, Giustozzi lets you see everyone's opinions and form your own. In such a politically loaded topic, there's something to be said for that.

The writers range from Gretchen Peters (who
Joshua Foust has already written a lot about and I pretty much agree) to an Afghan in Zabul writing under a pseudonym. There is lots and lots of food for thought, too. Joanna Nathan's piece on the Taliban's branding was right up my alley, and others may like Graeme Smith's notes on the structure of the Taliban. There's really something for everyone in the book, and you can be pretty well-served by reading the whole thing. It's great for plane trips (and starting fun conversations on plane trips). It's also interesting to see who writers' audiences are. David Kilcullen has a chapter, and its very obvious that he's writing with the military in mind. Martine van Biljert sounds like a politician. There are blurbs on everyone at the back of the book, so it's fun to reference that back and forth.

My personal MVPs of the book are Mohammad Osman Tariq Elias on Kabul, Logar, & Wardak and Sippi Azerbaijani Moghaddam on the north. Both were incredibly informative in very short articles, and both raised lots of questions as well as good answers. I didn't read either of them all that much beforehand, but now my eyes are going to be peeled for them from hereon out.

I've already raised a fuss about one footnote in this book, but there was another one that was also weird. Moghaddam references a 2005 paper that says the following:
Thanks to the CIA’s 51 million US dollar grant to the University of Nebraska to produce pictorial textbooks glorifying jihad, killing, maiming and bombing other human beings was made sufficiently entertaining. Sadism could now be cultivated as a virtue. That was when madrasa doors were opened to the mass of the poor. The new “education” they received was to hate the Russians, later generalised to include any non-Muslim. Jews, Hindus and Christians figured prominently and out of it came the expression of a Yahud-Hunud-Nasara conspiracy against Islam.
That sounds a bit extreme, and a rough google search of that dug up a lot of the sort of frayed edges of internet that I'd prefer not to link to. It's more weird than inherently wrong, I suppose, but it's still pretty darn weird. Occam's Razor makes a hashing out of that.

I think any overarching theme of the book is that of the Neo-Taliban's governing capabilities. Decoding the New Taliban shows many different sides of the Taliban's structure, and when put together, one can see that while the Taliban likes to think of itself as a state and conduct itself as a state, the Afghanistan under the Taliban did not even approach fulfilling government functions. And nowadays, as it purports to be more of a revolution than a simple insurrection, it still has not been able to provide a government. I'm talking about a very objective "can they tax their citizens, provide services, and maintain a monopoly on violence" sort of way. Decoding the New Taliban shows the many ways they are attempting this, but also how and why they are falling short. I would estimate that a plurality of the book focuses on their capabilities of violence, but there is certianly much more to the Neo-Taliban then that. I, personally, find it interesting to see how the many parts of it come together to form this inchoate version of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

So it is absolutely something worth reading, and the book should be in most university libraries for your borrowing enjoyment. I'm pretty sure that newbies and experts can all get something out of it, and once again, it was great to read something about Afghanistan that wasn't overtly political nor acutely academic (by which I mean taking great difficulties to avoid getting into politics, which can often just obfuscate a book about current events).

Since this is my personal blog, I'm going to include my incomplete notes on the different chapters so I can review them for more writing/researching points later on. They're probably not that interesting to look through, but if you want to do some research or writing for yourself, feel free.

Gretchen Peters on the Opium Trade:

Short-form of an article may hurt her. She doesn't get to expand on her ideas or posit solutions.
Short-form also lends itself to false dichotomies
Village-level leaders of Taliban rake in millions? And poppy as currency?
"Less Corruption than in regular government." Well...yeah. What's corruption in a drug trade?
Iran red herring. Corruption ipso facto not IRIran gov't: Why would they encourage trafficking?
Opium trade > Afghan GDP? Then who is the real state?
Is Talib. just banking the hundreds of millions? They could afford Migs with Peters's figures
I agree with JF, Opium is trailing indicator, not a cause.
How could she not mention Karzai's involvement with the trade?!? Instead just cutely skirts around it: "tribes allied with Karzai tend to suffer less eradication."
"Legal Alternatives"...ok, like what?
Attack trade at weak points, not at locality. Edible Geography's Quarantine is relevant?:
Also: Thesistan:

Joanna Nathan on Reading the Taliban
Emphasis on Shabnamah to create rumors at beginning of resurgence
Create agenda as parallel to Karzai gvt's. Focus on KarzaiGvt's weaknesses that are emirate's strengths (security, judiciary moreso than education)

Mohammad Osman Tariq Elias on the Taliban in Kabul, Logar, and Wardak
Very impressive and informative for 10 pages (one of which is a map)...more than START did
Looks at education: madrassas give them more power, recruitment, propoganda.
Re: education, generally more demand than supply (shocker, I know), esp. re: teachers
First step upon entering region/neighborhood is setting up parallel judiciary
Talib judic is more streamlined and less corrupt than govt's, so looks nice
Talib attempt a monopoly on violence in their regions (that ISAF/ANP/ANA then break)
He argues Talib has national scope, not ethnic/sectarian scope (or at least want to be seen so)

Haqqani in Loya Paktia by Thomas Ruttig
link to previous bit on the footnote
Lack of proper development, the arbaki "on retainer" weren't getting paid
"Pakistan is like your shoulder that supports your RPG"
fragmentation re: lots of little tribes may lead to more corruption in area?
lots of hate for the arbaki "arming the tribes" process
local militias mix with US Special Forces to get involved in local disputes...yick

Return of the Taliban in Ghazni, by Christoph Reuter and Borhan Younus
lots of finger-pointing on who is "really" Taliban.
people may have thought Afghanistan would become a "51st state"...guess not
militia-turned-security --> quasi-gendarme --> mad scary

Taliban in Helmand by Tom Coghlan
Folks working for drug runners were better fighters
British forces in poorly sited positions outside of urbanity -- so as not to disrupt it
Taliban kill Tribal elders! They're revolutionary!
Taliban fighters act ashamed at thought of being given salaries

Uruzgan by Martine van Biljert
"not everyone who is called a Talib is considered an enemy"

Kandahar by Graeme Smith
Formal structure is of no importance, leaders don't hold power in conventional military sense.

Giustozzi writes on Taliban in West Afghanistan

Kilcullen on Kunar
Admitted sketchiness of "checks-and-balances" between Ulema, khan, and malik
good introduction for military, definitely written with them in mind
"sanctuary's role in enabling the insurgency is a fact of life."

Sippi Azerbaijani Moghaddam on Taliban in the north
fantastic read, in my opinion
UNebraska makes pictorial textbooks glorifying Jihad for the CIA?
--> there's a link:

Tehrik-e Taliban in Pakistan by Claudio Franco
FATA allows for more freedom outside of Afghan Nationalism.

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