Don't Crush The Taliban?

by Patrick Appel
Steve Coll ponders the radical group:

Among other specialists and national-security types...there is a drift toward the proposition that if the Taliban is in some sense indigenous or inevitable, perhaps we should just accept our limits and let Afghans sort them out, given that the Taliban only kill “occupying” American soldiers and civilians locally, and do not operate overseas.

This line of thinking has obvious appeal after the Bush Administration’s policies of operatic overreach, but it is erroneous for two reasons.

First, the Taliban are not indigenous to Afghanistantheir history and their present strength cannot be assessed in isolation from their relationship with the Pakistani state and other radical elements inside Pakistan. They are partially an Afghan problem and increasingly a Pakistani problem, too. Second, the Taliban are now so large and diverse, and have been so much changed by the international environment in which they fight today, that to generalize about their strategic intentions is to, well, guess, as we did, unsuccessfully, in the run up to September 11th. Are most Taliban local in their orientation and grievances? Sure. Are some interested in overthrowing the Pakistani state, which is endowed with nuclear weapons? Apparently. Do a few of them, like Al Qaeda, consider the United States as a legitimate Far Enemy, worthy of determined raid or two? I should think so, given the number of Taliban we have locked up at Guantánamo.