Dr. Stephen Walt Is Dillusional About The Taliban
Note: The Following is a response to Dr. Stephen Walt’s discussion on Afghanistan. This piece was originally published on his blog at walt.foreignpolicy.com. Dr. Walt’s full post can be read in the “comments” section below.
Dr. Walt, the argument you are making against a U.S.-led counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan is well noted. However, to think that the return of the Taliban would not raise questions about Al’Qaeda’s capabilities is somewhat misleading in my view. A variety of experts on the subject have written articles and spoken at IR conferences explaining the persistent connection between Taliban militants and Al’Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan (and of course Pakistan). Some even claim that the interests of the Taliban and Al’Qaeda are more aligned than ever before…a frightening prospect indeed. Both have a common enemy; both are relatively influential in the Af-Pak region; both use similar tactics against coalition soldiers; and both support a militaristic version of Islam.
While the Taliban may only be concerned with regaining power in Afghanistan, the idea that Al’Qaeda would not expand their base of operations in such a friendly environment is questionable. Let’s not forget that the Taliban Government, when in power, was not necessarily the best at keeping track of militant activity within its own borders.
If Mullah Omar re-emerges as the Supreme Leader in Afghanistan, I sincerely doubt that Taliban forces would be able to secure the long Afghan border with Iran, not to mention the contentious and mountainous terrain between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Governments in Afghanistan tend to disregard border patrol for other priorities, providing an ample opportunity for terrorist groups to infiltrate into new territory.
So, while the Taliban may not want Al’Qaeda in Afghanistan once they return to power in Kabul, they simply have no way of enforcing this preference. After all, it’s not like they have a western-style army capable of protecting the state from outside influences.
-Daniel R. DePetris