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Kidnappings Reflect Continuing Rise of Taliban

July 26, 2007 at 6:25 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on all of this, we get two views. Nazif Shahrani, an Afghan-American, is a professor of anthropology at Indiana University. He travels frequently to Afghanistan and was there last month.

David Isby is a political and defense analyst who has written three books on Afghan politics and on the Soviet invasion of that country.

Gentlemen, thank you for being with us. Professor Shahrani, let me begin with you. That was a pretty chilling portrait we just saw. Is that consistent with what you know the Taliban to be up to right now in Afghanistan?

NAZIF SHAHRANI, Professor, Indiana University: Yes, indeed. Taliban certainly have re-strengthened themselves. They are certainly keeping the promise they made earlier in the spring that they are going to have a major offensive during the summer, and they have kept it up. And, of course, the approach has been to kill Taliban and assuming that if we have killed more of them, we will win the war. We can see that his brother, Mansour Dadullah’s brother, was killed not too long ago, and he has stepped in to carry on the fight in the struggle.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Isby, what about you and your take on how strong the Taliban is right now?

DAVID ISBY, Political and Defense Analyst: Well, certainly, the Taliban are a sophisticated force. They get lots of support. You can see some of the equipment these people have. It’s been estimated they’re drawing up 8,000 to 9,000 guerillas.

And you have basically two things. You have a cross-border insurgency from Pakistan, but you also have areas in Afghanistan, a corridor up through Helmand, Kandahar, through Zabol and Oruzgan provinces in the central areas where there is an insurgency internally, as well.

The Taliban before Sept. 11

David Isby
Political and Defense Analyst
Now [the Taliban is] coming back, in large part because the United States and our allies didn't prepare for a renewed conflict when we had the chance, in the years immediately after 2001.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how would you compare their strength today with 2001, before the U.S. went in after 9/11?

DAVID ISBY: Well, certainly it's apples and oranges. Before 2001, they were a government, albeit one controlled by al-Qaida. In fact, they undercut their own legitimacy by doing this. So when the Americans came in to fight against them, it was really foreigners rather than Afghans who opposed the Americans.

Today, you saw the insurgency go down. Now it's coming back, in large part because the United States and our allies didn't prepare for a renewed conflict when we had the chance, in the years immediately after 2001.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Professor Shahrani, how do you see the difference between the Taliban then and now?

NAZIF SHAHRANI: The Taliban's strength during 2001 and earlier was because they were running a government and because they had promised that they would bring semblance of security in certain parts of the country, which they had done so that people supported them because they were the only alternative there.

And I think their strength now is not so much because of what they can promise, but what American policy has brought to be, and that is the American policy has failed seriously during the last six years. They have not won the confidence of the people; they have not built trust in the community; they have not introduced the kind of government structure that would have helped bring about better reconstruction, spend the monies that we have spent there better and more effectively.

So that really Taliban strength is not so much that people support them, but that people have stopped supporting the current government and the American policies and have become extremely disappointed with the way we have carried on our policies, failed policies, that is, although it's not acknowledged yet that these policies are failed.

Placing blame on the United States

Nazif Shahrani
Indiana University
The failure of [the Afghan] government really is [...] in the eyes of the people of Afghanistan, is the failure of the United States policies in Afghanistan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you're saying the blame lies with the United States and not with the Afghan government, Mr. Karzai and his government?

NAZIF SHAHRANI: Well, certainly. Mr. Karzai's government is a government that United States helped put together. If you ask me whether the vote that Mr. Karzai won a few years ago to become president of Afghanistan was for him, I would say it probably was less for him than it was the confidence that people and the hope that people had put in the United States, that he was the United States' candidate and that the vote was for the United States.

And, unfortunately, the failure of that government really is going, in the eyes of the people of Afghanistan, is the failure of the United States policies in Afghanistan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Isby, is that how you see it? And why do you see the Taliban coming back to life the way it is?

DAVID ISBY: Well, any conflict in Afghanistan is fundamentally about legitimacy, legitimacy to rule both in Afghan and religious terms. The primary reason is it's cross-border. It has come to Afghanistan and primarily from Pakistan, where they have been supported by Pakistani religious radicals and, to a large extent, tolerated, if not supported, by Pakistani government, ISI intelligence, especially in recent years when they could have been suppressed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you expect them to get stronger, to continue as they are? And if so, what could stand in the way?

DAVID ISBY: It's going to be a long-term conflict, but again we have to defeat them. They would have to build up a certain legitimacy of governance, despite such challenges as corruption, narcotics, and the lack of development, especially in the Pashtun-speaking south.

What could stop the Taliban?

David Isby
Political and Defense Analyst
The most important thing is engaging the neighbors, especially the government of Pakistan. That's more important than any number of troops on the ground, perhaps.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Professor Shahrani, when it comes to what could stop the Taliban from getting stronger, you've painted a pretty formidable picture for us. What could stand in the way of that? What would it take?

NAZIF SHAHRANI: What it would take is, first of all, I think the government in Kabul needs to reflect the values of the people of Afghanistan, particularly those who are supporting the Taliban or who are at least allowing them to operate from the areas.

And Afghanistan's population, particularly the Pashtun belt, has changed considerably in the last 30 years. They have become far more Islamically conscious and more practicing and more caring about Islam practices â?¦

JUDY WOODRUFF: My apologies, I think we've lost the picture, Professor Shahrani. We're going to try to get that back, but while we work on that, Mr. Isby, what about specific things that NATO can do that perhaps it has not been doing?

DAVID ISBY: The most important thing is engaging the neighbors, especially the government of Pakistan. That's more important than any number of troops on the ground, perhaps.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you're saying that hasn't been done?

DAVID ISBY: That hasn't been done. It should have been done years ago, needs to be done, not just the United States, but other Pakistan's international partners, again, to reduce the cross-border element of this insurgency.

A government that reflects society

Nazif Shahrani
Indiana University
The government in Kabul needs to reflect the values of the communities who are supporting Taliban.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We have Professor Shahrani back with us, and our apologies. Professor, let me let you finish your thought. You were talking about what could be done.

NAZIF SHAHRANI: Yes, what I was saying was that the government in Kabul needs to reflect the values of the communities who are supporting Taliban, and that is, when people look at the cabinet right now, they say they do see some Pashtuns, but they are not necessarily seeing the kind of Pashtun that they would like to see in the government, and that is practicing Muslims like themselves. And they, in fact, name various cabinet members and people in power and so forth.

So the first thing that needs to be done is the government has to reflect, to a very important measure, I think, the values of the society at large. The other issue...

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what's to stop that from happening?

NAZIF SHAHRANI: It hasn't happened simply because, from the beginning, this government has made deals with characters that are not necessarily liked by many in the country. And even if some local leaders have popularity in their own regions, they have been brought to the national level to prominence, and that they should have been tolerated at the local level and kept at the local level.

In fact, we should really go for a community self-governance, a local governance, rather than this strong centralized government that we cannot really help build under these circumstances.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, gentlemen, we are going to have to leave it there. Professor Shahrani, joining us from Bloomington, Indiana, David Isby here in Washington, we thank you both. Appreciate it.