I am near the end of Ahmed Rashid’s Taliban and though I will write up a full review in the very near future, there are a few items I read this morning that I would like to discuss right now. The book was researched, written, and published in 2000, just months ahead of 9/11, but it is so prescient that it actually appears to have been produced after the towers fell and every American knew who the Taliban were and where the state of Afghanistan was (well, at least should have!). While Rashid’s important and informative book meticulously tells the story of the Taliban’s rise and examines the geopolitical aspects of the region and its actors, I want to focus on his assessment of US policy and strategy towards Afghanistan and the Taliban during this Post-Cold War, Pre-9/11 time period, or at least two crucial aspects of it.
Rashid is very critical of the lack of any coherent US policy and strategy toward the region and its extremely muddled and ever-changing view and stance towards a Taliban group with control of most, but not all, of the Afghan state. Rashid stated; ‘The USA dealt with issues as they came up, in a haphazard, piecemeal fashion, rather than applying a coherent, strategic vision to the region…US policy towards the Taliban… were driven by domestic American politics or attempted quick-fix solutions rather than a strategic policy.’ This assessment is doubt accurate as during the 1990s the US did not have an Afghan or Central Asian policy to speak of, and this has been pointed out again and again by many people. But hindsight is 20/20 and I can’t find myself getting to upset at US officials and the first Bush, Clinton, and early second Bush administrations for their lack of strategy on this faraway, seemingly insignificant region of the world. But this lack of attention and effective, coherent strategy cost the US and the world a tremendous amount of pain and a wound that is still far, far from healed. The opportunity given to the groups like the Taliban and Al Qaeda to grow and fester by the lack of world and US attention cannot be repeated. This is an especially important lesson to keep in mind during these trying economic and domestic-centric times as security threats do not disappear because we have other problems. So far the Obama administration seems to be aware of this pitfall and looks to be actively engaged in many of the world’s hot spots.
The second fascinating aspect Rashid discusses in terms of US policy toward the Taliban is how domestic issues and constraints affected our view and strategy toward the group and region. Though I don’t want to go into too many details, and Rashid for that matter doesn’t really either, Rashid claims that the US for most of the mid-90′s actually backed the Taliban’s rise and hold on power, as US sought regional stability above all else. Rashid then acknowledges that the US started to dismiss this ‘realist’ view of the Taliban for two disparate reasons: One based on security, one based liberal human rights.
The security issue is obviously the presence of Osama bin Ladin in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s protection of the wanted terrorist, who in 1998 organized the bombings of two US embassies in Africa. This issue obviously soured relations between the US and the Taliban, but Rashid seems to assert that another issue was more influential in disrupting US-Taliban relations, women’s rights. He writes, ‘The US rejection of the Taliban was largely because of the pressure exerted by the feminist movement at home.’ Rashid provides a modicum of evidence to back up this claim, including the lobbying of Hollywood activists, Hillary Clinton, Jay Leno’s wife, and other feminist groups on the Clinton administration in the late 90s. Rashid is correct in noting that Sec of State Madeleine Albright put her stamp on the US view of the Taliban by calling the group ‘despicable’ while on a trip to Pakistan. Rashid asserts that Clinton couldn’t ignore these liberal women votes, but this is mildly questionable as the issue only took momentum around 1998, when Clinton was already reelected. In any case, it is a significant example of how both domestic constituencies and liberal views, such as international human rights, can affect foreign policy, specifically America’s.
1. Steven R. David tells you why you should worry about Pakistan’s nukes.
2. Selig S. Harrison breaks down Pakistan’s ethnic make-up and how they strongly affect its foreign and domestic policies, especially in regards to fighting native Taliban groups.
3. Pakistani blogger Fatima Bhutto asks the US to stop ‘spoiling‘ her country.