Book Announcement: An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban/Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 1970-2010

Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban/Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 1970-2010

by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn

‘Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the war in Afghanistan. A work of real intellectual rigour, and much learning. In offering a forensic dissection of the relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban, over many years, it offers bad news, and good news: that, in taking on the Taliban, we may be fighting the wrong enemy in the wrong country; but that the Taliban may be open to a negotiated settlement – provided America gets on with it.’ - Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, British Ambassador to Kabul 2007-2009, British Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 2009-2010

‘This book is one of the best informed, most sophisticated, and most insightful works yet to appear on the Afghan Taliban and their relationship to Al Qaeda. It makes a brilliant contribution to Afghan historiography, and should be compulsory reading for Western policymakers working on Afghanistan today.’ - Professor Anatol Lieven, King’s College London and author of Pakistan: A Hard Country

 

‘Ignore anybody claiming to be an expert on the Taliban or Al Qaeda if they have not read An Enemy We Created by Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn. Most books on the subject are written without fieldwork, by people lacking the language skills, the courage, the integrity or the dedication of these two authors. Thanks to their Arabic, Dari and Pashtu skills as well as their groundbreaking and unprecedented fieldwork, Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn have written the essential book on the subject. Say nothing about the region until you have read it!’ - Nir Rosen, author of Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World and Fellow at New York University’s Center on Law and Security

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Britain planned to build a Taliban training camp for 2,000 fighters in southern Afghanistan, as part of a top-secret deal to make them swap sides, intelligence sources in Kabul have revealed. The plans were discovered on a memory stick seized by Afghan secret police in December.
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The Afghan government claims they prove British agents were talking to the Taliban without permission from the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, despite Gordon Brown's pledge that Britain will not negotiate. The Prime Minister told Parliament on 12 December: "Our objective is to defeat the insurgency by isolating and eliminating their leaders. We will not enter into any negotiations with these people."
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The British insist President Karzai's office knew what was going on. But Mr Karzai has expelled two top diplomats amid accusations they were part of a plot to buy-off the insurgents.
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The row was the first in a series of spectacular diplomatic spats which has seen Anglo-Afghan relations sink to a new low. Since December, President Karzai has blocked the appointment of Paddy Ashdown to the top UN job in Kabul and he has blamed British troops for losing control of Helmand.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/revealed-british-plan-to-bu...

Trade & Investment Minister Lord Green and the Rt. Honourable Baroness Warsi, Cabinet Minister and Chairman of the UK Conservative Party, are in Pakistan today (Thursday) to discuss bilateral trade and investment opportunities.
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“Our visit is part of the enhanced strategic dialogue between the UK and Pakistan," Lord Green said speaking in Karachi.
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"Trade is at the heart of this dialogue. We have an ambitious target to boost bilateral trade in goods and services from the 2010 level of £2.0 billion to at least £2.5 billion by 2015. This is a target set by the Prime Ministers of both our countries, and we are on course to meet it.
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“UK exports in goods to Pakistan have shown double-digit levels of growth over the last year, and Pakistan's exports to the UK rose by 17% in the months from January to October, with particularly strong growth in textiles.”
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The UK is the top destination in Europe for exports from Pakistan. It is also the largest European investor in Pakistan. Of the international businesses operating in Pakistan, one in six is British.

http://www.internationaltrade.co.uk/news.php?NID=1579&Title=Lord+Green+v...

Lest you all think I am back to some kind of bashing of the British around here, I'm not. I tend to be sympathetic to the British because I think we have asked people to do things we shouldn't have, to include Pakistan whose Army will never give up trying to bleed Afghanistan and India (Freudian slip: I had originally written "bleed Pakistan" and then edited it out.)

Want me to bash the Indians too, since Americans of the foreign policy world can't seem to handle discussing Pakistan without discussing India? Keeps the eye off our own institutional failures, I guess. Okay, here goes:

We Americans can't stay in Afghanistan forever in order to prevent the inevitable "pivot" to Kashmir, Mumbai, Delhi, etc. Our job is to protect our own country. Not Europe preferentially, but us. The US.

I don't know where I am going with this. All these years of trying to keep track of various machinations has made me decidedly odd on the subject.

PS: I've edited this thing a million times. Like I said, decidedly odd....

PPS: (Yet another edit) Oh, who am I kidding? I'm obviously furious at the machinations within NATO toward the region. Shame on some of you. This is no way to fight anything, anything at all.

The U.S. also made the tragic error of inserting Hamid Karzai as puppet-king despite the fact three-fourths of the delegates at the 2002 Loya Jirga voted for Zahir Shah. U.S. leaders basically overrode the collective will of the Afghan people to ensure their favored candidate became president. Not unlike Pakistan's forced install of the Taliban - same result, different means.
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Afghan resistance hero Abdul Haq (who, incidentally, was assassinated by the ISI in October of 2001) once told Tomsen that foreigners should never try to choose Afghan leaders. It didn’t work when the British imposed Shah Shuja on the Afghans in the 19th century nor did it work when the Russians tried to prop up a communist regime during the 1980s.
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Hence, Tomsen was adamant that the U.S. avoid stepping into Afghanistan’s "political cauldron" and should focus efforts on deterring Pakistan.

And from the same article,

During the Soviet withdrawal Tomsen detected a “pivot” in Pakistani policy. Instead of containing Moscow’s expansive reach, Pakistan had begun trying to extend its own sphere of influence in Afghanistan. In just a few words in his book Tomsen captures the essence of Pakistan's nascent strategy:
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Although cloaked in a veil of a covert proxy war and messianic Islamic ideology, the strategy amounted to an invasion of one sovereign country by a larger one.
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Tomsen recounted how the Clinton administration outsourced its regional policy to Pakistan as an “unholy alliance” was forged between the ISI, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden in the mid-1990s.

- former Amb. Peter Tomsen

http://www.examiner.com/afghanistan-headlines-in-national/ambassador-pet...

I don't know what to think on this subject anymore. There are so many competing professional, personal, and national agendas on the subjects of Afghanistan and Pakistan. I've always wanted to know when doing this sort of fieldwork how you know if people are lying to you? I guess I'd have to read the book to get a sense of how this sort of work, well, works.

On competing national agendas, I doubt we will ever speak honestly. By "we," I mean our governing institutions. If only there existed a profession where people asked such questions, investigated them, and then reported on said investigations....

The Taliban and the populace they emerge from (that half of Afghan society and the aspect of the same that extend into Pakistan not represented by the Northern Alliance Friends and Family plan we call "GIRoA") have always been both the source and key to AQ sanctuary in the AFPAK region. A fact the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan appreciate very well, but one we cannot seem to grasp in our Western-centric "our rules are more important than your reality" view of the world.

If we had possessed more patience and been armed with a better understanding of Pashtunwali we almost certainly would have been able to come to a mutually agreeable solution with Mullah Omar back in 2001 which would have provided us the access to AQ we needed to exact our revenge, while at the same time allowing Omar to live up to his duties as a host to his AQ guests under Pashtunwali. This is a code and duty with many convenient loopholes, and I am sure Omar would have found one, as Pashtuns have no special love for their Arab guests any more than they do for our extended "visit" in their homeland.

We have been trying to do this our way, work through governments which, while arguably possessed of a duty and authority to deny AQ sanctuary, are neither one possessed of any ability to deny something that comes from the populace and not from them. One can ban it, but that is not the same as deny it. Prince John can send the sheriff out to comb Sherwood Forest with great diligence, or even burn the forest to blackened stumps, but "sanctuary" does not come from either the forest or government; it comes from the people, and from one's legal status. Being outside the law can be quite liberating when one is acting to take down the very source of those laws.

So yes, the Taliban is not now, nor ever, our enemy. They are in fact the key to our primary objective in regards to AQ in the AFPAK region. AQ will remain just as problematic and can operate from virtually any place else in the world, but that is another matter altogether. If the goal is simply to deny them sanctuary in the AFPAK region, then the Taliban are the key. For a 30-40% share in the governance and opportunity of their own homeland I suspect they would turn that key. Do they want the entire enchilada? Of course, but they will gladly take a legal portion now to be rid of the undue interference of ISAF and how is so disrupts the natural balance of power in the region.

We will still have small interests in the region, and plenty of influence to address those small interests if we quit working to simply make one team win and shift to facilitating a more balanced compromise that sends AQ packing.

http://counterterrorism.newamerica.net/sites/newamerica.net/files/policy...

This link provides supporting fire to the arguments the book apparently makes.

Many of us in the SWJ community made arguments years ago that the Taliban and AQ were not the same, and we artificially conflated the two and now confuse the war against the Taliban with the war against Al Qaeda. I agree with Bob, if we had a little more patience and greater understanding of the regional dynamics we could have found a way to work with the Taliban to target AQ, but that is an assumption that can never be proven or disproven now.

The reality now is what is important, and I think the truth will not be welcome at this point, and largely ignored due to political hubris. George Bush created the argument that to back off in Iraq or Afghanistan was a weakness that only supported AQ, but in the opposite in my view was the actual case. None the less, this is the accepted political myth in our society. We'll simply relabel the reasons we're fighting in Afghanistan from defeating AQ, to spreading democracy, protecting women's rights, etc., and of course the tired argument of denying safehaven will continue to leveraged to gain support.

We live in the information age, but we have less understanding of the world (at least in the government) and its people than our predecessors did a 100 years ago. I have some ideas on why that is the case (PowerPoint studies, google based research, rushed planning based on assumptions that are not challenged). It seems we simply base our understanding on the assumption that everyone wants to be like us, and then cherry pick examples to make our case and pursue a policy based on that understanding.

I don't see an honorable way out of this now. We have made our objectives public and to achieve anything less will be perceived as a loss, regardless of the fact they were based on false assumptions.

@ Bill M -

Interesting linked paper. Thanks for linking it in the comments section. I tend to agree with many of your (and Bob's) points but the following excerpt from the paper made me smile a bit:

In Afghanistan, word of mouth is everything, and Helmandis appear to have a deep, visceral aversion toward the British that defies rational explanation. The constant and abiding rumors that the British are supporting the Taliban with funds and weapons stem, most likely, from
this deep well of historical hatred.

Compare and contrast to the following that I linked earlier:

Britain planned to build a Taliban training camp for 2,000 fighters in southern Afghanistan, as part of a top-secret deal to make them swap sides, intelligence sources in Kabul have revealed. The plans were discovered on a memory stick seized by Afghan secret police in December.
.
The Afghan government claims they prove British agents were talking to the Taliban without permission from the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, despite Gordon Brown's pledge that Britain will not negotiate. The Prime Minister told Parliament on 12 December: "Our objective is to defeat the insurgency by isolating and eliminating their leaders. We will not enter into any negotiations with these people."

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/revealed-british-plan-to-bu...

Wonder what else the Afghans tell us that we tend to dismiss? Eh, I am just being difficult. There are so many agendas in that part of the world who knows what is so and what is some kind of propaganda?

Your points are well taken. At any rate, we are where we are now whatever has happened in the past.

I am ordering this book asap.

After reading the brief reviews on this post the book appears to reinforce the idea that we have been fighting the wrong enemy in Afghanistan--the Taliban--because in my view we have adopted an operatioal framework that has constructed them as our primary enemy when in fact it has been AQ all along.

Also, if writer Nir Rosen endorses this book I figure it has to be a good one.

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