Before and after President Barack Obama announced the new U.S. strategy on Afghanistan, I engaged in a variety of media panels and private discussions with commentators and analysts from Arab and Muslim-majority regions of the world.
Some of the individuals I spoke with are close to the Taliban and others are critical of the Islamist militia. Contrary to the president’s assertions, all of these experts affirmed that Taliban morale is high and there is no sense of defeat among the jihadists.
The administration’s plan for Afghanistan may include reconciliation with the Taliban, but the latter have no plans that allow American gains, much less bilateral-negotiations to end the conflict.
It appears that the administration is tangoing with an imaginary partner. Neville Chamberlain’s wishful Sept. 30, 1938 proclamation, “I have returned to Germany with peace in our time,” should serve as a chilling reminder to those who are under the illusion that war is receding which in fact, it is about to escalate into global conflict.
The Taliban strategy is not obscure; most of it has been announced, publicized and is based in ideology, as has been the case with totalitarian movements throughout history. U.S. inability to grasp Taliban plans is not due to the jihadists’ highly-developed denial and deception skills, but rather to the unwillingness or inability of the U.S. and its allies to see it.
The Taliban long-term strategic plan is simple: practice taqiyya to gain terrain and power; resume jihad to eliminate the other forms of governance; and implement their version of Shariah to reverse democracy.
Al-Taqiyya has historical and, by some accounts, theological meaning. Originally, the term referred to a defensive tactic Shia dissidents employed to protect themselves from the wrath of the Sunni caliphate during times of war between the two sects in the early part of the seventh century.
Taqiyya sanctions deception to conceal intentions and affiliations to avoid retaliation by those in power. Today, Sunni Salafis and Shia Khomeinists have added to the meaning of the term making it an offensive tactic of war as well.
In contemporary usage, the term refers to subterfuge or dissimulation by war planners and commanders to deceive a foe regarding their ultimate aims. Used this way, Taqiyya is strategic deception, not much different that Cold War maneuvers used by the Soviets.
Negotiations take place “under the table” via third parties to lure administration officials into accepting the Taliban’s offer. To the U.S. the Taliban might respond, “We will accept a deal but we can’t say so in public.” But to their constituents they would assure: “Americans think we will cut a deal with them but the only thing we’re going to cut in pieces is our commitment to them.”
The bottom line: The administration will sail out of Afghanistan on an ocean of Taliban deception. With taqiyya, the Taliban can make Washington believe that jihadi militias have mutated into a soft AKP or a stealthy Muslim Brotherhood.
As they deceive Washington policymakers, the Taliban have no compunction about pursuing jihad until their banner flies again on the presidential palace in Kabul. Why would they do anything else?
Jihadi ideology and planted hallucinations define the movement. If they abandon these tactics they will become marginalized warlords with no political identity.
The Taliban exists, intimidates, and attracts, because they practice jihad. There is no countermeasure in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan to counter the Taliban’s jihad strategy. The U.S. wants to bestow legitimacy upon the Taliban without a counter-radicalization strategy. The new administration counterterrorism doctrine is targeted strikes against Taliban leaders and units but does not include a counterinsurgency that mobilizes the general populace against the jihadists in order to isolate them. Jihad’s most important component, indoctrination, is not on U.S. radars anymore. But ironically it is the fuel of the Taliban’s war machine.
Clearly, the Taliban’s goal in Afghanistan is to implement Shariah on every square inch of land they bring under their authority. The imposition of Shariah is non-negotiable. “Talib ul Shari’ah” (English: “student of Shariah”) is the origin of the movement.
What this means is that communities under Taliban rule will be governed according to their laws as was the case before 2001. Women (especially girls), religious minorities, and secular political parties will be affected. Advances in liberty since the Taliban’s fall will be reversed.
Taliban’s Shariah is not just about divorce and inheritance; it is about eliminating all other forms of man-made law. The Taliban will transform the government into an emirate.
The Taliban plan for Afghanistan isn’t new; they will adapt it to the new U.S. plan for that country. It will be dominated by taqiyya, jihad, and Shariah.
Dr Walid Phares is the author of “The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East.” He teaches Global Strategies in Washington D.C., and advises members of Congress and the European parliament. www.walidphares.com