Ahmed Rashid on the Taliban in Kunduz 'Germans Will Have to Go on the Offensive'

Best-selling Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid discusses the recent Taliban attacks on NATO troops in Afghanistan and the elusive prospects of lasting peace in the Hinda Kush.

Taliban fighters in Afghanistan: "There is no way you can negotiate with these people."

Taliban fighters in Afghanistan: "There is no way you can negotiate with these people."

SPIEGEL: Mr. Rashid, was the recent suicide attack against German troops in Kunduz the start of a new series of attacks in the north of Afghanistan?

Rashid: The Taliban are increasingly playing a political game with European members of NATO that are not on the front line. We saw how brilliantly the Taliban manipulated a government in the case of Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo. And I think we will see a stepping up of attacks against all of these countries that have strong domestic opposition to the deployment in Afghanistan.

SPIEGEL: Up until now, the Germans have beleived their their plan for reconstruction, which puts them closer to the people, is working better than the strategies of the Americans and British. Were the Germans just naïve?

Rashid: I think the whole concept of NATO countries carrying out construction while trying to avoid fighting is now a thing of the past. No matter what the policies may be of individual countries, all are at the war's frontline. And in order to prevent other suicide attacks, the Germans will have to go on the offensive to root out Taliban groups in Kunduz.

SPIEGEL:President Hamid Karzai has offered to negotiate with his enemies. But can one really talk to the Taliban?

Rashid: There is a hardcore leadership and following which is very ideological and which will not tolerate any foreign forces in Afghanistan and will not tolerate Karzai and his government. There is no way that you can negotiate with these people.

SPIEGEL: What would you suggest instead?

Rashid: I think you have to defeat them militarily, kill them, capture them. The other lot is that many of those who are being recruited are genuinely there because of joblessness or because some of their relatives have been killed by NATO or American forces. This rank and file is essentially winnable.

SPIEGEL: The Taliban behead traitors in front of the camera, they kill policemen and soldiers who are collaborating with the Western forces. How did the Taliban pick up these merciless practices -- even against Muslims?

Rashid: The Taliban are a cross-border phenomenon. They are Afghans, but they have been educated and brought up in refugee camps and religious schools, the madrassas, in Pakistan. So they have inherited two sets of cultures. One was the war against the Soviets which their fathers waged inside Afghanistan in the 1980s, and the other was the religious extremism that has been promoted in Pakistan in order to mobilize Afghans to fight the Soviets. And that process of radicalization and Islamization has led some of them to very easily adopt the ideology of al-Qaida.

SPIEGEL: It's not only the Taliban who are fighting the government of Karzai and the coalition forces. By now it's a whole bunch of opposing groups.

Rashid: The Taliban have struck up alliances with several key commanders. The first has been Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who bombarded Kabul in the 1990s and later went into exile in Iran after he was defeated by the Taliban. He is now based in Pakistan and his group is allied with the Taliban. They have the capacity to do a lot of urban guerrilla war, because a lot of the suicide bombings and urban attacks that we have seen have been carried out by the Hezb-e-Islami. The second major partner is Jalaluddin Haqqani, who is based in Waziristan in the tribal areas. Formerly he was a Taliban minister, but he was never really a Taliban. The third major alliance partner is this group of international fighters who are led, at least in part, by al-Qaida -- essentially the Arabs who are living in the tribal areas, but also Uzbeks, Chinese Muslims, Chechens, some Bangladeshis, Sudanese and Africans. So for the first time the Taliban have broadened their movement to strike up alliances, which is something they never did before. The Taliban have also helped mobilize Pakistani Pashtun tribesman against Islamabad for the first time.

SPIEGEL: Why have so many Pashtuns, especially in the south and east of the country, turned against the Afghan government and begun fighting against the Western coalition forces, who actually came to rebuild their country?

Rashid: What has been very critical was that the Taliban has offered protection to the farmers and the chance of continuing to grow poppy, which is far more lucrative than any other crop. The propaganda against the Western forces has been that eventually these people will come to eradicate those crops. So the Taliban have the winning propaganda line.


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