“Decoding the New Taliban”

By Steve Coll I have a new post over at my New Yorker blog. Antonio Giustozzi, a fellow at the London School of Economics, is the editor of a new volume of research essays about the Taliban entitled “Decoding the New Taliban,” which is being published here by Columbia University Press. It is an outstanding ...

By Steve Coll

By Steve Coll

I have a new post over at my New Yorker blog.

Antonio Giustozzi, a fellow at the London School of Economics, is the editor of a new volume of research essays about the Taliban entitled “Decoding the New Taliban,” which is being published here by Columbia University Press. It is an outstanding and important collection — just the sort of locally specific, openly debatable, scholarly analysis about the diverse structures and leaders of the Taliban that will be required more and more if the international community is ever to understand the insurgents and divine how to prevent a second Taliban revolution.

I thought I should mention two selections from among those I have read so far, and also urge the more dedicated Afghan watchers out there to order the book and plunge in. This is not for the general reader, but those who work in the region or have an interest in the granular challenges facing international policymakers in Afghanistan will find much of value here.

In an essay entitled “Reading the Taliban,” Joanna Nathan of the International Crisis Group updates some of her work on Taliban propaganda and communications strategies. Her analysis of the repetitious themes in Taliban magazines and DVDs — the recapitulation of Guantánamo imprisonment stories as folk culture narrative; the amplification of Pashtun grievances around ethnic revenge killings and notoriously corrupt figures such as the Uzbek commander General Dostum — is particularly chilling.

Also, in a piece called “The Haqqani Network as an Autonomous Entity” the German researcher Thomas Ruttig provides an extraordinarily detailed and useful analysis of the Taliban-affiliated networks founded by Jalalauddin Haqqani, the former Central Intelligence Agency asset whose followers apparently were responsible for the kidnapping of New York Times reporter David Rohde. The Haqqanis are arguably the Taliban insurgency’s most potent force. Ruttig documents compellingly its connectivity with and separation from the Old Taliban around Mullah Omar and his leadership councils. There is much new information here — new at least to the open literature — about marriages and internal personalities within the Haqqani network. The sections of Ruttig’s research that overlap with my own work are unfailingly careful and accurate.

Steve Coll is president of the New America Foundation and the author of Ghost Wars and The Bin Ladens. This article is adapted from his recent testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives and posted here with permission.

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