Extremist rebels

Imagine your country's state is completely corrupt - from lowly policemen who rape and extort up to the head of state.
You go to vote, but even if you are not impressed by "irregularities" before the elections, you see how the elections are stolen with bribery and obvious fraud.
The organized crime makes up a huge portion of your country's economy.
Foreign - really, really foreign - troops back your government. They assassinate opposition leaders, sprawl the country with bases and pour a flood of money into their helpers and into corrupt officials.
They promise to help your countrymen, but their "help" efforts are dwarfed even by their fuel bill, probably even by their ammunition bill.

Now maybe - just maybe, since all peaceful alternatives for real change to the better are exhausted - maybe you're ready to oppose the corrupt clique and its backers? Maybe even violently?

You thought "no"?  Wimp.
You thought "yes"? So you would be a Taliban if you were born as Pashtun in Afghanistan.

What's your complaint? I didn't mention religious zealots, thus no Taliban?

Well, that's the tragedy. There's not so much of a choice.
It's utterly, utterly typical in military history that extreme guerilla organizations - be them left wing, right wing or religious - are composed of extremists and moderates.
Castro's Cuban revolutionaries weren't all reds either. The Vietcong weren't necessarily much into communism.
The moderates usually play a minor role in the leadership  in comparison to revolutionary zealots and are quickly discarded once the struggle is either successful or becomes marginalized. 
There are rarely "moderate" guerilla groups, you know?

Guerilla organizations tend to be more ideologically homogeneous (as in Yugoslavia in WW2) when there are several truly competing resistance organizations. 'Truly competing' means that a man has a choice - which is not really the case if said organizations have clearly defined territories.
Sadly, the latter is an approximation for the situation in Afghanistan, where the parallel guerilla organizations are even loosely allied (there's more than one kind of "Taliban").

It's a great tragedy and an expression of strategic incompetence that the Western meddlers in Afghanistan allowed the Taliban to become the only really active and highly visible opposition to the corrupt mayor of Kabul. This failure channelled the guerilla recruits into the arms of the Taliban groups. A real lasting defeat of the Taliban could have been attempted by allowing a non-religious Pashtu opposition group to rise to prominence. Who knows? Maybe it could even have been a non-violent, political opposition group. The only requirement was that it needed to be effective. It needed to be able to challenge the government, even the system. Oops, that was beyond the grasp of short-sighted meddlers.

Then again - who cares? So we messed up the thing with the Taliban. It's really not our problem. The Taliban aren't the enemy, but merely the former hosts of the enemy. The Afghani Taliban are even proved to be unessential for AQ, as they have long since scattered. We just forgot about that unimportant detail.
Darned mission creep!

Sven O

P.S.: Written in 2011, published only with great delay. It became a bit more interesting with the discussion of extremists among Syrian rebels in the background.


  1. Really interesting issue. :-)

    One of my last guest scientists was a Pashtun from the Swat Valley doing a part of his PhD in our lab. He was from a larger family, one of his uncles was a retired police officer in the Swat Valley and allmost all of his brothers and sisters attended university.
    He was quite open and had no problems to talk about the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sometimes even more interesting, I could talk to about issues like his perception of our culture, others would have avoided in order not to offend me.

    These months were a golden opportunity for me to get an relatively unfiltered picture. As a result, however, I am not longer sure that your solutions would work.

    Violence on a very high level is a common aspect in their lifes. The oppression of the civil population in the Swat Valley by Taliban and criminals, then the ugly fighting of these groups against the army and the quite common riots with dozens of deaths in Karatshi gave him a back ground I do not understand. OTOH, for him it was hard to believe how a society like the Austrian could work so well, despite the fact that we looked in eyes like complete weaklings. :-)

    Something, that we call corruption, is also a integral part of the life in Pakistan, he understood in principle that it does harm, but had no good reference point to get a feeling how much and did not know how to change it.

    In addition, I do not longer believe that there is a real chance of non-religious opposition, I would simply forget it.

    After his visit I had to share an office with a female PhD student from an other part of Pakistan for almost one year, she was quite old (>35 years), her husband had to stay in Pakistan, as there were problems with the visum. She was a very good observer and added some more facets.

    As a result I honestly believe that the best way to change Pakistan is to educate the women, this undermines very efficiently some structures that produce problems.


    1. Such foreigners would probably understand peaceful Central European ways better if they understood how it looks when the 'weaklings' go to war.

    2. Honestly, it was no real surprise for me that he did not understand that there is, unfortunately, only a thin layer of civilisation between this peaceful and weak European and some kind of monster.

      I had a already an "interesting" experience twenty years earlier when I spent a few months in a research institiute of the former GDR in summer 1993. There were still a number of PhD students from north African "socialistic brother countries" and we guest scientists had to share a building with them and used the same kitchen and dining room. These guys did actually not believe that Germans had murdered in industrial scale Jews during the second world war and we could not convince them that this was not a propaganda lie of the Jews.

      With this lack of understanding (on both sides), I do not believe in nation building which requires a certain level of mutual understanding.