The Taliban reinvent themselves

They pose now as providers, not just predators, a localised resistance more than a global jihad:

Now, as the Taliban deepen their presence in more of Afghanistan, they are in greater need of popular support and are recasting themselves increasingly as a local liberation movement, independent of Al Qaeda, capitalizing on the mounting frustration of Afghans with their own government and the presence of foreign troops.

In doing so, they rebrand themselves more along the lines of nationalist and local jihad in the footsteps of Hamas and Hezbollah, the ‘bombs and clinics’ formula being more politically viable than mere war.

One difficulty with endless chatter about tribes, Pashtunwali and religion is that we overlook a powerful and visceral force that is common to most armed uprisings: xenophobia, or even nationalism.

While the ‘nationalism’ tag doesn’t sit easily with the fractured and complex society of Afghanistan, xenophobia does, the instinctive dislike of outsiders and a foreign military occupation, even a relatively benign one.

In turn, this draws us to one of the dividing lines between realism and neo-conservatism. The latter embraces democracy as the great liberating force of all peoples. The former pays more attention, and credits more power, to nationalism:

Realists tend to believe that the most powerful political ideology on the face of the earth is nationalism, not democracy. President Bush and his neo-conservative allies largely ignore nationalism. It is simply not part of their discourse. For them, the emphasis is constantly and emphatically on democracy, and they believe that invading countries to facilitate the spread of democracy is an attractive option.Realists, by contrast, think that nationalism usually makes it terribly costly to invade and occupy countries in areas like the middle east. People in the developing world believe fervently in self-determination, which is the essence of nationalism, and they do not like Americans or Europeans running their lives. The power of nationalism explains in good part why all of the great European empires – the British, the French, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Austro-Hungarian, the Ottoman and the Russian – are now on the scrapheap of history.

This helps explain why the Taliban distance themselves, at least in appearances, from two foreign forces, the US-led coalition, and Al Qaeda, another imperialist predator that is often seen by locals as alien and threatening.

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