Giustozzi on the Taliban
Posted by Michael Wahid Hanna
On a non-McChrystal Afghanistan note, I wanted to draw attention to a newly-released report by Antonio Giustozzi published by The Century Foundation. The report, "Negotiating with the Taliban: Issues and Prospects," gives an updated description of various aspects of the Taliban’s organization with an eye toward how the nature of the group’s structure and control would impact potential negotiations. The report incorporates Giustozzi's most recent fieldwork in Afghanistan in April 2010.
Among the key arguments is that the Taliban are best described as a decentralized as opposed to a fragmented organization. While the size and hierarchy within underlying networks vary, Giustozzi goes on to argue that “[a]t the very top, all these networks are kept together by links of personal loyalty to the Amir al Momineen, Mullah Omar.” Obviously, such a conclusion has ramifications for conceiving of and framing a process for a political settlement and militates against the viability of piecemeal approaches toward the Taliban assuming continued resilience of a loose but enduring organizational structure.
He goes on to note that the “different networks that comprise the Taliban have somewhat different ideological leanings and allegiances, with some groups being more radical than others, or closer to the Pakistani armed forces and intelligence services, or again closer to trans-national jihadist networks such as al Qaeda.” This creates interesting internal dynamics:
Even taking such differences in account, he does not consider the Haqqani network to be separate from the Taliban comparable to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s organization, Hizb-i Islami. He bases that assertion on the cooperative manner in which the Haqqani network has expanded its area of operations throughout territory that included networks that were closely linked with Mullah Omar and the fact that this growth did not produce corresponding friction and turf battles.
Returning to the issue of negotiations, Giustozzi emphasizes that caution on the part of the Taliban with respect to a negotiations process might also be a form of prudence based on organizational self-defense: “the network-based character of the Taliban structure makes it all the more important for them to move cautiously with regard to negotiations; the leadership would not want the single networks or individual commanders to move towards talks in sparse order. The movement then would risk disintegrating.”
The whole report is well worth a read.