Who supports the Taliban?


Everyone would be relieved if they took power and run Afghanistan with an iron fist

Olivier Roy

Professor at the European University Institute in Florence and specialist in Afghanistan

Pakistani intelligence and action services have supported the Taliban for twenty-five years now. They sponsored their rise to power in 1994, when Mullah Omar structured the movement, by inviting the American ambassador to Islamabad, their capital, but also to Afghanistan – when it was not at home – to show them what what were the Taliban, that is to say “law and order”. Things really changed in 2001 with September 11. The Taliban lost their international support, but they were able to take refuge in Pakistan where they were never hunted down.

For Pakistanis, the conflict with Afghanistan dates from the very creation of the country. The Pakistanis concluded during the 1979 war against the Soviets that it was in their best interests to have a Pashtun Islamic government in Kabul. On the one hand, because they have a large Pashtun population at home. On the other hand, because an Islamic government in Kabul would never raise the issue of the great Pashtunistan. The Taliban today have very little heavy artillery. They take their weapons from the Afghan army and still have a stock of weapons left by the Soviets: you can buy a Kalashnikov for 50 € there.

The Iranians are negotiating with the Taliban, but that doesn’t mean they support them. They remember the massacre of their diplomats in 1998 (this is why they asked them on August 13, “to ensure the total security” of their diplomats in Herat after the fall of the city, editor’s note). They just want to be sure that the Afghan Shiites will not be massacred. Likewise, China primarily cares that there is no support for the Uyghurs. As for the Russians, they speak with the Taliban because they are worried. They want to secure the border between Afghanistan and Central Asia.

In this country at war for forty years, it is the same leaders or their sons who are at the helm of the Taliban. When they held the country between 1996 and 2001, they always respected borders and opened embassies. They will restore Sharia law in Afghanistan but will not enter into global jihadism. Basically, everyone would be relieved if they took power and run Afghanistan with an iron fist. But it remains a bet. The question is whether they will be able to control the whole country. They have a certain popularity in the countryside – which is why there were hardly any battles. But we forget that the Taliban are challenged internally by groups that identify with the Islamic State.

Collected by Caroline Vinet

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