Max Boot thinks all militants are the same.
Of greater immediate concern are al Qaeda’s allies: the Quetta Shura Taliban, the Haqqani network and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HiG), which among them deploy thousands of hardened terrorists. These groups, in turn, are part of a larger conglomeration of extremists based in Pakistan including the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (the Pakistani Taliban), Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed…
The major difference among them, at least so far, has been one of geographic focus. The Taliban, the Haqqani network and HiG want to seize power in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban aspires to rule in Islamabad. Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed are primarily focused on wresting Kashmir away from India, although there have been reports of the former’s network expanding into Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Only al Qaeda has a global focus—so far.
Apart from rightly noting that al Qaeda is the only one of these groups that poses even a remote threat to the U.S. homeland, this is basically all wrong—so wrong I’m curious if it is the result of maliciousness or just laziness. Boot engages in some worrying conflations and conceptual fuzziness. Assuming the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban groups work together, are equally associated with al Qaeda, or pose an equal and in some way interchangeable threat is, put simply, dramatically at odds with our understanding of those groups, their goals, and their methods. There is no ” a larger conglomeration of extremists,” as he asserts, as that term implies an interoperability that just doesn’t exist in the real world.
Mullah Omar, contrary to what Boot writes, was not closer to Osama bin Laden than Hafiz Muhammed Saeed — and that sort of formulation misses the point anyway. Similarly, and again in contrast to Boot’s portrayal, there ARE a number of signs that the Afghan Taliban (NOT the Pakistani Taliban or Kashmir-focused terror groups, all of which Boot confuses) is seeking a way to break with al Qaeda — and we have reports of these signs going back at least to 2008.
But what I found most worrying about this is Boot’s overall logical construct. He writes, “All of these organizations share an eagerness to slaughter civilians and a desire to create a totalitarian regime modeled on Taliban-era Afghanistan. All are rabidly hostile to Westerners, Jews, Hindus, Shiites and anyone else who does not share their hard-core Salafist beliefs.” And all of that is absolutely true. No one – even those advocating a political process to the end the war in Afghanistan – are pretending the Taliban are noble pacifists. The problem is when he writes: “It is immaterial whether or not the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the others are currently targeting the American homeland.”
I couldn’t disagree with that more. Not only is it an attempt to have his cake and eat it too by making the groups both provincial enough to handle easily but also dangerous enough to require a global effort to defeat. It is also illogical. If these groups do not pose a threat to the United States, then it is not our problem to “fix” them. Period.
Without explaining why, Boot writes off all attempts at reconciliation and de-escalation as Afghans “cutting a deal with the Taliban to save their own necks,” leaving the only option escalation without end and without purpose (since he doesn’t actually say why or how a permanent, large U.S. military presence in Afghanistan will actually address the phantom constellation of all militant groups forever in Pakistan). Since Boot’s neck is not on the line, I find the charge difficult to take serious. Maybe if he had more at stake, say the lives of his family and friends and entire country, he’d be a bit more sympathetic to the extraordinarily difficult choices the Afghans have to make when they contemplate the future of their country.
I had hoped that the death of Osama bin Laden would at least temporarily tamp down on the irresponsible fear-mongering over a few crazies with guns in mountains whose names we cannot pronounce and who cannot and do not pose an existential threat to our existence. I guess my hope was mistaken.