The myth of negotiating with the Taliban
1. The Taliban put the Haqqani Network, which was allied with Al Qaeda, in charge of security in Kabul and in charge of security at the airport.
2. The head of ISIS-K is a former commander of the Haqqani network
3. Afghan officials said the Haqqani network and ISIS-K are the same
4. Whether or not it is true, the Taliban units have joined ISIS-K.
5. The Taliban are an umbrella group. Their level of organization is debatable. Doing deals with them is pointless. He makes deals with individual commanders.
6. Jihadist groups are like gangs. Their commanders change their lineup. Their loyalties are unclear.
In Syria, we saw FSA units that we were funding that actually operated with Al Qaeda and ISIS. These are not military in our sense, they are opportunistic and contextual.
7. There is no operational security when your security agreement includes terrorists.
That’s true in Kabul, it was true in Benghazi, Tunisia, etc.
Even if you have a deal with a terrorist leader, the jihadists you are working with right now still hate you.
8. The Taliban fight ISIS-K for their own reasons because they are rivals. But that does not mean that elements of the Taliban cannot and do not want to associate with ISIS-K. Or that some jihadist units may be both the Taliban and ISIS-K.
Jihadist battlefields allow for that kind of flexibility.
9. You cannot negotiate with terrorists.
Attempting to do so will backfire in a number of ways because even if the terrorist leaders don’t stab you in the back, their people will.
The United States continues to make the mistake of treating jihadist groups as representatives of some legitimate government. Even aside from the fact that they are our sworn enemies, it’s like assuming that you can stop gang violence in Chicago by meeting with a superior gang leader.
Politicians have tried. It does not work.
That is because the gangs do what they are going to do. And their leaders can guide them to do what they already want to do, but getting them to do what they don’t want to do quickly reveals the limits of their power.
The jihadists want to kill, kidnap, rape and carry out their usual activities. If you ask them to do those things, it works pretty well. But getting them to stop doing those things quickly shows the illusion of any kind of leadership.
This is how Al Qaeda lost the crown to ISIS. That is why ISIS-K made inroads among the Taliban.
Terrorist leaders look strong and effective when they unleash violence. They quickly lose their authority when they try to restrict Jihad. (There are many unfortunate parallels here with contemporary American politics.) Negotiating with them to turn their violence into a particular target can be reasonably effective if they already want to tackle that target. Take the Mujahadeen and the USSR, for example.
But asking them to refrain from carrying out attacks on Americans is a mostly futile task. What will happen, as in Gaza and the West Bank, and in a dozen other conflicts, is that the leaders will disavow responsibility and give the go-ahead for an attack anyway.