04 November 2009

Looking at the Taliban through Darwin's eyes

CTC Sentinel has an interesting article about Hakimullah Mehsud. I don't want to rehash the entire article, but there is one fact that was not covered due to the scope of the article that I would like to point out and maybe spur dialog amongst the awake.

Early on in the piece the Sentinel states that Hakimullah is different from his predecessors because he was too young to fight the Soviets. This is a point that I would bet most of us haven't thought about. As this war progresses I believe there will be a shift from the "Old Guard" to the new kids on the block that may have drastic implications. It's speculation but most people believe that Uday and Qusay were going to be more ruthless than daddy. I think we should start to categorize the Taliban leadership between the former CIA supported Mujahdeen and the current CIA targeted Taliban. Now obviously some from the former category are still leading the current one but there are some ideological differences between the old guard and the up and coming Taliban. The Soviets drew first blood and it was a noble fight for the Muj. Al Qaeda not only brought with them the military might of America but also radical teachings of Jihad to the youth. As I am writing this the Madrasas in FATA/NWFP are cranking at full steam. As the Sentinel points out Hakimullah and many of his peers didn't complete their religious training before they joined the fight, I wonder what parts of the Koran are not covered until the end? I think there will be a tipping point as more radical individuals join the fight. If the Taliban becomes increasingly radical, will we see Anbar style disenfranchisement from the Afghani/Pakistani locals? The Sentinel also points out that Hakimullah has a possible sectarian agenda. In Iraq the insurgency exploded much in part from AQI fanning the flames. In Afghanistan there was already a network of fighters and tribal leaders that were solidified in their roles. I think it is possible that Al Qaeda's methodology may have taken longer to catch fire in Afghanistan and Pakistan because the Taliban already had a working system where in Iraq there really wasn't the same infrastructure. The last thing I want to add is I instantaneously started to think about this topic as I read the Sentinel, I haven't had a chance to do any actual research on this.



  1. As the Sentinel points out Hakimullah and many of his peers didn't complete their religious training before they joined the fight, I wonder what parts of the Koran are not covered until the end?

    Happily, the Darululoom syllabus is available on the web.

    After completion of primary / preliminary studies, the student at the Deobandi madrasa / seminary at Darululoom enters an eight-year course of "the Arabic classes", during which studies in Quranic Exegesis will begin in the third year with the suras from Qaf (50) to the end, continuing in the fourth with suras from Yusuf (12) to Hujurat (49) and in the fifth from al-Fatiha (1) to Hud (11). In the sixth year, students study the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, a major commentary on the Quran, in the seventh they begin the study of the hadith or recorder sayings of the Prophet and his companions, and the eighth year is almost exclusively devoted to studies of the major hadith collections.

    Further studies at graduate level are also possible.


    Furthermore, after the first sura, al-Fatiha "the Opening", the suras of the Quran are mostly arranged in order of decreasing length, not in chronological order -- so the earlier Meccan and later Medinan suras are somewhat intermingled, the former being on the whole shorter and closer to the end, while the latter are longer and largely found towards the beginning of the Book -- where Darululoom students would not study them until the fifth year. Also, those suras which deal with warfare are from the Medinan period, including sura 2, al Baqara.

  2. JD: Thanks for the link to that great report and even more for your analysis. Definitely a pretty important point on the generational shift in Taliban/AQ leadership - both in AFG and Pakistan. I think we also saw a similar phenomenon in Iraq. Just as we saw in Mosul in Jan 08, the introduction of a more radical element to a "localized" insurgent element can have dramatic effects - there's lots of potential to sway the opinions of both the local populace as well as the local insurgents. I don't think we understood the dynamic in Mosul well enough at the time (having only been in country for a few weeks) to effectively change our IO message and turn the populace against the "Arab BNs" that were led by the Saudis.

    But, we may have an opportunity in Pakistan and Afghanistan if we can come up with a more sophisticated IO campaign that clearly shows the links between the recent surge in attacks and the presence of radical "Arab" foreigners - led by embedded AQ leaders within the local Taliban structures. The challenge will be to get this message transmitted through the local/tribal leaders (both formal and informal) rather than through some US-led mass drop of fliers. I wonder if the ISAF leadership has issued any sort of unified IO talking points to this effect? Have there been similar efforts in Pakistan? I didn't hear SecState Clinton hit on this point at all during her recent visit. Subordinate commanders can then tailor these to their local environment. Along the same lines, I wonder what level of approval is required to release IO products/messages? Hopefully we've improved over the ridiculous system that we struggled with in Iraq.

    On a related note, very interesting point in the article about the links between Hakimullah Meshud and Qari Hussein (affiliated with LeJ and the broader Kashmir movement). This definitely presents a wider range of both lethal targeting and IO opportunities to get after the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). I'm sure that Indian intelligence has some great lines into these networks? I haven't seen much talk of leveraging these connections at the micro level to share intel...

  3. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 11/05/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.