In his defense of President Trump’s strategy to once again bolster U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has explained that the Trump administration may seek to engage with “moderate elements” of the Taliban to achieve peace and stability in the war-torn country.
“We think there are plenty of others that we’re going to call upon for assistance as well,” Tillerson stated Tuesday in a State Department briefing.
“Rather, we’re there to facilitate and ensure that there is a pathway for reconciliation and peace talks as this pressure begins to take hold, and we do … we believe, we already know there are certain moderate elements of the Taliban who we think are going to be ready and want to help develop a way forward. How long that will take will be, again, based on conditions on the ground.”
The idea that there is a “moderate Taliban” in Afghanistan has been promoted largely by both the Republican and Democratic foreign policy establishment in Washington, D.C. Before President Trump came into office, the Obama administration and former presidential contender Hillary Clinton spoke of peace talks with the “moderate Taliban,” seeking to distance this supposed faction with the jihadist Taliban that commits acts of carnage against innocents.
It would be quite convenient for there to be a “moderate” Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban has agents embedded in the Afghan government, and the Taliban now contests or controls about 40 percent of the country (not to mention the backing of state actors like Russia and Iran).
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But comparable to the so-called Arab “moderate Syrian rebels” — who all too often have gone off to join ISIS and al-Qaida — the “moderate Taliban” is just as unreliable and nonexistent.
Experts on the country have near-unanimously lambasted the Obama administration’s search for a moderate Taliban.
“Where are the so-called moderate Taliban? Who are the moderate Taliban?” asked Waheed Mozhdah, a former Afghan official, in 2009. Analyst Qaseem Akhgar also weighed in, adding: “Moderate Taliban is like moderate killer. Is there such a thing?”
But the myth of a moderate Taliban continues, and it’s being adamantly pushed by actors in the Gulf, such as the state of Qatar.
Qatar often hosts Taliban delegations for talks with Western governments. From the Taliban’s political office in Doha, the group sometimes teases the West by floating the idea of peace. But this is ultimately a soft-power play to legitimize its cause of ruling Afghanistan.
And realities on the ground show that the Taliban wants conquest, not peace. Further, the Afghan people — in survey after survey — express extreme doubt over the Taliban’s sincerity concerning peace negotiations.
There are no records of moderate Taliban factions departing from their Islamic supremacist, Caliphatist ideology. And worse, Taliban factions deemed by some Western analysts as “moderate” have later led slaughter campaigns against thousands of people.
A U.S.-initiated strategy to legitimize any element of the Taliban would mean America taking an active role in normalizing an evil jihadist cult. The Taliban kills hundreds (if not thousands) of innocents each year, using suicide attacks and other vicious and indiscriminate methods to rack up the casualty count.
It’s bad enough that President Trump has chosen to bolster the U.S. role in Afghanistan without defining what “victory” is, or mapping out an exit plan. It’s worse that he’s flirting with helping a terrorist organization secure its grip over the country.
There are no moderate elements of the Taliban, just as there are no moderate elements of al-Qaida or ISIS.