Adam Holloway: We need to understand what we mean by the word 'Taliban'

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The Independent Online

It is a mistake to talk of the Taliban as if they are no part of Afghan society, as if they are somehow "other". It is also a mistake to think of them as an organised mass movement. Originally supported by the Pakistani Directorate of Inter-services Intelligence (ISI), what started as a small group of religious "students" unexpectedly won mass support. They grew because they met the needs of the population at the time, weary of civil war and desperate for order and security.

In a sense the same thing has happened over the last four years as security in the country has worsened. When the Taliban were deposed, most people were delighted to see the back of them, or just removed their black turban and put it away. Today local commanders will gravitate to the side they think will win – and the absence of security, the failure to generate economic activity, and the presence of large numbers of foreign troops has generated some resurgence in support from ordinary people. The overwhelming majority of our opponents are in it for the honour of fighting the foreigners who just came into their neighbourhood. Most aren't paid more than $10 a day.

The Taliban is no single group. It is just a label for hundreds of different armed bands. Fighting NATO is what unites them, not ideology. Most are ordinary local people. But their enemies' enemy is their friend, so into the mix you can find many Pakistani Pashtoons and foreign Jihadis in the large "flying columns" that range across the south, organising and energising village militias. (According to the head of the Afghan intelligence service, "probably dozens of British Muslims" of Pakistani ancestry have fought in the country over the last four years).

A large proportion of the Afghan population remains deeply traditional and resistant to change. Important aspirations (for the West), like women's rights, will have to wait until the reality on the ground catches up. There is a huge difference between traditional, deeply religious local people who fight against an invader (whether British, Russian or American) and Al Q'aida.

Adam Holloway is a Conservative Member of Parliament who sits on the House of Commons Defence Select Committee. This is an extract from a Centre for Policy Studies report, 'In Blood Stepp'd So Far? Towards Realism in Afghanistan'