Afghanistan today is an important fulcrum of world politics. Much depends on the success or failure of Nato forces engaged there in a combined peacebuilding-combat role and the democratically elected government. But world attention is not something new to this forlorn country. Thirty years ago it was the subject of an invasion by the Soviet Union, a military action that’s results are a primer in realist international relations theory, and showed how powerful a motive self-interest can be in political and military affairs. Much can be gleaned from the behaviour of the freedom fighter/terrorists in Afghanistan in the 1980s and how they morphed into the Taliban/Al Qaeda elements or new terrorists there now, organizations that today continue to commit terrorist acts.
The invasion of the Soviet Union in 1979 and the subsequent war that took plance there is significant because it can be described in terms of realism. Each group involved acted out of what they perceived was their self-interest at the time. Why is realism important to this discussion about terrorism? Because it is absent from the calculation of new terrorists. They are not interested in self-interest. They dream of wreaking death and destruction on their enemies all for a fantasy: the return of the caliphate. Nato may well be fighting some of the same characters that the Soviet’s fought 30 years ago, but the have morphed from nationalists into something far more dangerous: new terrorists. As the Western casualties mount in Afghanistan more pressure is bought to bear on Nato governments to capitulate to this new terrorism. Not enough government understand the real danger represented by the organizations that are fighting in Afghanistan. They are not seeking independence for their country; their goals are not rational. What they want is the subjugation of the West and a new Caliphate to rule over the world. They will kill anyone and everyone to create this situation. They are fanatics, not patriots. This—as well as their reliance on new technology and foreign money—is the main distinction between this new breed of terrorism and the old one.
One tactic used by Al Qaeda and the Talbian, as examples of new terrorist organization, is provocation. By provoking the American and coalition forces into using violence or launching a large-scale aerial attack, the Taliban can claim to the international community that international law is being violated, they are being abused, and they desperately need help. This makes Nato look bad and brings in donations from abroad. In this case, huge damage will be done in terms of death and destruction in exchange for bringing attention to the cause. It is debatable whether provoking the enemy in this way can lead to a strategic victory.
The Taliban have gained very little for the Afghan people through their tactics. By maintaining impossible ideals, both groups will kneecap themselves. No matter what happens in the future they cannot change their geography. They will have to be living next to Israel and if they want to be economically prosperous they are going to have to come to some sort of economic arrangement with their neighbours. War involves vilifying your opponent, but in order to survive after a war it is important to find some common ground with your enemy, much like France and Germany did after the Second World War, paving the way for the success of the European Union. It is important for all parties to the conflicts in the Middle East to remember that in the future they are going to have to depend on one another in one way or another. Therefore, the Palestinian tactics, which have so poisoned relations between Israel and the Palestinian people, and which are so marked by ideology and idealism over practical political considerations are very unlikely to bear any fruit.
Will terrorism of this sort succeed? Only if we let it do so. Many political models and examples show that rigid ideology and the pursuit of violence against civilians leads nowhere. The truth is that the Al-Qaeda and Taliban of the world will always be destined to have a hardcore of followers who can cause trouble, but with a vigilant West never more than this. What many models show is that a recognition of differences and an effort to acknowledge past wrongdoing and pursue political reconciliation has a better track record of bringing achievable goals to fruition.
The new terrorism is very unlikely to achieve any true political change. These people have no home in the world and never will.