What Motivates the Taliban?

July 18, 2012 Topic: Failed StatesPost-ConflictTerrorism Region: Afghanistan Blog Brand: The Buzz

What Motivates the Taliban?


For many, acting on a hunch is how one might choose between door one or two on a gameshow. For the Chicago Tribune’s Steve Chapman, it’s the impetus to explain the Taliban’s lasting power.

Chapman posits that the Taliban has “greater motivation” than our Afghan allies. Thus, not only is winning the war for the Afghans hopeless, but we also can’t “give them what they need to win it for themselves.” No word on what that “need” might be. 

Unfortunately, the only backing Chapman has for the Taliban’s supposedly superior drive is the idea that they “manage to muster such a capable and durable fighting force...without a superpower’s help.” Yet throughout history there have been numerous powerful religious and ideological forces separate from any national affiliation. Some endure, most flounder. Lack of state sponsorship alone is a ridiculous reason to suggest that the Taliban is destined for success.

Are there other factors to consider? Chapman seems to have a feeling about it: “The insurgents don’t seem to get discouraged quite so easily...I’m not sure why that’s so, but I suspect it’s very important and beyond our capacity to change.” So he has a hunch that they’re very inspired and a feeling we can’t change it? Aside from the fact that the author has admitted there is no real basis for his argument, should a hunch be a tenable position in an op-ed? 

There’s no question that we have failed in Afghanistan, yet the reasons Chapman suggests for continued failure are so obtuse that they make his piece a howler.