The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Afghan-Pakistan Frontier

The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Afghan-Pakistan Frontier
(Hassan Abbas, December 12, 2017)

Transcript available below

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About the speaker

Hassan Abbas is Professor of International Security Studies and Chair of the Department of Regional and Analytical Studies at National Defense University’s College of International Security Affairs (CISA).

Aside from his expertise on Pakistan and Afghanistan, he also travels frequently to Iraq for research work on Hashd al-Shaabi (also known as Popular Mobilization Forces/Shia Militias). Along with addressing the main topic of the Taliban revival, he will compare and contrast Taliban and Hashd.

His latest book titled, The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier (Yale University Press, 2014) was profiled on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in August 2014. Abbas’ earlier well acclaimed book Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army and America’s War on Terror (M E Sharpe, 2004) remains on bestseller lists in Pakistan and India. He also runs WATANDOST, a blog on Pakistan and its neighbors’ related affairs. His other publications include an Asia Society report titled Stabilizing Pakistan Through Police Reform (2012) and Pakistan 2020: A Vision for Building a Better Future (Asia Society, 2011).

Dr. Abbas serves as a Carnegie Fellow 2016-2017 at New America where he is focusing on a book project on Islam’s internal struggles and spirituality narrated through the lens of his travels to Islam’s holy sites across the world. He is also currently a Senior Advisor at Asia Society. He was the Distinguished Quaid-i-Azam Chair Professor at Columbia University before joining CISA and has previously held fellowships at Harvard Law School and Asia Society in New York.

He regularly appears as an analyst on media including CNN, ABC, BBC, C-Span, Al Jazeera and GEO TV (Pakistan). His opinion pieces and research articles have been published in various leading international newspapers and academic publications.

For more on Afghanistan, see Ambassador Ali Jalali’s Westminster talk, Afghanistan: From the Great Game to the Global War on Terror, and Dr. Daniel R. Green’s Westminster talk, In the Warlords’ Shadow: Special Operations Forces, the Afghans, and Their Fight Against the Taliban.


Robert R. Reilly:

It is a great privilege to have a speaker here tonight from the College for International Security Affairs at National Defense University, not only because I was briefly affiliated with the school but because we have Joe DeSutter with us tonight who founded the College for International Security Affairs and was its longtime and President Joe welcome and Dr. Tom Blau who taught at CISA for many many years and those our speaker and is also a veteran of the Westminster Institute.

Hassan Abbas is a professor of international security studies and chair of the Department of Regional and Analytical Studies at NDU’s College of International Security Affairs. Aside from his expertise on Pakistan, which by the way was developed in several ways. One very much on the ground as a police officer in the Pashtun areas near the Pakistan-Afghan border and also serving in several administrations of Pakistan of President Benazir Bhutto and also Pervez Musharraf so he subsequently earned a law degree in England and a PhD at the Fletcher School in Tufts, so we have with us tonight not only a man of on-the-ground experience but a theoretician as well.

He of course tonight is going to talk on the subject of his latest book, The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier. You may have seen in one of the missives we set out what Bing West, a noted national security writer as well as a former Assistant Secretary of Defense, said about our speaker for those interested in security matters in Afghanistan and Pakistan and that should include our Pentagon, State Department, and White House, “Hassan Abbas is a national security treasurer.” His prior book on the subject of this evening’s talk was Pakistan’s Drift Into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America’s War on Terror. He is currently working on a book project on Islam’s internal struggles and spirituality narrated through the lens of his travels to Islam’s holy sites around the world. I am going to make him promise tonight to come back and give another talk for us when he is finished with that book. Please join me in welcoming professor Hassan Abbas.

Hassan Abbas is a national security treasurer, unquote. His prior book on the subject of this evening’s talk was Pakistan’s Drift Into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America’s War on Terror. He is currently working on a book project on Islam’s internal struggles and spirituality narrated through the lens of his travels to Islam’s holy sites around the world I am going to make him promise tonight to come back and give another talk for us when he is finished with that book please join me in welcoming professor Hassan Abbas.

Hassan Abbas:


Thank you very much for that very kind and detailed introduction. The focus indeed in today’s talk is the title of my book, the previous book, Taliban Revival Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier. But if I get this opportunity to pitch another thing right up front, [I am] thankful to mention my other forthcoming research project, which is funded by New America where I am also a fellow, that is based on my travels to 11 holy sites: Mecca, Medina, Karbala, Negev, Baghdad, Damascus, Rashad, Tehran, New Delhi, [and] some shines in Pakistan. That is an ongoing work, but another book of mine is coming in about two months. I can promise that I will come for that as well, which is linked to today’s topic, which is titled Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb: A Story of Defiance, Deterrence and Deviance. The reason I mention it is partly for my selfish reasons. I want you to know about my coming book, but also because I think that the argument there is linked to today’s argument as well, but thank you very much again. [It is] a great honor and privilege to be here.


[What] I want to do in about [the] next 45 minutes or so — and I want to leave about 30 minutes or so forth for a conversation/interaction because I want to learn from your questions as well — what I plan to do is to give a story of [the] Taliban from a slightly different angle than the way it is generally projected, and to talk about not only what is their current status, but also talk about three broader themes because so often we are victims of the contemporary developments, whether it is the bombing of the opium labs and whether that would work, or to a statement from a political leader in United States or NATO, or a certain development [relating to] Pakistan-Afghanistan and view the whole crisis from that lens. Where I think that what happened with Taliban resurgence is so phenomenal and so important and I, in my personal view, so troubling that it needs to be looked at from a broader context and have looking at the roots, looking at its dynamics, looking at all the pairs that are involved. And I would like to talk about those three themes.

Then with my policy interest now teaching students from across the world, all the US partners and their students [at] National Defense University, and I also lead the program on South/Central Asia program, which is all the AfPak Hands, the American military officers will go and fight for us in our safety and at the forefront ready with their what they offer, their blood, and they come to us for a year-long master’s degree, and that is part of the deal of the AfPak hands. So I owe my knowledge and my understanding to things that I hear from US officers who have served in the region.

That also reminds me that I am required to give a disclaimer that called what I am going to say is my personal opinions and I am not representing Department of Defense or National Defense University. But that is the framework I want to talk about, three themes, three policy things that we need to do. And the benefit I have is that not only I will talk from the perspective of what I had seen on the ground as a police officer many years ago, what I had learned as an academic, but also now I have a third tool which is that I spent last few years frequently traveling to Iraq. My last visit to Iraq was a few weeks ago, and I am having had the opportunity to interview leading scholars, including Mr. Sistani, and I think I was told later on I am the only US government official per se who was allowed to interview Mr. Sistani. I want to compare the Iraqi militancy and the kind of religious groups that operate in Iraq, so that is an added comparison that I want to use for trying to explain Taliban. Thank you for your patience in my listening to my introductory. It was rather dry introduction, but I want to set the stage. This is what I want to do, this is my perspective, this is my bias, so that you know, and this is the area that we cover.

I will start now with an anecdote. I remember when I moved to the United States back in January 2001 to join Fletcher school, and these were the months when extremist groups in Pakistan were already surging, it is before 9/11. Soon after 9/11, I remember that was not the age of Internet in a sense it is now, but I remember receiving a message. I think it was soon after Gen. Pervez Musharraf, at that time the president of Pakistan, there was a famous speech he made. One was in 2002 after 9/11. There was one speech he made before that which is often forgotten in which he had banned or warned some of the militant groups in Pakistan.

When he banned some of those groups, I remember receiving an email because as in my previous role as a police officer a law enforcement officer in Pakistan I had subscribed to various websites, various link, which would give you updates from Taliban and other militant groups. The email in 2001 was that our group has been banned, we will close this website, and you no longer receive emails from us, but in about two weeks or so we will set up a new website and you will receive start getting our messages.

I remember at that time being surprised as well because I had remembered that on the ground Taliban had operated in a different fashion. Taliban’s main mechanism through which they progressed or expanded or delivered their message was what was called a “cassette revolution” because this was a band of thugs, a grand band of militant groups small enough and got support from mullahs of religious seminaries in Pakistan. But then what they would do, and that was their beginning of their messaging, they would keep cassettes with the old-style with the Taliban message, established check-posts, and they would stop trucks and to take out music CDs, or CDs where I think even not in vogue at that time the way they are now, pick up the cassettes, and give them the Taliban.

Second anecdote is also linked to that, and I clearly remember one of my Pakistani journalist friends, who is actually now a Pakistani American based in DC who is a journalist. He had told me that he had gone back to Pakistan in 2001 and 2002. I asked him when he returned at that time, “so you were not following the news of such and such issue?” He said no because my mom told me to take out the television, he was in Pakistani Sabathia, take out the television and break it and burn it because that was the message of Taliban.

So, the point I am making up front is Taliban’s rise was phenomenal because they started off by saying: no modern technology, no modern tool of messaging. However, they were so adaptive that now when Mullah Mansour the new Taliban leader was killed in a drone strike because he was returning from Iran to Pakistan’s Baluchistan area on a different passport, a new Taliban leader, Hibatullah, was installed. The oath ceremony was shown live on social media. So, they have changed their tactics, but they have been very adaptive. Whether it is the e-messages or getting their message out, now there they are on Taliban’s website in six languages: Arabic, English, Pashto, Turkish, Persian, and Urdu. Look, this is just a sign.

I am using this specific incident, this specific feature, of Taliban to make a case that they today operate as a very strong organization with a network which is adaptive, a messaging which is very strong, a capacity to hit anywhere in Afghanistan and anywhere in Pakistan at the time of their choosing. In Pakistan, to be fair they have been pushed back a bit and I will talk in more detail there a bit later. But in Afghanistan, whether it is Haqqani group or is Hibatullah’s Taliban group and whether this is another insurgent group, there is no one Taliban today. Taliban is the combination, an umbrella group of sorts, with ten different groups and ten different streams. Today they can operate at their will, they can operate in any theater against Afghanistan.

How this came about – that is my academic question. What causes it to survive? How they were resurgent? Some of those are answered. This is a learned, educated audience, so I am sure you know all the major things and I do not want to repeat those things that are vitally known or that you know about. At what point they used which major event, or in any element of a US policy how it failed us or how it was inadequate. But I will go to the broader themes compare them with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Taliban in Pakistan and then we will compare it with militias that are operating in Iraq.

Just one more thing and then move forward, why I argue is it fashionable to just whichever group you are given, and you say this is the most dangerous group. I have heard this about ISIS, about Al-Qaeda, about Boko Haram, or Lashkar-e-Taiba. Which one of these groups is the most devastating, the most lethal, or most powerful, or potent terrorist organization? I think Taliban, and the reason is I would just ask a basic question: which was the first modern Muslim extremist group which gave the idea of Amir al-Mu’min in? Amir al-Mu’min in is the word used in the Muslim historical sense, “the leader of the Muslims.” In the modern sense neither Saudi Arabia, Iran, nor any of the other religiously oriented states use it. The first time in modern history it was Taliban. Exactly the word and terminology that was adopted by ISIS, so ISIS was not new.

It was the foundation created by Taliban that we can have a Sharia-based state, and it was different from Saudi Arabia where the clergy is not in power, not holding the reins of government. As you know there, they are partners in governance. In Iran it is a slightly different thing. The Iranian clergy, in my opinion, was far more superior in their strategy and even their scholarship and learning and we can talk about that and they are not as bigoted as Taliban, but they are a separate group and cannot be compared.

In a modern sense a local group which created a new model or reinstated or gave a recreated the idea of a Caliphate was Taliban. Second thing, why they are most lethal. The idea was so powerful that even now we are tackling with it in the shape of ISIS and God knows we will come after ISIS, but the idea has been again given in the practical realm. Second thing: [they are] very adaptive. They developed linkages with Al-Qaeda. The reason they, or the modus operandi, expanded their messaging from this cassette revolution to social media and through networking and through buying and harassing journalists was learnt from Al-Qaeda, from bin Laden. Bin Laden used a lot of money. Bin Laden modernized them, and they were ready to be modernized. Modernized in a sense of a terrorist organization.

The third combination or third alliance they developed, which is not normally talk about, the Taliban had developed with what we call now Punjabi Taliban but military groups in Pakistan which was sectarian Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba. Those were also smart combinations because that is where the crime-terror nexus developed. Many of the groups in the region which Pakistan spent south of Punjab today had deals with Taliban. They had deals with them that okay you will kidnap somebody of importance. [For example, the] son of a Prime Minister. The son of the sitting Prime Minister of Pakistan was kidnapped. The son of Mr. Geelani by local sectarian group and handed it over to Taliban in Afghanistan.

What I am saying is look at their messaging techniques. Look at the ideology which was able to expand and attract people from all over the world and which is so powerful that ISIS borrowed it. And this adaptability in creating networks and creating alliances. These three facts that are mentioned to you are still very much active that is why I say Taliban potentially is even more dangerous than any of the other groups we are talking about because they have that capacity, the vision, and that potential that I have talked about.

One factor, and I still have to start talking about the main themes, but just to explain where they stand today. Taliban also have developed and expanded their operational capability and the capabilities to negotiate. Think about what they had done in Qatar. Establishing an office. Was that the true representatives of Mohammed at that time? No, it was a side group which they knew, which they take sanction. Okay you can go and talk to the Americans, and you can go and talk to the Pakistanis, while being a beneficiary of support from elements in Pakistan military establishment or intelligence establishment, whatever we call that. They kept alive their linkage which I have talked in my book the Taliban Revival in detail.

When they when they interact with the Pakistani military, it is not that they sit together in one room, and they conspire and decide with the Pakistani military intelligence, or somebody gives them a card that this is the next target and that it is such a smooth discussion forum in which such strategies are made. No. They, both sides, blackmail each other. I personally believe many in the Pakistani military know the Frontier Corps who were directly confronting Haqqani group, which is one element of Taliban, because they were blackmailed. They are also scared. Haqqani group and some of the Taliban group gave a real severe beating to the Pakistani military in Waziristan.

Last but not the least, other than this capacity to operate in the field as a terrorist organization but have a diplomatic section as well which was those of you who have some idea about what was happening in Qatar when they were negotiating very sophisticated those people who were there with whom I talked about. I at least remember one of the leading American scholars of Islam and the Muslim world politics, who was for some time based in Qatar, a few years ago approached me and said, “Do you want to meet the Taliban guys in Qatar?” I said, “Really, it is possible?” He said yes. It did not happen because myself in a different position and it needed some complicated procedures. But what I am saying is that they had somehow convinced a leading scholar to also convey messages to others. This sophistication is also an asset for Taliban which they retain.

The way they communicate with the Pakistanis, for instance Haqqani group, which is very important for us today as Americans in our present context. Two of the closest associates and the family members of Jalaluddin Haqqani were killed by Pakistanis because they were not listening to them and the Pakistani military at that time had given a commitment to US. what they did they kill the son-in-law of the main guy. It is that kind of pressure tactics from both sides that continue to happen.

Now we come to the themes this was just to explain these few points that I have mentioned. This is the nature and type of Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan that you are dealing with. At times, there are ebbs and flows. For some times, they may not be as lethal and may not be as well organized and smooth functioning as I may have projected, but that is somewhere close. That is where they stand, that is why it is important to think about them and continue to look at them.

Just to mention one more point and I will go to my themes I promise. That even ISIS, when ISIS broke apart in Mosul, and I have seen that in that region in Iraq how the collapse of ISIS was seen and observed and tackled. Some of their folks, and there is news very recently, they are going back to Afghanistan and many of what we think are ISIS are actually the various veins and sections of the mainstream Taliban who have broken away because some negotiations are not happening. I personally think, if I have to guess, part of that might be a strategy. People think the ISIS in Afghanistan and Taliban are fighting at present, but it appears that may not long be a case because ISIS has lost its base. ISIS and Taliban in my estimate will be merging in Afghanistan. That is why it is a major threat.

Now I come to my major three themes that I want to now explain to have a deeper understanding how come a group of thugs in a region where even the well-resourced organizations are not even functioning efficiently, how come this group of thugs and bigots with the religious extremist views and violence as they bread and butter, and have been in under threat severe threat all the time, how they have come how they have survived? That is question number one. Give me any other name of any modern terrorist organization which has survived for that long 2001 – now 2018 and ISIS has gone in front of our eyes. Al-Qaeda also collapsed in front of our eyes. Taliban are still very powerful and has potential.

Three things that I want to look at, and here I will step back from kind of the contemporary examples and go a little deeper. I will talk about three themes, three words which may give you some idea. Number one is the ideological roots, what it means, and what damage Taliban have done in the illogical religious spiritual domain in South Asia. Secondly about the governance issues, how Taliban use it and misuse it, and how governance problems in the region are facilitating Taliban to sustain themselves. And last but not the least, an understanding of this deepening insurgency. None of this is new. I mean for math and strategists and security officials, I mean, who have looked at insurgency raging from Vietnam to the Soviet-funded incident season. That is not a new topic.

Why “failed?” Failed might come across as a strong word I mean, but that is the most appropriate word I can think of. If we fail to understand the Taliban, how the insurgency in Afghanistan is feeding into the Taliban narrative. These are the three broad things I will talk about and then I will conclude with three things which I think we can do. Number one: ideological. I will give you an example and we have some people here from the South Asian background who will bear me out, or at least challenge me afterwards. The Islam that had come to South Asia was brought by the Sufi mystics. My friend here from Indian background will bear me out and I have seen it myself also. In the leadings Sufi shrines, these are the mystics, the Saints of Islam, who had brought Islam from Central Asia and other places. Even today, in some of the major shrines in India you will find a higher number of Hindus and Sikhs than Muslims. These are Muslim Saints acknowledged by Muslim as Muslim Saints.

The Islam that they had brought here was pluralistic, was open-minded, was teaching peace and selflessness. Peace, the word peace has become a cliché, so I want to avoid that. But pluralism, inclusivity, opening. It was not the Mecca of today where if you are a Christian or a Jew you cannot enter and that is, by the way, I challenge anyone who says that is supported by any of the religious injunctions. I mean of these newer things which sound very dogmatic and bigoted are very recent last couple of hundred years, two or three hundred years. Going back to my point, the Islam that had come to South Asia a thousand years ago was a very open-minded Islam and that is why it had sustained. Think of this, how the Mughal Empire with the minority Muslims, how they thrived. Yes, they were tussles in battles with Hindus, Sikhs, and others but by-and-large it was not based, there was no religious challenge, to those except to Aurangzeb who was very conservative. That remained the case in the creation of Pakistan, for instance, the division of British India.

Just one example and then move forward to explain this ideological issue. Jinnah belonged to a Shia Muslim faith and his top stalwarts. The Jinnah who is the founder of Pakistan. His stalwarts were all either Shia or very progressive Muslims and Ahmadis also who today are running for their lives in Pakistan, because if you want to destroy someone’s career in Pakistan today you just call him an Ahmadi. Ahmadis and these a sect of Islam and they, keeping aside anthropological differences, they actually follow exactly what the main Muslim principles are, except one major issue. Which is the finality of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. But they have been thrown out of the domain of Islam. In 1947, one of the most important ministers the Foreign Minister of Pakistan Zafarullah Khan was an Ahmadi.

What I am saying is that Sufi tradition, which is inclusive, was the predominant at house and religious identity. You could go to any shrine, and I have as this is part of my research. From shrines across Pakistan, whenever you want to you want free food, if you want to smoke something, you go to a shine. It is an open space. It is a sacred space. You want to dance? You want music? Go to any shrine in Pakistan and you will find what they call a [Hangah], which was an open, sacred place. They are very different from, not that I am comparing them to mosques. Mosque is more organized religion, and that was a Sufi Islam that we talked about.

The Taliban contribution of that thousand years of pluralism has been that today for the first time in the modern history of South Asia, these shrines have been bombed. Suicide attacks had never happened before. There was no shortage of religious bigots in in South Asia, do not get me wrong. I am not saying everyone was a Sufi and love was the prevailing norm of the day. No, it may be they were bigots and extremists, but they were not killing each other. They were not targeting each other. That changed. One anecdotal thing, I remember the day when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to Bari Imam. Bari Imam is the most famous shrine in Islamabad. I think of course she went with a right intention and one of the Foreign Minister of Pakistan belong to a Sufi religion he asked her to go there. A few days later there was a suicide attack because people said oh, so the Americans have started have decided to support the Barelis, a Sufi tradition, or the Shias and attack started happening.

So, the Taliban today belonged to a tradition which started off in India in a small town called Deoband. This is not the Shia versus Sunni; this is within the Sunni Islam. Two strains of thought: one very conservative became very powerful as an anti-colonial British exercise, the others were more Sufi-oriented. That battle is now re-energized and recreated in Pakistan thanks to, of course sarcastically, thanks to Taliban. Even if today, you defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. Even if you just kicked out Taliban from the Pakistani tribal areas, this terrible contribution alone is something that the region South Asia is going to continue to pay through their nose.

That is why I said Taliban is the most dangerous group I can think of. ISIS today, when they started, not today in 2014 in Mosul, when they had started attacking these shrines, where did they get the from? Taliban had also started doing that at a limited level. They took it to another extreme, so it that is why I am saying the ideological roots of Taliban today, unfortunately are very much entrenched. I have talked to many well-meaning people, educated I should say, and people who appear to be progressive or appear to be at least middle-of-the-road, but even they when you talk to them on Taliban, they say what is wrong with Taliban. I mean I remember a conversation I had with one of my extended family members. A guy who was dying of liver cirrhosis because he could not sleep without alcohol, but he asked me, “So sir, why are you against Taliban?” I said, “do you know what they will do to you if they come into power?” But that was the norm. That is the narrative Taliban have created in the region, and with borrowing of Al-Qaeda’s narrative as well: that we are the resistance forces to the Western hegemony. And they have done that so successfully as they projected themselves as resistance forces. That is benefiting from that ideological strain of thought, and that is a very problematic issue.

There are various reasons for that. The degeneration of religious thought in Islam. The same Mullahs and summaries that had creates some of the best minds. I need not tell this audience, you can go to any library looking for the narrative and you will see that the contribution of the Muslim scientists, Ibn Hannem, Al-Farabi, or in an ethnological sense Al-Ghazali or Ibn Arabi, was phenomenal. It was acknowledged by the leading Western scholars of the day, those books even on this the original books and science were taught in western academies. Today’s religion is a far cry from that because of this degeneration of religious thought.

And the School of Deoband, unfortunately, played a very negative goal in this negative trend of degeneration. For instance, one of the crowning contributions has been or still is in a way called “each day hard.” Which means a progressive, rational, modern, forward-looking interpretation of religious principles and the idea, the Islamic idea, was that any given verse of any given Islamic principle, you have to interpret it according to modern times so long as there is basic rationality involved. Rationality is not about the way I am looking at it or framing it like rational. This is hundreds and thousands of theses have been written in Islamic seminaries on the idea of rationality. But where it stands today is the Taliban, Deoband school, and other schools also, they had said, “no we had closed, the famous sentence was, we have closed the door, which they had, because we have discussed everything and analyzed everything under the Sun, under Islamic principles, so there is no further need for any rational or discussion.” That is the Taliban contribution.

What I am seeing unfortunately its roots are deep. It was still even in 1970s and 80s, the idea of Taliban in terms of its religious orthodoxy was very limited, and Taliban through this movement have expanded that idea. One example and I will move forward, even in Pakistan irrespective of your political identity or your political party Jinnah. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of the country, the progressive, British-trained loyal who single-handedly almost created Pakistan. No one would curse him, no one would challenge him, or him abused him. The first time that happened was in Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban. Because they said when they were confronted by the Pakistani military intelligence and interrogated, I had the opportunity to see some of those transcripts, they always would say “no we do not believe in Jinnah.” They still did not say because he was a Shia Muslim, they said no because Jinnah wanted to create a state and Islam has not a state. We have a transnational reality and that is why they were against Jinnah.

This is the Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda-ization, or Taliban-ization of Al-Qaeda, or the other way round, that created this new religious narrative which has deeply impacted the religious identity in Pakistan. The most recent reflection of that was two thousand people in Islamabad blocked and choked the capital city Islamabad, demanding some changes. They were reacting to the government, and they were shown live telecast, broadcasted, in Pakistan. In television that about eight thousand five hundred to nine thousand law enforcement officials went after them, but these two thousand were so well-connected with the various elements within the establishment, among the politics, that they were to win over and they were able to win their argument and they forced the law minister of Pakistan to resign. Something which was unheard of 20 years ago. That could not happen. That you could blackmail the government on a religious identity, even the military and the intelligence chiefs and everyone is acting so respectfully to the scope. This new pseudo-respect that the militant has assumed is a gift of Taliban. That is what I want [to say].

I will move on from ideological to the governance issues. Now I move more to the Pakistani side of the divide and Afghanistan as well with Pakistani divide on the tribal areas, what they call FATA, Federally Administered Tribal Areas; semi-autonomous tribal regions, mountainous, no modern services, no judiciary, no law enforcement, and that was the hub from where first the entire Soviet jihad was conducted. Then it was used as a base for support to Taliban and Afghanistan before 9/11, and even afterwards. The resurgence of Taliban happened in the same region because they were very strong, their tribal networks were very strong. The Pakistani military and intelligence and other organizations had no experience operating in that area. They could maneuver, manipulate at times, talk to some people. That is where I remember is my couple of years as a local police chief and in a district as an assistant superintendent of police, what is called subdomain Police Chief.

I had seen the power of these groups because anyone who would steal or involved in serious crime would go to that tribal zone. Whosoever you are, in whatsoever resources you have, there was no way you could go into the tribal belt or managed to get your forces there. I remember the first time I went into the tribal areas. We were told at the checkpost, as a police officer in that area with my guards, to leave the weapon aside.

I mean they developed and were groomed in that zone. When they were Talibanized, and that is a well-known story of how the tribes of FATA, or tribal belt, were radicalized. They are on a so-called pseudo-jihad. There is no one organization or country which is responsible for that, including United States. US played a dirty game; the Pakistani just perfected that dirty game with their intelligence organizations. The goal was noble: push out the Soviets. We did that, but in the process, we invited something which it seems is going to stay with us for some time. That primarily happened because of this buffer zone in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region that was undermarketed, undefined, uncontrolled, and unmanageable. One of these may be wrong in English, but what I am saying is that was the way they operated.

I take you to this post 9/11 world for a second, before I go to my third point, because that explanation of this ideological mess-up, and this poor governance will explain how the third factor, which I already mentioned to you, this deepening insurgency happened. With billions and trillions of dollars, the cure we had for Afghanistan as well as Pakistan did not work because neither was there an effective counternarrative to Taliban and Taliban ideology. The idea of Taliban was not refuted or pushed back, and we thought that through some military means we will be able to do that, and it was pretty obvious pretty early on, in three or four years. I mean by 2007-2008, maybe we thought we have defeated the Taliban. That it is end of the game. Whereas anyone who had written even one book on the mountains and the people of the mountain, should have known that these people have fled to mountain and they are going to come back.

In this modern day and age, we were so short-sighted and so ignorant that we did not pick up the history book. I mean, I blame Pakistanis because at times book when I go to a bookstore these look like a graveyard, but I cannot accept the same for United States. I know that where I am talking is close to Langley. I assume that people in Pentagon and Langley had read some books on history in the region. I am sorry, I think they did not. Sorry, but that is the politest way I can say that. So, the point I am making is that we could not challenge the Taliban narrative and we could not create new structures.

In the governance structures, it is an interesting story. For a minute I wear my police hat and I often think, and I teach courses a rule of law and policing, counternarrative, and I personally believe anywhere you have to change things really, you have to have a criminal justice system. A criminal justice system which has an independent judiciary, which is a proper prosecution system, and effective policing system. It is this idea of law enforcement that is so different from a militarized version of counterterrorism. I am emphasizing that because it seems after the whole cycle today, we have the US policy has come back to the same point: kill and capture. We are not even ready to learn lessons from the last 10 years of our own history book. The governance structures, and by the way the Afghans and Pakistanis, especially the Afghans, we have to give credit.

This is again short anecdote. One of my students, a colonel US Army, she was our student at NDU, and I mentioned this story because I mentioned this when I testified in front of Congress a couple of years ago and this is public knowledge. The officer came to me and said that many of the other Afghan hands officers were going back to Afghanistan. In her case, I said, “do you think you should go back? You have done your two tour years in Afghanistan, two assignments.” She said, “No sir, I want to go back to Afghanistan.” This was two or two three years ago. I said, “why do you want to go back,” and she said, “because the hope that I had seen among the young women who I was training as an Afghan judges. That hope wants me to go back to Afghanistan.” She told me and I checked the records, in the last six or seven years, every year, among the do not top ten positions from the judicial Academy are grabbed by women. Five or six of those ten positions are grabbed by women because they really took that on as an honorable job and took the risks and to be a police officer, or a judge in Afghanistan, is not an easy deal.

I am not trying to say what some people have started saying, that this whole Afghan project was doomed from day one. “These backward ignorant people they did not know what democracy is, what kind of law is. That we wasted our money.” I think that is a very flawed argument. the Afghans have shown courage when we introduced new institutions. Why was that so? Why we think that they are not interested in justice? Why we want to blame all our own failures on the people of Afghanistan at times and Pakistan. The Pakistanis I am not ready to give a pass because their literacy rate was better, they have more history of democracy. But Afghans, the way they have gone through these series of violence and crimes perpetrated against them, and despite that they are ready.

One more example, I was looking at on the case of Pakistan for one of my CV projects. I was trying to see the leading mullahs in Pakistan, or religious clerics, who were gutsy and courageous enough to stand up to religious extremists, and I found four or five well-known names. Three of them were killed but I said OK there must be five more, and I thought well I have to because I am doing a book on Taliban on both sides, I need to have five or six names from Afghanistan as well. Can you guess what I found when I asked my students actually in Afghanistan and other friends in Afghanistan to give me the numbers of mullahs or Islamic clerics or Imams in Afghan mosques who stood up against Taliban and challenged them and were killed, or pressurized, or blackmailed, or harassed. The number at that, two years ago, the number that I got was eight hundred and thirty-eight. So many. Are we aware of it? Are our agencies, all our soldiers on the ground, at State Department? I mean because those were the people who would have challenged the Taliban narrative and they did. They paid with their lives. What I am saying is creating new structures was nothing bad in it. Those who say these are too modern, I do not buy.

However, we never sustained those policing and law enforcement interest was an afterthought. Because we thought by when we say governance, and we are thinking of not only US, but NATO and all the other players who were in it, when we were investing, we always overinvest in the military. Why? Because one justification is, and that is legitimate and understandable, in a war conflict theater, unless there are stabilization forces, how can you ensure that there is an environment where an aid worker can work? I get it, okay. However, when we say “clear, hold, and build,” who is going to build if those people who can build are not introduced in the theater. Those are the activists, law enforcement officers, criminal justice systems we have not invested in that. That is what I mean governance structures.

When the terrorist attacks happen in New York, we ensure that NYPD will get lot of resources or in anywhere else. FBI got a lot of more jurisdictions, more authorities. Whether it was Patriot Act and others, some controversial and some not. What we did in this country to our homeland: we invested more in the civilian law enforcement institutions for better surveillance. Whether it was NSA or elsewhere. I think that was the right approach in many ways. Some controversial, some problems, but by-and-large we invested. We did not invest in the military. Why when we go out to have a new model in a country which we are trying to build, we forget about the lessons from our own country? That is my question.

On the governance issues, come to the Pakistanis. I mean we were investing in law enforcement, at least the Pakistanis, despite having seen what was happening in the tribal belt. Maybe because of my old association with the law enforcement, but there was investment in policing, and law enforcement, and civilian intelligence was null because all the benefits of this aid, and US support, in NATO support, and global support was only going to the military. And when military is more powerful it has a direct, negative impact on the democracy in that country.

Coming back to the governance issues. Though we finally, I think, get it right: we have started thinking of institutions, but that is in some ways too late, and the governance challenged. My final point, under the second category the governance challenge, in the governance crisis is the one which enables Taliban to be who they are. Irrespective of what cure we have, unless it is tackling the governance issue, and I have not even touched upon the Ghani versus Abdullah issue, or how the resources between Abdullah and Ghani in Kabul are creating an issue. How these day-to-day fights between them about nepotism, who will get what position, is a problem.

I have to be careful the next anecdote I want to share. In a country X in a city Y, being close to Langley is having an impact on me, and I want to keep the exact story. I was talking to an Afghan. A very smart, brilliant young man. He was wearing a uniform one day, in the second day when I met him in that conference, he was a different Afghan officer wearing a different uniform. I said “it is a beautiful uniform yesterday you were wearing. You were wearing more of a British traditional military uniform today it is more Swedish or something.” And he said, “Yes sir, I designed those myself.” I said, “you design, so are you in that Department which designs for the whole military?” He said no, anyone in Afghan army can design the uniform.

I then I talked to my friends in in Pentagon. I said would you ever allow that in US Army? You would never allow that in US Army, Navy, or Air Force. Why, when you are paying the salaries and everything to the Afghans, are you allowing them to be so unprofessional? I do not think that is an army which wear not certain decorum. I, as a former law enforcement officer, when you asked me to look at an institution to tell whether they are professional or not, I will see how they are wearing a uniform. What is the belt, what is the handling of the weapon, that the cap is straight or tilted? Whether they know how to respect uniform. That is the criterion. Afghans have not. I get it, it takes two three generations. The Pakistani military is far more professional because of the British tradition, but we should start instituting those issues. The answer I normally I get is, “No, they are different groups, associated with different tribes, different leaders. They are the bright guys. They wanted it, we let it happen.” I mean that is well and good, they will be loyal to you for some time, but if you think this is building of a professional army in Afghanistan, that is not going to happen. It is a small indicator, I may be wrong, but that that to me is an indicator.

SIGA reports are out for anyone to see and know what has happened. These are the two causes: our failure and that regional failure also. The regional failure is even more severe, because here at times our mistakes have been mistakes of incompetence, poor accountability, in poor management in the region. In a regional framework, the proxy wars, the brutality linked with those wars on their own people are these are the stories of that modern tragedies are made of. I mean in the case of Pakistan, some of the Pakistani Taliban became powerful because they had links to the establishment. They were serving the Pakistani state in Kashmir, so they said if this group, this person, this unit, is helping me in Kashmir, I will not watch them at night. At night they are pursuing a different agenda. That duplicity and that denial also had a huge impact on Afghanistan. All of this together pushed and deepen the Afghan insurgency, or the Taliban insurgency. It is not a matter that we cannot kill and capture, we cannot kill 20 people and think the Taliban will be pushed aside. Because of the governance failures and justice.

Just a couple of one more point on justice and I was reading yesterday an article by Robert D. Crane. A mentor of mine, former foreign policy adviser to President Nixon, now a scholar of Islamic studies based not very far from here. Recently had a chance to read one of his speeches and I later, when I looked deeper into it his argument, was go anywhere in the Middle East and in South Asia. People who may be illiterate and you ask them what is missing? Why, what do you really want? They will say justice. Whereas the world justice it is not that it is missing from the American vocabulary, but the other words we use for the same impact: for liberty and freedom. Here when you say justice you immediately think of a justice system. But the idea of justice has a slightly different connotation or it is a more empowering idea for those areas which are going through developing world.

One example that I got from Robert D. Crane’s article was in June 2009, President Obama was going to Cairo to give a speech. The famous Cairo speech on Islam, this is I think either from Bob Woodward’s book that he picked or some other book, but it is a credible authentic anecdote I am mentioning. President Obama, four times his speech writers in the speech and the world justice that he wanted to use was missing. The final time on Air Force One he finally said, “What is happening? I am adding the word justice.” Because President Obama is a very well-read person and he knew the audience he is going to and why the word justice will have its own meaning and people will immediately understand, he used the word justice but that is the last time we heard the word justice from him in his next four or five years because then it had a different connotation.

The point I am mentioning is the insurgency in Afghanistan is happening also because the ordinary people got mesmerized by this misconception the Taliban were saying we have this justice, we will deliver justice. What they would do: hold small courts, and yes, in most cases the sentences would be wrong, brutal, but they were getting justice at their doorstep. We could not install the modern justice systems which could have delivered. The same thing happening in various parts of Pakistan. Deepening insurgency has these broader causes. None of these short-term efforts are going to have an impact on that.

My biggest worry is Taliban, and I close with this idea, Taliban have shown us that they were good in messaging, their good in narrative building, they are good in making alliances. When the first opportunity comes in Afghanistan, it may come sooner than what we think. The country can only sustain thirty, maybe some people say fifty, percent of the budget. We as Americans are paying for the rest of their total budget. Almost. You take away this budget support, billions of dollars, and I understand President Trump what he says the aid that sustains the current status quo, what it is good for, unless it is very well directed and focused. That is why the Taliban insurgency, I fear, can come back. The Pakistanis have done relatively well in pushing out that the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). But the bigger issues of a counternarrative, I have not seen any efforts in that regard. Building of institutions, I have not seen at in Afghanistan. Local leaders owning their law enforcement institutions and establishing those.

This final misconception: that we will kill and capture. We will kill some, and they will come to the negotiation table. No, they have not shown any signs they would come. Now by virtue of this final argument I am making, am I saying that because they are not going to come to the negotiating table, so bomb them more? No, that is not what I am saying. I am saying that will create maybe more. The drone strikes, there is an accepted data, has created more terrorists and then those who were killed. It has to be a comprehensive strategy, which at the moment I am not seeing the science. Sorry to end on a negative note, but that is what my conclusion is and that is why I am really concerned about this Taliban, the reality of Taliban, and the depth and the power of the idea of Taliban. It is more dangerous than the mere group. It is more pervasive than what we think. Thank you very much.


Robert R. Reilly:

We have about 15 minutes for Q&A.


I have a question. I sort of missed your point about President Obama and the word justice. Justice in my observation of the literature, does justice occur often in Pashtunwali, for example? In Pashto tribal or any tribal code. Justice is practiced, but it is not spoken about in the Western sense. Would you get that point?

Hassan Abbas:

Thank you very much. It is a very well framed question. The justice, you are right in the Pashtunwali mean four or five main ideas of Pashtunwali, the kind of revenge or the honor code. It may not come, but justice is seen as a central feature of the Taliban ideology. Taliban were able to frame their first institution that they built was of Sharia courts. That was the only thing they built. In fact, the famously known in from Ahmed Rashid’s book on the Taliban. The first, I think, important book that had come out was they said that the Finance Ministry of Taliban were under the was under the bed of Mullah Omar. When someone would come and need money he would get up from his bed, open a box from under his bed. That was the Finance Ministry.

But when it comes to justice, the first person he had appointed was the Chief Justice or the judge. The idea of Sharia Courts, which is a problematic idea, the way it has developed now became the idea which was seen as this one word of justice. Whether it was as we have later seen in the Arab Spring, as well in Tahrir Square, and elsewhere. The idea of justice is in some ways far more comprehensive or far more popular as a slogan. The way it is different from the Western understanding is we have built modern institutions of justice. That is how we understand justice. Their justice is getting your own right. So, all things what we think of, a bill of rights, that is justice in Afghanistan.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by United Nations. Ask a question in South Asia, Middle East. They will not use the word Human Rights. They will use the word justice. That is the world that had adopted its own coinage or its own popularity. That is seen as missing. They expand this idea of rights from what their rights are in the day-to-day life to also the way it is depicted about international politics, the way they seen it. They then connect the local injustices to global injustice as they see it. That is why in whether it was in Turkey, the most popular party became Justice Party. In Pakistan today, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the Pakistan Justice Party. The word justice has become more powerful because it encompasses all these bills of rights and human rights issues, that is why.


Thank you very much for your presentation. The counternarrative. Why is there a now, after so many years, a counternarrative? It would seem obvious after so many years. Second question is on the Pashtun. Is Pakistan-Afghanistan, the concept, more important than Islam, or is Islam more important to them? How do you deliver a counternarrative given that question of the importance of the nation-state and the religious Islamic question?

Hassan Abbas:

Thank you so you ever give me a good opportunity to say something which I wanted to say but did not get time. There was a counternarrative, but we picked the wrong counternarrative. How? In the modern Islamic world there are, and this is a new trend also, we previously used to think of big cities and centers of Islamic learning as the main centers. Where there is a movement, if I have to recommend and this to President Trump, I would say stop engaging Riyadh necessarily, or even Tehran, or Baghdad. Start talking more to Al-Azhar University, to Qom in Iran, and to the Najaf Seminary, or even to Deoband in South Asia. Why? Because these are the centers from where the narrative is coming, and they are open to engagement.

In South Asia, the Pakistani tradition has been, in Afghanistan as well, have not passed any variation per se. That is what they did. They heard about Taliban, they immediately went to Al-Azhar University and brought the main scholar from Al-Azhar, who was very known among the established scholars of Islam in South Asia. They highly respect anyone from Al-Azhar saying that you are a graduate from Al-Azhar means you a genuine authentic Islamic scholar.

However, this new generation of religious militants: the bin Laden’s and the Mullah Omar’s who had no degree from any religious institution. All Mullah Omar did was he went in Kandahar to this famous Afghan museum where they had a cloak from 1400 years ago, according to the local belief, the Cloak of the Prophet. The well-known stories were that King Zahir Shah and others had gone to touch the Cloak of the Prophet. They were so fiercely stuck and worried and concerned, and they thought they are so sinful, they could not touch it. There was a whole kind of stories and legacy around build around them. Mullah Omar walked into the museum, broke the shield, took out the cloak, wore it, stood on top of the museum. Everyone said, “Wow. He can go invade the cloak of the Prophet. He is our Amir al-Mu’min in.” This was political tactics which got them. Pakistanis and Afghans brought lesser scholars whose messages went nowhere. What they could, or should have done, was to go to actually talk to India. Go to the topmost scholar of Deoband in India because that may have made more sense.

Another issue. The traditional thing in Pakistan. This is what Musharraf did. This is what other scholars did. Whenever you are in crisis, you would be surprised, they immediately wake up before apparently called Jeddah Riyadh, request the Saudi command, “can you send us the top cleric from Mecca, who gives a sermon during Hajj. Because that name is big. They normally recite the Quran beautifully. They are brought in, and everyone said, “well if he is the Imam of the mosque in Mecca, he must be the most pious man. It is not often the case, but I have to be careful. The Imam of Mecca would come and give a sermon and that is the counternarrative. Whereas the local indigenous scholars, that is why the Taliban started killing the local Imams and we missed that story.

Currently today, the strongest two counternarratives are: 1) when Sistani gave this Fatwa, that is why there was no time for me to compare with Iraq. Maybe you would like to have me come again to talk about my Iraq stories from last five six years. In Iraq, Sistani gave one Fatwa. I was in Najaf at that time on the day, and I still remember. That midnight I woke up and I saw hundreds of people walking. I said, “Is there a revolution or something is happening?” I talked to the hotel owner, and they said, “No, they are all different Iraqi tribes. They know ISIS has taken over Mosul. They are going to Sistani and other religious scholars demanding that they give a religious edict, a Fatwa, that we have to go and fight ISIS.”

That is exactly what Sistani did. When those militias, many were Shia, but they are now Sunni and Christian and Yazidi as well but predominantly Shia militias, when they fight in an effort to clear the areas. In some areas they committed mistakes and committed, in some of the Iranian-sponsor Al-Hashd, Al-Shaabi as well, they have their own politics at play. When Sistani was confronted, you were the one who had given a Fatwa which created a narrative which led to the rise of this anti-ISIS militias and now they are committing some mistakes and human rights violations. Sistani gave another Fatwa, which is on their website on laws of war. It had a huge impact because it was local.

A similar effort was it called Imam message. I highly encourage you, because I see a lot of interest here on Islamic discourse and some of the books. Imam message was a phenomenal message. They brought Shia, Sunni, Sufi, Salafi, Wahabi, every scholar, and gave three principles. They said three principles. 1) all these minor Muslim sects, everyone is a Muslim. 2) this the Taliban, Al-Qaeda there I will give this discredit to Al-Qaeda, which said this this the right they have claimed that you are a Muslim, you are not a Muslim, and you are a good Muslim, and you are a bad Muslim, that no one should do that. 3) that this institution of Fatwa, the religious edict, has to be given to those who have a certain education. But Imam message, and I asked this my Jordanian friends why this counternarrative has not worked? Because in Pakistan and elsewhere they do not know Imam message, but that may have worked in in the regional context of Jordan and Iraq. So, the answer is there was a counternarrative. We rather than going for local roots in those areas, we tried to go big, and there was no big investment.

And then we have the other issues. Frankly at times, there was a smart institution who were doing the right work. We wanted them to look exactly like us, so we wanted all the Muslim progressive groups to also have similar views like us here about Israel. That is not going to happen. If you look for everything that are the good Muslim rebels, who exactly look like us, think like us, they should not say anything which goes against US policy, you are not going to find anyone. In that selectiveness bias, we, at times, missed out on some very good local groups. I am not saying empower those who are anti-Semitic, or who are saying go and commit crimes against Jews or Christians, or perhaps against anyone. I am just saying they will not always have similar views like us. Now there is a realization, but by the time we started, the State Department started, investing in CVE [Counter Violent Extremism], the new administration has come in and they are saying CVE is a past word, and we want a new face. All those newer experts on CVE, their double-minded, “will we get new funding from somewhere to do research and work on this?” Because this issue is so central.

Sorry for long answer. I am a professor and I am terrible at answering long.


Thank you for your presentation. You did talk about the local things that help the Taliban to revive. But you did not talk about the way important partners, the Taliban, assured us and was supported by the Pakistani military, the ISI. They are quiet with the Taliban, with the differentiation between the good Taliban and bad Taliban. I want your recommendation.

Hassan Abbas:

I think I did mention, but I was emphasizing more of the, which I think are, deeper issues. These issues when I mentioned on governance. Thank you for reminding me, I would add there is no doubt there is a regional context. The entrenched views among the Pakistanis, as well as in Indians, about the proxy war that is happening is also absolutely effective. For my book, I was looking at the figures, and it is absolutely no effort to deny or justify. I asked them so how many terrorist attacks inside Afghanistan, according to our IC, the intelligence community? What they think is the number of, percentagewise, what is the number of terrorist attacks committed inside Afghanistan directly linked to Haqqani group?

The answer I get is, and I have quoted it and I would like to be corrected if that is wrong, ten to fifteen percent. I think they may be more conservative, maybe twenty-five percent. That is why I spend, I am also concerned about the seventy-five percent of attacks which have local issues. Pakistan’s policy on Taliban has been a devastating policy. No one can justify that. I think Pakistan was in denial. They mistakenly thought that that is a group which will somehow serve their interests. Now they are partly scared from them. They did not realize that Afghan Taliban were also giving space to the Pakistani Taliban, and al-Qaeda who attacked Pakistan. Pakistan paid through its nose, and part of that is because Pakistan’s own security infrastructure failed or at times were playing double-sided. Still today, they got clarity to go after Pakistani Taliban, and even Al-Qaeda. The credit is due there, they cleared many of the areas. But Afghan Taliban, whether it was Mullah Mansour or Hibatullah, still has roots in that area.

Mullah Omar’s death, I mean I asked this question to many people. 2013, he apparently died. Why was that kept a secret? If the Pakistani intelligence was unaware of it, that is a huge failure. If they were aware of it, and they kept it from US, that is absolutely terrible. Because without the US support, the Pakistani military could not have fought the war on terror. Pakistan’s Taliban policy is extremely problematic and one of the causes of this.


Thank you. I have done some writing on South Asia. A couple of things I did want to bring up. One is the resilience of the Taliban, based on the opium report? The second related question is the role of the important Islamic clerics on the impact on the legitimacy of the Taliban. Two very simple comments, you talked of Afghan officers in different uniforms. We have to rely on Afghan officers and well I cannot remember the other one.

Hassan Abbas:

Thank you. I mean, I think these are very current ones on opium. I think there is a lot of research on this. I think of Gretchen Peters. Her reporting for USIP, and then her book on opium. This is an established fact that Taliban benefited hugely from opium, there is no doubt. Hence this targeting of the opium these labs which happened in last 48 hours or so is important.

However, there is a counterargument. People are saying the drug lords who are linked with some of the warlords, and the way they expand to the Central Asians, who get to sell that. They have to be tackled, because in this case, those labs that directly linked to the local economy. Not that it is a good economy or positive economy, but the ordinary farmers will get impacted. This is good for a messaging; I support that. When the US said, and yesterday when Gen. Nicholson was asked, he showed I think, a video of targeting of opium. Good messaging. You are saying we are aware of it; we are changing a practice; we are going to target opium production. Opium production for sure empowers Taliban, there is no doubt about it.

But just attacking some of the labs is not going to resolve the issue. It requires a much more effective counternarcotics strategy, which many people who are on the ground tell me there are no signs of that of yet, or few in number. We have, this is a not an afterthought in a sense, but it is expanded in a huge way. This will be a very important factor. If we really want to push Taliban. But that is the only local economic factor at play. That is their livelihood. Unless we have an alternate livelihood, or unless we will give them money, or establish some of the revenue generation system, this policy of targeting opium labs is going to not work. It is a good initiative, I must add.

The important clerics, I think, is a very important one. What he is referring is to Mr. Qadri, who was the first one, to his credit, gave fatwa on suicide bombing which was very comprehensive. Before him every Islamic cleric was saying suicide bombing is un-Islamic and Haram; however, you can do it in Israel. I mean they were very bad. Suicide bombing is bad. If it is bad in X, then it is bad in Y. He was the first one who said no. Suicide bombing is unacceptable, whether it is in Istanbul, or Bali, or in Tel Aviv, because you cannot kill innocent people and children and women. But he had to give that fatwa in London. He has infrastructure in Pakistan, the problem is that his message is right, but he became a political player, and it is believed that he at times, he has some links in the Pakistani military establishment, so his legitimacy became problematic because of his political interests. Otherwise, his messaging was good.

That is why we are referring local religious scholars, and I can that I can tell you based on my field study. Both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they know so many local Imams and scholars who really challenge these. That is why I mentioned the Sufi mystics and that tradition, which is very strong in Afghanistan, as well as in Pakistan. But we have not figured out a way to use them in CVE in a creative fashion. Thank you for both of your points.