The Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper has pieced together a riveting portrait of the Taliban fighters in Afghanistan through 42 videotaped interviews of militants in five different provinces. This dangerous assignment by the newspaper and its researchers provides valuable insight into what motivates the Taliban and what keeps them fighting.
The portrait that emerges, while not scientific, reveals men who are willing to die for primarily one main objective: removing non-Muslims from Afghanistan. The 42 fighters who were videotaped by the newspaper do not seem to have much knowledge of the Western world, even of the locations on the globe of some of the countries like Canada that are sending soldiers to Afghanistan. They seem to have very limited views of the world in general. Many receive funds from the cultivation of poppies and the drug trade. They provide pat answers to religious questions, giving the impression they blindly follow the teachings of certain religious leaders. They say suicide bombings are sanctioned by Islam. A few are fighting because they lost members of their families to NATO bombings. But mostly, they seem to have taken up arms to return a religious government to Kabul. They don't seem to have the international perspective of Al Qaeda-type organizations. Foreign fighters in their ranks appear to be a tiny fraction of their numbers. The people interviewed don't seem to care for much else other than the return of fundamentalist Islamic rule in Afghanistan.
The Globe's videotaped interviews will be a valuable tool for NATO commanders and politicians. They provide details that reveal much about the mindset of the front-line fighters facing Canadian troops in the Kandahar region. The interviews are perplexing and worrisome. Negotiation does not seem a short-term possibility. Even though large areas of the country are being restored and improved under the protective cover of European and North American soldiers, many of these fighters don't seem to care. They have no faith in the present government in Kabul.
The research project provides a lot of material for consideration and raises more questions for readers. One wonders: would the fighters be killing Afghan Muslims if their religious brothers were on the other side of the negotiating table?
The Globe and Mail will be publishing its special project in stages. Meanwhile, you can watch the interviews and read some of the work of Graeme Smith and his Afghan researchers at the paper's web site. See it here.