According to the “insurgency narrative” widely espoused by Western governments, a legitimate Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA), which is recognised and supported by the international community, is violently opposed by a movement of insurgents, called the Taliban, who have sanctuary in Quetta, Pakistan.
Thus, the Taliban are religiously inspired insurgents who are opposed to the democratic and women’s rights that the GIRoA embodies and promotes. But this “insurgency narrative” does not fit with my experiences as an officer. I went to Helmand several times (in and out of uniform), with appropriate gaps between visits for study and reflection, and this analysis seemed further and further from the events that I was observing and participating in. In my view, the Taliban are not the main drivers of conflict; and earlier periods, including the Soviet, the civil war and the Taliban eras, have been similarly misconstrued.
Today, much of the violence is mischaracterised as “Taliban” insurgent violence, when in fact it is not linked to the Taliban or the GIRoA, but is driven by local dynamics between groups and individuals on the ground. The Helmandis describe the conflict as pshe-pshe. This literally translates as “leg-leg”, but refers to the different legs of a tribe or clan (the English term would be “branch”). So, metaphorically, the phrase pshe-pshe means group-on-group warfare. It is a (micro) civil war.Just like Rory Stewart's "description of an absence;" Icons passim.
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