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Sunday, June 12

The Rise of the Internet Caliph. A gruesome murder portends a new direction for Taliban

Although the following report was featured on Google News today I am concerned it will be overlooked amidst news about the Orlando massacre, and that given the massacre the report's sensational headline might be passed over by people who've had enough gruesome news for one day. But drill down past the particulars and you will find clear warnings of an ominious new trend in Islamist-fueled violence that probably isn't limited to Afghanistan.  So here I'm going to highlight what I consider the report's most important point, which means skipping over other important passages that I think should be studied by readers who are specifically interested in Afghanistan and the war there.  My thanks to Tim Craig for some incisive reporting.   

Taliban 'skins man alive' in Afghanistan as war takes increasingly brutal turn
By Tim Craig, reporting from Kabul
June 12, 2016
The (U.K.) Independent
But some analysts say that more fundamental -- and dangerous -- changes within the Taliban may be leading to greater upheaval.
As the original leaders of the insurgency die, they are being replaced by younger commanders who appear less interested in maintaining ties to the local areas in which they are fighting. These fighters also are more connected through the Internet to the global ambitions of militant Islamic groups, which is resulting in some Taliban commanders' attempting to borrow the fear tactics used by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
"The Taliban had always been the village homeboys, but I think that is changing quite dramatically," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior security and intelligence fellow at the Brookings Institution. "The younger generation is more accepting of violence, less remembering of the horrors of the Afghan civil war [of the 1990s], and much more socialized to the global agenda."
The Rise of the Internet as Caliph

The argument above is that while Afghanistan has always been a society of revenge killings (at least in the rural areas), tradition and clan affiliations prevented the most sadistic types of retribution. But now the sadism is extreme -- and it can be wanton, used not as revenge but simply as a terror tactic. And it's being used this way by people whose strongest affiliation is not with clan or tribe or Afghan elders but with an Internet-based caliphate and its own rules.  

Now there is a counter-argument, as Tim explains -- some analysts think this new escalation in violence simply reflects new war tactics. But that would be pretty much saying the same, wouldn't it, if people are willing to use tactics that ignore traditional codes of honor? 

Ominously, as Tim points out, many of the young generation are cut off from their history and tradition by the violent upheavals that have been going on in Afghanistan for a generation. That suggests there's now a descent into savagery. 

Those who would say the Afghans have always been savages are wrong. The society has many rigid codes of conduct that have traditionally been brutally enforced and the breaches brutally punished. But there was always a strong code of honor, a code of graciousness to visitors, a knowledge of the importance of a society having laws, and respect for the authority of elders and respect for tradition. 

If all that is being swept away and a kind of Internet Caliph is filling the vacuum, one that as much tells young people that anything goes as long as it goes under the name of Islam, that's the collapse of a civilization, of the kind that happened in Mao's China during the Red Guard era.      

A Glance At The Larger Picture

With mention of Mao's China I risk getting into a bigger discussion because one positive thing could be said about the students who made up the Red Guard -- they swept away China's imperial society, which had outlived its usefulness. They swept away everything else as well, but the point is that many of the traditions in Afghanistan's rural society could do with sweeping away.

The horror though is that if people indiscriminately kick the struts out from under all tradition (or they get kicked out by constant warfare) and don't replace them with a firm foundation, there is the descent into savagery.    

It can be further argued that the rise of the Internet as a caliphate is mirrored among many non-Islamic young people whose idea of authority is pretty much limited to what everyone else on social media sites in their peer group is saying. In a very real sense the Internet has become their ruler, which is another way of saying mob rule because the mob doesn't even have allegiance to a Book as does the caliphate crowd. That, too, is a route to savagery.  

Whither Afghanistan?

None of these ruminations get us closer to figuring out a way forward for the United States in Afghanistan, if there is a way. Next weekend I'll eke out time to study the situation. For now, much is riding on Ashraf Ghani. He arrived in office an upstanding member of Worldbankia Civilization. Every year since he's become less World Bank and more Afghan. We'll see where that leads him this year. It's already led him to a historic pact with India and Iran.

Which has led Al-Saud, which is concerned about Iran in Afghanistan, to increase its bribes to Pakistan, which is concerned about India in Afghanistan. Remember, much of what is called the Afghan Taliban still takes its orders from Rawalpindi.

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