Analysis: A resurgent Taleban may turn to politics rather than conflict

A SECRET Nato report leaked last week showing the strength of confidence among the Afghan Taleban has raised concerns from Kabul to Washington that the militant group might over-run the country again when foreign combat forces finally leave.

But although still much feared, experts say the Taleban still don’t have the military capability to seize control of the whole country when Nato combat troops withdraw in 2014.

Despite the bold predictions of Taleban detainees whose opinions formed the basis of the Nato report, which was leaked last week, circumstances have changed substantially. A partial comeback appears to be the best the Taleban can hope for.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

“When they ruled before, many people had fled Afghanistan. There was no young generation. Without much fighting, they captured 90 per cent of Afghanistan. But now the situation has completely changed,” said Waheed Mujhda, a Kabul-based expert on the Taleban.

“They accept that the time has changed. They accept that it’s impossible for one party to capture all Afghanistan and rule all over Afghanistan.”

The Taleban was able to sweep to power in 1996 partly because it was able to exploit the chaos gripping Afghanistan in the years following the end of the failed Soviet occupation.

The current Afghan army and security forces may still be deeply flawed, but their simple size would make it difficult for the Taleban to simply topple the government when Nato troops go.

With an estimated 25,000 fighters at the most, the Taleban is hugely outnumbered by Nato and Afghan forces.

“The government is very fragile but we have to keep in mind it is supported by a 250,000 strong security apparatus … which is also supported by the international community and these two big elements were missing when the Taleban seized the country in the mid-1990s,” said Pakistani security analyst Imtiaz Gul.

Also standing in the way would be the threat of a renewed civil war from the Taleban’s old ethnic foes, a small army of Western advisers and Special Forces likely to remain after 2014, and the opposition of many ordinary Afghans.

Taleban commanders still speak of waging jihad until Islamic rule is restored. But some militants are starting to long for a peaceful end to Afghanistan’s years of conflict.

In a surprise announcement last month, the Afghan Taleban announced it would open a political office in Qatar, suggesting the group may be willing to negotiate – for government positions or official control over much of its historical southern heartland.

That also suggests it thinks the odds of a complete takeover are slim and is instead looking for major gains in the political arena.