An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban-Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 1970-2010

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Authors: Alex Strick van Linschoten & Felix Kuehn

Hardcover: 538 pages
Publisher: C Hurst & Company (February 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1849041547
ISBN-13: 978-1849041546

Book Description

To this day the belief is widespread that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are in many respects synonymous, that their ideology and objectives are closely intertwined and that they have made common cause against the West for decades. Such opinions have been stridently supported by politicians, media pundits and senior military figures, yet they have hardly ever been scrutinised or tested empirically. This is all the more surprising given that the West's present entanglement in Afghanistan is commonly predicated on the need to defeat the Taliban in order to forestall further terrorist attacks worldwide.

There is thus an urgent need to re-examine the known facts of the Taliban-al-Qaeda relationship and to tell the story of the Taliban's encounter with internationalist militant Islamism, which is what Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn set out to do in An Enemy We Created.

Their book also responds to the overheated rhetoric that sustains a one-sided interpretation of the alleged merger between the two groups as well as the policy implications for Afghanistan that flowed in the wake of its acceptance by Western governments and their militaries. The relationship between the two groups and the individuals who established them is undeniably complex, and has remained so for many years. Links between the Taliban and al-Qaeda were retained in the face of a shared enemy following the invasion of Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks, an adversary that was selected by al-Qaeda rather than by the Taliban, and which led the latter to become entangled in a war that was not of its choosing.

This book is the first to examine in detail the relationship from the Taliban’s perspective based on Arabic, Dari and Pashtu sources, drawing on the authors many years experience in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban’s heartland. They also interviewed Taliban decision-makers, field commanders and ordinary fighters while immersing themselves in Kandahar’s society. Strick van Linschoten’s and Kuehn’s forensic examination of the evolution of the two groups allows the background and historical context that informed their respective ideologies to come to the fore.

The story of those individuals who were to become their key decision-makers, and the relationships among all those involved, from the mid-1990s onwards, reveal how complex the interactions were between the Taliban and al-Qaeda and how they frequently diverged rather than converged.

An Enemy We Created concludes that there is room to engage the Taliban on the issues of renouncing al-Qaeda and guaranteeing that Afghanistan will deny sanctuary to international terrorists. Yet the insurgency is changing, and it could soon be too late to find a political solution. The authors contend that certain aspects of the campaign in Afghanistan, especially night raids and attempts to fragment and decapitate the Taliban, are transforming the resistance, creating more opportunities for al-Qaeda and helping it to attain its objectives.


History › Asia › General

Afghanistan - History - 1989-2001
Afghanistan - History - 2001
History / Asia / Central Asia
History / Asia / General
Political Science / Terrorism
Qaida (Organization)
War on Terrorism, 2001-2009 


Even after Osama bin Laden’s death the links between the Taleban and his Al-Qaeda movement remain a hot issue. The Afghan government as well as the Obama administration insist that unless the Taleban break with Al-Qaeda, they will not be accepted as partners in any future political dispensation. Whether they are right to assume a close continuing connection between the two movements is the central question in An enemy we created. Although its subtitle supplies the answer, this book is not based on mere assertion. The authors’ research and scholarship make a powerful case and their book is likely to become the definitive text on the matter.”

-- Jonathan Steele writing in International Affairs

“Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the war in Afghanistan.   A work of real intellectual rigour, and much learning.  In offering a forensic dissection of the relationship between al Qaeda and the Taliban, over many years,  it offers bad news, and good news: that, in taking on the Taliban, we may be fighting the wrong enemy in the wrong country; but that the Taliban may be open to a negotiated settlement - provided America gets on with it. “

-- Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, British Ambassador to Kabul 2007-2009, British Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 2009-2010

“Ignore anybody claiming to be an expert on the Taliban or al Qaeda if they have not read An Enemy We Created by Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn. Most books on the subject are written without fieldwork, by people lacking the language skills, the courage, the integrity or the dedication of these two authors. Thanks to their Arabic, Dari and Pashtu skills as well as their groundbreaking and unprecedented fieldwork, Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn have written the essential book on the subject. Say nothing about the region until you have read it!”

-- Nir Rosen, author of “Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World” and Fellow at New York University’s Center on Law and Security

“A fascinating look deep into the shifting interactions of the Taliban and al-Qaeda by authors who have lived close to the persons they study.  Their conclusions about the radicalization of the younger generation of the Afghan Taliban and the unintended consequences of NATO military actions are directly relevant to policy considerations of today’s war in Afghanistan.”

-- Ronald Neumann, Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan 2005-2007

“This book is one of the best informed, most sophisticated and most insightful works yet to appear on the Afghan Taliban and their relationship to Al Qaeda. It makes a brilliant contribution to Afghan historiography, and should be compulsory reading for Western policymakers working on Afghanistan today.”

-- Anatol Lieven, Professor, War Studies Department of King’s College London and author of Pakistan: A Hard Country

“One of the key justifications of the escalation of the war in Afghanistan is the (supposedly) unshakable link between al-Qaeda and the Taliban. So far, studies addressing this question have generally been written with a limited understanding of the Taliban movement.  Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, who recently edited the memoirs of Mullah Zaeef, My Life with the Taliban, here offer a major contribution to the understanding of the complex and changing relationship between the two movements. Specialists in the field will find an erudite and balanced work based on multiple interviews with key players and a deep knowledge of local politics. But, beyond academia, their conclusions should be part of the discussion about the current strategy. If the Taliban are not controlled or even under the influence of al-Qaeda, a negotiated settlement becomes a reasonable goal. One can only hope that Washington will listen to these knowledgeable voices and start understanding the real nature of the Taliban movement.”

-- Gilles Dorronsoro, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, professor at the Sorbonne University (Paris)

“Finally, someone has taken on the often-repeated but not-much-sourced assumption that every group hiding in the Afpak mountains is more or less the same thing, that Afghan and Pakistani Taliban as well as Al-Qaeda and Pakistani sectarians and jihadists are all part of a big ‘terrorism syndicate’. This is not only wrong but also dangerous since policies are conceived on this basis. Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn provide plenty of material, amongst it a lot that has never been scrutinised before, and they do it from knowing what they are talking about from inside the country, not from behind Hesco walls. It is a gold mine for people who really want to know. Can the Obama administration spend some atoms of its Afpak budget to buy a couple of hundred copies and distribute it amongst those involved in the upcoming policy review?”

-- Thomas Ruttig, Co-director and Senior Analyst of Afghanistan Analysts Network

Anybody who wants to stop the bloodshed in Afghanistan and Pakistan, anybody who wants the conflict to finally break from its feverish climb to new heights of violence, must study the relationship between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. We need to understand the difference between people who want to kill infidels all over the world, and those who merely want to be left alone. Making peace with the latter will help us survive the former. This excellent work represents the first serious examination of this crucial and mysterious relationship, at least in the unclassified realm, and deserves a close reading by students of the war.

-- Graeme Smith, Emmy-award winning journalist for The Globe and Mail

“By providing a comprehensive facts-based analysis of the history of the al Qaeda-Taliban relationship, this work punctures, for once and for all, the myth that the two groups operate as one. It provides a much needed counterbalance to current narratives and should be required reading for anyone covering counter terrorism issues.”

-- Leah Farrall, Counterterrorism Analyst and Expert

“a new book due out this month on the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda by Kandahar-based researchers Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn could hardly be better timed. An Enemy We Created should be compulsory reading for anyone trying to separate reality from political spin. It is also an essential guide to what might yet be achieved through talks, and what might have been achieved had serious talks been held earlier. The authors, who edited the memoirs of former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, examine in detail the failure of attempts to convince Afghanistan’s then Taliban rulers to expel Osama bin Laden in the years before the Sept. 11 2001 attacks.  That these attempts were not inevitably  doomed to fail is underlined by their assertion that the relationship between the younger and less experienced Afghan Taliban and the Arabs in al Qaeda was considerably less close than was commonly assumed.”

-- Myra MacDonald, Reuters correspondent on Pakistan

“The underlying tensions between the two groups before September 11 have been extensively explored in An Enemy We Created, a new book by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, who previously edited and published in English the most important document yet to emerge from the Taliban’s ranks, the memoirs of Mullah Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan.”

-- Anatol Lieven in The New York Review of Books

“Are the Taliban a nationalist movement, separable from the swirling currents of global jihad that engulfed their country in the 1980s?
Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn are well placed to offer an answer, having lived in Kandahar for five years and translated the memoirs of the Taliban’s former envoy to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef. The two young researchers bring the empathy and experience of old chroniclers such as Caroe but none of the romantic condescension towards the “wily Pathan”.”

-- Shashank Joshi in the Financial Times

About the Author

Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn are researchers and writers permanently based in Kandahar. They have worked in Afghanistan since 2006, focusing on the Taliban insurgency and the history of southern Afghanistan over the past four decades. Their research extends to other Muslim countries and they are regular commentators on major western news channels. 

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