Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Afghan Hezbollah? Be Careful What You Wish For by Matthew Levitt

As I recently wrote for Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH), The Washington Post reported last week that some in the administration see the Lebanese Hezbollah as a possible model for transformation of the Taliban. Describing the Taliban as a movement “deeply rooted” in Afghanistan, much like Hezbollah is in Lebanon, proponents of a Hezbollah model for the Taliban see a scenario in which the Taliban participates in Afghan politics, occasionally flexes its military muscles to benefit its political positions at home, but does not directly threat the United States even if it remains a source of regional instability.

According to the Post, while the idea has been discussed informally “outside the Situation Room meetings,” it has not yet been presented to President Obama. That’s a good thing because the notion is deeply flawed, and its implementation would have dire consequences for Afghanistan, the region more broadly, and U.S. counterterrorism efforts all.

Hezbollah in Lebanon is a destabilizing force, as is the Taliban in Afghanistan. Not only does Hezbollah maintain an independent militia in explicit violation of United Nations resolutions, it uses this private army to create semi-independent enclaves throughout the south of Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley where Lebanese Armed Forces are not allowed. In these spaces, Hezbollah maintains training camps, engages in weapons smuggling and drug trafficking, and maintains tens of thousands of rockets aimed at its neighbor to the south, Israel. Hezbollah collects intelligence on people traveling through Beirut international airport, and has built its own communications infrastructure beyond the reach of the national government.

In Afghanistan, an independent Taliban militia that controls territory of its own; maintains bases and training camps; facilitates weapons smuggling; and engages in every aspect of the narcotics production pipeline from poppy cultivation and processing to taxing delivery and smuggling abroad, would certainly seek to maintain its control over its own territory. Indeed, an increasing number of major Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) arrests over the past few months have targeted drug kingpins closely tied to the Taliban, like Haji Juma Kahn and Baz Mohammad.

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