Despite discussions and rumors of peace talks with the Taliban and developments that seemed to hint at the group’s willingness to compromise, once more any hopes that the Taliban would cease its perpetual violent games were shattered.
Tuesday morning, the Taliban struck again, this time launching a suicide attack on Kabul’s presidential palace. The attack started at 6 a.m. with gunfire near the east gate leading to the palace, which is situated adjacent to the Afghan Ministry of Defense and the Ariana Hotel. A car bomb then exploded as the car attempted to enter the compound. The gunmen were killed and one of the palace guards was injured.
What further allows us to see that the Taliban is not ready to back down are not only their actions, but their words. After the attack, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility via text, stating that the militants “brought death to the enemy.”
Later in an email, Mujahid also hinted that the attack targeted the three buildings, stating that it was carried out “near the Ariana Hotel, the important CIA base, and also the presidential palace and Ministry of Defense.” The Ariana Hotel is where the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's Afghanistan station is based.
First, the spokesman was incorrect in his statement that the attack “brought death to the enemy,” unless of course, he was implying that the Taliban has become its own worst enemy. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that he referred to the people in the targeted areas as “the enemy,” as it forces us to think of what these terrorists' motives may be and whether or not they are even fit for making concessions or peace talks.
Scholars studying terrorist organizations seem to have mixed feelings about whether or not such militant groups are rational or irrational actors. Deciding if terrorists are one or the other depends on a number of factors, most importantly how realistic their goals are and how these groups go about attempting to achieve them.
Terrorist organizations aim mostly to set up regimes that are consistent with their ideologies. In the case of the Taliban, which is attempting to push its radical version of Islamism, removing foreign troops and getting a stronger hold on Afghanistan is a key part of the plan. However, even when the U.S. and Afghan government have made offers for concessions and compromise, the Taliban has made no attempt to follow through and continues to act violently to achieve its aims.
The fact that they employ suicide attacks as part of pushing their agenda is also concerning. If some terrorists are willing to give up their lives for a cause, which probably would be one of the ultimate sacrifices they could make, how then could they be deterred?
One argument that has been presented is that suicide attacks, contrary to what those who believe terrorists are irrational argue, is actually what signals that terrorists are rational. These attacks help these organizations gain media attention, instill fear, and have high success rates.
Furthermore, some argue that basing terrorist rationality on the fact that they carry out suicide attacks is erroneous as only a small number of terrorist attacks were suicide missions. Of course, these suicide missions are extremely widespread. Terrorist organizations lose out on human capital by carrying out suicide attacks, after all.
Despite the fact that suicide is a sin in Islam, some Muslims have attempted to interpret suicide attacks as an act of martyrdom and therefore different from a suicide simply carried out to end one’s life. On the other hand, others say that these suicide attacks are done for personal reasons rather than for the purpose of being a martyr.
Arguing about the role of suicide attacks is Islam could lead us into a dead end. A more pertinent question we may ask ourselves is whether the Taliban’s demands can be fully or even partially met. What the Taliban wants is power and for their territories to be run the way they see most fit. Though some in the U.S. have proposed ways to deter terrorists, from cutting off their resources and becoming well-versed in what makes these organizations tick, to building trust and generally implementing a reward system, these proposals are somewhat ambitious.
Even if these tactics could be effective, the fact that the Taliban does not want to put in any effort to engage in peace-building dialogue makes such strategies much more difficult to employ.
The truth is, Afghanistan and the U.S. cannot and will not be able to match the Taliban’s fervor to implement its ideologies. Even if the Taliban could be appeased in a way that would not pose a threat to the international community, it appears that they simply are not ready to be given the benefit of the doubt.