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The Taliban's muscle-flexing

Florian Weigand
June 22, 2015

By launching attacks on the Afghan parliament and the northern city of Kunduz, the Taliban want to demonstrate their strength, not just to the government but also to "Islamic State" (IS), says DW's Florian Weigand.

Afghanistan Explosionen und Schüsse am Parlament in Kabul
Image: Reuters/A. Masood

Only last week, there were signals hinting at a political solution to the ongoing conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Representatives of both sides had met in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, to engage in unofficial talks. Although the meeting did not produce any tangible results, it left open the prospect of further talks after the month of Ramadan towards the end of July.

However, only a day after the beginning of the Muslim holy month, the Taliban launched a new wave of violence. The Afghan parliament in Kabul is under attack and the northern city of Kunduz - under the responsibility of the German army until 18 months ago - has also seen heavy fighting since the weekend.

The violence during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan - a time of spiritual reflection and good deeds - is evidence of the Taliban's distorted notions about their religion.

The self-appointed "holy warriors" are rather pursuing worldly goals: Overthrowing the Afghan government, driving all foreign troops out of the country, and re-establishing a Taliban state. The Taliban are clearly pursuing a nationalist agenda, in addition to a religious one. "Afghanistan belongs to the Afghans" is their motto, perhaps even including the Pashtun areas beyond the border to Pakistan.

Weigand Florian Kommentarbild App
DW's Florian Weigand

And the Taliban have come under increasing pressure in this regard. They are now facing competition from IS in Afghanistan who now threaten to cut the ground under the Taliban's feet with their seductive ideology of a global jihad.

It is difficult to determine on a case-by-case basis which local Taliban factions have sworn allegiance to IS. Nevertheless, the commanders behind the mysterious Taliban leader Mullah Omar apparently became so nervous that they decided to send a letter to IS Chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, demanding that the Sunni militant group keep its hands off Afghanistan.

This took place last week at the same time as the peace consultations in Oslo. And so it seems that actions were needed to catch the media's attention and reassert the Taliban leadership's claims in Afghanistan. In this context, an attack on the Afghan parliament not only has high symbolic value, but also guarantees international media coverage.

The battle for the northern city of Kunduz is of similar importance. Under the military protection of ISAF and with the financial and on-the-ground support from civilian aid organizations, the international community wanted to build a city that would serve as a role model for the country, featuring modern infrastructure, a lively civil society and good governance. Should Kunduz fall to the Taliban, this would show that this model has no future in Afghanistan and that 12 years of development aid in the country have gone to waste.

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