The Platform


Should the United States and its allies support the domestic insurgency trying to overthrow the Taliban?

Recently, the Taliban ordered an indefinite ban on university education for Afghan women. Before the ban was put in place, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was dissolved, and the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice was re-established. This clearly illustrates that the Taliban will carry on with its medieval interpretation of Islam and has no plans on governing responsibly.

In addition, the Taliban is still nurturing global jihad. This was clearly illustrated when a U.S. drone strike killed Ayman al-Zawahiri in a Kabul apartment reportedly owned by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the acting Minister of the Interior. Afghanistan has become a haven for global and regional terror outfits like Al Qaeda and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the latter of which is seeking the overthrow of the Pakistani government.

This most recent version of the Taliban has proven to be not much different from its previous iteration in terms of harbouring an ultra-conservative ideology, policies, and practices. Hibatullah Akhundzada, the group’s supreme leader, has in his speeches regularly emphasized that the struggle does not end in Afghanistan but goes beyond its borders to help all oppressed Muslims throughout the world.

And this is where it gets messy for the very same countries that fought in Afghanistan for two decades. If the international community does not want Afghanistan to turn into a hub for terrorism, the best option would be to support anti-Taliban resistance groups. In May of 2022, around 40 warlords and exiled politicians convened a meeting and formed a High Council of National Resistance in Ankara. To showcase that their respective anti-Taliban resistance can form a united front, the members include Atta Mohammad Noor, a former governor, Ahmad Wali Massoud of the National Resistance Front (NRF), and Shia leader Mohammad Mohaqiq.

The most important group leading the anti-Taliban resistance is the National Resistance Front. It’s believed to have several thousand fighters and is led by Ahmad Massoud, the son of the late Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud. Despite its limited resources, the NRF is gaining ground mainly due to the Taliban’s failings.

The killing of the Taliban’s Mullah Zakir Qayyum in September demonstrates this. It has become self-evident in Afghanistan that once an armed resistance group gains a foothold in an area it becomes hard to dislodge it. This is more so if it is able to mobilize a degree of local support and operates in a geographically remote area. Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the National Resistance Front appears to have achieved just that in the provinces of Panjshir, Baghlan, and Parwan. This has been done without much outside support.

Ideologically, the National Resistance Front embraces a moderate form of Islam. It advocates a decentralized political system in Afghanistan based on elections as well as promoting equality regardless of gender, ethnicity, sectarian or linguistic origin. The NRF has the potential to establish territorial enclaves if provided with money and equipment in its strongholds in the northeast. With assistance from the United Nations, it could restore some public services as well. Most importantly, it could bring back education for girls and provide refuge for those facing persecution. International humanitarian help in NRF-controlled areas might also offer a solution to the likely migration of millions of Afghans to neighbouring regions and to Europe.

With domestic and outside support, the National Resistance Front could play its part not only in bringing down the Taliban but in establishing a more moderate and representative government to take its place. In a recent interview, a senior official with the National Resistance Front said that they are pursuing a resistance strategy divided into various phases. He said now they are in the first stage of gathering strength in the countryside while exhausting the Taliban. The NRF hopes to move soon to the next stage of the insurgency by liberating selected regions of the country, which would allow them to gain the resources for the final stage of fighting to overthrow the Taliban.

The National Resistance Front is the most liberal and democratic force that can be relied on as a counterterrorism ally in Afghanistan. The United States and its allies should strengthen the NRF. This approach has been successfully employed by the West in Syria and Iraq by supporting Kurdish fighters whom are fighting the Islamic State.

Manish Rai is a geopolitical analyst and columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region and the editor of geopolitical news agency ViewsAround (VA). He has done reporting from Jordon, Iran, and Afghanistan. His work has been quoted in the British Parliament.