Since the beginnings of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan in 2001, the U.S. has sought to understand the Taliban’s interactions with tribal structures and conceptions of Pashtun identity, using these understandings to build military strategy and diplomatic policy. Pashtuns make up over 40% of the heavily fragmented Afghani population, and drove the emergence of the Taliban in the 1990s in part out of fear of Tajik domination (Tajiks comprise around 25% of the population and a much greater part of the Northern Alliance). Pashtun anger against foreign intervention made it easy for the Taliban to incorporate many as partners, whether or not they shared religious beliefs. Now, with continued efforts towards peace negotiations, Pashtuns form an important bloc that controls massive areas of mostly rural territory in the east and southeast of the country. They largely control the country’s drug trade that finances a large portion of Taliban activity and, while the majority of Afghans do not support the Taliban, their hold on significant portions of the country mean that the Pashtun-Taliban dynamic will be one of the most important ones in any peace agreement.
The article’s author, a Center for Global Policy senior fellow and Afghan expert, concludes his thoughts on the subject saying, “whether these meetings will bear fruit is anybody’s guess. But it is a healthy sign that Washington has finally woken up to the fact that the Taliban is an indispensable part of the Afghan political landscape and must be included in the fashioning of the country’s political future. However, the U.S. administration has to go beyond merely recognizing the disruptive capacity of the Taliban and realize that they do genuinely express the poetical goals of a substantial segment of the Pashtun population…and that Afghanistan cannot be ruled effectively without adequately satisfying Pashtun aspirations.”