Following the Taliban victory in Afghanistan international attention is turning to how it will affect radical jihadist movements elsewhere in central and south Asia and in Africa. Will Afghanistan become a new centre for such movements or will its new government's struggle for survival make it discourage them?
The prolonged Taliban revolt has a nationalist, regional and anti-interventionist thrust as well as a reactionary religious one and the need to consolidate and hold on to power is likely to dominate its actions. Extreme jihadist movements such as the Isis-Khorosan and al-Qaeda say it has betrayed the Islamic fundamentalist cause; but the Taliban will find it hard to crack down on these competing movements, even if it has support from Pakistan, China and neighbouring powers.
The actual or potential geographical spread of radical jihadism in southern Thailand, Bangladesh, among the repressed Chinese Uighers, in Iraq and Syria or in the vast Sahel region of Africa has received a boost from the Afghan events.
That presents a strategic choice for governments opposing their terrorism and subversion: should they organise another international “war on terrorism”? Or should they examine the common conditions that give rise to radical jihadism – weak states, poor governance, poverty in healthcare and education, rampant corruption, repression of minorities, foreign control, climate change and droughts – and find more effective ways to tackle them?
Another period of military adventurism against jihadism risks bolstering such movements if these underlying conditions are not tackled. Western and other richer states must also beware of provoking anti-Muslim prejudice by simplistic reduction of Taliban ideology to wider Islamic beliefs. Most Muslims deplore Taliban and jihadist extremism and share quite different and more tolerant religious values. Western liberal and feminist opponents of the new Taliban regime, based on its opposition to equality for women, especially need to deepen their understanding of the Muslim world’s diversity and pluralism.