Move Over Ideology, the Taliban is Now Home of the Angry Young Man

Rather than a zealous religious belief, anger is the main reason young men in Afghanistan join the Taliban, according to new research by the International Council on Security and Development.

"The majority of Taliban recruits aren't motivated by ideological concerns," the president of ICOS, Norine MacDonald QC, told me. "Most of them are what we characterize as "angry young men" - disenfranchised youths who lack opportunities and have serious legitimate grievances against their government and the international community."

Ms MacDonald says that because many of the young Taliban recruits lack any genuine ideology they can be "drawn away from the insurgency with the right social and economic tools. There is incredibly high unemployment in Afghanistan, a large part of the population is men under the age of thirty, and marriage is very expensive," she says. "It's a bad mix."

Researchers interviewed a wide range of Afghan men for the report. "There was a lot of emotion during the interview process," says Ms MacDonald. "We focused on men from Marjah, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar as we felt that was the most interesting and relevant group to interview. Yes, there is a definite feeling of hopelessness in that community, but anger is the predominant emotion."

ICOS latest research underlines the ongoing fears of many Afghans about their future, and their inability to see their way past the February surge of Operation Moshtarak in Marjah (Helmand province) and NATO/ISAF activity and presence across the country. The report also decries what Ms MacDonald calls a "piecemeal approach". She says that without integrating pressing humanitarian concerns, the surge will never work.

"We propose this new counter insurgency equation - balance every negative impact with a positive impact. (The) positive impact must be greater than negative impact. We are dealing with major blowback on the hearts and minds campaign, from the impact of the military efforts."

General Stanley A. McChrystal, ISAF Commander, successfully promoted the humanitarian /military approach in the Iraq surge, but in Afghanistan (and over the border in Pakistan) he is dealing with quite literally a different landscape and, the Taliban.

The majority of Afghanistan loathe and fear the Taliban and according the ICOS research, 95% of Afghans interviewed believe that the Taliban have been successful in attracting more members in the last year than previously, are stronger than ever and will just flow back into the areas of Helmand province (such as Marjah) that have been targeted in Operation Moshtarak. Despite not having access to reliable "recruitment" statistics, Ms MacDonald argues that even a perception of a strong and growing Taliban is dangerous.

"The fact that so many Afghans "believe" that Taliban recruitment has increased suggests the insurgency is indeed getting stronger and strengthening their ability to recruit," she says. "It's not good news."

Working within the traditions of Afghan society is essential, according to Ms MacDonald. "We want these young, unmarried men turned into married men, with a family and land of their own: a sense of identity that can inoculate them from recruitment and give them a stake in building peace there. We say from a policy point of view this type of "social actions" should be considered "security instruments" and given the same political and financial support as military and police actions. Our military effort is very expensive, not calming the insurgency, and not sustainable."