Reports from Monday’s New York Times of the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan) stepping up its ransom-kidnapping campaign are a reminder of one of the reasons we have failed to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and will continue to do so: Most of us believe that we are at war with a paramilitary outfit mainly inspired by a fundamentalist Deobandi interpretation of Islam. We are in fact engaged with a very different kind of entity: an organized-crime syndicate acting out of interests that are largely economic, rather than religious or ideological.
There are, to be sure, terrorist and paramilitary organizations inspired by a sincere commitment to Islam. Al-Qaeda is one. The senior leadership of the Taliban, on the other hand, bears at least as much resemblance to the old Sicilian Mafia — or to the present-day FARC, another misunderstood organization — as it does to martyrdom-minded jihadists in the mold of Osama bin Laden.
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