It is a decidedly retrograde decision of the Taliban dispensation in Afghanistan to set up a battalion of suicide bombers who will serve in a new national army. Not to put too fine a point on it, professional killers will serve in the military of a nation that is still groping in search of an identity.
In parallel to the defence ministry’s announcement that it will set up a national army of 100,000 fighters, plans have been announced that on the anvil is a special forces unit of suicide bombers. The plan lends a sinister edge to the defence forces. The suicide bombers will be under the control of the ministry of defence and will be used for special operations. Those part of the martyrdom brigades will also be part of the army but they will be special forces. It appears to be a well thought-out endeavour. A photograph from inside the ministry showed a sign above a desk reading “Office of the Martyrdom Brigade”.
Altogether, the Taliban have effected a swing back. Not the least because suicide bombings were shunned as un-Islamic under the previous Taliban dispensation, which ended in 2001. However, the practice was adopted during the group’s insurgency and in course of time, it became a devastating weapon in its fight against Western forces and the Afghan government. It is hard not to ask who the foe now is.
Mohammad Yaqoob, the Taliban defence minister, is the son of the movement’s founding spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who had approved the use of suicide attacks in 2003. The deputy leader and interior minister is Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the forbidding Haqqani network, who had pioneered the strategy on the use of complex suicide bombings, notably the 2018 suicide bombing of the interior ministry that killed 95 people and wounded 185, not to forget the 2019 bombing of a Shia wedding party in Kabul, killing 63 and wounding 183.
Last October, Haqqani, a globally proscribed terrorist with a $10 million bounty on his head, had hosted a lavish reception for the male relatives of the Taliban suicide bombers who had perished. It was announced that their blood was the foundation on which the “Islamic Emirate” had been rebuilt.
The point that now emerges must be that there has been a definitive paradigm shift in defence matters under the Taliban hardliners. As part of conscious official policy, it becomes a different proposition altogether. In effect, there has been no change in the fundamental mindset of using suicide bombers to kill innocents with calculated malevolence. It is hard not to wonder whether the Afghan military’s professionalism is at a discount.
By according short shrift to the professional soldier, greater reliance is being placed on the suicide bomber in uniform, to kill and be killed in the process. The Taliban seems determined to prove that terror will remain its most potent weapon.