Taliban: Negative or Positive Security?
By: AbuMoslim Khorasani
Since coming to power, the Taliban have used national security as a political tool to present to the world. They have claimed that national security is being maintained and the situation is improving, denying the presence of ISIS and asserting their own absolute sovereignty. To further this agenda, the Taliban‘s foreign minister recently wrote and published an article on the Qatari channel, Al Jazeera, claiming that national security is being maintained. However, the question remains: what does the Taliban mean by security, and what is their definition of it? Researchers in the field have provided various distinct definitions of security, but two major discourses for understanding security are available, each of which approaches the issues of security and insecurity in a different way.
In order to gain a better understanding of this significant issue concerning the combination of existing definitions and the derivation of common semantic and epistemological principles of security, it would be beneficial to utilize Asghar Eftekhari‘s discursive division. The aim would be to create harmony in the use and application of the concept of security among security analysts. In this regard, security is explained with two general discourses, the negative and the positive discourse. By unifying the various definitions of security, this discursive view can create a relative consensus regarding the semantics of the word security, thus resolving its complexity and unifying its meanings.
Negative security is a situation in which the interests of an actor are not threatened by other actors. Even if there is a potential threat, it should be manageable. This definition emphasizes several key points. Firstly, security is seen as a situation, taking into account both the objective and emotional components of society. Secondly, interests are seen as the central factor in constructing the meaning of security, with the benefit not being limited to a “proof“ or “material“ category, but rather being a theoretical and strategic necessity to understand the security of each actor. Thirdly, the concept of threat is mentioned as a basic component, as its absence determines security. Lastly, risk management is a strategic term that involves procedures such as neutralizing or reducing the effectiveness of a threat.
The philosophical foundations of “Negative Discourse“ are based on a central principle that phenomena can be identified and understood through the negation of their opposite. For example, if we consider “threat“ as a challenge to the actor‘s resources and the main factor of insecurity, then security can be defined as a situation in which the actor‘s interests are not threatened. If threats do exist, then a mechanism for managing them must be available to the actors. This theory has its roots in two waves of thought: the traditionalist view of the concept of security and the ultra–traditionalist view of the word security. An understanding of both of these waves of thought can help to analyze the Negative Discourse theory. Asghar Eftekhari‘s discourse division of security in the 1980s has made it easier to comprehend such issues.
The first wave of traditionalists is renowned for defining the military aspect of security threats. In other words, based on their intellectual background, they believe that military threats are the only effective factor in defining and recognizing security/insecurity, and thus, studies related to security should be subject to the subset of war studies. Traditionalists can be divided into orthodox and moderate, with the orthodox emphasizing war as a way to understand security/insecurity, and the moderates emphasizing conflict. Ultra–traditionalists, however, believe that security is intricate, and thus, along with the military dimension, it also includes different political, economic, and cultural components. Today, the principle of the multidimensionality of security has been accepted by security and policy analysts.
This discourse has a long history. It is characterized by a focus on the military aspect. The main strategy of this approach is to maintain military strength and suppress the enemy. The negative discourse views war as an extension of politics and places a great emphasis on the military factor. This approach encourages rulers to increase their military capabilities and fighting power in order to enhance their security. Supporters of this discourse believe that security is achieved through military strength and the absence of risk. Therefore, to overcome danger and fear, it is necessary to increase military and physical power. Generally, this discourse has a military-oriented, hardware–oriented, and traditional view of security.
Following significant criticism of the foundations and principles of the negative security discourse, Positive Security was developed. Despite the fact that the negative discourse is realistically assessed in terms of its compatibility with the history of human development, it has many drawbacks, such as the security of empowerment, optimal utilization of opportunities, and assurance of interests and values. Positive Security places more emphasis on the software and information component than the military and hardware, and thus is widely accepted and often preferred in the modern world.
Therefore, positive security is a situation in which the demands and assets of a particular political entity, the ratio, or the ideological coefficient of that entity, are satisfactory to the actors involved in production. Security is thus reduced to “satisfaction“ rather than hardware power. The noteworthy aspect of this definition is the emphasis on the software aspect of security over its hardware. In comparison to negative discourse, positive discourse is based on two principles which emphasize the ineffectiveness of negative discourse on all security phenomena in modern societies. Firstly, in negative discourse, security does not have a role, and most power is defined under it. Secondly, negative discourse is unable to convince security experts.
In recent decades, two historical trends, referred to as modern and ultramodern, have emerged in the positive discourse of security. Mark Sommer and Johan Galtung first proposed the theory of robust security, which suggests that it is possible to create a new and effective security design through strategic modelling of nature. The ultramodern philosophy, which includes the fourth wave, reduces the security concept of satisfaction to the central concept of power advocated by negative discourse advocates. The positive discourse of security is based on three pillars: demands (e.g. the actor‘s needs), assets and the responses provided by the ruling power, and the ideological factor (e.g. the values accepted by the people and society).
It is evident from the explanation of both philosophies of security that the Taliban follow a positive discourse of security. This is because, as a terrorist group, their interests are secured by imposing strict laws on society and taking resources from the people. In a situation where people lack food and the courage to speak, the Taliban believe that this constitutes national security. However, due to the lack of independent media in Afghanistan, battles, wars, and terrorist attacks remain hidden. This has enabled the Taliban to flaunt their military force and suicide bombers, and to conduct military maneuvers with the weapons left over from foreign forces and the Afghan army. Rahmatullah Nabil recently reported that Hibatullah Akhundzada, the hidden leader of the Taliban, has hired 40,000 new forces for his security and interests, which demonstrates how the Taliban define national security and insecurity.