It is absurd after 20-plus years of steady international engagement in Afghanistan that so many people still don’t know that an Afghani is a currency note, and an Afghan is a person from Afghanistan. But if you have ever tried to explain Afghanistan to an audience, and realized many still think Afghanistan is a desert nation full of Arabs near Saudi Arabia—you understand quickly why the confusion over nouns persists.

More frustrating than watching the casual observer misstate Afghanistan terms is watching journalists, diplomats, and world leaders misspeak in ways that aid the Taliban-Haqqani terrorists sitting in comfortable Kabul offices. Words matter when it comes to Afghanistan, and some terms matter more than others. Let’s review some key terms for anyone speaking or writing about Afghanistan.

Words Matter – Especially When Terrorists are Involved

We have covered already that Afghans are the name of the people, while Afghani refers to the currency of the nation, so let’s move on to more technical concepts.

1. Illegal Terrorist Militia Holding Afghans Hostage

First and probably most critical we must use the right terms to describe the illegal terrorist militia that is holding the Afghan people hostage. The Taliban-Haqqani network is not a de jure government, they did not come to power legally. They can best be called an illegal regime. They installed themselves by illegal force and bribery. They are not recognized by any nation or international body. They do not have legitimacy from the Afghan people.

When anyone calls the illegal regime a government, they are aiding the terrorists by softly recognizing them as a governing body. The regime is not interested in listening to or aiding the people of Afghanistan. They want unconditional obedience and unchallenged power to do as they please. They have murdered tens of thousands of Afghans to steal power and they continue to murder Afghans daily to retain it. They are not de-facto government. To call them that means they are in reality governing the people of the nation. They are holding the Afghan people at gunpoint to get what they want from them. Ruling by murder and fear does not a government make. They are an illegal terror regime that is holding around 40 million people hostage, so they can extract recognition and money from the international community.

2. Distinction Matters

Some of us call this terror regime the “Taliban-Haqqani regime” or “Taliban-Haqqani Terror network” and not simply “the Taliban.” The reasons for this distinction are many. First, the Taliban regime that was ejected in 2001 is not the same illegal regime that stole power in 2021. The Haqqani terrorist network, an internationally recognized terror group, holds the key positions in the new regime. They hold the security sector roles in this new partnership because they are the most closely controlled by Pakistan, and for Pakistan this illegal regime in Afghanistan is critical to Pakistan’s national security. Second, the Taliban have not been designated as a terrorist organization by many key nations. The official combination of the Taliban militias with the Haqqani terrorist network proves that the Taliban welcomes more partnerships with wanted terrorists, just as they have continued their close relations with Al Qaeda. If you simply refer to this regime as the Taliban, you are helping them avoid the much-deserved designation as a terrorist network.

3. Taliban-Haqqani regime is a terrorist network

As the Taliban-Haqqani regime is a terrorist network, they cannot create an internationally recognized army or police force. Do not call Taliban-Haqqani terrorist forces “soldiers” or “police.” Police must believe in the edict of protecting and serving the citizens around them. The Taliban-Haqqani fighters do not respect or protect the Afghan people. Soldiers must obey the laws of war and accept their role as defenders of their people. Again, the Taliban-Haqqani terrorists regularly ridicule and dismiss the rules of war and seek only to defend their masters in Kabul and Pakistan.

4. Khawarij not Jihadis

The Taliban-Haqqani regime, and their terrorist friends in Afghanistan and Pakistan, are Khawarij not Jihadis. Jihad, or to struggle or strive in Arabic, is not a negative word to most Muslims. Someone who conducts Jihad to make themselves a better Muslim or to defend the Islamic religion against destruction is a Jihadist. When you call terrorists who murder Muslim women and children daily a “Jihadist” –you are complementing them, not shaming them. This word is misused often and should be restored to an honorific title for those who do good works. If you would not call a Catholic terrorist a saint, then you should not call a Muslim terrorist by any honorific title.

A better word to describe terrorists who murder anyone who disagrees with their ideas is the term Khawarij. In Arabic, this means those who seceded or separated themselves from the original brotherhood of Islam. Shortly after the death of the Prophet Muhammad the religion underwent a struggle for power between Ali and another leader. Some of the followers of Ali decided that he was no longer fit to be the Caliph (he was the 4th Caliph, roughly a regent for Allah on earth). These Muslims who abandoned Ali were the first sect to break away completely. They became known as the Khawarij and began a long campaign of terrorism against anyone that disagreed with them on how the religion should be lived and enacted. They would eventually murder both Sunni and Shia Muslims with the same hatred, including Ali himself. The Khawarij have been an evil force inside Muslim-majority nations for centuries, the Taliban-Haqqani regime follows their crooked path.

5, Call Them Liberators

Finally when referring to Afghans and their allies that stand in political or martial opposition to the Taliban-Haqqani regime, it is more useful to refer to them as liberators than resistance forces. These Afghans that are trying to restore the full human rights and sovereignty that was stolen from the Afghan people are fighting for human freedoms. Most are not merely resisting the current terrorist regime; they are working to rebuild the confidence and dignity of the Afghan people. To give another person their human rights and liberty is the most noble of endeavors—Afghans standing up to the Taliban-Haqqani regime should proudly proclaim their mission of restoring freedom. If the Afghans who oppose the Taliban-Haqqani regime are merely labeled as militias, fighters, or warlords, they will not develop the political expertise and international recognition they need to rebuild the nation after the terrorist regime falls.

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Jason spent 23 years in USG service conducting defense, diplomacy, intelligence, and education missions globally. Now he teaches, writes, podcasts, and speaks publicly about Islam, foreign affairs, and national security. He is a member of the Military Writers Guild and aids with conflict resolution in Afghanistan.