April 13, 2009: Afghan legislators are perplexed at Western outrage over a new law. As a favor to the Shia minority (and their patron Iran), the parliament recently passed, and president Karzai signed, a law that recognized traditional Afghan Shia customs regarding the treatment of married women. The law affirmed that men have complete control over their wives, including sex on demand (at least once every four days) and restrictions on when wives could leave their home. President Karzai, and many (but not all) senior government officials realized that publicizing this law made Afghanistan look bad in the West. But what most Westerners fail to understand is that laws like this are common. They mean little, because they simply recognize what already is. They are passed to garner support among Islamic conservatives. Afghanistan is full of Islamic conservatives, and traditionalists in general. These guys have a lot of influence over the adult males with guns. Not every Afghan man owns a gun, mainly because guns cost money and Afghanistan is the poorest nation in Asia. But the guys who do have guns like to use them to keep things the way they are, and make a little money on the side. Thus many clerics in the south condone the Taliban terrorism, which is often just a form of sanctioned looting. These clerics also keep quiet about the poppy fields, and the opium and heroin that result. These drugs are forbidden by Islam (although some clerics dispute this), and have created nearly ten million addicts in the region. But some of the Pushtun tribes in the south, especially around Kandahar (the heartland of pro-Taliban Afghanistan) have embraced the poppy, and gotten rich off it. Oddly enough, the non-Pushtun north has not. In fact, you can get yourself in a lot of trouble up north if you are caught with drugs (unless you have the cash to buy your way out). Thus it is important to keep in mind that the heroin trade is a very localized problem in Afghanistan, it's mostly the area around Kandahar, especially Helmand province. That's why so much of the fighting is going on there.
Despite decades of briefings by U.S. Army Special Forces troops who specialize in Afghanistan (speak the language, know the people and customs), many politicians, and even a few military leaders, still don't get it. Afghanistan is not a country, it's a region full of very independent minded tribes, pretending to be a country. Most rural, and very tribal, Afghans see a national government as a necessary evil, to deal with foreigners and maybe arbitrate tribal disputes. While many urban, and some rural, Afghans like the idea of an Afghan state, they also recognize the country survives on the kindness of strangers. Most Afghans just get by economically, and are illiterate as well. Without foreign aid, the population would be several million people fewer. The periodic droughts used to kill many, and cause wars between tribes fighting over scarce water (needed for crop irrigation and grazing). But now, if you tolerate some foreigners for a while, they will bring in free food. Many Afghans do realize what dire shape the region is in, and try to get out. Smuggling people out is second only to smuggling heroin (followed by consumer electronics).
The smart bomb has created a widely accepted protocol in the war against the Taliban and drug gangs. It works like this. Afghan or foreign forces roll up to a compound suspected of containing terrorists, drug gangsters or whatever. The troops ask to have a little chat before hostilities commence. If the armed men inside do not want to surrender, the troops ask that women and children be sent out before the smart bombs arrive. At that point, the men may also decide to surrender, or the troops may fight their way in, without bombing the place, if they believe there are valuable documents or prisoners to be had. The most difficult situation is when scouts (often commandos or U.S. Army Special Forces scouts) are out in the hills, tracking down Taliban or al Qaeda leaders. These guys will often spend the night at isolated compounds, and sleep with women and children in nearby rooms or buildings. Here, a smart bomb attack has to be carried out by surprise, otherwise the terror leaders will flee. These are usually the cases where the terrorist propagandists will spin the Western press with tales of attacks on innocent civilians.
The war against the drug gangs is the new strategy, and it's attracting more suicide and roadside bomb attacks on the Afghan anti-drug police units, and foreign troops that are working with these Afghan forces. An increasing portion of the violence, particularly in the south around Kandahar, is drug related. The drug gangs are now generally recognized as the chief financial supporters of the Taliban. Shut down the cash from the heroin trade, and the Taliban military threat suddenly gets a lot smaller. The government believes that it has reduced poppy production by at least 20 percent in the last three years, and, with the cooperation of foreign troops this year, will make an even bigger dent in the heroin and opium supply this year. The government knows this is possible, because the Pakistani Pushtun tribes got rid of the heroin trade in the 1990s, and the northern Afghan tribes (Tajiks and Uzbeks) kept the drug trade out of their territory.
April 12, 2009: Near Kandahar, a female high school teacher, and member of the provincial legislature, Sitara Achikzai was murdered by two Taliban assassins on motorbikes. The Taliban accused Achikzai of having picked up lots of bad ideas after living in Germany for many years. Achikzai advocated women's rights, a very unpopular concept among the Taliban.