September 19, 2010: Despite the power of tribes in Afghanistan, the people know there's a different, and better, world out there. That's why millions defied Taliban threats and voted. While most Afghans still depend on their tribe for protection and government services (especially security and judicial), there is an understanding that the rest of the world has moved beyond tribal government, and prospered. The growing number of Afghans who have immigrated to the West are having an easier time of reporting back, another aspect of the cell phone revolution in Afghanistan. Most Afghans, unlike their grandparents, know a lot about the rest of the world, and are hostile to the Taliban ideal of living in the past.
The war against the drug gangs and the Taliban IED (improvised explosive device, usually a mine or roadside bomb) campaign continues. This is the crucial military campaign, and the foreign troops are winning. Drug production and smuggling are being disrupted. Worse, efforts to chase down drug gang money are succeeding. The gangs require lots of cash to keep going (to pay farmers for the opium that is scraped from poppies, to suppliers of chemicals to refine the opium into heroin, to bribe government officials, soldiers and police to assist getting the chemicals into the country and the heroin out, to thousands of gunmen and the Taliban for security from government forces and bandits). The drug gangs are the major source of cash to sustain the IED campaign. But thousands of new MRAP vehicles and new intel and counter-IED forces have crippled the impact of roadside bombs. There is less drug money to pass around. Without the cash from the heroin gangs, the Taliban would be yet another minor radical religious sect. But money buys, or at least rents, loyalty and tribesmen eager for some cash and an opportunity to act our their warrior fantasies.
President Karzai is a Pushtun, from a family that has traditionally provided tribal, and even national (for the old royalty) leadership. Karzai has long opposed the Taliban (which is how he got to be president), but recognizes that the Taliban have put together a large tribal coalition, with the help of money from drug gangs. Karzai's family has made a lot of money from drug gang bribes and corruption in general (stealing government funds, most of which comes from foreign aid). Karzai has agreed with his foreign sponsors that he will destroy the drug business and control the Taliban (and the international terrorism the Taliban supports). Karzai believes the only way out of his conundrum is to make some kind of political deal with the Taliban. That's a long shot, because too many Taliban leaders believe their own propaganda, and want it all. Worse, the majority of Afghans (nearly all the non-Pushtuns, and many of the Pushtuns, in other words, over 80 percent of the population) want the Taliban and drug gangs gone. So even if the foreign troops pulled out tomorrow, there would still be violence, another civil war and likely dismemberment of Afghanistan. One portion of the country would still produce heroin and provide sanctuary for Islamic terrorists. Karzai's proposal of a deal with the Taliban does this without a partition of the Afghanistan. This is not much solace to foreign nations, who are the victims of the heroin and terrorism. The Afghan people also suffer from the drugs (spreading addiction and addict related crime) and Taliban intolerance. Karzai is pushing to a solution hardly anyone wants.
American forces are changing how they handle aid money. U.S. commanders have always had a budget for local aid projects. This has been more successful than giving lump sums of cash to the Afghan government or tribal chiefs (which often just results in all the cash disappearing) or NGOs (still lots of stealing). Now, more aid money will be disbursed by the troops, where there are guns to back up efforts to get the money to those it was intended for. This approach is very unpopular with government officials and tribal chiefs. The tribal leaders get some anyway, but demanding kickbacks from tribal members. Government officials are less successful at this, and then there are those damn U.S. troops, always ready to interfere with the plundering.
September 18, 2010: The first national elections in three years were held. The Taliban said they would halt the vote, and played a major role in preventing voting in 23 percent of the 6,835 polling places. But many polling places did not open because of logistical problems (all the materials did not arrive in time) or because of local feuds. Most of the Taliban disruptions were in the south. Afghans were electing the 249 members of the lower house of parliament. There were about ten candidates (16 percent of them women) for each of those seats. Nearly four million of the 9.2 million eligible voters participated. Most voters were illiterate, so the ballot made heavy use of symbols (for parties or candidates). Over 80 percent of the victims of election day violence were Taliban caught in the act, and bombed or shot down before, or as they were disrupting the vote. International voting observers concluded that there was less voting fraud than during last year's presidential elections. Many of the politicians are still deeply into corruption and taking care of themselves more than looking after their followers (or subjects). But change is not only in the air, it's becoming a more prominent issue. Afghanistan has had more national elections since 2001, than in its entire history prior to 2002.
While the Taliban were successful in shutting down nearly a quarter of the voting, this came at some cost to them. Many people informed on the elaborate Taliban plan to disrupt the vote. Afghan and foreign security forces managed to disrupt many Taliban anti-voting operations, killing or capturing over a thousand Taliban in the process. Many, perhaps a third, of the Taliban attacks were disrupted.
September 15, 2010: President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan has promised to increase intelligence sharing with Afghanistan, in order to help the fight against the Taliban and Islamic terrorism in general. Zardari was vague on how much support for this he had from his generals and intelligence officials. In Pakistan, the military and intelligence agencies don't obey all the orders they get from their nominal political masters.
September 11, 2010: Tajik border guards detected about a hundred Taliban trying to flee NATO troops and find refuge in Tajikistan. One border guard and at least twenty Taliban died in the battle. The Taliban operate this far north to provide security for heroin smuggling. The Central Asian route (to West Europe and North America) is long, but for most of the way, you can bribe your way past border security. The Taliban are much more unpopular in northern Afghanistan, and are often informed on, or even attacked, by hostile tribesmen.