February 21, 2012: The UN believes that 15 percent of Afghanistan's GDP comes from the production of illegal drugs (mostly opium and heroin). Most Afghans and all nations in the world oppose the production and distribution of these drugs but the drug gangs use their enormous drug profits to buy the assistance of the Taliban, the local media, and many government officials. Nearly all the drugs are produced in two provinces: Kandahar and Helmand. This is also where most of the Taliban comes from. In late 2001, the Taliban fled across the border to the southwest Pakistan city of Quetta, where they have enjoyed sanctuary ever since. When the Afghan government talks of a "peace deal with the Taliban" they are talking of legalizing the presence of the drug gangs. That's because any such deal would acknowledge Taliban control of Kandahar and Helmand and leave the drug gangs to operate without impediment within Afghanistan.
Since even most Afghans in those two provinces oppose both the Taliban and drug gangs, this means that any peace deal would mean standing back and allowing the drug gangs and Taliban to use their better armed and ruthless gunmen to more openly, and brutally, terrorize everyone in those two provinces into submission. This is what the Taliban tried to do to the entire country in the late 1990s. The Taliban never controlled all of Afghanistan, and they used the drug gangs as a source of income and Islamic radical gunmen as enforcers. Afghans remember this and don't want to see it return. The Islamic radical Pushtuns from Kandahar and Helmand, who always formed the core of the Taliban, are still on a mission from God to regain control of the country. But now, as in the 1990s, most Afghans will fight this. Unlike the 1990s, the non-Pushtun majority are better armed and organized and able to put up more resistance to the Taliban. The resulting civil war would be a disaster for the Taliban, in part because the U.S. would be back with air support. As in 2001, this was a battlefield edge that the Taliban could not deal with. The Taliban would use human shields and try to spin the mass media against the U.S. assistance but this would not make up for the fact that the Taliban are outnumbered and universally hated within Afghanistan.
Right now, some 130,000 foreign troops are doing most of the fighting against the drug gangs and their Taliban allies. The non-Pushtuns are increasing their participation in all this because most of the Afghan soldiers in Kandahar and Helmand are from the non-Pushtun north. The non-Pushtuns don't want to fight another civil war with the Taliban led, and heroin financed, Pushtuns. But the Taliban are obsessed with their traditional domination of the area (that is, Afghanistan) and keep at it. The Taliban keep themselves going with all that drug money because without the Taliban to keep the government and Afghan troops away, the heroin business would be driven out, as it has been driven out of Burma and Pakistan in the last three decades.
The government has pushed the idea of peace talks with the Taliban. But what this really means is negotiating the hand-over of two provinces to the drug gangs and believing Taliban promises that the many Taliban factions would cease their terrorist activities. Even the Taliban leadership doesn't believe that but there is something to be gained by negotiating a deal that gets government soldiers and police out of Kandahar and Helmand, if only for a while.
Foreign governments are not willing to continue paying the cost (in terms of cash and bad publicity) of fighting the drug gangs and their Taliban allies. The Western attitude is that heroin is only one of many illegal drugs that all governments have to deal with. In fact, misuse of legal drugs (pain killers) and synthetic ones (amphetamines and ecstasy for example) are a much more serious problem than heroin. Another intractable problem is Pakistan's refusal to shut down Pakistani sanctuaries for Islamic terrorists (especially the Taliban). So the Western attitude is to just leave and let the Afghans fight this one out. That is almost certain to happen because the cheaper and bulkier opium (which is refined into heroin) has created over ten million addicts in Afghanistan and neighboring countries. The Taliban is held responsible for this by the neighbors, and all these countries are already at war with the drug business. The West is mainly concerned with preventing Islamic terrorists from using Afghanistan as a base and continued military (training) and other (cash) aid to Afghanistan will be dependent on keeping the terrorists out (or at least letting the United States use its aircraft and Special Forces to go after the bad guys).
The wealthy in Afghanistan, especially those who own businesses, are preparing to get out of the country if the departure of foreign troops in two years triggers a major civil war. Most Afghans are not willing to obey a national government controlled by the Taliban and drug gangs. A drug gang dominated government is a possibility after 2014, because so many national leaders are Pushtuns who have been bribed by the drug gangs. It's not the presence of foreign troops that keeps the national leadership hostile to the Taliban, but the fact that most Afghans are not Pushtun and very hostile to the Taliban (for past atrocities) and the drug gangs (for creating millions of addicts). Moreover, the national government is full of non-Pushtuns. While some are on the drug gang payroll they will not back the Taliban if it comes to a civil war. Ultimately, everyone goes with their tribe and most tribes (including many Pushtun ones) are hostile to the Taliban, and all tribes are hostile to the opium and heroin.
February 19, 2012: The government is cracking down on the practice of Afghan parents sending their children (6-11 years old) to Pakistani religious schools (madrassas). This saves the parents the expense of caring for the kids, which is often a matter of life or death for the children as Afghan parents tend to have more children than resources and child death rates from malnutrition, accidents, disease, and abuse are very high. The current crackdown was triggered by the growing Taliban use of children as suicide bombers. Often the kids don't realize they are being used for this. Instead they are convinced that wearing the explosives will kill the enemy without harming the kids. The madrassas try to convince their young students that dying for the Taliban is the right thing to do but that only works with a small percentage of the children. A few of the kids, however, can be convinced that they can get involved in the suicide bombing operations and survive. This is classic brainwashing but it only produces a few hundred kids a year that might be able to carry out suicide bomb attacks. Many more of the kids in the madrassas are persuaded to accept that the Taliban should rule Afghanistan and Pakistan. This at least provides reliable gunmen. Most Afghans, however, are very hostile to using children (under ten) for suicide bomb attacks. This is another one of those issues on which the Taliban and the Afghan population are far apart.
In Kandahar city a suicide car bomb was used against a police station, killing one policeman and wounding several others.
February 18, 2012: In the north police announced the capture of two groups of Islamic terrorists (17 men in all) who were planning to disrupt local celebrations of the Lunar New Year next month. This celebration, which is popular in Iran and Afghanistan, is based on pre-Islam religious practices and condemned by Islamic conservatives. But efforts to halt these celebrations have never succeeded.
February 17, 2012: The government
ordered soldiers with families in Pakistan to either move their family to Afghanistan or leave the army. This is one of several new policies intended to reduce the number of pro-Taliban soldiers in the army. This would force over 3,000 soldiers to choose. Most of the Afghan-Pakistani border is occupied by Pushtun tribes. This frontier, still called the “Durand Line” (an impromptu, pre-independence invention of British colonial authorities) was always considered artificial by locals because the line often went right through Pushtun tribal territories. However, the Afghans are more inclined to accept the Durand Line and fight to maintain it. The Pakistanis believe absolute control of the border is impossible and attempts to stop illegal crossings cause additional trouble (as tribesmen do not like excessive attention at border crossing posts).
February 11, 2012: Pakistan is accusing Afghanistan of sending a raiding party a kilometer into Pakistan to kill two Taliban leaders who were causing a lot of trouble within Afghanistan. These raids are becoming increasingly common and the Afghans just deny everything. Since the Pakistanis won't admit that they are providing sanctuary for the Taliban, the Afghans won't admit they are raiding across the border to kill the non-existent Taliban.