2008: The thing you have to understand
about the violence in Afghanistan is that it isn't all, or even mostly, about
the Taliban. The religious zealots of the Taliban grab all the headlines abroad,
but the real causes are a long list of tribal feuds, plus a lot of greedy
people hustling for drug money (the the proceeds of many other criminal scams.)
Welcome to Afghanistan, being what it has always been, for thousands of years.
In that respect, you could say that tradition is important in this part of the
world. People like to do things in familiar ways.
familiar cause of anxiety and reputations here is the tribal feud. This keeps
people jumping in the Summer, and talking round the fire in the Winter. But journalists
are mesmerized by the Taliban angle, because they know the folks back home
would not understand, much less appreciate, the intricacies of the tribal feuds
that drive most of the violence. Equally unpopular are stories of Afghan
government officials (from local cops, right to the top) taking payoffs to lay
off the drug trade. The drug lords don't want to fight and, like everyone else
in Afghanistan, consider bribes as a cost of doing business. So the Taliban are
paid off as well, in addition to tribal chiefs where the poppies are grown, and
through which the processed opium and heroin are moved out of the country.
NATO forces try to avoid the tribal feuds and drug gangs, while concentrating
on the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies. But this is difficult. The Afghan
gunmen don't wear uniforms are carry flags identifying themselves as Taliban,
al Qaeda, tribal war parties or hired guns protecting drug operations.
really runs things in Afghanistan are the drug gangs. They pull more strings
than the Taliban, and have more firepower. The drug gangs use the Taliban to
distract the armed foreigners who, if they wanted to, could shut down much of
the drug business. So could the Afghan government, but too many officials have
a financial interest in leaving the heroin production alone. The drugs have
brought unprecedented prosperity to those in positions of power. The few
hundred people who run the drug business are also getting rich, but not
insanely so. Most of the money is spread around to insure that heroin
production and exporting is not interfered with.
the Taliban are mainly all about getting themselves killed. The Taliban have to
operate in large groups (a hundred or more gunmen) in order to be able to intimidate
locals into working with them. But groups this large can be detected by NATO
air and electronic reconnaissance. When the Taliban get too close to a town or
major road, out come the smart bombs and ground troops. Great slaughter follows,
with dozens of dead Taliban, plus others captured. The prisoners increasingly
tell the same story (recruited in Pakistani religious schools for holy war, or
brought into Pakistan by al Qaeda to fight infidel invaders.)
media is bribed to play up real or imagined stories of foreign troops killing
Afghan civilians. Afghan troops and police kill far more civilians, but that's
not news, because that's been going on forever. The important things is that
the Taliban and drug gangs will pay journalists for "foreigner kills Afghans"
stories, with a bonus if the Western press picks it up (and they do grab some
of the better done fabrications).
likes to talk about it, but there is a reluctance by NATO and U.S. commanders
to go after the drug gangs. This would mean, at least for a while, a lot more
armed and hostile Afghans to deal with. There would be less cooperation from
many Afghan officials, who would not be happy to see their bribes disappear. The
foreign military commanders believe they can get rid of the Taliban first, then
go after the drug gangs. The Taliban has many enemies along the
Pakistani-Afghan borders. It's not news outside of Afghanistan, but many
Pushtun tribes on both sides of the border are openly at war with the Taliban
and al Qaeda. When sneaking into Afghanistan from Pakistan, the Taliban have to
be careful which valley they move through, because if they run into the wrong
tribe, they will have to fight, and a tribal foe will use his cell phone to
call for foreign troops and their smart bombs, and then it's all over.