The war here is described as
"complicated," which is another way of saying that there are several
different factions fighting, sometimes as allies and sometimes against each
other. The major players are;
With up to 10,000 gunmen wandering around the border area, these are religious
fanatics fighting for drug money, tribal power, cultural domination and
personal gain. Some fight for free, but most of these are the Pakistani volunteers
(who tend to be looked down on as ignorant children by the Afghans). The
Taliban are waging war against tribes and clans that do not agree with them
running things. They earn their pay from the drug gangs by intimidating tribal
militias and police from interfering with drug production or smuggling. These
guys are more smoke than fire.
gangs. Drug production accounts for about half the Afghan GDP of about $8 billion. This money is not taxed, and is generally controlled
by men who have little interest in supporting a national government. The drug
lords tend to remain loyal to their tribes, thus increasing the power of the
tribes against the central government. Only about a third of the population is
involved in the drug trade. About 90 percent of those people (mainly the
farmers) receive 25 percent of that drug income. That's several times what they
would make with traditional endeavors (growing wheat). The other 75 percent
goes to the government and tribal officials (for bribes) and the drug operation
leadership. As a result, thousands of Afghans are getting very rich, but
illegally. These guys consider themselves above the law, and have the guns,
cash and loyal followers to make that happen. In the key drug production areas,
like Helmand province, the drug gangs pay "taxes" to the Taliban, in
return for keeping the government and foreign troops busy. The drug gangs are the most formidable force
in the country.
The Taliban is not the only private army in the country. Most provincial
governors have large (sometimes very large, as in hundreds) of armed "bodyguards."
They can also muster national police and soldiers they might have on their
payroll. In the south, some governors take money from the drug gangs, for
varying degrees of "cooperation." Warlords are an ancient tradition that
is not going to go away easily, or soon.
government is controlled by big shots from the Tajik (another Indo-European
tribe that dominates the north and comprise about a quarter of the population)
and Pushtun (40 percent of the population) tribes. The main goal of the Tajiks
is to make sure the Pushtuns don't push them around (as the Taliban tried to
do), while the Pushtuns are out to make as much money as they can (usually via embezzlement
and bribes), while remaining top dogs. The
government controls much of the foreign aid, and the national police and army.
But this is not a lot of money, and governors, warlords and drug gangs are
always trying (and often succeeding) in buying the loyalty of police and troops
operating in their locality. Several senior officials in the national
government are believed to be on the payroll for drug gangs. It's easy money
and hard to resist, especially when the alternative is constant assassination attempts.
Al Qaeda is
a convenient name for Islamic religious fanatics who wish to establish clerical
dictatorships in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Most of the people in both these
countries do not want to be ruled by religious leaders, and are willing to
fight against this. The majority also dislikes the terror bombings and
lifestyle police (shutting down video and music shops and most sources of entertainment
and education and employment for women.) Bur homicidal and suicidal religious
fanatics have power far larger than their small numbers would indicate. That's
what terrorism is all about.
Afghanistan a potential problem that has to be neutralized. Westerners must
keep in mind that "Afghanistan" (as a region) is where several waves
of invaders have poured into South Asia and upset many apple carts. The tribal
areas on the Pakistani side of the border are part of this historical "Afghanistan".
Most of the 40 million Pushtun tribal peoples live on the Pakistani side of the
border. Pakistani government officials are always coming up with new schemes to
keep the tribes busy with each other, and not planning mischief against the
lowlanders (the majority of Pakistan's population). The Taliban was one of
these schemes, which got out of control. Some with Islamic radicalism in
The foreign forces.
Nearly 100,000 people, with two-thirds troops and the rest aid workers, bureaucrats
and mercenaries. These folks are in Afghanistan to prevent the country from
turning into a criminal/terrorist hideout again. Civil war, or its kid brother,
civil disorder, is the usual state of Afghanistan. For thousands of years, this
was tolerated as long as the Afghans did not export their violence. When they
did, better organized neighbors would raid right back ("punitive
expeditions") to calm the Afghans down (by killing lots of them). But with
air travel and instant global communications, Afghan violence can be exported
farther, faster. Keeping the peace in Afghanistan has acquired a new urgency. The
foreigners are having a hard time of it, but cannot afford to fail.
Taliban and al Qaeda have found success with suicide tactics. This is nothing
new in the region, and has gone in and out of fashion over the past few
thousand years. But the Islamic radicals have invented a clever angle,
"involuntary martyrs," which
is increasingly effective in defeating the superior firepower of the foreign
troops. "Involuntary martyrs" is an al Qaeda doctrine, also adopted
by many Taliban, that justifies the use of civilians as human shields. If the
civilians are killed when a smart bomb hits a compound the Taliban are hiding
out in, these civilians are considered Islamic martyrs, even though the
civilians had to be forcibly prevented from fleeing the building. Another
problem is informers providing false information to get NATO or U.S. troops to
attack someone the informant is feuding with. This is an old problem, and tips
have to be checked for this. But several times a year, the bad tip gets acted
on, usually with tragic results. The Afghan government demands a solution, but
there is none, other than giving anti-government forces (Taliban, bandits,
terrorists, drug gangs) immunity from attack as long as they have some
civilians with them. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan are at a historical
low, but that isn't news. The majority of dead civilians are killed by Taliban
and terrorists, and that has always been the pattern.
13, 2008: For the second time in the
last two years, the Taliban have killed a provincial governor. A roadside bomb
was used. Governors, especially in the south, are always approached by drug
gangs and the Taliban, with threats, or bribes, to obtain cooperation.