Afghanistan: Playing By The Traditional Rules


March 12, 2010:  Afghan officials are becoming more vocal, and public, in demanding that Pakistan back off on accusations that Indian aid to Afghanistan is part of an Indian plot to turn Afghanistan into an Indian base for attacks on Pakistan. Most Afghans see Pakistan as an enemy, and constantly interfering in Afghan affairs. The Pakistanis plead that they are simply defending themselves from Indian plots. This toxic relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially when India is involved, is not changing.

The diplomatic relationship between Western nations and the Afghan government continues to be defined by perpetual culture shock. The Afghans take many things for granted (corruption, blood feuds, abusive treatment of women, religious intolerance) that are anathema to Western nations. The Afghan attitude is, "love me, love my quaint local customs." Western diplomats, who see the wisdom in this approach, know that such a policy is a real hard sell back home. It gets even more difficult when the Afghan government insists on negotiating peace deals with Taliban leaders (or "warlords", as most Western media would call them). The government is willing to let these Taliban leaders continue many of their unsavory (to Western donor nations) ways (oppression of women, intolerance of Western culture). In fact, the government already does that with many tribes, but this rarely makes the news in the West. This has been Afghan custom for centuries. The central government in Afghanistan is there to deal with foreigners and mediate tribal disputes, not run the country. While many officials in the Afghan government like to pretend they are running the country, most also know that the majority of Afghans are playing by the traditional rules.

In Marjah, the Afghan government is in control, but only a few hundred Taliban were killed or captured. Most of the several thousand Taliban known to operate in the city, fled to the countryside, and will continue operating there, waiting for an opportunity to regain control of the city. Thus the battle for Marjah is far from over.

Meanwhile, many of the foreign and Afghan troops who cleared the Taliban out of Marjah, have been moved to Kandahar, where they will use the same tactics to run the Taliban out of neighborhoods that have been taken over by the Islamic radicals. The Taliban have never been strong enough to take the entire city, but they have succeeded in gaining control over portions of it.

Western and local media have made a lot of noise protesting the new restrictions on providing live coverage of terrorist incidents. So police commanders went out and explained how the terrorists operate. When there is live coverage of a terrorist attack, the terrorists will have people assigned to monitor the media, and report what they see, or hear, to the terrorists involved in the fighting, and those ready to join in. Cell phones make this all possible. This, in effect, gives the terrorists a big information advantage, This results in more civilian and police casualties. Many journalists are not impressed by this, and insist on doing live coverage anyway.

The Afghan police is seen by most recruits as a business opportunity, not public service. Corruption is the norm, not the exception. Many of the growing number of Afghan opium addicts see the police as an opportunity to pay for their habit. In areas where drug addiction is common, some 40 percent of people trying to join the force test positive for drugs. But over the years, many elite police units have been formed, composed of men who have proved themselves reliable and effective. These comprise less than a third of the force, and are often the target of Taliban campaigns to kill or discourage these cops from doing their job. This involves going after particularly effective police commanders.

The sudden arrest (in Pakistan) of so many senior members of the Taliban leadership in the last month, has disrupted command of the organization. This has led to local commanders either doing nothing, or getting into fights with other commanders or rival Islamic radical groups. In northeastern Afghanistan, this led to several days of fighting between Taliban, and followers of old school Islamic radical Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, that left over fifty dead. Some Afghans, always suspicious of Pakistani motives, say that the sudden change in Pakistani policy, to arrest known Afghan Taliban leaders, is actually a plot to cripple peace negotiations with the Taliban. This is being done, according to the theory, that most of those arrested in Pakistan were Taliban moderates who would back peace deals. This is more conspiracy than reliable theory.

March 8, 2010: In the eastern city of Khost, police spotted five members of a suicide bomber team,  dressed in burqas, and attacked them before they could set off their explosives in a government building. Two of the attackers were killed. Foreign and Afghan troops are alert to suicide bomber attacks, and foil most of them. But the explosives tend to go off anyway, and the casualties are civilian, not military. This, as it did in Iraq, makes the Islamic terrorists even more hated by the population.

March 4, 2010: Outside Kandahar, five Pakistanis were ambushed by unidentified gunmen, and killed. The Pakistani government blamed the attack on India. The Pakistanis were working for a Japanese firm that has a contract to maintain roads in the area.





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