Afghanistan: Backfire


August 10, 2010: The Taliban don't have the military strength to conquer. They depend on terror to frighten people to either stand aside, or do what the Taliban wants (supply cash and recruits). This strategy is backfiring. The fact that civilian deaths by the Taliban are rising this year, and that foreign troops are killing fewer people, is becoming a big issue inside Afghanistan. That has been compounded by some spectacular recent Taliban atrocities. For example, in the last week, a pregnant widow was publicly whipped and executed for adultery. No one had complained about her, but her condition offended the local Taliban in northwestern Badghis province, where the largely Tajik population are very hostile to the Taliban. When word of this execution became a national issue, the Taliban did what they often do, they denied it and blamed it on "rogue elements" who were trying to defame them.  The Taliban took a similar approach when pictures of a 17 (now 18) year old girl appeared in Western and Afghan media recently. The Taliban had cut off the nose and ears of the girl because she fled her abusive in-laws last year. Once this became a public issue, the Taliban denied involvement. These denials don't work, because too many Afghans have seen this nastiness themselves. It was also common knowledge that the Taliban would frequently take credit for atrocious behavior, then try and deny it when it seemed convenient. This is what is expected to happen with the recent murder of eight foreign medical aid personnel, and their two Afghan drivers, who were killed while returning from several weeks of treating Afghans in the countryside. At first, the Taliban not only took credit, but accused the dead (six of them Americans) of trying to convert Afghans to Christianity, and of spying for the U.S. Most of the dead medical workers had been volunteering to work in Afghanistan for years, and many Afghans were very grateful for the cures and treatments these doctors and nurses had provided. The Taliban can be expected to change their story if the media heat gets too much for them.

The bad news is the most widely and intensively covered news, and in the process it gets lost that most of Afghanistan is, and has been, at peace. Lots of economic reconstruction. But the Taliban are still out there, and often send groups of a dozen or more armed men, in several trucks or SUVs, to distant areas to raise some hell. The Taliban also have small groups of supporters (the local religious fanatics) all over the country, who will grab their guns and step forward if a bunch of armed Taliban show up. These roving Taliban act like bandits or tribal raiders (the ten dead medical workers were stripped of their valuables), but they also make sure to spread the Taliban message (submission to a religious dictatorship).  But the terror does work, and Afghans hate the Taliban for the fact that in many parts of the country you cannot openly buy video or music CDs and DVDs (the sellers fear getting bombed or murdered). The Taliban are also hated for those situations where an economic or reconstruction program is shut down, or just slowed down. The Taliban represent repression and poverty, all in the cause of emulating imagined 7th century customs. It's holier than thou politics where the Taliban are always right, no matter what they do.






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