April 11, 2011:
Despite the fact that 75 percent of civilian deaths are caused by the Taliban and drug gangs, Afghan media, government officials and most religious leaders spend most of their time complaining about civilians killed by foreign troops. Afghan security forces kill more civilians, but they are hardly mentioned. This is all the result of the Taliban strategy of buying or bullying media and government officials to back off from criticizing the Taliban, and go after the foreigners. This is more in line with an ancient Afghan custom of blaming foreigners for all that is wrong, rather than anyone closer to home (and more likely to take offense at being called out for misbehavior).
April 10, 2011: Police investigations into who did the actual killings during a week of riots and demonstrations protesting a Christian cleric in the United States burning a Koran (and accusing Islam of being a religion that encourages violence and hatred), kept coming up with the usual suspects. A few local Taliban supporters and radical clergy were at the center of each incident, and these people were often the ones who personally took the incidents from protest to murder. Some of the Taliban activists were supposed to be former Taliban, men who had accepted a government amnesty offer and were supposed to have become upstanding citizens. This round of violence was nothing new for the Taliban, and neither is the abuse of the amnesty program by the Taliban. Even when Taliban accept amnesty, and are detected continuing Taliban activities, pro-Taliban (or bribed) government officials can demand, with a straight face, that NATO forces do not arrest or "harass" these Taliban, lest the "peace process" be compromised.
What's going on here is Afghan politics, which operates using rules similar to those found in the West, but some of the practices are a bit different. But first the basics. Afghan politics is all about power, and money. Same as in the West, but expressed a bit differently. Power comes from how many guys with guns you have behind you. These supporters can be gathered, initially, with promises. But eventually, the men want a payoff. The Taliban, despite their use of religion and "more Islamic than thou" attitude, want to be paid. These guys are not a bunch of celibate saints who have taken a vow of poverty. They may not sin in public, but what goes on behind the thick walls of their compounds is another matter. That stuff is expensive, and the drug gangs provide the kind of cashflow needed to create that level of fun outside of the heavenly paradise. But access to foreign aid also creates excellent opportunities for theft and embezzlement. Stealing from stupid foreigners is a time-honored pastime for Afghan warriors. It doesn't pay as well as the heroin trade, but a senior government job gets you access to drug money as well. The drug gangs will pay well for anyone who can get the foreign troops called off. Or have the government anti-drug operations directed at a rival drug lord. This sometimes leads to a bidding war, with the loser seeing Afghan troops tearing up his poppy fields.
The poppy fields are very unpopular within Afghanistan. While about ten percent of the population benefits from the drug trade, at least twice as many suffer directly from the addiction and violence the drug trade creates. The addiction is tearing families apart and responsible for a growing fraction of the crime. In this respect, the Taliban claim to be an Islamic group is seen a terribly cynical, given the Taliban partnership with the drug gangs. But this partnership goes back to the 1990s, when the Taliban thought they could impose a strict police state to control addiction (insisting that all the drugs were exported), and still use a cut of the drug profits to keep them in power. Once out of power in late 2001, the drug gangs were free to sell opium and heroin inside Afghanistan, and the Taliban has been unable to put that genie back into the bottle.
Meanwhile, the corruption in the government grows worse. Pressure from foreign aid donors simply brings forth imaginative ploys to appear to be doing something about corruption, while not interfering with the good times. Any serious attempts to interfere are met with serious violence. Previous efforts to bring in auditing teams had to be scrapped because the threat of violence against the teams kept escalating. Afghanistan's best diplomats spend most of their time disarming foreign efforts to clean things up. While there are lots of "good government" and reformer types in Afghanistan, they don't have as many guns, or as much willingness to kill, as their corrupt opponents do.
April 7, 2011: In the northeastern Kapisa province, a NATO raid killed several senior Taliban provincial leaders. In Kandahar, the Taliban attacked a police headquarters using a bomb hidden in an ambulance. The explosion killed six policemen and wounded ten.
April 5, 2011: Outside the eastern city of Jalalabad, several dozen Taliban tried to shoot their way into an airport. The attack was repulsed, and seven bodies were left behind as the Taliban fled. Suicidal attacks like this are a cultural thing, a way for Taliban leaders to show they are still in charge and still have power, even though few of these operations succeed. As long as the troops are paid, and stunts like this are performed to maintain morale, the Taliban survive as an organization for another year.
April 4, 2011: Cell phone service has returned to 900,000 customers in the Helmand province area, after two weeks of being shut down by Taliban threats. The Taliban demanded the phone service be cut because the phones were being used by too many people to report Taliban operations. This shutdown was a very unpopular move, and the government increased security for cell phone facilities and personnel, and bought off some Taliban commanders, in order to get service restored. When faced with a return of phone service, the Taliban simply said that they had allowed it to happen. Cell phone service was still turned off at night, which was something few Taliban leaders were willing to compromise on.
While Helmand residents have long supported the Taliban (this is the area where the original Taliban came from), that support has diminished as the Taliban have become more the pawns of drug gangs and Islamic radical clerics. People want their cell phones, they want to play traditional Pushtun music at weddings, and let the women dress up for social occasions. They want their kids to go to school. The Taliban have tried to ban cell phones, music, fancy weddings and much else. In Helmand, the true occupying force is the Taliban, as they are killing more of the locals than are government or foreign troops. Moreover, the people know that the Taliban and drug gangs still have their satellite phones, and do all sorts of sinful things inside their new compounds.
There is also a generational and cultural war going on in Afghanistan (and across the border among the Pakistani Pushtuns). The traditional tribal leaders see their rule (and wealth) threatened by new technologies and ideas. Many Afghan men feel threatened by educated women, in a country where most women are still illiterate. Actually, a majority of Afghans are illiterate (in any language), and the few who are educated and literate are sought after by drug gangs and foreign aid groups and newly established Afghan companies. Most parents take the hint and seek to get their kids educated. Many traditional leaders see the writing on the wall and go along with the wishes of their people. But a substantial minority of tribal traditionalists are determined keep the present going, and future out. Not all of these traditionalists are pro-Taliban. In fact, most are not, and support the government (and attempts to destroy the opium and heroin business). Thus the government continues to support new lifestyle laws, that would appear to be coming right out of the Taliban playbook.
The pro-government traditionalists are also allies of the good-government groups. That's because these traditionalists are opposed to those who use extortion and terrorism to make money. These traditionalists are not against an occasional bribe, but they do draw the line at everything being for sale, and the welfare of the people (especially those of your own tribe) being ignored. Not all the Islamic conservatives are pro-Islamic terrorist.
April 1, 2011: Anti-American demonstrations broke out in Kabul, in reaction to president Karzai denouncing a March 20 incident in which a Christian radical cleric in Florida had burned a Koran. Only one reporter wrote up the incident, and the story went out via AFP (a French wire service). AFP later admitted they should have ignored the story, but Karzai uses stuff like this to maintain his power. He complains of insults and attacks against Islam by the West, and demands more money so he can deal with it. Much of the money disappears before it can be tracked to any particularly useful project. The attacks today led to seven deaths, mainly of UN personnel, including their Gurkha security guards. Several of the attackers died as well. Over the next ten days, over twenty people died from this religious violence.