Afghanistan: Why The Karzais Support The Taliban

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January 31, 2014: In places like Afghanistan, which was one of the major recipients of foreign aid in the last decade, donors have gone to extraordinary lengths to get the aid to the people, and not into the secret foreign bank accounts of their leaders. The local officials consider the anti-corruption measures of the donor nations a challenge and often manage to get around these pesky rules. In short, if you want to know where the next war will break out just follow the money, especially the cash that is not going where it is supposed to.

Afghans will steal money even when it is not in their interest to do so. Consider something as basic as road maintenance. U.S. aid enabled Afghanistan to build $4 billion worth of roads since 2001 and that was a major boost to the economy. As hard as it was to monitor the spending for road building, it was even more difficult to do so for road maintenance. So in 2012 the U.S. halted aid for road maintenance and told the Afghans to scrounge up the money and resources to do it themselves if they really wanted the roads to remain passable. As a result only some of the roads are maintained, in areas where the locals organize road repairs out of self-interest. But this still leaves many parts of the country cut off because you need continuous roads for some economic opportunities (exporting local produce.) The lack of road maintenance is discouraging foreign investment in mining, for example, because without roads there is no way to get construction equipment and materials in and no way to get the extracted minerals out.

A recently released report (which the U.S. government wanted to keep secret) showed how auditors found no part of the Afghan government able to handle foreign aid without most of the money being stolen. Corruption and poor government continue to be a major problem which the drug trade is simply part of. The only battle that counts in Afghanistan is the struggle against corruption, but controlling the drug trade is part of that fight. It is the general dishonesty, larceny and use of violent threats instead of consensus and persuasion that make Afghanistan such a hellish place and allow the drug gangs to thrive. The Islamic conservatives promise that submission to Islam in all things (as during the religious dictatorship of the Taliban in the late 1990s) will solve all these problems. The Taliban approach did not work and too many Afghans know it (many from personal experience). The failure of the Taliban to run the country effectively put the spotlight on another problem; a lack of enough people trained to actually operate a large government (or any other kind of organization). Efficiently running a large organization takes a lot of people with specific skills. Low education levels, and a general lack of large organizations, means Afghanistan simply doesn’t have enough people to effectively operate a national government and all the large bureaucracies that includes. This is a problem that is not quickly overcome since you cannot govern Afghanistan with a lot of foreign bureaucrats (even if you just call them “advisors”). Afghans are very touchy about that sort of thing. Afghans may be poor and ill-educated, but they are also proud, heavily armed and short-tempered. So all that foreign aid is easier to steal (for your family and tribe) than to spend efficiently for the common good.  

Many Afghans are not willing to risk everything to try and establish civil society (rule of law), if only because they cannot see sufficient Afghans capable of operating that sort of government. A functioning democracy is essential to build a civil society but that requires a lot of people who know what they are doing and what to do in the first place. So instead there is a lot of cheating during elections as local warlords and tribal chiefs ensure they do not lose any power. A lot of Afghans are not happy with that but the ancient warlord and tribal traditions are still the one type of social organization that works in Afghanistan. The existing tribal coalition system is threatened by democracy and is not quietly stepping aside. The ancient ways still find wide acceptance, especially in the countryside. Besides, those who are most eager to accept modern ways often simply migrate. Not every budding democrat has the cash or courage to leave and the democrats (or those seeking a better way) may be the majority in Afghanistan. But the traditionalists are heavily armed and determined to keep the old ways. This sustains the corruption (stealing is good, as long as it's not from family or tribe), tribalism (who else can you really trust), drug gangs (based on tribal and family ties) and the Taliban (the most traditionalist group).

A recent nationwide opinion poll found that only 13 percent of Afghan men and two percent of Afghan women preferred to be ruled by the Taliban. There were regional differences. In the north only three percent wanted Taliban rule while in the Pushtun south it was 27 percent. More than half those polled believe the Taliban would not observe the terms of any peace deal they might agree to. Overall more than half Afghans believe that conditions have improved in the last year, but only a third believe so in the south where the drug gangs and Taliban are the strongest. Some 80 percent of the population believes that the government is in control of the country, but that falls to 62 percent in the south, where the Taliban is a recognized force in many areas.

A 2010 opinion survey in Kandahar and Helmand provinces show the area wa s still hostile to foreigners, as it has always been. These two provinces contain about eight percent of the national population, and have always been the source of most Taliban support and leadership. The Karzai clan comes from Kandahar. This hostile and paranoid attitude is not shared by most other Afghans, who are particularly hostile to the Pushtuns from Kandahar and Helmand because of all the pain these Taliban inflicted in the 1990s. Kandahar and Helmand are also the source of most of the world's heroin and opium, which is causing a growing number of Afghan addicts. If the Pushtuns from Kandahar and Helmand hate outsiders, the outsiders hate them right back, especially fellow Afghans. 

Another 2010 survey (of 7,600 people across the country) found that Afghans believed the biggest problem was corruption (dishonest officials and lack of business ethnics), not unemployment or security. Most Afghans understand that the corruption makes the Taliban and drug gangs possible. A major goal of the Taliban is the elimination of corruption, by the imposition of Sharia (Islamic law). Few Afghans believe that will work, because when the Taliban controlled most of the country in the 1990s, the Islamic Republic quickly became corrupt and tyrannical. The drug gangs exist because they can bribe and intimidate enough people to allow drugs to be produced and exported. The corruption is part of the cultural fabric. The taking of "loot" is generally seen as an admirable act, and a bribe is seen as the equivalent of an ancient warrior trashing a neighboring valley, and carrying away chickens, horses and women. Changing this attitude has proved difficult, particularly because most Afghans are illiterate and don't know much about the rest of the world. Those Afghans who do know about how things work in the West (or booming East Asia, for that matter), realize and accept that clean and efficient government is the key to economic prosperity. Knowing this, and making it happen, are two very different things. Meanwhile, the illiteracy, corruption crippled economy, and resulting poverty, provides a steady supply of angry young men with guns. Breaking this cycle is very difficult, which is why no one has done it yet. The cycle can be broken, because it has been done, many times, all over the world. A thousand years ago, Europe was a lot like Afghanistan, but none of the current donor (of troops and money) nations are going to wait that long for Afghanistan to clean up its act. Results are sought in years, not centuries.

The U.S. openly criticized the Afghan government for recently freeing 37 Taliban that U.S. forces had captured in the act (of planting bombs) or in possession of bombs or bomb making equipment. This sort of thing is blamed on corruption. Officials can either receive bribes or other favors from family or tribe of those arrested if their guy is released without prosecution.

The corruption has serious long-term effects. For example a recent survey found half the children in the country were malnourished and suffering long-term physical and mental effects because of it. There’s plenty of food aid coming into the country but corruption (plus mismanagement) prevents it from getting to all who need it. Education is also subject t0 corruption. This even happens in the military, where a $200 million American program to teach new recruits basic literacy has been plundered by any Afghan officials in a position to divert money or resources.

Despite the corruption the security forces have made life more difficult for Islamic terrorists. For example, with Afghans handling most of the security now, more suicide bombers are spotted, and often shot, before they can reach their targets. Some of these bombers still manage to detonate their bombs, but the casualties are lower and the primary target is often unscathed.  When confronting Taliban gunmen the soldiers and police won over 95 percent of the resulting firefights in 2003. There were over 3,000 such clashes in 2003.

January 26, 2014: Thousands of Pakistanis fled into Afghanistan recently because of Pakistani bombing attacks on Taliban held villages in North Waziristan. This was in response to recent Taliban bombings attacks. Over 70,000 people fled the areas being bombed and some decided that this might go on for a while and fled to friends and kin across the border.

January 25, 2014: President Karzai announced that the U.S. should get out of Afghanistan if it cannot negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban. Karzai is under criticism from many Afghans for recently accusing the U.S. of killing Afghan civilians using fake evidence found on a Taliban web site. Afghans are aware that 80 percent of civilian casualties are the result of Taliban activity and most of the remainder are the fault of Afghan security forces. But Karzai carries on like it is all the fault of the foreigners. It appears that Hamid Karzai is trying to force the Americans to agree to reduce pressure on the Taliban and drug gangs by halting UAV strikes and night raids. These are all tactics that hurt the Taliban and drug gangs in a big way. Despite the occasional Afghan casualties these tactics are popular with most Afghans and some tribal leaders have openly called for more of this sort of thing. Karzai is seen as becoming bolder in his support of the Taliban and drug gangs by increasingly calling for an end to bombing and night raids. Most Afghan leaders are opposed to this and in 2013 many more went public with their protests. Some Afghan tribal leaders have accused Karzai of being a tool of the Taliban by always publicly criticizing the Americans when Afghan civilians are killed accidentally while playing down deliberate Taliban attacks on civilians. Everyone knows that most civilian deaths are at the hands of the Taliban and most of these are deliberate, not accidental. 

While the Karzais have made lots off corruption and drug dealing in the last decade, most other clans have yet to strike it rich in such a big way. Driving the Americans away is seen as economic suicide and most Afghans oppose the drug gangs, whose activities only benefit about ten percent of the population (mostly clans in Kandahar and Helmand provinces). Meanwhile cheap opium and heroin have turned about ten percent of the Afghan population into addicts, a catastrophe that has most Afghans very angry at the Taliban and their drug gang allies. It’s widely known that the drug gangs pay well to rent politicians and government officials and that many Karzais have benefitted from this. So the growing popular opposition to president Karzai and his clan should come as no surprise.

January 24, 2014: In the south (Helmand province) a 16 year old medical volunteer was murdered by a Taliban death squad. The young man was administering polio vaccinations. Most Taliban believe the polio vaccination program is really a Western plot to poison Moslems.

January 23, 2014: The government has banned ads that support keeping American troops in the country after 2014. While most Afghans back foreign troops remaining many senior officials (especially the president) want them all out.

January 21, 2014: In the west (Herat) Taliban gunmen freed 63 deminers that had earlier kidnapped. Afghanistan has thousands of experienced deminers, who have spent over a decade clearing out mines left by the Russians in the 1980s. But now the Taliban are using lots of landmines, as well as roadside bombs, and these have to cleaned up as well. Sometimes the Taliban harass the popular (with most Afghans) deminers when the Islamic terrorists fear that their own recently planted mines or bombs are about to be cleared.

January 17, 2014: Taliban terrorists attacked a Kabul restaurant popular with foreign aid workers. Thus 13 of the 21 people killed were foreigners. At the fortified entrance to the restaurant one attacker detonated an explosive vest he was wearing. This allowed two Taliban gunmen to get in and spray the restaurant with gunfire until they themselves were killed.

January 12, 2014:  In the north (Baghlan province) 80 Taliban surrendered, with their weapons. Over 4,000 Taliban have done this in the past year.

 

 

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