Afghanistan: September 5, 2003


Afghans complain of the slow pace of reconstruction, but the biggest problem is the Afghans themselves. The corruption is so extensive that any money provided for rebuilding must be watched very carefully. Otherwise, most of it will disappear, sometimes in clever ways. While outright theft sometimes occurs, sweetheart contracts (an official granting a contract to a company he owns a piece of) and paying lots of money for little performance (with most of the money being "profit" for the corrupt official) are more common. Tribes and local warlords are not bashful about asking for payoffs to guarantee aid workers, and reconstruction workers, safety. There are a lot of senior Afghan officials who are honest, but they are not in complete control. Too many other Afghans tolerate the corruption, and want a piece of it.

While the Taliban make good headlines, they are not the real threat to the future in Afghanistan. Warlords, corruption, tribalism and drug gangs are more likely to drag the country back into civil war and chaos. The solution is to train professional soldiers,  police and government officials and use them to impose control on all parts of the country. The problem is that you cannot create these professionals immediately. It takes months and years. But each month, there are more trained Afghans that the central government can use to exercise control over another part of the country. But the tribes, warlords and drug gangs resist, and will resist fiercely when they feel threatened. The Pushtun tribes, who comprise about 40 percent of the population, already feel threatened. The Pushtuns have always had most of the key offices in the central government. Moreover, some of the Pushtun tribes provided the leadership for the Taliban. But the current central government, even though it is led by a prominent Pushtun tribal leader, contains more non-Pushtuns than most Pushtun tribesmen consider fair. 

Even demining operations are subject to shakedowns and extortion. This despite the fact that at least a hundred Afghans are killed or wounded each month by old Russian mines.

The Taliban are trying to use the same tactics against US and Afghan troops they used against the Russians in the 1980s. This means small groups of gunmen moving through the mountains and making attacks. But the problem is that they are facing the kind of professional American and Afghan troops that gave them the most troubles in the 1980s when the Russians sent in their commandos. During the 1980s, most of the Russian casualties were among the mainly conscript (and poorly trained and led) troops. There are none of these, and none of the large Russian convoys moving all over the country. The Taliban have few targets, and a foe who usually outfights them.


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