Afghanistan: Xenophobia Rules


May 30, 2006: Although their spring offensive has not been particularly successful, the Taliban continue to press it with some vigor. The Taliban has come closest to making a serious impact in Helmand Province. This seems to be the result of a combination of some excellent leadership which has used close ties to clan and tribal groups in the province, who provide considerable support and assistance. There are apparently some 250-350 "hard core" Taliban operating in the province, which has always been one of the more difficult regions of the country from the point of view of whoever happens to be running the "central government" in Kabul.

The fighting in the south has killed about 500 people in the last two weeks. Some 80 percent of the dead have been Taliban, the rest police, soldiers and civilians. The Taliban are trying to avoid contact with the security forces, and employing terror tactics as much as possible. To that end, police today found the bodies of three previously kidnapped policemen, who had been killed and beheaded. The Taliban have been threatening villagers, to offer support for the Taliban, not tell the police anything, and to comply with Taliban customs. This includes shutting down schools, especially those that educate girls. Educational policy is a real sore point with the Taliban, and a major point of disagreement between the Taliban and most Afghans. But the Taliban do have one goal that most Afghans can agree with; getting all foreigners out of the country. Disliking foreigners is a major Afghan tradition, and the Taliban play upon it to recruit supporters.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan, which has a battalion serving with Coalition forces in Iraq, has long been a supporter of the Afghan government, has decided to become much more active in helping stabilize the country. There are several reasons for this decision. Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbayev is hardly one of the champions of democracy in Central Asia, and has been under considerable international pressure. By increasing support to Afghanistan, he hopes to ease pressure from the US, which has often been very blunt. In addition, Nazarbayev may view taking a more active role in support of Afghan as a way of discouraging his internal opponents of an Islamist bent, with whom the country recently had a short "war".

May 29, 2006: A traffic accident in Kabul, between U.S. military vehicles and Afghan civilians, turned into a typical outburst of Afghan xenophobia. For thousands of years, Afghans have violently expressed their dislike for foreigners, and several hours of rioting and looting in the wake of the accident, which the typical rumors insisted was deliberate, left 14 dead. For Afghans who have gone abroad, and returned, this kind of behavior is still familiar, and scary. The Afghan embrace of xenophobia, ignorance and violence has left the country the poorest in the region, and the most lawless as well. A dubious distinction that is only slowly changing.

May 28, 2006: A raid on a village in southern Afghanistan left four Taliban dead. Weapons, documents and bomb making materials were captured. Meanwhile, 120 kilometers southwest of the capital, several dozen Taliban set off a roadside bomb, which wounded four policemen, led to a gun battle and left four Taliban dead and the rest of them fleeing.

May 26, 2006: In the south, the hunt for armed groups of Taliban continue, with ten Taliban and four policemen killed.

May 25, 2006: The southern city of Kandahar, the "homeland" of the Taliban, is the scene of much of the recent fighting. As a result, over 3,000 villagers from the outskirts of Kandahar, have fled the violence. A large part of this is the publicity given to the deaths of a dozen or more civilians, who were killed when a compound full of Taliban was bombed. The civilians were quick to realize three things. One, that the Taliban tend to seek shelter with civilians, in the hope that the Americans will not attack and risk civilian lives. Second, that the Americans will attack anyway, and civilians are well advised to get out of the way. Third, the Taliban will force civilians to stick around and serve as human shields, on the off chance that the current propaganda campaign accusing the Americans of war crimes for killing civilians might force the U.S. to change its Rules of Engagement (ROE), and make the Taliban immune when using human shields.


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