Afghanistan: Taking On Triumphant Tradition


August 28, 2006: The nation is finding that its ancient traditions are a prison that is difficult to escape from. Tribal loyalties still outrank national ones. That means the Pushtun tribes that created the Taliban, are still willing to back that brand of religious dictatorship, and try to impose it on everyone. If a tribe decides that the drug money is too good to pass up, the tribe or clan is in, completely and to the death. Because of the primacy of tribal loyalty, everyone else can be bought and sold. Corruption is rampant, as it has always been. Even the Taliban were on the take when they were in power, although they were so inept at running the economy, there wasn't much to steal. All this is made worse by trying to establish a strong central government, something Afghanistan has rarely had. The "center", in true Afghan tradition, tends to take care of itself, at the expense of the provinces. The provinces (the tribes) take it for a while, get really, really upset, and rebel. At the moment, provinces are unhappy, edging towards restless. That's already happening in the south, where the pro-Taliban tribes never really accepted losing control of the country five years ago.
August 27, 2006: The Taliban Summer Offensive sputter towards Fall, and the traditional end of the Afghan campaigning season. Since May, the fighting in the south has left 1,600 dead, the vast majority of them Taliban. So far this year, the violence has killed about 2,000. Over the Winter, the pro-Taliban tribes on both sides of the border will discuss the situation, note the large number of missing faces, and decide what next years battles will be like. For many unemployed men from the rural tribes, the drug business appears more attractive than trying to taking control of the a province or country. The Americans don't use smart bombs on drug growers and smugglers.
August 25, 2006: An aerial survey of the country shows that there are some 460,000 acres growing poppies, from which heroin is produced. This is over 60 percent more acreage than last year. This is really, really bad news. Too many farmers have suddenly gotten into the poppy business, meaning the price the drug gangs will pay will be lower, leaving the farmers with less money than they expected. The drug gangs, with all that cheap raw material, will be even more flush, and better able to buy guns or government officials.
August 24, 2006: In the west, eighty former Taliban fighters publicly pledged to stop fighting the government, and support it instead. The government is able to buy the loyalty of tribes with reconstruction projects, jobs and cash. But a major obstacle in all this has been corruption in the government, with officials at the top, and in the provinces often stealing much of the aid, leaving the intended recipients broke and angry. Last year, Afghanistan produced over 4,000 tons of opium (which is refined, at a ratio of about 10:1, into heroin for Western markets), worth nearly $3 billion. About half the economic activity in the country is connected with the drug business.
August 23, 2006: Three more al Qaeda suspects were arrested in the south. Al Qaeda has a greater presence in Afghanistan this year, but the violence is mainly Afghans fighting over traditional Afghan issues.


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