January 31, 2008:
NATO members are
becoming less diplomatic about disagreements over who should do what in Afghanistan.
Canada now threatens to pull its troops out of the country unless other
members, like Germany, provide combat troops. Meanwhile, Canada is refusing to
turn prisoners over to Afghan police, because Afghan interrogation methods do
not meet Canadian standards (prisoners are made too uncomfortable, and even
injured, using the traditional Afghan approach.)
The U.S. is also complaining that NATO
members come unequipped for war. There is a need for more air reconnaissance,
for example, but few NATO countries have UAVs or recon aircraft. In Europe,
getting soldiers killed in Afghanistan, and spending money to send them there,
is not popular. Even less popular is the expense of training and equipping
troops for these kinds of operations. Many NATO nations, like Germany, do as
little as they can get away with in Afghanistan, and that is irritating to the
countries that have troops in combat (like Britain, Canada, Australia and the U.S.).
NATO military officials understand that
not enough foreign troops are in Afghanistan to shut down the Taliban, but also
realize that unless the Afghan government can deal with its own problems
(corruption, mainly, but lack of administrative skills, religious bigotry and
incompetence), the country will continue to be a lawless, poor, and violent
backwater in a rapidly changing world. The senior people in the Afghan
government are trying, but the obstacles are formidable. The drug trade fits in
with traditional Afghan, "get all you can, when you can, any way you can" attitudes. Meantime, the
establishment of a national government has backfired in some respects.
Religious conservatives are trying to impose their own version of Islam in the
entire country via the courts. This is causing unrest, just as it did when the
Taliban tried the same thing in the 1990s. The national government has a tricky
problem here, since religious tolerance is not an Afghan custom. In the past,
the different parts of the country simply ignored each other, because there was
no national government that actually imposed national laws everywhere. Whenever
that has been tried, like in the 1970s by a communist dominated government, the
results are disastrous (as in rebellion and much civil disorder).
The fighting is much reduced because of
a colder-than-usual Winter. Added to this is a regional wheat shortage, which
has pushed up grain prices 50 percent or more. The cold has killed over 500
people so far. That is expected to more than double, because many villages have
been cut off by the snow. The food shortage, and rising prices, will also lead
to more malnutrition, and deaths.
On the plus side, the Taliban 2007 offensive
was a failure, and growing anti-Taliban violence in Pakistan has diminished the
power of the Afghan Taliban. This Spring, the Taliban are expected to emerge
from their Winter vacation weaker than last year.