Afghanistan: The Winter Of Much Discontent


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.




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