October 3, 2011:
NATO operations in the last year have greatly reduced the fighting strength of the Taliban and the drug gangs, leaving the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network as the most powerful Islamic terror group in the region. Haqqani has been around since the 1980s, and has survived because of the strong leadership of the Haqqani clan. It's basically a family business, and most of the business is criminal. Kidnapping, extortion, smuggling and whatever else is available has kept the organization going. During the 1980s war with the Russians, Haqqani adopted the "Islamic warrior" tag and never abandoned it. Like most anti-Russian Afghan groups, Haqqani received money, instructions and protection from Pakistan (largely from ISI, the Pakistani version of the CIA). When the ISI needed a terror attack, kidnapping or assassination carried out, Haqqani was often used. Haqqani was reliable and effective and that was important for the generals running ISI. But this year, Haqqani has been under unprecedented attack by NATO forces. That means over 1,600 suspected Haqqani men (including 300 local leaders) have been arrested during over 500 raids this year. These operations killed or captured dozens of known Haqqani officials, often key people who were difficult to replace. Haqqani is being forced to risk its lucrative operations (and personnel) in eastern Afghanistan in order to carry out Pakistan ordered terror attacks in Kabul and elsewhere. While Haqqani has a sanctuary in Pakistan (North Waziristan, an area the Pakistani army refuses to enter), that area is subject to constant patrols by CIA UAVs, and missile attacks on terrorist leaders and other key personnel. The area is monitored by electronic surveillance and a network of informers. In eastern Afghanistan, the growing number of NATO raids have cost Haqqani a lot of money, and made it more expensive to carry out terrorist attacks. Pakistan fears that the U.S. will extend these raids into North Waziristan, and has openly warned the U.S. against this. But the U.S., and the Afghans, want Haqqani gone.
In the last few days, the Afghan government has arrested Hameedullah Akhondzada, described as the mastermind of the recent suicide bomb attack that killed Burhanuddin Rabbani (the former president of Afghanistan (1992-6) and head of the effort to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban). The government claims to have proof that the attack was ordered by the Taliban leadership (headquartered in Quetta, Pakistan) and with the cooperation of the Pakistan ISI. Pakistan and the Taliban deny any involvement. President Karzai announced that there would be no more peace talks with the Taliban. The murder of Rabbani is seen as a statement by the hardline Taliban, and their Haqqani Network allies, towards any negotiated settlement. Many Taliban leaders will accept no compromise, and want to control all of Afghanistan. They believe that the Western forces will withdraw in a few years, and will cut financial support to the Afghan government. Then the Taliban, Haqqani and drug gangs can take over, and live Islamically ever after.
The U.S. and Afghanistan still believe a negotiated peace is possible, but Pakistan, not the Taliban, must be the counterparty. And it's not Pakistan the country that must negotiate, but the Pakistani Army and the ISI (the Pakistani ISI/military intelligence organization). These two organizations have been running their own foreign policy for decades. The army/ISI has gotten rich by gaining control over a large chunk of the national economy and government budget. It's all done with coercion, corruption and constant anti-Indian/anti-American propaganda. The Pakistani Army cannot justify its privileged position unless they convince the Pakistani people that there is a major threat out there. So the army/ISI has created fearsome foes. This includes Afghanistan, which they portray as a puppet for India and America and a major threat to Pakistan. Most Afghans reject this, and see the Taliban as a Pakistani tool. While many Afghans appreciate scattered Taliban efforts to reduce corruption, they mainly want less violence. The Taliban has been the major source of violence for nearly two decades, and most Afghans want peace. The Taliban want control, above all else. But now, facing severe combat losses, lower morale and defections, increased terror attacks are believed more for internal purposes (to build Taliban morale) than to weaken the Afghan government.
Afghanistan is looking north, towards Central Asia, for economic growth, and as a safer way to move goods into and out of the country. Pakistan is seen as more of an enemy, and not a reliable economic partner. Central Asia, on the other hand, is more stable, and offers as many economic opportunities. Afghanistan calls this the "Silk Road Solution" in memory of the ancient trade route between China and the Middle East (and India), which ran through western Afghanistan. Ocean-going European sailing ships put the Silk Road out of business five centuries ago, but the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 has opened Central Asia to more customers and suppliers, including Afghanistan. The Silk Road is returning, as a local economic thoroughfare.
As part of the new approach to Pakistan, the U.S. has revealed that many deaths of American troops along the Afghan border were actually caused by Pakistani troops, not Taliban fighters. These details had been kept quiet for years, to maintain good relations with Pakistan. But now the Pakistani army and ISI are seen as out-of-control, so the gloves are off.
NATO has been forced to divert some forces to eastern Afghanistan, to deal with increased Haqqani Network activity. Haqqani was on the NATO todo list, but first priority is still drug operations in the southwest (Helmand and Kandahar provinces). Here is where the Taliban money is. The drug gangs are, next to the government, the wealthiest and most powerful organization in the country. About a quarter of GDP is derived from drug (heroin and opium) production and sale. The drug gangs are a major source of corruption (preferring to bribe officials and tribal leaders, rather than terrorize or kill them). While corrupt officials and tribal leaders like the money, the drugs have created several million addicts, and much family tragedy, within Afghanistan. Thus the drug gangs are seen, overall, as an evil that must be destroyed. In most of the country, drug dealers are under constant attack and drug production is banned. Most of the drugs come from Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where drugs are a key component of the local economy. In short, the war against the drug gangs is popular with most Afghans. NATO operations in Kandahar and Helmand this year have cost the drug gangs billions of dollars, and sharply cut Taliban income from the gangs.
The UN and NATO got into a war of words over how to interpret data on the fighting this year. A week ago, the UN announced that, by its count, violence in Afghanistan was up (for the first eight months of the year) 39 percent compared to last year's. A few days later, NATO issued its own report, which pointed out that terrorist violence was actually down two percent, and the increase the UN was touting was increased NATO operations against the Taliban, Haqqani and the drug gangs. NATO also pointed out that the enemy was less able to fight back this year. Thus gun battles with the Taliban were down 30 percent this year, and the Taliban/Haqqani use of roadside and suicide bombs were up 25 percent. Moreover, 15 percent fewer foreign troops were killed this year versus last for the simple reason that foreign and Afghan troops are winning. The UN agreed that both sides were using the same numbers, but were presenting them differently. For example, while the UN made much of an increase in civilian deaths (up 14 percent, to 79), the fact remains that over 80 percent of the civilian deaths are caused by the Taliban.
A year after it was revealed that corrupt executives and government officials had looted the Kabul Bank (a major financial institution) of a billion dollars, no one has been indicted and only ten percent of that billion has been recovered. Even threats to withhold aid have not persuaded the government to look for the missing money, and those who stole it. Corruption is widely regarded as a perfectly acceptable way to get rich. Just wait the foreigners out and keep taking their money. Life is good.
September 30, 2011: A senior Haqqani Network leader, Haji Mali Khan, was captured during an American raid in eastern Afghanistan. Khan is the uncle of the leader of the Haqqani Network, and was in charge of Haqqani operations on the Afghan side of the border.
September 27, 2011: In western Afghanistan, a vehicle loaded with civilians hit a roadside bomb, killing 16 (including 11 children). Also in the west, suicide car bomber attacked a police vehicle, killing him and two civilians.
September 26, 2011: Afghan officials have complained to Pakistan about over 500 shells and rockets being fired into Afghanistan during the last week. This destroyed several homes, killed one civilian and wounded several others. Pakistan says it is firing at locations where banned (in Pakistan) terror groups are hiding out. These terrorists are under the protection of Afghan tribes (often tribes that have members on both sides of the border) and NATO and the Afghan Army cannot spare the troops right now to go in and clear the Pakistani terrorists out.
September 25, 2011: Islamic terrorists fired automatic weapons at the CIA headquarters in Kabul, killing a contractor employee. Return fire killed the attacker. In eastern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed four people outside a police station.
In Zabul province, police shot dead two suicide bombers who were attempting to set off their explosives inside a government building.