Afghanistan: Bloodless Money


March 14, 2012:  The predicted "widespread anger" from the U.S. soldier killing 16 civilians three days ago has not happened. That's because the international and local media is always ready to jump on any anti-West story but most Afghans are more concerned with just getting by. The Taliban, drug gangs, and all sorts of criminals are a much bigger threat to Afghan lives than foreign troops. But the drug gangs are a major portion of the economy, and they use their money to bribe police, military, and civilian officials, as well as local media, to cooperate. The gangs also use the threat of kidnapping (of kin) or violence to gain cooperation. This sort of thing can get a few demonstrations going after the recent Koran burnings and killing of 16 civilians. At the same time, civilians realize that the Taliban destroy Korans every month as they destroy homes, schools, or mosques of those who oppose them. Some 80 percent of the civilian deaths are from Taliban terrorism and many more civilian deaths, not recorded as terrorist acts, are at the hands of drug gang enforcers.

The drug gangs and stealing foreign aid are major activities in Afghanistan. Getting rich by stealing is honored in Afghan culture, although the traditional method is loot taken through raiding and warfare. But loot is loot, and if you can take it without a lot of bloodshed, that's OK.

Efforts to improve the national economy have been severely hobbled by the widespread corruption and criminal activity. Billions a year in aid money gets spread around because of donor intervention (or not letting Afghan officials have any control over the cash), but the lack of civil spirit means Afghans in charge are under a lot of pressure to divert money to family, clan, or tribe. As a result, infrastructure (roads, electrical distribution systems, government services) is difficult to create and is still, after a decade of effort, absent in most parts of the country.

The national government, in an effort to placate the tribal and religious conservatives (mainly in the south) has agreed to accept "non-binding" laws that specify the treatment of women. This is the stuff that the Taliban were infamous for in the 1990s, when they controlled most of the country. Most Afghans accept some of these practices (conservative dress, no economic decisions without male permission, less education than males, and so on) but the trend in Afghanistan is away from this sort of thing. The Taliban represent the most conservative elements, as they always have. These groups are most common in the Pushtun south and represent a set of cultural practices that are particularly Pushtun. The majority of Afghans do not want to be dictated to by a bunch of Pushtun fanatics and the government is pushing these new laws as "suggestions" not (as the Taliban prefer) "obey or die." The government wants to placate the Taliban groups, to reduce the terrorist violence (which is bad for business, all sorts of business). While some Taliban believe they have a shot at regaining control of the national government, most Taliban are hired guns who need the work and believe in new laws that remove penalties for beating women.

Many Afghans making a lot of money, by fair means or foul, are sending much of it out of the country, conscious of the fact that a government so corrupted by drug gangs and tribal politics is not very stable. The smart money fears a civil war if the drug gangs and their Taliban hired guns buy too much control in the national government. This will be a major danger after 2014, when most of the foreign troops begin pulling out and are no longer able to control a lot of the stealing,

Rich Afghans are not the only ones trying to get out. Most of the population is young (under 25) and most of them now know of the outside world. It does not take a highly educated person to decide that Afghanistan is not a good place to be. Many Afghans want to get out because the chaos and mayhem in Afghanistan does not seem likely to end any time soon.

March 11, 2012:  In Kandahar, an American staff sergeant at a Special Forces base was accused of going out at night to two villages and killing 16 people, including nine children, in two families. The sergeant, an 11 year veteran of two tours in Iraq, was on his first tour in Afghanistan and was suspected to be suffering from combat fatigue but refused to say anything to army investigators. Attempts to investigate the shooting have been met by hostile mobs, which killed one Afghan soldier and wounded several others. The area where the killings took place has long been under the control of drug gangs and their Taliban allies.

March 9, 2012: The U.S. has agreed to hand over most of the prisoners it holds to the Afghan government within six months. The U.S. can still hold some prisoners, to insure that key Taliban or drug gang suspects are not released by corrupt Afghan officials. The drug gangs and Taliban pay a lot of money to get their men out of Afghan jails. But until this deal was made, prisoners in American jails could not be released via a bribe. Afghan officials continue to be insistent, at the behest of the drug gangs and Taliban, to end the night raids by Special Forces and commandos. These are the most effective way to capture drug gang and Taliban leaders, who have to get some sleep. That's when they are most vulnerable and the gangsters have paid a lot of money to try and get this practice banned. So far these efforts have failed.

March 7, 2012: In the south (Oruzgan Province) a policeman on guard was bribed to let Taliban killers slaughter eight policemen while they slept. The nine men were part of the local police force, which are paid less and receive less training than the national police. Thus the local cops are more susceptible to bribes or threats. But they do provide some resistance to the Taliban and drug gangs.

March 5, 2012: A Taliban suicide bomber attacked the Bagram Air Base in retaliation for the accidental burning of some Korans. The attacker never got into the base, and his explosives killed himself and two teenage boys.

March 4, 2012: In a major effort to develop better relations with Pakistan the government shut down a base in Kandahar used by Baluchi rebels from Pakistan. Most of the southern border is adjacent to Baluchistan (southwest Pakistan), an area dominated by the Baluchi tribes, who are similar to the Pushtun but much less volatile. The Baluchi, however, want a bigger cut of the natural gas pumped out of their territory and less interference by a corrupt and violent Pakistani government. The Afghan government wants Pakistan to shut down terrorists in Pakistan that mainly make attacks in Afghanistan.





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