Afghanistan: It's Just Not Right


August 4, 2012: The war against the Taliban is increasingly just another chapter in the centuries old conflict between the Pushtun and non-Pushtun tribes of Afghanistan. President Karzai and his allies are from Pushtun tribes that have long been rivals to the tribes that form the core of Taliban leadership and manpower. All this is made worse by the fact that the non-Pushtun Afghans (Tajiks, Hazara, and Uzbek), who comprise 60 percent of the population, do not want to lose the increased power (more in proportion to their size of the population) they obtained once democracy was installed in 2002. While Pushtuns are 40 percent of the population, Tajiks are 24 percent, Hazara ten percent, Uzbek 9 percent, and various other non-Pushtun minorities the rest. This struggle between Pushtuns and the rest has defined Afghanistan since its creation three centuries ago. The Pushtun are not happy with the recent revisions that gave the majority more power. For Pushtuns, that is just not right. The Taliban are seen as major players in the fight to right this wrong and for many Pushtuns that makes up for a lot of the evil the Taliban does.

This tribal animosity played a role in the American reaction to Pakistan closing its border to NATO truck traffic last November. The U.S. played hardball with the Pakistanis and shifted truck traffic to the more expensive northern route. This was great for the non-Pushtuns up north, who got a lot more lucrative trucking business. It was a disaster for the mainly Pushtun trucking companies in the south and the Taliban who extorted "protection money" from the truckers to avoid being attacked. Aware of all that, NATO traffic is not returning to its pre-November levels and may be reduced still more if the Taliban become more troublesome because their cash flow has increased.

Terrorist (mainly Taliban) attacks were up 11 percent for April-June, compared to the same period last year. This came after eleven months of declines. This is seen as the result of more Afghan Army and police units capable of operating on their own and going after the Taliban and drug gangs. This led to a major effort by the drug gangs and their Taliban minions to intimidate the Afghan security forces into backing off. This was not possible with most NATO forces but it was very much a possibility with the Afghan forces. Taliban efforts to intimidate (via murder and kidnapping, especially of family) or persuade police (with the help of bribes) to cooperate often works. In many instances the police fight back, and for the last four months the police have lost twice as many men as the army (both Afghan and foreign, who suffered nearly equal losses). Keeping the police honest, or at least anti-Taliban, is a major chore for the foreign advisors and the Afghan government.

All this is nothing new, it has happened many times in the past (Burma, Colombia, Peru, northern Mexico). The drug gangs can make the intimidation/bribery tactics work for a while but eventually the locals get fed up and push back, hard, usually forcing the drug gangs to take their business elsewhere. Afghanistan is different to the extent that it has a more violent (than the norm) tribal culture and heavy resistance to anti-corruption efforts. Most Afghans who reach a leadership position consider corruption (demanding bribes and stealing government funds) a right and stealing something of an obligation to make his family/clan/tribe stronger and better able to survive. Many Afghans have noted that countries with less corruption are more prosperous and peaceful but this anti-corruption faction is still a minority. Corruption continues to be a major problem in Afghanistan and it will get worse when most foreign troops leave in 2014. At that point, the anti-corruption activists will be at more personal risk, as will auditors and other monitors of how foreign aid is spent.

Many (if not most) Pushtuns, and nearly all non-Pushtuns, are hostile to the Taliban and their alien radical Islamic ways. Aside from the lifestyle restrictions, Afghans don't like the Taliban demand that Afghans put religion before tribal and family obligations and, worst of all, strive for Islamic world conquest. Most Afghans see the Taliban as a bunch of intolerant fanatics who like to execute (often by beheading or bombs) those who oppose them. The Taliban leadership has been aware of these attitudes for years and has tried to restrain its frontline fighters. But this has been difficult, as Pushtun teenagers with guns are prone to bullying less well-armed civilians, especially if they are from another tribe. Ancient cultural habits are hard to break.

Outsiders have a hard time appreciating how hated the Taliban are in Afghanistan, where a lot of the usual tribal violence and banditry is confused for Taliban activity. That said, the Taliban are organized and fanatic, two things that most of their Afghan opposition is not. This makes the Taliban feared and more unpopular. But no one believes that the Taliban will take control of the country.

Local officials in the east  (Kunar province) accuse Pakistan of firing over 2,000 rockets and shells across the border in the last few months, in an attempt to hit Pakistani Taliban bases (often in Afghan villages). Pakistan denies it is behind the attacks but the Afghans insist that only the Pakistani armed forces use the rockets and shells being fired.

August 3, 2012: In the east (Kunar province) several hundred pro-Taliban tribesmen attacked government and police compounds in eight districts. Some of the attackers were from clans on the Pakistani side of the nearby border. The attacks were repulsed as Afghan and foreign troops quickly reinforced the local police. The Taliban tried to avoid civilian casualties, seeking mainly to intimidate the local government officials.

In nearby Paktiya province a local Taliban leader and several of his followers were arrested. This particular leader had been exceptionally successful in setting up an extortion network, obtaining money and supplies from many villages in return for Taliban promises not to attack. This guy was not well liked as a result and may have been captured because someone informed on him.

In nearby Nangarhar province a bomb went off in a mosque killing the preacher (imam) and 18 others. The imam had been threatened by the Taliban to not deal with anti-Taliban tribesmen.

August 2, 2012:  Police discovered a planned suicide bomb attack by the Haqqani Network in Kabul and launched a raid that killed five terrorists and captured explosives, weapons, and documents.

Afghan police and their American advisors see the Haqqani Network as a profitable criminal operation in Afghanistan with bases in a Pakistan sanctuary. For over two decades the Haqqani clan has paid for that sanctuary by continuing the terrorist operations inside Afghanistan they began in the 1980s, as one of the many tribal factions fighting the 1979 Russian invasion of Afghanistan. When the Russians left in the late 1980s, Pakistan continued its deal with the Haqqanis because of the civil war that broke out in Afghanistan after the Russians left. Pakistan also formed the Taliban in the early 1990s, in an effort to end the civil war. Haqqani agreed to work with the Taliban but never became a part of the Taliban and retained their 1980s bases in Pakistan. Thus, as most Afghans are well aware, the Pakistanis consider it their right to interfere in Afghan affairs whenever and wherever they want and to the extent that they can get away with it. In effect, there has long been an undeclared war with Pakistan, which is becoming more open.

July 25, 2012: Police detected and disrupted Taliban plans to make another major attack on a hotel in Kabul.

July 24, 2012: Tajikistan has closed its Afghan border crossings, except for NATO truck traffic. The Tajik government is fighting one of its warlords (and former military commander) who has rebelled. It's another local and very ancient tradition that has survived into the 21st century.




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