Afghanistan: Fatal Embarrassment

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May 30, 2013: The main problem with Afghanistan is that the Taliban are not seen as an aberration but rather a familiar development in Afghan culture and history. Warlords are the Afghan way of showing how successful you are. It’s all about power and using that power to get what you want. The Taliban are one of the largest warlord coalitions in the country. The other big one is the drug gangs, who tend to cooperate more than battle each other. The drug gangs and Taliban cooperate a lot. Then there are the local warlords, who are often government officials as well as local lads made good. The government and the drug gangs are both sources of money, so it’s not surprising that both control the most armed men. Military commanders, especially battalion and regimental commanders out in the countryside operating alone, tend to act like warlords because that’s the thing to be in Afghanistan.

While all warlords are constantly engaged in feuds with nearby rivals, which sometimes turn into gunfire and explosions, most are eager to maintain some order so they get wealthy without any interruptions. The Taliban are different because they, unlike all the other warlords, want to run the country. They tried that in the 1990s, and while they gained control of most of Afghanistan, they could not conquer it all and were eventually overthrown by their enemies (with a big assist from a few hundred American CIA agents and Special Forces operators, plus a few thousand smart bombs) after September 11, 2001. Few in Afghanistan believe the Taliban could get that close again, but the drug gangs tolerate these ambitions because it keeps the security forces busy and makes it easier to produce and export the heroin. Now, for the first time in over five years, the Taliban are trying to launch a proper Spring Offensive. So far Taliban attacks are up more than twenty percent over last year. But once more the Taliban are not making much progress and getting a lot of civilians killed or injured in the process. Worse, most of the opposition this year consists of Afghan soldiers and police and a growing number of anti-Taliban tribal militia.

While the Taliban have a great PR operation, getting all their violence and manifestos out onto the Internet, this masks the fact that the Taliban are hated by most Afghans and no one inside Afghanistan ever expects the Taliban to be more than a nuisance, another bunch of violent gunmen who can’t be reasoned with and must be killed. This the Afghan security forces are doing in an impressive fashion. So far this month the Afghan troops and police have killed nearly 500 Taliban. This is four times as many dead as the security forces suffered. This kind of loss, to an Afghan foe, is very demoralizing to the average Taliban gunmen. These guys expect to get hammered by the foreign troops, but to take this kind of beating by fellow Afghans dressed like the foreign troops is very discouraging. This is one reason why the security forces have also captured over 600 Taliban so far this month.

The recent surge in Taliban violence has made most Afghans less inclined to support peace talks with the Islamic radicals. More and more Afghan clerics are risking assassination by openly denouncing the Taliban as un-Islamic, blasphemers, criminals, and so on. Clergy are particularly angry with the Taliban because of the million or so Afghans (mostly young men) hopelessly addicted to heroin and opium. These addicts are a huge burden, and embarrassment, to their families. Since the Taliban protect the drug gangs, most people hold the Taliban responsible. When the Taliban ran most of the country in the 1990s, they taxed the drug gangs and outlawed the sale of heroin or drugs within Afghanistan. That kept the number of addicts way down. But now the Taliban even tolerate some of their own members getting high from time to time. Islamic clerics see this as an abomination and call out the Taliban on this point. Most Afghans agree with these clerics. While the Taliban is still popular among some Islamic conservatives, that popularity is not widespread.

Afghan businessmen complain that the growing corruption is hurting the economy because greedy warlords and officials will steal (or extort) so much that businesses cannot operate. This hurts everyone, but the eagerness to steal and ignore the side-effects is an old Afghan tradition. This is why so many of the most capable Afghans give up trying and emigrate, especially to places (like the West) where there is a lot less corruption.

With NATO leaving next year, Afghanistan is getting friendlier with India. This has now gone as far as asking for Indian troops to work in Afghanistan (as trainers and to provide security for Indian aid projects) and for direct military aid (Afghanistan wants artillery, transport aircraft, military engineering equipment, and trucks). India has been providing aid and Indian personnel (including civilian security personnel) for nearly a decade. India is receptive to increasing this aid, despite being primarily Hindu, a religion particularly reviled by Moslems. The Afghans are not as upset at this as the Pakistanis are. India and Afghanistan actually have a long history. Afghanistan may appear to be at the corner of no and where but it is actually astride the primary invasion route from Central Asia to India (including Pakistan which is still, historically and culturally, part of India). The Afghan tribes have long since learned to step aside as the foreign invaders moved through. Actually, many Afghans would join the invaders, so much so that these invasions, and the loot and stories the survivors brought back, have become a major part of the Afghan collective memory. Some local names recall all that. For example the Hindu Kush Mountains in Afghanistan mean, literally, “slaughter Hindus.” Most Westerners do not have a clue about this cultural tradition and how much it influences the behavior of most Afghans. While Pakistani Islamic conservatives still yearn to conquer and convert Hindu India, the Afghans are rather more pragmatic and realistic. Since Pakistan has been a growing threat to Afghanistan since India was partitioned over the last 60 years (into India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka) the Afghans have sought local allies. The Afghans see this as one of those “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” situations and the Indians seem to agree so far.

May 29, 2013: In the east (Jalalabad) two Taliban gunmen attacked a Red Cross compound. A security guard was killed but the Red Cross staff got away with only one wounded. The Red Cross has 1,800 staff in Afghanistan and spends $90 million a year on various projects. The Taliban see such foreign aid as un-Islamic.

May 28, 2013: In the south a series of raids by Afghan security forces left 29 Taliban dead and 45 under arrest. In the northeast (Kapisa Province) Afghan commandos killed four Taliban and captured more than 80.

May 25, 2013: In the south (Helmand Province) some 200 Taliban, including some foreigners, attacked Afghan troops and were repulsed. In Kabul the Taliban attacked a foreign aid group compound. Several aid workers were wounded. The attack was repulsed with four terrorists killed. One policeman and two civilians died as well. Police later determined that the attack was the work of the Haqqani Network, an Afghan terror group and criminal gang based in Pakistan.

May 24, 2013: In the east (Ghazni Province) a shipment of Taliban explosives went off by accident in a mosque, where it was being stored. Four civilians and eight Taliban died in the blast (perhaps as the result of trying to build a bomb).

May 20, 2013: In the north (Baghlan Province ) a suicide bomber attacked a government building and killed 13 people.

May 18, 2013: Parliament refused to approve a law that would have made illegal new laws against violence towards women and children. For many legislators this went against ancient Afghan custom.

 

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