Afghanistan: Hitting The Taliban Where It Hurts Most

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March 27, 2014: The Taliban have promised to disrupt the April 5 th presidential elections. For over a decade the Taliban have been promising to disrupt elections but have never succeeded and this makes it easier to understand why Afghans tend to ignore the election related Taliban terror attacks. These murderous bombings and shootings are meant for the foreign media because the Taliban has little popular support and no credibility within Afghanistan.

This sort of thing has been going on for thousands of years, including the use of religion by some groups to justify atrocious (even by Afghan standards) behavior. This sort of thing predates the arrival of Islam in the 7th century. It took the Arab conquerors and their successors more than two centuries of violence to convert most Afghans and some held out until the 19th century. Actually some Afghans still practice forms of Islam that are considered by mainline Sunnis as a bit too similar to the ancient religions Islam replaced (often forms of Hinduism, Iranian Zoroastrianism or Buddhism). Radical Islam, as practiced by the Taliban, is seen as a malignant foreign influence by many Afghans and closely associated with the hated drug trade. The latter has brought cheap narcotics to Afghanistan and created over two million addicts. This is considered worse than the Taliban because there are more victims and is harder to fight. While the Taliban is shut out of most of the country, the drugs are everywhere, especially in the south, where the Taliban concentrate. Another reason to not take the Taliban seriously is the Taliban obsession with how they are covered by the international media. Many suicidal Taliban attacks are carried out mainly to kill foreigners as that will always get some foreign media attention. This makes the Taliban appear more powerful, at least to foreigners, than they actually are. For Afghans this is just another reason to despise the Taliban. They, like the bandits, blood feuds, the drugs and the weather are just another problem you cope with. Afghans find it amusing when they discover that some foreigners really believe the Taliban could ever regain power. This is seen as another example of foreigner ignorance of how things work in Afghanistan. The reality there is that the Taliban never completed their conquest of Afghanistan in the 1990s and fell apart so quickly (in two months of U.S. supported fighting) because the Taliban were widely hated and still being resisted with force. Given that the foreigners have brought unprecedented peace and prosperity in the last decade, who in their right mind would want the Taliban back?

Most Afghans blame the Pakistanis for any successes the Taliban have. There is some truth to this as it is no secret that ISI (the Pakistani CIA) created the Taliban in the early 1990s and Pakistan has been supporting Islamic terrorism since the late 1970s. In the last few years more evidence of this Pakistani perfidy has come to light. Officially Pakistan still denies that they sheltered Osama bin Laden, but it’s no secret that Pakistan still allows part of their tribal territories (North Waziristan and Quetta) to be sanctuaries for all manner of Islamic terrorists who operate inside Afghanistan. One of the biggest complaints Afghans have against the Americans is that the Americans will not be more forceful in persuading Pakistan to shut down these sanctuaries.

American intelligence officials have also noted that it’s not just the Taliban who are in trouble. The Haqqani Network is also hurting. Several years of attacks by American and Afghan Special Forces, along with growing use of UAVs have hurt the Haqqani Network in eastern Afghanistan. Late in 2013 it reached the point where one of the most powerful tribes in the area (the Zadran, which the Haqqani family belongs to) cut its ties with the Islamic terrorist group. There are very practical reasons for the split. For one thing, the Haqqani Network has become more bandit than Islamic radical defenders of Islam. That’s because the Haqqani Network is a large organization and there are bills to pay. The years of American pressure have cut income drastically and forced the organization to pay more attention to financial matters at the expense of everything else. So the Haqqani have become more gangster threat to the tribes who long supported them than a defender of the tribes from outside interference. This change was a long time coming, for it had been no secret that the Haqqani Network survived for decades because of Pakistani support and bases in Pakistan that were never attacked by the Pakistanis (the American UAVs were another matter.) The Zadran switch was not a surprise in eastern Afghanistan as many Zadrani already believed (and kept silent about)  the fact that the Haqqani Network had turned into gangsters. Many other tribes in eastern Afghanistan had already gone on record with that belief. Starting in 2011 Haqqani came under unprecedented attack by NATO forces. That meant over 1,600 suspected Haqqani men (including 300 local leaders) were arrested during over 500 raids in that year alone. These operations killed or captured dozens of known senior 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. Now Haqqani is under pressure to do what it can to disrupt the April 5th elections. While Haqqani has a sanctuary in Pakistan (North Waziristan), 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. As bad as it was for Haqqani in 2011 it got worse in the next two years. An example of this is the growing tension with the Pakistani Taliban. This is largely because local disputes between Taliban and Haqqani have escalated and recently the Taliban apparently ordered the killing of a senior Haqqani official (Nasiruddin Haqqani) in Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban believe recent assassinations of their leaders in Pakistan are the work of Haqqani death squads.

Despite making it very difficult for the United States and NATO to get their equipment into or out of Afghanistan, Pakistan is now pitching the idea that it would be mutually beneficial if the U.S. simply gave Pakistan many of the items U.S. troops used in Afghanistan to deal with the Taliban but would not need in the future and would only transport home and place in storage. In particular the Pakistanis want the MRAPs (bomb resistant armored trucks). These 7-12 ton beasts cost about a million dollars new (fully equipped) and thousands of them are in Afghanistan with not many hours on them. While some are being given to the Afghans that will still leave thousands available because the Afghans have not got the people or infrastructure to operate and maintain many of these vehicles. Many will be destroyed in Afghanistan (at a cost of about $10,000 each). Pakistan can handle a thousand or more free MRAPS and Pakistani troops would appreciate the lower casualties from the growing number of roadside bombs they are encountering in the tribal territories. A lot of other American equipment (electronics, intelligence analysis software and high-tech items in general) is less likely to be given away to the Pakistanis because ISI would pass on to Islamic terrorists how this gear works and what its vulnerabilities are.

President Karzai has openly backed Russia over the recent Russian seizure of Crimea from neighboring Ukraine. Karzai sees this as a prudent move since Russia would be a natural ally if Afghanistan ever sought to settle border disputes it has with Pakistan. While not an enemy of Pakistan, many Russians hold Pakistan responsible for the deaths of Russian soldiers and civilians because of Pakistani support for anti-Russian Afghan rebels during the 1980s and for providing sanctuary for Russian Islamic terrorists ever since. Moreover China is the main foreign ally and arms supplier for Pakistan while Russia has long done the same for India.

Foreign donors are in another stand0ff with Afghan officials over corruption accusations. The new ones claim that the National Police has thousands of employees who do not exist. The money foreign donors provide to pay and maintain these phantom employees is stolen by senior officials. The Afghans have become more inventive developing ways to hide such theft from investigators but the foreign donors are equally inventive at eventually uncovering the new Afghan scams. The foreigners have learned that you ultimately have to withhold money to get cooperation and currently over a hundred million dollars is being withheld from the National Police because of this investigation. The next step is to try and get someone prosecuted for the thefts, which is even more difficult.

Afghan refugees continue to return from refugee camps (small towns, actually, full of refugees) in Pakistan and Iran. Since 2002 nearly four million have come back to Afghanistan. The main motivator is jobs, and the economy in Afghanistan is doing better than in Iran or Pakistan. The refugees have noted, for example, that since the foreign troops arrived in late 2001, life expectancy in Afghanistan has gone from 42 to 62. This is largely because of better sanitation and health care, especially for pregnant women and their babies. Educational opportunities are also much better, especially for refugees in Pakistan.

British forces have turned over or dismantled all but two of the 137 bases they once used in Helmand province. Afghans are taking over security responsibilities in the province, which has long been the center of heroin production in Afghanistan and the world. Nearly all foreign troops will be gone by the end of the year.

March 22, 2014: Afghan journalists, appalled at the death of one of their own (and his family) during the March 20 attack in Kabul announced that they will punish the Taliban by not reporting any Taliban activities for 15 days. This hits the Taliban where it hurts most and the boycott is even more damaging since journalists have long been a primary target of Taliban intimidate. For this much-abused group to openly defy their attackers like this is impressive to most Afghans and humiliating for the Taliban.

March 20, 2014: In Kabul four Taliban gunmen, with small pistols hidden in their socks, got into the heavily guarded hotel Serena Hotel and killed nine people before being gunned down themselves. What shocked Afghans the most was how these Taliban had also killed a popular Afghan journalist, his wife and two young (five and six years old) children and tried to kill a two year old. The dead Afghan journalist was openly anti-Taliban (like most Afghans) and also worked as a correspondent for foreign as well as Afghan media. The Taliban later apologized for killing the two young children and nearly killing the third. The Taliban know they are unpopular with most Afghans and know they must terrorize Afghans without creating high levels of anti-Taliban hatred. It was that hatred that made it impossible for the Taliban to conquer all of Afghanistan in the 1990s and even the Taliban leadership see this as a continuing problem. The Taliban believe you can terrorize Afghans into obedience without creating a lot of hate if Taliban attacks and murders are directed at foreigners or disliked minorities within Afghanistan (like the Hazara, who are ten percent of the population, Shia and the descendants of the hated Mongols who conducted several invasions during the 13th and 14th centuries and destroyed more of the country and its population than any other conquerors). The problem with terror attacks is that you cannot control exactly who gets killed and most victims of Taliban attacks end up being Afghans, including a lot of women and children. Thus today’s attack only killed four foreigners and was a media disaster for the Taliban because three of the victims were little children shot in the head. The hotel dining room was full of Afghan families celebrating the Afghan New Year (which is actually a pre-Islamic festival that the Taliban oppose). Afghan investigators later announced they had found evidence of Pakistani involvement in planning the attack. Pakistan always denies this, not matter how convincing (and it often is) the evidence.

March 11, 2014: A Swedish journalist was killed in Kabul. This was unusual because the Taliban had learned to leave the foreign journalists alone in order to get the foreign media to cover Taliban activities. Later a non-Taliban Afghan terrorist group, calling itself the Feday i Mahaz, (Suicide Brigade) took credit for killing the reporter because they believed he was a secret agent working for the British. U.S. intelligence later explained that Feday i Mahaz was a known Taliban faction that broke away because the Taliban leadership was considered too timid and not radical enough. 

 

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