Afghanistan: Old Habits Are Hard To Change


August 10, 2014: Both candidates in the presidential runoff election have agreed to form a unity government. Exactly when this would happen is unclear. Also unknown is what form such a unity government would take. This is to be sorted out soon but no dates have been given. It does not look good. Meanwhile the recount is delayed by mistrust and bickering. The recount did not even get started officially until July 17 th and was then delayed several more times by disagreements. In mid-June both candidates agreed to an American arranged full vote recount and agreed to abide by the result of the recount, which is being overseen by foreign observers. The result of the June 14 runoff has been in doubt because of fraud allegations. The two candidates are Abdullah Abdullah (a long time Karzai rival and widely believed to have lost the 2009 vote because of fraud) who had 45 percent of the votes in the first (April) election and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (a former finance minister and World Bank official) who had 31.5 percent. Abdullah Abdullah is part Tajik and backed the Northern Alliance against the Taliban during the 1990s. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is a Pushtun from a powerful tribe. He was attending college in the U.S. when the civil wars and subsequent Russian invasion occurred in the late 1970s. He was in exile until 2001. His family suffered many losses during this period, both because of the Russians and the civil wars. To Puhstuns Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is the more acceptable candidate because he is all Pushtun and the Pushtuns have traditionally been the kings or leaders of Afghanistan, even though they are a minority (although the largest one at 40 percent of the population). Ahmadzai and many of his supporters insist that a lot more Pushtuns turned out to vote in the runoff in order to keep a Pushtun in the top job. On the other hand Abdullah Abdullah was the victim of Pushtun voting fraud in 2009 when president Karzai was running for reelection and sees it as happening again. This is a major political crises and its outcome will be in doubt for weeks until the recount is complete. There were a lot of foreign observers who reported that there was some fraud but not a lot more than the first election in April. There were nearly 600 formal complaints of fraud and there was an effort by Pushtun leaders to get out more votes for Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. 

The security forces report a lot of damage done to the Taliban in the last few months, with over a thousand of the Islamic terrorists killed in the areas of most intense activity (the south where most of the heroin is produced and the east because Haqqani and foreign terrorists have sanctuary in Pakistan for attacks into Afghanistan. Meanwhile in western Afghanistan local (Herat province) police blame Iran for an increase in violence and accuse Iran of funding the local Taliban and providing sanctuary for them in Iran. The police say they got this information from captured Taliban. Such support for the Taliban would be odd as Iran is currently pressuring Afghanistan to do more to halt growing Taliban attacks on Afghan Shia ( 15 percent of Afghans) who are a particular target for Sunni Islamic terrorists (like the Taliban). In Herat the locals see the police as mainly corrupt and not to be trusted.

Some leaders in the police are trying to improve the force and curb corruption but it’s a constant struggle with the ancient and persistent culture of corruption. At least someone’s trying but the way things work in Afghanistan the smart money is on the crooks. Thus it is not surprising (at least to Afghans) that the more money the Taliban have the more active they are. More cash allows hiring more gunmen during warm weather and arming them for a few months of mayhem, plunder and terrorizing people into letting the Taliban do what they want. More money means more cash for bribing local politicians and security force officials. This persuades people to cooperate with the Taliban rather than fighting them. This pitch often works in Afghanistan and is the ancient way business is conducted.

In the south (Helmand and Kandahar) the Taliban are under pressure from the security forces but are still making money. The drug business is thriving as are other Taliban activities, like collecting fees from hundreds of illegal mines. The Taliban protect the miners from the government and bandits in return for a share of the profits. The south is rich in uranium, magnate, carbonate, stucco, zing, lead, mercury, alabaster and sixteen different types of gems. Mining down there has long been unregulated and a source of income for warlords, well-armed gangsters and now the Taliban.

The security forces still have to deal with some major problems. There is the corruption and lack of education. Both of these combine to create a situation where the Afghans cannot obtain enough Afghans to run the kind of logistics and support operation they need to maintain all the equipment the security forces operate. This is especially true of vehicles, aircraft and electronics.

Afghanistan accuses the Pakistani government of not attacking the Haqqani Network during the current offensive against the terrorist sanctuary in North Waziristan. The Haqqani Network has survived for decades because of Pakistani support and bases in Pakistan that were never attacked by the Pakistanis (the American UAVs were another matter.) Haqqani is an Afghan operation (run by the Haqqani family) based in Pakistan (since the 1980s, where it has sanctuary as long as it only makes attacks in Afghanistan). Haqqani supports itself with various criminal activities. Pakistani intelligence depends on Haqqani to do its dirty work in Afghanistan and the Afghans don’t like that one. Afghanistan claims nearly 100,000 Pakistanis have fled across the border into Khost and Paktika provinces so far because of the Pakistani offensive. These refugees are fleeing air raids and ground combat in North Waziristan (an area of 4,700 square kilometers, with 500,000 people that is the only sanctuary Islamic terrorist groups like the Taliban and Haqqani Network have in the Pakistani tribal territories). The air strikes began on June 15th and the ground offensive on the 30th. About one percent of the people in North Waziristan are Islamic terrorists and while the military controls some of the larger towns, the tribes and Islamic terrorists control the countryside. Most of the people in North Waziristan have fled the fighting, which has killed over 500 (or over a thousand, depending on who you listen to) so far. The Pakistani and Afghan governments have agreed to cooperate in dealing with the recent Pakistani offensive into the long-time Islamic terrorist sanctuary of North Waziristan. The Afghans had asked for this offensive for a long time and the Pakistanis asked the Afghans to put more troops on the border North Waziristan shares with Afghanistan to catch or kill any Islamic terrorists fleeing into Afghanistan. Unfortunately fleeing Islamic terrorists can bribe or threaten the Afghan border guards to let them pass. That often works.

August 9, 2014: In Kabul two bombs went off, leaving two dead and eight wounded. In the south (Helmand) a failed Taliban attack against an army base is said to have resulted in the Taliban commander having 17 of his men executed for fleeing the defending soldiers when it became clear that the attack would not succeed against an alerted and prepared army defense.

August 5, 2014:  Near the capital an Afghan soldier inside a building fired as some NATO officers outside killing an American general and wounding14 other officers and soldiers. The killer was shot dead by return fire. The shooter had been in the army for three years and an investigation is trying to determine what caused the man to open fire. These attacks are way down over the last few years. In part this is because of improved security, but the Afghans have also improved their screening of new recruits. Finally, there are simply fewer foreign troops to shoot at. There were about 50 of these killing in 2012 but only 15 in 2013. There have been only three of these killings so far in 2014. The Taliban blamed the soldier who did the shooting but did not try to take credit for the incident. These attacks stem from several sources, one of the more common being anger management issues so common among Afghan men. This is more of a problem as NATO troops shift more of their efforts towards training Afghan soldiers and police. This often means criticizing and trying to correct poor performance. This is often taken as a personal insult, which can have ugly consequences when the subject in question is carrying a loaded weapon. Then there is the corruption and ruthlessness. It remains easy to bribe or coerce a real soldier or policeman to try and kill NATO troops, or to get real or counterfeit uniforms and train some Taliban to look like troops long enough to get close and open fire.

August 2, 2014: In central Afghanistan (Ghor) province the government blames the July murder of 14 civilians on a Taliban commander who had been freed from jail by the intervention of corrupt members of parliament. This sort of corruption is not unusual, but it is uncommon for one official to call out others for corruption. Denunciations like that are becoming more common.

July 29, 2014: In northwest Pakistan (Lower Dir) at least 70 Islamic terrorists crossed the Afghan border and attacked a Pakistani checkpoint. The soldiers in the fortified checkpoint repulsed the attackers, killing seven and wounding at least nine before the rest fled back into Afghanistan.

July 26, 2014: In the south (Kandahar) six Taliban, all wearing explosive vests, attacked the home of the provincial police chief. The attack was defeated with all six Taliban killed along with one guard and a civilian bystander.

July 24, 2014: In central Afghanistan (Ghor) a group of Taliban stopped a bus and murdered 15 passengers. One passenger managed to get away and report what happened.

July 22, 2014: Outside the capital a Taliban suicide bomber tried to get into a military base used by foreign and Afghan forces. The attacker was stopped by security personnel and five of them, plus the bomber, died when the explosives were detonated. 

July 17, 2014: Four Taliban, firing machine-guns and RPGs from a roof next to the Kabul airport and disrupted some airport operations for more than four hours. The four Taliban were killed after a few hours by police commandos. There were no other casualties and little damage in the airport.

July 16, 2014: Russia delivered another three Mi-17 helicopters to Afghanistan. As usual, the three were shipped in a single An-124 transport (with the rotors folded back so that the three choppers fit in the huge aircraft.) Afghanistan now has 51 of these Mi-17s, all ordered for Afghanistan in 2011 from Russia by the United States. Russia is on schedule to deliver another dozen to complete the contract.



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