Afghanistan: The Land Of Brawn And Bravado


September 23, 2014: Despite all the Taliban and drug related violence the population and economy continue to grow. There are now 28 million Afghans, but 75 percent of them still live in the countryside. Despite over a decade of building schools (currently nine million Afghans are in school) the illiteracy rate is still over 60 percent. Since 2002 over five million Afghans have received at least a basic education and 60 percent of those have been female, despite vigorous Taliban efforts to block that. Nearly all the newly literate are young, creating a growing problem as now there is one more item dividing the younger and older Afghans.

Despite similar efforts to expand health care there are only three doctors and five hospital beds per 10,000 people. Most of the hospitals and clinics are in urban areas, meaning that many rural Afghans rarely see a doctor or a hospital. GDP is currently $22 billion ($772 per capita). GDP growth is running at 6.4 percent a year. There is a problem here in that most (over 60 percent) of the GDP comes from foreign aid. Much of that aid is stolen, meaning a lot does not help all Afghans, just those who are doing the stealing. A lot of the stolen cash is smuggled out of the country. Efforts to curb corruption have been largely unsuccessful. Too many senior Afghans consider corruption a right and something worth getting violent when defending it. In addition lot of the ineffective aid is the result of their not being enough competent (in terms of training and experience) Afghans to carry out and sustain development projects.

In the last year the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan has gone from 145,000 to 33,000. Afghan security forces have had to pick up the slack. This has meant that in the last six months some 9,000 Afghans died in terrorism related violence. Some 61 percent of the dead were Taliban and another 11 percent were civilians. The rest were police and soldiers. Fewer than fifty foreigners have died. Most of the violence is concentrated in two areas; the south (Helmand and Kandahar, where most of the heroin comes from) and the east (Paktia and Kunar provinces and parts of two nearby provinces). The Islamic terrorists in both the east and south try to maintain control over some areas in the four most violent provinces but their success tends to be temporary. Nevertheless the Afghan security forces are not enthusiastic about perpetual war with these guys. Yet in most of Afghanistan (20 of the 24 provinces) the Taliban is either absent or on the run. This tends to get forgotten by the foreign media, for whom peace and prosperity are not news. But it is inside Afghanistan.

Both these hotspots are sustained by Islamic terrorist sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan.  Pakistan recently cracked down on the sanctuary adjacent to eastern Afghanistan, but only because many anti-Pakistan Islamic terrorists were involved. In the south the Afghan Taliban sanctuary in Baluchistan remains operational. There Pakistan is cooperating with border security by building a 480 kilometer long trench that is two meters (6.1 feet) deep and three meters (9.3 feet) wide. Afghanistan officially protests this effort, mainly because of disputes about exactly where the border is. Pakistan wants to exercise more control over the smuggling of weapons, Islamic terrorists and goods. This trench will at least slow down smugglers or make them easier to detect and catch.

The Pakistani Army offensive against North Waziristan has caused the Pakistani Taliban to fall apart as an organization. In the last month the Pakistani Taliban has split into factions and another faction (the Punjabi one) recently declared it was laying down its arms and will from now on work peacefully for its goal of religious rule in Pakistan. Meanwhile the Pakistani Taliban that are still fighting have lost about half its strength as a new faction, composed of Mehsud and Wazir tribesmen (the largest tribes in North Waziristan) renounced allegiance to Pakistani Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah and formed a new group called Jamaatul Ahrar. One reason for this split was the fact that Fazlullah is based across the border in Afghanistan (Kunar province).  Jamaatul Ahrar then pledged allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, who continue to be protected by the Pakistani military via sanctuary in Baluchistan (across the border from Helmand and Kandahar).  This is a major win for the Pakistani army because Jamaatul Ahrar is, in effect, pledging to no longer support terrorist violence inside Pakistan. The army tends to go easy on Islamic terrorists who confine their mayhem to India, Afghanistan and other foreign targets.

September 22, 2014: In the west (Farah province) an air strike killed two Taliban leaders and three Pakistani Taliban. Pressure from the security forces has led to many Taliban in the west operating from bases in Iran.

In eastern Afghanistan (Kunar) 23 artillery shells from Pakistan landed in remote areas. This is the second such incident in a week and these two attacks have left one dead and seven wounded. In August over 200 rockets and shells (artillery and mortar) were fired from Pakistan. In the last year Pakistani troops have fired over 5,000 projectiles into Afghanistan, forcing over 10,000 civilians to flee their homes, some for good. The Afghan government complains to Pakistan but the attacks keep happening. That is because Pakistan accuses Afghanistan of doing nothing about the anti-Pakistan Islamic terrorists who take shelter in Afghanistan and regularly cross the border to carry out attacks in Pakistan.

August 24, 2014: The government released a list of 168 terror groups based in Pakistan that regularly make attacks in Afghanistan. Some of these groups are currently under attack in North Waziristan but most are still enjoying sanctuary in Pakistan and freedom from police interference. Pakistan denies that any such sanctuary exists but Afghanistan and India have long lists of attacks, victims and captured Islamic terrorists who spoke freely of their sanctuary and other support from the Pakistani government.

September 21, 2014: The presidential runoff election recount results were announced. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was declared the winner but no numbers were given. His rival has agreed to be the prime minister. The two candidates say they have worked out a power sharing agreement but things like this tend to not work in Afghanistan. The two candidates were 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 insisted 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 and insisted that it was happening again. The recount did not even get started officially until July 17th and was 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 was overseen by foreign observers. The result of the June 14 runoff was in doubt because of fraud allegations. This was a major political crises until the recount was 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. 

In the United States three Afghan army officers, in the country for training, were arrested at the Canadian border after they had deserted their training and were trying to get into Canada and claim asylum. This has been less of a problem in the last few years as background checks in Afghanistan have been more rigorous and the use of American escorts when these trainees are off base in the United States. Despite that two other police commanders were also recently captured trying to illegally cross into Canada. There is growing fear that without the foreign troops Afghans will not be able to control the factional violence that has long prevented much peace or economic growth.

September 20, 2014: Outside Kabul six Islamic terrorists died when the bomb they were working on went off. This is second such incident in a week. The last one killed three terrorists in central Afghanistan (Ghor).

September 16, 2014: In Kabul a suicide truck bomb hit a NATO convoy, killing three foreign soldiers and wounding 13 Afghan civilians. This took place near the American embassy compound.

September 15, 2014: In the east Islamic terrorists from Afghanistan attacked a Pakistani border post, killing four soldiers. This incursion was repulsed, leaving at least 11 of the attackers dead and driving the rest back into Afghanistan.

September 14, 2014: In the south (Helmand province) police at a checkpoint spotted a suicide bomber approaching them and shot him dead before he could set off his explosives. The bomb vest was later disabled. Soldiers and police have gotten better at spotting suicide bombers and either taking cover or killing the bomber if he was far enough away.

In the east, over the weekend, several hundred Taliban participated in attacks on checkpoints and government compounds. Most of the attacks were repulsed, usually after several hours fighting and several Taliban casualties.

September 13, 2014: In the east (Paktika province) an American UAV fired missiles that killed seven Islamic terrorists, including local al Qaeda two leaders. In nearby Kunar province another American UAV attack killed a senior Taliban leader and several of his subordinates.

The UN threatened to sharply cut its aid efforts if harassment of its staff did not cease. This is a problem with all aid efforts and often the Afghans seem oblivious to threats of cutting off aid in order to stop abuse of aid staff. Afghanistan is a very macho place and brawn and bravado are still favored over brains.



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