Afghanistan: The Arrangement With China


February 25, 2015: The government admitted that it had an arrangement with China whereby Afghanistan would seize and turn over to China any Chinese Moslems (especially Turkic Uighurs) found in Afghanistan. This recently led to a dozen Uighurs arrested in Afghanistan being sent back to China. In return China increases the diplomatic and economic pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting Islamic terrorists attacking Afghanistan. China is the largest foreign investor in Pakistan as well as the main source of modern weapons, so when China talks Pakistan must listen and at least pretend to act.

Afghanistan is also working directly with Pakistan to get the government and military there to shut down Islamic terrorists groups, like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network that have long enjoyed sanctuary in Pakistan as long these two groups were not violent inside Pakistan. The Pakistani military and the ISI intel agency are the main supporters of the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Network and other groups that only attack outside Pakistan (mostly inside Afghanistan and India). Getting the Pakistani government to agree to shut down these terror groups is easy, getting the Pakistani government to actually do it is another matter because in Pakistan the military and ISI can defy government orders and only a major change in public opinion towards Islamic terrorism will generate enough pressure to get the military and ISI to back down. That pressure has been building since 2001 as there has been more Islamic terrorist violence inside Pakistan and more Pakistanis turned against this religious violence. But pro-Islamic terror Pakistanis are still a large, stubborn and often violent minority. Eliminating support for Islamic terrorism in Pakistan is a slow process and no one has come up with a way to speed it up.

Despite that the pressure on Pakistan continues to show results. Thus the Afghan Taliban, fearing that their sanctuary in southwest Pakistan may be in danger from growing anti-terrorist attitudes in the Pakistani government, have told their protectors (the Pakistani military) that they are willing to negotiate a peace deal with the Afghan government and move out of Pakistan. At the same time the Pakistani military insists that it has, for the first time, driven the Haqqani Network out of its sanctuary in northwest Pakistan. Some Pakistanis doubt that but Afghanistan reports a lot more Haqqani crossing into eastern Afghanistan and setting up new bases there.

Meanwhile the biggest threat to good government, or any government at all in Afghanistan is the drug gangs. Afghanistan has always had lots of criminal gangs, some of them large enough to support warlords who controlled large territories. The drug gangs have been prominent in Afghanistan since the 1990s and they have been more powerful than earlier gangs because of the larger amount of cash the export of opium and heroin generated. Gangs and warlords always needed resources (loot or cash) to survive and thrive and the current drug gangs have an unprecedented amount of cash with which to hire gunmen (mainly the Taliban) and government officials (especially police commanders and provincial governors). The Taliban are a bit of a problem as they cannot be ordered around like your usual hired guns but can be paid to cooperate in protecting drug production and smuggling. In some cases the Taliban become “partners”, something the drug gang leaders do not like but don’t want war with the Taliban to eliminate that problem, at least not yet.

All this is nothing new and has happened many times in the recent past in places like Burma, Colombia, Peru and 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. A further complication is an Islamic terror movement (the Taliban) that decided that they could tolerate drugs (which are not forbidden by Islamic scripture although most Islam clerics preach against drug use and production) and use the drug gang financing to gain (in the 1990s) and now regain power in Afghanistan. The cash for bribes is critical here because 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 is expected to get worse now that most foreign troops left by the end of 2014. At this point the anti-corruption activists are at more personal risk as well as auditors and other monitors of how foreign aid is spent.

While police can be bribed and anti-corruption officials murdered there is another new enemy for the Taliban that has no easy solution. These are the growing number of Taliban leaders (especially field commanders who have armed followers and know how to fight) who have defected to ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and gone to war with a Taliban they see as sell-outs and reactionary Islamic radical pretenders. There have been a growing number of fatal clashes between ISIL and Taliban in eastern and southern Afghanistan. ISIL has also attracted recruits from the Pakistani Taliban and released a video showing a former leaders of another Pakistan Islamic terrorist faction now becoming a leader of the Pakistani branch of ISIL Unlike the Taliban (who are mainly interested in ruling Afghanistan) and al Qaeda (which wants to conquer the world and attack the West), ISIL puts its priority on first purifying Islam by finding and killing heretical or otherwise flawed Moslems. Thus ISIL comes after the Taliban and al Qaeda first. The security forces would like to just step aside when ISIL goes to war but sometimes the ISIL violence involves villagers who have nothing to do with the Taliban or al Qaeda but simply refuse to let ISIL freely take whatever they want. To ISIL this sort of resistance makes you a flawed Moslem and going after these civilians is something the police and especially the army will interfere with.

Some army units, like the special operations battalions that work directly with the American counterparts (SOCOM), are particularly feared by all the Islamic terror groups. The new president of Afghanistan lifted many of the “Taliban-friendly” restrictions his predecessor imposed (and the Taliban apparently paid for). So far the new president has been more resistant to bribes and the Afghan and American commandos have been making more raids, collecting more information and killing more Taliban and other Islamic terrorist leaders.

The police have more problems with the Islamic terrorists than the army because the police stay in one place, usually with their wives and children and are thus easier to threaten (with terror attacks or kidnapping of family) or bribe (often after some threatening moves to lessen resistance to bribes). The soldiers move around, are often not from the Pushtun south and thus more resistant to bribes and intimidation.

The Taliban have also found a new source of income in the prosperous cell phone companies. Over ten percent of the more than 3,000 cell phone towers are in areas where the Taliban is active and in these places an extortion demand from the Taliban implies a real threat to a lucrative business and the cell phone companies usually pay. It wasn’t always this way. Cell phones radically changed the way warfare, counter-terrorism and peacekeeping is conducted. This was first noticed in Iraq, where cell phone use went from nearly zero in 2003, to over a third of the adult population six years later. Cell phones played key a role in crushing Islamic terrorism in Algeria. While cell phones gave the bad guys better communications, it also made them vulnerable to eavesdropping. It gets worse. Cell phones enabled people to express their dislike for terrorist violence by quickly and discretely reporting the location and activity of local terrorists. The bad guys have found no countermeasure for this. Trying to collect all the cell phones in the vicinity, or blowing up cell phone towers, merely makes terrorists more hated, and drives more people to risk their lives fighting the terrorists. Now there are 17 million inexpensive cell phones in Afghanistan with access even in remote rural areas. While only 36 percent of Afghans are literate, since 2002 cell phone service has become available for 90 percent of the population. For a largely illiterate population this is a big deal. Cell phones have become one of the most desired consumer products in Afghanistan and frequently used to secretly (to avoid Taliban retribution) report terrorist activity to the police. Thus the Taliban hate cell phones, at least those in the hands of most Afghans. That's because the Taliban have more enemies than friends among the general population and when the Taliban are out robbing, killing or terrorizing, too many people quietly call the police. At first this resulted in major efforts by the Taliban to force the cell phone companies in some areas to shut down completely, or at least do so at night (when the Taliban prefer to do their dirty work.) These attacks against the cell phone providers make the Taliban even less popular. Most Afghans, given the choice between Taliban promises of spiritual salvation, and a cell phone, will take the smart phone nearly every time. This is why most of the terrorism and combat deaths in Afghanistan are civilians and over 80 percent of those civilians are killed by the Taliban. The popularity of the cell phones caused the Taliban to back off on their efforts to shut down access. Then they discovered that extortion still worked.

February 24, 2015: The U.S. embassy in Afghanistan warned Americans in Kabul that Islamic terrorists were planning attacks on Americans in the city and these attacks would probably take place before the 28th. Americans were warned to take precautions.

February 23, 2015: In the west (near Herat) gunmen stopped a bus returning from a pilgrimage in Iran and kidnapped 30 Shia passengers. The Taliban (and Sunni Islamic terrorists in general) consider Shia heretics. The 30 Shia here were also Hazara, a group in central Afghanistan that is descended from Mongols who invaded and devastated much of southern Afghanistan centuries ago. Those bitter memories still linger among the Pushtun tribes, who comprise most of the Taliban. It is feared that the Shia captives will be murdered although a large ransom may be demanded since the Taliban are always short of cash. The local police refused to go after the kidnappers without orders from the national government.

February 12, 2015: Pakistan rounded up and deported 450 Afghan clerics (imams) who had long been operating in Pakistan. This is seen as payback for increased Islamic terror violence in Pakistan. Afghan Islamic terrorists are blamed for helping carry out the December Taliban attack on a Pakistani school that left 132 children dead. This attack by the Pakistani Taliban outraged most Pakistanis who demanded, among other measures, that Afghans in Pakistan illegally be expelled. Getting rid of Afghan clerics was considered a priority because many of these clerics preach a harsh form of Islam that encourages support for Islamic terrorists. Pakistan is also seeking to expel over two million other Afghans but that is proving more difficult.

February 11, 2015: In the east (Nangarhar province) an American UAV fired missiles and killed nine Pakistani Taliban, including a leader wanted for helping plan the December attack in Pakistan that killed 132 children. This missile attack was part of a larger operation in the area that found and shut down five Islamic terrorist bases and captured many suspects as well as documents and weapons.

February 9, 2015:  In the south (Helmand province) an American UAV fired missiles and killed six ISIL members, including a former Taliban leader (Mullah Abdul Rauf) who was released from Guantanamo in 2007 and recently defected to ISIL and was in the midst of recruiting more Taliban for ISIL.





Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close