April 7, 2015:
A recent analysis of the security situation worldwide resulted in a list of the most dangerous countries. These were (starting with the most dangerous); Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Ukraine and Egypt. Studies like this are done mainly to find the least violent nations. This provides investors and tourists with useful information. At the moment few tourists regard Afghanistan as a suitable place to visit. Investors, however, are tempted by the huge development potential in Afghanistan. Many refuse to go beyond temptation until the security situation is greatly improved.
The U.S. government issued yet another report detailing the corruption resulting from over $100 billion in American aid entering Afghanistan since 2001. Afghans recognize corruption as the biggest problem in the country and the root cause of so many other problems (especially religious violence and drug gangs). There are many forms of corruption that the anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan have a hard time getting recognized as corruption by most Afghans. For example, a lot of the reconstruction work, especially road-building, uses corrupt, and stupid, practices that are considered traditional by the locals. The most common one is to give all the contracts on a job to whoever offered the biggest bribe, or simply to someone in your family, who will pay you back later on. The guy who got the contract will not provide further bribes to local tribal leaders in the area where the road, or structures, are being built. This offends the locals, who are then more likely to cooperate with the Taliban to attack the interlopers. Another example of “acceptable” local corruption is how truckers ignore weight limits and overload their trucks. This not only shortens the life span of the vehicle but has ruined the newly built roads in many Afghan cities. Most of these roads were built to handle much less weight (typically 25 tons) than the highways between the cities (which can handle up to 100 tons). The police are supposed to enforce these rules but the cops saw this as another bribe opportunity because the roads seemed fine and this was just another silly rule the Westerners tried to impose on Afghans. Again, short-term thinking with long term consequences, keeping Afghanistan the poorest nation in Eurasia, a status is has maintained for a long time.
One of the tools imported to deal with corruption is new ID card technology (that is very hard to counterfeit). Most Afghans are all for the new ID, but many politicians and tribal leaders oppose it because once all Afghans have the new card everyone would know how numerous each tribe and ethnic group is. All these groups currently have an exaggerated view of their numbers, which causes no end of disagreements and even violence. It’s a situation where many people simply can’t handle the truth. But most Afghans agree that less corruption and more transparency is necessary to take Afghanistan to the next level in economic and cultural growth. There has been a lot of positive economic and cultural change since 2001 and most Afghans want that to continue. This optimism has even infected many pro-Taliban Afghans, which is why the peace talks with the Taliban keep going, despite efforts by senior Taliban to suppress these peaceful inclinations among their followers.
A recent example of the cultural changes began on March 19th when a mob in the capital killed a 26 year-old woman accused, by a local cleric, of burning pages of the Koran. Locals quickly informed Afghan and international media that the truth was more interesting. The victim was a religion student, training to be a teacher. The victim was very devout had had criticized one of her teachers for selling “magical” amulets on the side. This sort of thing is “haram” (forbidden) in Islam but it still goes on. The accused cleric responded by telling men in his mosque that the victim had burned pages of the Koran and that justice must be done. Cell phone videos of the killing showed police standing by, just watching. Political leaders have assured everyone that the killers (18 suspects have been arrested so far) would be punished. Afghan women are calling for Afghans to take a close look at how violent Afghan culture has long been towards women. Local and foreign media tend to ignore this. But medical aid groups (who treat many victims of this violence in local clinics) and U.S. Special Forces (who know the languages and socialize with Afghans, especially tribal leaders, and note the casual acceptance of this brutality towards women) have spoken up about the situation. Now Afghan women are speaking up as well at great risk to themselves.
Afghanistan is also working directly with Pakistan to get the government and military there to shut down Pakistan based Islamic terrorists groups like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. These two groups have long enjoyed sanctuary in Pakistan as long they were not violent inside Pakistan. The Pakistani military and the ISI (the Pakistani CIA) 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 military 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.
The Pakistani generals have made it clear that they are most definitely cooperating with Afghanistan more closely than ever before in dealing with Islamic terrorism along the border. The Afghans are getting more Pakistani intel and cooperation in going after Pakistani based Islamic terrorists who have been forced into Afghanistan by the Pakistani Army offensive in North Waziristan. Despite this spirit of cooperation there are still a lot of people inside ISI who resist and believe more support for Islamic terrorism is what Pakistan needs.
There are still things in Pakistan that Afghanistan considers very offensive. For example
Pakistan has rounded up and deported thousands of Afghan refugees since December and threatens to expel most of the three million Afghans living in Pakistan. But first it is seeking to register an estimated 1.4 million illegal (unregistered) Afghans in the next four months. All 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 (or even as registered refugees) be expelled. Pakistan put a priority on getting rid of Afghan clerics because many of these clerics preach a harsh form of Islam that encourages support for Islamic terrorists. But less than 500 of those clerics have been expelled so far. Pakistani efforts to expel large numbers of Afghans are proving difficult. Many of those Afghans are important to the Pakistani economy and others will bribe or intimidate officials sent to supervise the expulsions. One thing Afghan and Pakistani officials agree on is the need to force radical clerics out of jobs in mosques and religious schools. If these guys want to go underground then that’s another problem. But these cheerleaders for Islamic terrorism do a lot more damage when they can operate freely and openly. Even Saudi Arabia recognizes this and does not tolerate misbehavior by clerics within its borders.
Then there is the problem with Islamic terrorists who have become even more violent. There have been a few 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 few clashes between ISIL and Taliban in eastern and southern Afghanistan. ISIL has also attracted recruits from the Pakistani Taliban. 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 should come after the Taliban and al Qaeda first. But that has not happened much, apparently because even the new ISIL recruits can count and note that they are vastly outnumbered by Taliban gunmen. So the new ISIL factions appear to be going after a favorite target of all Sunni Islamic terrorists; Shia Moslems. Despite that, these new ISIL groups do proclaim that they are morally superior to the Taliban and al Qaeda and apparently will take on local Taliban groups if there seems to be a chance of victory. Meanwhile Shia leaders have concluded that the 31 Shia kidnapped near Herat on February 24th were taken by ISIL (former Taliban) and are apparently still alive (and split into three or four groups. It is feared that some or all of the captives will be killed to make another gruesome ISIL video. The 31 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. Meanwhile the clashes between ISIL and Taliban are part of a trend, because other Islamic terrorist groups have come to consider the Taliban a bunch of drug gang lackeys and sellouts to the cause of radical Islam. The Taliban has a growing list of enemies including the security forces, tribal militias (especially in the north) and a growing list of other Islamic terror organizations.
April 6, 2015: In the east (Paktika province) a senior Haqqani Network leader was encountered and killed by troops. Haqqani was responsible for a suicide bombing in neighboring Khost province on the 1st that killed 20 people.
March 30, 2015: In the south widespread fighting between the security forces and the Taliban led to a major electricity power plant going offline for hours, cutting the power to much of Helmand and Kandahar provinces. The Taliban blamed the army for shooting (accidentally or on purpose depending on who told you the story) at electrical facilities and causing the power failure. The loss of electricity hit pro (drug producing) as well as anti-Taliban villages equally and the Taliban was trying to avoid the blame. This sort of propaganda is common in Afghanistan. Another popular delusion related to the drug trade is that the CIA is secretly supporting the drug gangs as part of a plot of weaken Moslems. This sort of thing is popular with any anti-Taliban Afghans. The Russian government likes to push the CIA story (which the Russians invented during the Cold War) as well, as it helps explain the inability of the government to keep Afghan heroin out of Russia. This despite over 3.5 tons of heroin seized in Russia during 2014.
March 24, 2015: The U.S. responded to Afghan calls to keep American troops in Afghanistan by agreeing to keep U.S. troops levels at 10,000 into 2016. The original plan was to reduce U.S. troop levels to about 5,000 by the end of 2015. In return Afghanistan will maintain pressure on drug operations in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Afghan soldiers and police have been very active against drug operations there for the last two months. In the U.S. Afghan heroin is showing up in larger quantities. As a result in some urban areas (like New York City) where heroin overdoses killed more people in 2014 than did murder. Meanwhile the Taliban, in response to the government offensive in the south has increased assassination attempts against senior politicians who apparently refused to take a bribe to halt these military campaigns against drugs. Drug production continues to increase. For many Afghans this is an economic opportunity to be taken advantage of not matter what the cost to others.