Afghanistan: Not Worth Fighting For


December 17, 2015: Pakistan insists it has cracked down on Islamic terrorists based in Pakistan but Afghanistan points out that the Afghan Taliban still have a sanctuary in Baluchistan (southwest Pakistan) and there is lots of recent evidence that the Haqqani Network is still supported by Pakistan. Many senior American officials agree with this assessment and more of them are openly saying so. Afghanistan’s new president is criticized by many Afghans for trying to use Pakistan to help get peace talks with the Taliban going. The head of Afghan intelligence, who the Pakistanis openly criticized, resigned over the issue and many in parliament back the departed intel chief in this matter. But the president has a point in that there cannot be real peace in Afghanistan without cooperation from Pakistan. Such cooperation may be an impossible goal, but that’s life in Afghanistan.

Another problem with the peace talks is who to talk to. Taliban supreme leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was shot on the 2nd during a meeting with dissident Taliban. Officially he still lives and an audio recording has been released to prove it. But many Taliban who know Mansour say the audio is a fake and it is pointed out that it was Mansour who, for two years, hid the fact that founding leader Mullah Omar had died in a Pakistani hospital in 2013. This leads many Afghans to wonder if you can trust the Taliban if the Taliban don’t trust each other. Meanwhile the Afghan government officially accepts Taliban claims that Mansour is alive and recovering from his wounds and is waiting for some good news.

The fundamental problem for Afghanistan is the endemic corruption. This makes it very difficult to run the country effectively when any law or regulation can be bypassed with a large enough bribe. This makes it possible for the drug gangs to produce and export most of the world supply of heroin. The Taliban sustains itself by providing security for drug gang operations as well as extorting and stealing cash and goods at every opportunity. The corruption stems from the tribalism which fell out of use in the West, China and elsewhere centuries ago. But in Afghanistan is persists and it is an inefficient and, for the people involved, expensive and deadly historical artifact to live with.

The Taliban and drug gangs believe that, with most of the foreign troops gone by the end of 2014, it was time to reassert themselves and that has led to greater violence countrywide since February. The drug gangs and Taliban were disappointed when the government forces did collapse quickly as expected. The drug gangs and Taliban are dominated by Pushtuns from the south. Long the dominant group (40 percent of the population and with twice as many fellow Pushtun in Pakistan) the Pushtun believe they should rule Afghanistan and do so any way they want. While most Pushtun don’t want the Taliban or drug gangs enough do to keep this war going. Only about ten percent of the population (most of them Pushtun) benefits from the drug trade financially and less than ten percent of Afghans still support the Taliban dream of a religious dictatorship. With some overlap that’s still some 15 percent of the population and they are heavily armed and well financed. Yet the government represents the Pushtun and non-Pushtun majority who oppose the Taliban and drug gangs. The non-Pushtun tribes who defeated, with American help, the Taliban in 2001 are still hostile to the Taliban, the drug gangs and Pushtuns in general. In the 1990s the Taliban were never able these non-Pushtun trines who became known as the “Northern Alliance”. In the past peace was only possible when the northerners and the Pushtuns were able to get along. That’s won’t happen until the Taliban and drug gangs are subdued.

The West (mainly the U.S.) is supplying $5 billion a year to keep the Afghan security forces going but it’s up to the Afghans to make the most of that financial and other support to achieve peace. This is more difficult because many of the most able (in terms of education and needed skills) Afghans are trying to emigrate (legally or otherwise). For too many Afghans Afghanistan is not worth fighting for.

What a lot of Afghans will fight for is money and power. This is taking some strange forms as there are more battels between rival Islamic terrorist groups. It’s not just dissident Taliban factions but also ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) groups trying to get established in Afghanistan. ISIL is finding Afghanistan a very hostile environment, despite, or perhaps because of, all the Islamic terror groups already there. In eastern Afghanistan, where most of the foreign (mainly Pakistani but also over a dozen other countries) Islamic terrorists are is also where the ISIL is finding some recruits. Unfortunately ISIL is marked for death by many rival Islamic terror groups in the east and clashes occur weekly. ISIL is suffering over a hundred casualties a month and that is hurting recruiting and makes the survival of ISIL in Afghanistan questionable.

December 16, 2015: A study of the new and booming mining industry revealed that the biggest obstacle to making this effort grow was corruption. Most of the contracts for foreign investment in massive mining projects have gone to well-connected government and tribal officials. This includes a few people with Taliban connections as well. That means these enterprises will be poorly run and constantly plundered by special interests. In the meantime there is a lot of illegal mining going on. There are over 2,000 illegal mines operating throughout Afghanistan and these have grown so numerous that legal mining has declined. The major problem legal mining encounters is poor security and infrastructure which is sustained by lots of corruption. Small, private mines increased production, as did illegal mines. Since 2010 there have been efforts to get large-scale legal mining operations going. While there are believed to be over a trillion dollars of minerals underground, you need an honest and efficient government before foreign firms will invest tens of billions to set up the large mines and build roads and railroads to get the goodies out, and equipment in. These mines would generate tremendous revenue for the government and lots of good jobs. That won't happen as long as the drug gangs dominate the south and corruption is the norm. This is actually old news, as there have been several surveys of the country since World War II and the mineral deposits were, at least among geologists, common knowledge. Some have tried to get large scale operations going and all, so far, have failed. But because of American encouragement in 2010 the Afghan government called for foreign firms to make offers. There was some interest but the mining companies soon encountered the same fate of past efforts (corruption and lack of infrastructure). Meanwhile the small scale mines continue with the expensive assistance of the criminal underground.

December 15, 2015: Outside Kabul police seized two tons of ammonium nitrate which, when mixed with diesel fuel, becomes a low grade, but still effective, explosive. National intelligence had detected the shipment, which was arranged, with the help of Pakistan, by the Haqqani Network.

December 12, 2015: The Taliban attacked the Spanish embassy compound in Kabul and were repulsed. Seven died, most of them security personnel.

It was revealed that the September Taliban attack on Kunduz left 289 civilians dead and 559 wounded. The fighting continued until October 13th and there were still plenty of civilians in the northern city.

December 8, 2015: In the southeast (Kandahar) about twenty Taliban attacked the main airport. After a twenty hour battle the attack was repulsed leaving fifty dead (including 14 Taliban). Lax security and corruption enabled the Taliban to enter the airport compound disguised as civilians and take up position in three buildings. A subsequent investigation reported that corruption (especially when it came to getting any cargo in) and poor coordination between security organizations made the attack possible. Corruption is the biggest problem in Afghanistan and the main source of so many other problems.

In the west (Herat) Taliban have been fighting each other for several days leaving at least fifty dead and hundreds wounded. In late November Mullah Mansour, leader of the OT (Original Taliban) ordered attacks against the forces of rival Taliban leader Mullah Rasool. This marks a major defeat for the Taliban as they have now lost a major asset; unity. Similar fighting has also occurred in Zabul and Farah and provinces.

In the east (Nangarhar province) an American UAV used missiles to kill eleven Islamic terrorists. The dead were described only as “foreigners” and that usually means Pakistanis in this part of the country. The same day five other Islamic terrorists died when their vehicle hit a mine elsewhere in Nangarhar.

December 4, 2015: Afghanistan admits that it has not implemented all of the agreements to work more closely with Pakistan on border security. This is largely because a lot of Afghans and Afghan politicians do not trust Pakistan. Since August the Pakistanis have been cooperating with Afghan troops on the border to share information and coordinate operations to minimize the number of Islamic terrorists who try to move their operations into Afghanistan. But all the cooperation efforts have not been implemented.

December 2, 2015: In southwest Pakistan (Quetta) Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was apparently shot after a gun battle broke out while he was meeting with other Taliban leaders. It was later reported that he died but officially the Taliban insists he is still alive. This internal violence began last July when the Afghan Taliban announced the selection of a new leader (Mansour) to replace founder and longtime leader Mullah Omar. Mansour has been the acting head of the Taliban since 2010 because Mullah Omar was said to have health problems. It took weeks after the July revelation for the Taliban to admit that Omar had been dead since 2013 but have not revealed exactly why his death was concealed. The reason may have been to maintain unity because after the appointment of Mansour was made several Taliban factions went public complaining of how the selection was made. The Afghan Taliban is known to be sharply divided over the subject of peace talks with the Afghan government. Some factions also complain openly that Pakistan (in the form of the ISI) actually controls the Taliban leaders living in Baluchistan under the protection of the ISI. Mansour backs peace talks while Omar was said to have opposed them. The official shift in Taliban leadership caused the peace talks (between the Taliban and the Afghan government) to be halted indefinitely. To make matters more difficult for Pakistan there were some recently released emails where U.S. State Department officials discussed the Mullah Omar situation and confirmed that, as far as the U.S. government was concerned, there was no doubt that Pakistan had been sheltering Omar since 2002. Mansour has been under a lot of pressure to get all his key leaders to agree to peace talks, if only to please the Americans.

November 30, 2015: Afghan and Pakistani leaders, meeting in France, agreed to work together to get Afghan-Taliban peace talks revived. The United States and Pakistan had earlier agreed to try getting the peace talks in Afghanistan with the Taliban resumed but had problems convincing Afghans it was worth the effort. Afghanistan had to be persuaded because there is enormous fear and distrust of Pakistan in Afghanistan. Another problem is that the Taliban are in the midst of an increasingly violent civil war. The main Taliban leadership (who favor peace talks) believe they will have their dissident factions crushed by the end of the year or early 2016. That may well be, but this internal violence is yet another unpredictable variable to deal with. Afghanistan also blames Pakistan for the current civil war within the Taliban and for only attacking Islamic terrorists who are hostile to Pakistan, not those who attack Afghanistan (especially the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban enjoying sanctuary in southwest Pakistan). The United States agrees, publically, that Pakistan not only provides sanctuary in Pakistan but continues to supply them with weapons and equipment.




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