Afghanistan: Voters Prevail


October 16, 2019: So far this year Taliban and Islamic terrorist violence has killed about 240 civilians a month, and wounded nearly twice as many. About 20 percent of these casualties were caused by roadside bombs and landmines. The rest were usually the result of RPG, mortar or gunfire. The Taliban prefer to kill from a distance, the better to deny they were responsible or for the attackers to be identified by name. There are specialists, some of them not actually members of the Taliban or Islamic terror groups, who make the bombs and train the Taliban or Islamic terrorist personnel who place and detonate the explosives. This is more expensive than gunfire, RPGs, rockets or mortars but more likely to do serious damage to security force vehicles. Unfortunately, these explosives are often used against the first vehicle that comes along. This arbitrary attitude towards violence is common in Afghanistan.

Compared to Western nations Afghanistan has always been a much more violent place. Tribal cultures usually are, especially when so many of the tribes have a long (thousands of years) tradition of organized and disorganized violence. American Special Forces troops, who began operating in the countryside regularly after late 2001, were somewhat surprised at the number of old wounds found on women and children, as well as men. Violence and homicide had never been measured in Afghanistan but after 2001 Special Forces medics and foreign medical aid groups saw more evidence to the violence and realized this was normal for Afghanistan and the addition of foreign invasion, rebellion and warlord activity (like the Taliban), while less frequent, were also a traditional aspect of life in Afghanistan. Foreign interference in Afghanistan is nothing new either. For most of the last few thousand years, the interference came from various Persian and Indian kings and emperors. This is why a common second language in Afghanistan is Dari, which is a form of Persian (Farsi). There were also a few other foreign invaders like Alexander The Great and his Greek army on their way to India. The Mongols came through several times, leaving behind the Hazara minority who are hated by most other Afghans because of the Mongol connection.

The 1979 Russian invasion was all about supporting local communists who thought communism would drag Afghanistan out of its endless cycle of violence and poverty. Afghanistan was then, and long had been, the poorest area in Eurasia. Afghanistan had a lot of violence and not much economic activity other than subsistence farming and some agricultural exports. Ten years later, with the collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe, it was clear that communism did not offer a cure. The war with the Russian invaders had brought in neighboring Pakistan and a lot of cash, weapons and aid for refugees from oil-rich Arab Gulf states. The aid included lots of missionaries and new schools teaching a much more militant form of Islam than Afghans had ever encountered. A lot of these new religious schools were set up in Pakistan among the millions of Afghan refugees living there. Out of that came the Taliban and four decades of Pakistani meddling in Afghan affairs. Pakistan has been sustaining the chaos Afghanistan has suffered since the late 1970s. The communists and Russian invasion were followed by drug gangs, an Islamic revolution, civil war and Pakistan seeking to take control in the 1990s with their Taliban movement. Pakistan did serve as a base for millions of Afghan refugees and thousands of Afghan rebels during the 1980s but that led to Pakistan believing it could continue to support Islamic terrorist violence in Afghanistan if it was deemed to be serving Pakistani interests. Pakistan created and supported the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan (or at least most of it) from the late 1990s until 2001. That led to the American invasion and Pakistan continuing to support the drug gangs and Taliban while assisting the U.S. in its “war on terror.”

The Americans were different than earlier invaders as they came in initially to help one Afghan faction (the Northern Alliance) defeat the Pakistan-sponsored Taliban. In addition, the Americans brought a lot of economic aid and actually increased GDP to unheard of levels and did the same with living standards, longevity and a fondness for democracy. After a decade of the American presence, Afghanistan was no longer the poorest area in Eurasia and life-expectancy had risen to record levels. This was expensive and frustrating for the Americans and now most American voters want to just leave, or at least get American troops out. The problem is just getting out leaves Afghanistan at the mercy of Pakistan, Iran and Russia, as well as all the drug gangs, Islamic terror groups and numerous Afghans who oppose the drugs and all the outside interference. Drugs and Islamic terrorism will still be major exports. The West can leave Afghanistan but the ills of Afghanistan won’t leave the West and that is just fine with Pakistan. The Americans and the West, in general, have no plans on how to deal with that. No matter, the problem will still be there and will make its presence known to the rest of the world by exporting lots of heroin and Islamic terrorist violence.

Talking Peace

While the Pakistani “sponsored” peace talks between the Americans and the Afghan Taliban collapsed in early September, the possibility of some negotiated departure deal is still there. In September the Americans concluded that the Afghan Taliban could not be trusted. Pakistan had earlier been classified as similarly inclined. There was much evidence of Taliban and Pakistani misbehavior. The increased Taliban use of violence, especially against civilians, was due to the increased influence of the Haqqani Network. In fact, the Afghan Taliban are now run by the leaders of the Haqqani Network despite a non-Haqqani figurehead leader. Haqqani is another 1990s era Afghan fighting faction that is more gangster than Islamic terrorist and has long been a subsidiary of the Pakistani military and the main conduit for getting Islamic terrorists and their weapons (including large vehicle bombs) into Afghanistan. Haqqani and the pro-Pakistan Afghan Taliban still have sanctuaries in Pakistan, something that the Pakistani military denies but it not hidden in Pakistan and something of an open secret.

The new (since late 2018) Haqqani Network leader is Siraj Haqqani. He not only brought a more aggressive attitude, but he also provided the ISI (Pakistani military intelligence) with better control over the Afghan Taliban. Siraj Haqqani not only dominates the Taliban leadership but also maintains his lucrative crime boss subservience to ISI. Because the Haqqani Network founder Jalaluddin Haqqani (who died in late 2018) helped Taliban founder Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders escape Afghanistan in 2001, there has always been a sense of mutual dependence. For that reason, Haqqani leaders were able to help deal with the mid-2015 power struggle within the Taliban and thwart the recruiting efforts of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Given that Haqqani works for ISI (the Pakistani CIA), Pakistan had to approve, if not help bring about this new Taliban leadership arrangement. There are still divisions within the Taliban but the Haqqani leaders have been able to limit the damage while also making themselves wealthier.

Haqqani leaders have more immediate problems. The canceled peace negotiations with the Americans were supported by most Afghan Taliban factions because although those factions still did not agree on how to handle Afghans who oppose them, they all agreed the American troops were a major problem for them. So was the  the Afghan government, which has a lot more popular support than the Taliban. Getting rid of the foreign troops would simplify matters and would serve to unite the increasingly factional Taliban. The peace talks also served to determine how united the Afghan Taliban were and whether the Afghan Taliban could agree on anything beyond making a lot of money providing muscle for the drug gangs and using that power to sustain the idea that the Taliban can eventually regain a dominant position in Afghanistan.

The Taliban understood, from their experience after 2014 when most foreign troops left, that NATO (mainly American) air power was the key element that prevented the Taliban from defeating the Afghan security forces. It’s not just the airstrikes, it’s also the American ability to airdrop supplies to areas that the Taliban have under siege. The Taliban take heavy losses maintaining those sieges and American supply drops enable Afghan forces to survive and win most of those battles. Since 2014 there has been more hostility and often fighting, between Taliban factions.

There are other reasons for canceling the peace talks and the main one was that the most powerful participant in the Afghan violence, Pakistan, was not directly involved in the talks. Yet Pakistan had to sign off on any final deal for the agreement to have any chance of success. Most Afghans hate Pakistan, mainly because of the decades of Pakistani troublemaking in Afghanistan. The Afghans at the Qatar negotiations are mainly Pushtuns (40 percent of Afghans) representing a minority of Pushtuns who support the drug trade and their Taliban “security associates” (hired guns). The drug gangs and Afghan Taliban are seen as the work of Pakistan and in the late 1990s the majority of anti-Taliban Afghans got organized as the Northern Alliance and prevented the Taliban from controlling all of Afghanistan.

This explains why the Afghan peace talks had no representatives from the Northern Alliance. This non-Pushtun coalition represents the Afghans who will fight the drug gangs and Taliban and have done so, successfully in the past. The Taliban had been unable to conquer all of Afghanistan (especially the north) because of the Northern Alliance. The northern willingness to unite and defend the interests of the non-Pushtun majority in Afghanistan still exists. The Northern Alliance is no longer a military coalition or even much of a political one. It is more the continued potential for the Northern Alliance to once again become an armed force opposing Pushtun tyranny (especially Pakistan supported Pushtuns). Al Qaeda once more has sanctuaries in Taliban controlled territory in southern Afghanistan and apparently has an understanding with Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban.

Then there is ISIL, a radical al Qaeda group that is at war with everyone. The original al Qaeda is again in Afghanistan and allied with the Taliban or at least some of the Taliban. Pakistan considers both al Qaeda and ISIL hostile but that is just another aspect of this bizarre situation because the Haqqani Network has long supplied al Qaeda (in Afghanistan) with weapons and explosives.

When the Americans intervened in October 2001, their cash and air support enabled the Northern Alliance to defeat the Taliban in less than two months. This was humiliating for Pakistan and the Taliban. Both made plans to avoid a repeat defeat. Northern Alliance and American military and political leaders realize that as soon as there is another Islamic terror attack in the West, traced back to an Afghan-based group, it will be October 2001 all over again. Why should that be such a certainty? Because Islamic terror groups do not agree with one another and never maintain alliances. There has been ample evidence of that during the last two decades, not to mention the last thousand years of Moslem history. Thinking it will be different this time, because enough negotiators are willing to believe anything to get the deal done, will not work. Nevertheless, Pakistan and its creation (the Taliban) see benefits for themselves by getting the Western forces out of Afghanistan. After that comes more war inside Afghanistan as the 1990s civil war resumes.

The Elections

The collection of biometrically verified votes from the September 28 elections are nearly 90 percent complete. About 2.6 million verified votes were cast at some 26,000 voting stations. The threats to the voters from the Taliban and ISIL had an impact. There are about 16 million Afghans eligible to vote but only about nine million registered and only about 30 percent showed up and cast a ballot. That is the lowest participation rare so far but also the most accurate. The use of biometric ID cards to register and vote reduced, but did not eliminate, voter fraud. Nevertheless, most Afghans saw this, the fourth presidential election in Afghanistan, as the most legitimate and those who voted were often very determined and fearless to do so. Despite a large number of voting stations many voters still had to travel for hours on foot or horseback to reach a voting site. Most of the voting locations were not subjected to threats but instead had problems with remoteness and the logistics of getting to a voting site. The leading candidates, incumbent Ashraf Ghani and chief rival Abdullah Abdullah have both declared victory but the final results will not be announced until November 7.

October 15, 2019: India handed over two more Mi-35 helicopter gunships to Afghanistan. India had also delivered two of these in 2016. The Indians are replacing their Russian gunships with American AH-64s. The Americans are equipping many Afghan Air Force fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to use the smaller (than Hellfire) APKWS laser-guided missile. In addition to being cheaper, aircraft can carry three of these in place of one Hellfire. The APKWS has a smaller warhead meaning it can be safely used against targets close to friendly forces or civilians. The Taliban and drug gangs are making greater use of human shields and APKWS makes that more difficult for them to do that.

October 12, 2019: In Kabul, a Taliban death squad killed another government official. These murders are regularly carried out, or attempted, against government officials who are particularly effective in opposing the Taliban. This includes local officials and especially prosecutors, counter-terrorism commanders and key intelligence officials. The victim today was a provincial official in Kabul to attend a conference.

October 8, 2019: Afghanistan, or the Americans, appear to have freed eleven senior Taliban leaders from prison in order to obtain the release of three Indian engineers who had been held prisoner, along with four other Indians, since May 2018. One of those prisoners was freed in March. The seven Indians were working on expanding and upgrading the electricity distribution system. Getting foreign firms, and technical experts, to work on these projects is more difficult and expensive when there is a high risk of foreign employees being attacked or kidnapped.

October 4, 2019: Outside Kabul Taliban gunmen attacked a checkpoint overnight, killing six policemen and wounding three. Attacks like this are common in areas where the Taliban is trying to achieve dominance.

October 2, 2019: In Pakistan (the capital), American and Taliban peace negotiators arrived and met for the first time since the U.S. canceled the negotiations on September 7th because of continued Taliban violence, especially against civilians. Since the cancellation, the Americans have increased their attacks on the Taliban, especially Taliban leaders. This has done some serious damage to the Taliban, as has the failure of the Taliban to disrupt the September 28th elections. Apparently it was the Taliban who asked to try and revive the negotiations, which is what these discussions in Pakistan are about.

September 28, 2019: Despite violent Taliban opposition the national elections were held. The Taliban and a few other anti-election groups carried out about a hundred attacks on voting locations. There were about 500 casualties (18 percent fatal), most of them women and children. Most eligible voters cast their ballots anyway, especially women. As usual, the electoral violence was concentrated in a few provinces. Foreign media consistently reports Afghan violence as if it were a nationwide matter when it has always been confined to a few provinces. The violence also comes and goes depending on where there are tribal feuds or a local warlord activity. Afghan women are particularly opposed to Taliban efforts to eliminate democracy and voting. The Taliban are particularly hostile to women getting an education or working outside the home. The Taliban noted the enthusiasm women have for democracy and it infuriates them.

September 23, 2019: Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan is back in the United States, for the annual UN meeting of world leaders. Kahn gave several speeches and interviews in which he repeated that Pakistan, unlike many Arab states, would never recognize the existence of Israel and that the United States was responsible for any Islamic terrorism in Pakistan. This, according to Kahn, started back in the 1970s when it was the United States that persuaded Pakistan to allow Afghan rebels to embrace Islamic terrorism as a means of driving the infidel Russians out of Afghanistan. Kahn insisted Islamic terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan are all the product of American and Indian schemes to weaken Afghanistan and Pakistan. At one point he insisted there is no such thing as Islamic terrorism and that what the West calls “Islamic terrorism” is nothing more than Moslems trying to defend themselves from infidel (non-Moslem) aggression. This twisted logic is right out of the propaganda playbook the Pakistani military used for decades. Kahn called the Indians Nazis and the Americans confused.

This is Kahn’s second visit to the United States since July. During the July visit, Kahn admitted that for the last fifteen years his country had lied about the presence of over 30,000 armed men in Pakistan and Kashmir working for 40 Islamic terror groups. That deception was one of the reasons the U.S. recently cut off all aid to Pakistan. The prime minister also pointed out that Pakistan was now shutting down the Islamic charities, religious schools and other groups that supported Islamic terrorists.

The July visit was because Pakistan is broke, increasingly unable to borrow money and dominated by its military, whose Islamic terrorist support and corruption are a large part of the problem. Kahn needs cash but he was only willing, or able, to admit part of what is actually going on back home. Kahn did not admit that Pakistan created the Pakistani Taliban. Kahn insists that Pakistan had nothing to do with the September 11, 2001 attacks when, in fact, the Pakistani military support for the Taliban was very much a factor. Kahn also did not admit that his military is still making the key decisions and that recent Pakistani elections were heavily influenced by the military. That malign influence was apparently what prompted Kahn to threaten nuclear war with India to settle their differences over Kashmir. By making this threat Kahn is trying to get the UN to be more sympathetic to

In July Kahn would not discuss the fact that he himself is considered under the control of the military. The American president responded to this with public praise, but no resumption of aid. Many in Pakistan considered the Kahn visit a success but anyone who pays attention to how the American president negotiates realizes that he is generous with praise but disturbingly consistent and decisive when it comes to core issues. In this case, the core issue is that Pakistan is controlled by its military which, in turn, wants the Afghan Taliban to have more power in Afghanistan and for that to happen foreign troops, especially the Americans, have to be gone. Kahn came to America desperate and left with no assurances of financial relief. Now he returns with a different message and it is unclear what it is supposed to accomplish.

September 20, 2019: In eastern Afghanistan, Pakistan two soldiers (one an officer) were killed while inspecting work on the new Pakistan border fence. Islamic terrorists used a bomb hidden near the fence and apparently triggered remotely. Despite constant inspections of the fence these incidents still occur. It isn’t always bombs. Gunfire from the Afghanistan side of the border kill or wound soldiers and workers building the new 2,500 kilometer long border fence. Many Afghans dispute where Pakistan draws the border and the need for a border fence itself. Construction has been underway since 2017 but the attacks from the Afghan side have been particularly intense (about ten a week) at times. So far Pakistan has had over a hundred soldiers and workers killed or wounded. Most of the Afghan-Pakistani border is still called the “Durand Line.” This was an impromptu, pre-independence invention of British colonial authorities and was always considered temporary (or at least negotiable) by locals. The need for renegotiation was mainly about how the line often went right through Pushtun tribal territories. However, the Afghans are more inclined to demand adjustments to the Durand Line and fight to obtain what they want. Thus recent Pakistani efforts to build more fences and other structures on their side of the border was an attempt to make the Durand line permanent and no longer negotiable.

In its defense, Pakistan designed the new fence so that it will create the most problems for smugglers and anyone seeking to cross the border illegally. Pakistan has, with the help of Afghanistan and even American intelligence identified 235 crossing points along the border. Those that are frequently used by Islamic terrorists and drug smugglers are easy to identify as are the 18 crossing points that can be used by most vehicles. The majority of these crossing points are what they are because they enable someone on foot, or using pack animals, to get through areas that are made more difficult to use by the addition of a multi-layer fence line and sensors (real or imagined.)

September 19, 2019: In the east (Kunar province), Pakistani troops fired at least 180 shells and rockets into Afghanistan. The target was apparently a religious school (Madrasa) the Pakistanis believe is indoctrinating young Afghans and Pakistanis to be Islamic terrorists. Afghan officials reported three students (boys aged 9, 12 and 13) were killed and many more wounded, along with some adults. In February the Afghan government sent the UN a letter complaining about nearly a decade of Pakistani border violence. The Afghan letter detailed incidents from 2012 to early 2019 in which Pakistani troops fired 28,849 rockets, mortar or artillery shells into eastern Afghanistan . Much of this firepower is directed at Kunar province and has been going on since 2010 in an effort to hit real or suspected Pakistani Taliban bases in Afghanistan. These incidents increased to the point where the Afghans began keeping track of them in 2012. Since then this violence has killed or wounded nearly 300 people that the Afghan government knows about. The shelling occurs against rural areas that are often unpopulated so it is unclear if the Pakistanis have hit many Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani government propaganda insists that these Taliban Islamic terrorists are based in eastern Afghanistan and regularly cross into Pakistan to carry out attacks. The letter details how the situation is getting worse and that since January 2018 there have been 161 of these incidents that involved at least 6,025 Pakistani projectiles landing in Afghanistan. The letter points out that several elected Pakistani leaders have pledged to halt these border violations but those pledges are ignored by the Pakistani military.


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