Afghanistan: Armed, Angry And Disappointed

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November 2, 2021: The new IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) government has discovered how dependent Afghanistan had become on foreign aid, most of it American and is trying to convince other foreign donors to get them money to deal with hunger and other problems that were largely created by the Taliban attacks on the former elected IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) government. The Taliban believes democracy is un-Islamic and will not tolerate it. The Taliban is willing to modify some of their newly reinstated Islamic policies like allowing some women to get more than a grade-school education, but only in separate women-only schools that they will need foreign aid to build and maintain. The Taliban destroyed many schools before and after taking power. The Taliban calculates that it needs $150 million a month just to prevent collapse of the currency and maintain some consumer price stability. The Taliban said they would allow donors to audit this sum and how it was spent.

IEA admitted that about 75 percent of the IRA government’s budget was paid for by foreign donors and that the government was only able to collect about $130 million a month in taxes and fees. Without foreign aid the IEA cannot operate like the government it replaced.

The IEA won’t budge on the Taliban ban on homosexuality, although they might be able to unofficially reduce enforcement and the use of the death penalty. Another area where the Taliban won’t cooperate is admitting their connection to the Afghan heroin cartels and the Pakistani military. There is much angst in the West, especially Europe, over the collapse of the Afghan economy and educational system since the IEA took over. The heroin cartel and Pakistan connection are already known problems with the neighbors and Western nations.

There is also a problem with morale among the Taliban fighters, many of them unemployed and uneducated young men hired to fight with the assurance that once the Taliban took over, they would be richly rewarded and everyone would prosper, except for the enemies of Islam. Not for the first time, it didn’t work out that way and the troops are getting restless. This is also un-Islamic according to the Taliban but these young fellows are all armed and angry.

Purists Versus Nationalists

As is the case in Iran, where a Shia religious dictatorship has ruled for nearly four decades, the IEA has “radical” and “nationalist” factions. The radicals want constant religious warfare against internal and external threats. This faction is weakening Iran and the religious government but they have weapons and are willing to die to get their way. The nationalists want a religious dictatorship but one that pays attention to the economy and the welfare of the Afghan people. Currently the nationalists are dominant because the IEA government has no money while the Iranian religious government because Iran has oil and a well-developed economy. Afghanistan has none of this and it makes a big difference. Another major difference is the role of Pakistan, a powerful neighbor that nurtured and sheltered the Taliban after it lost power in 2001. Pakistan is also poor and, like the Taliban, dependent on the Afghan heroin cartels. Heroin is illegal and considered a public health problem by all the neighbors. Worse, heroin never accounted for more than ten percent of the Afghan economy, versus three or four times that for oil in Iran. The heroin cartels and Pakistan favor the nationalist faction but there are other divisions in the Taliban over the influence of Pakistan and the drug cartels. Pakistan is the most divisive issue among Taliban factions.

As a result, the Taliban has been willing to tolerate just about any successful economic enterprise inside Afghanistan, including major new operations like ToloNews, which dominates print and electronic media in Afghanistan. ToloNews is owned by Afghan expatriates who realize their continued operations in Afghanistan may not last and ToloNews itself could be confiscated by the Taliban and turned into a propaganda outlet. That would destroy ToloNews as a profitable enterprise and reliable source of news. The same can be said for many other well-funded and productive operations in Afghanistan. It may be a while before the IEA decides whether it wants to be solvent or Islamically pure and impoverised.

Forbidden Facts

Pakistan continues to deny that it had anything to do with the Taliban victory in Afghanistan and the formation of the IEA. The Pakistani military created the Taliban in the 1990s and have never stopped supporting their creation even though it was an open secret that Pakistan support continued. Foreign reporters had a constant supply of pictures and videos of the Taliban Shura (high-command) members and their families operating openly in Quetta, a southwestern Pakistan provincial capital not far from the Afghan border. Many Afghans live there and it’s not difficult to figure out which of these people are Afghan refugees rather than the more prosperous sanctuary Afghans. Unofficially, Pakistan let it be known since 2002 that if Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, they would do as they were told by their Pakistani patrons. That is not happening and Pakistani military commanders are unsure how to handle this, and are openly feuding with each other and the Pakistani government about how to fix the very real mess they have unofficially created.

Other nations have been disappointed as well. Afghanistan was initially seen as a new opportunity for China, but a risky one. Pakistan told China that the IEA government in Afghanistan was controlled by Afghans who were veteran Pakistani agents. This Pakistani control was not enough and Afghanistan is still a violent, unpredictable place. Now the Chinese are demanding explanations from Pakistan, which has become dependent on China for weapons, economic investment, and protection from UN economic sanctions. This support will be reduced or disappear if Pakistan cannot deliver an Afghanistan stable enough for Chinese firms to operate there. China has always demanded similar performance from Pakistan when it came to terrorist violence against Chinese in Pakistan. That violence still occurs and appears to be increasing because there are more attacks in Pakistan by Islamic terrorists or Afghan resistance groups based in Afghanistan.

Russia is also uneasy about the IEA succeeding. Russia still maintains an embassy in Kabul, the Afghan capital, but reduced the number of Russians in the embassy to the bare minimum. Russia is also reluctant to support the IEA in its effort to gain control of the Afghanistan seat in the UN. Pakistan, China, and Russia are still maintaining their embassies there. All the Afghan ambassadors, including the one in the UN, remain loyal to the deposed IRA government. Pakistan is counting on China and Russia to use their influence to change minds, but so far there is not much good news from Russia or China about the new Taliban IEA.

China sees economic potential in Afghanistan but has had a hard time doing business in Pakistan, where most of the hostile Islamic terrorists and rebel groups are kept under control. Afghanistan has no history of doing that but China recognizes the enormous economic benefits if they can do what not one else has done before; successfully exploit the trillion dollars’ worth of mineral deposits known to exist in Afghanistan. It is becoming obvious that such an economic miracle won’t be happening with the current IEA government and Pakistan appears unable to make a difference. China is willing to wait and keep its distance while Pakistan tries to curb IEA activities that anger the Chinese. If that effort fails China will declare the IEA and Taliban hostile and concentrate on keeping Islamic terrorists based in Afghanistan out of China.

Meanwhile a local faction of the original Taliban is dedicated to turning Pakistan into the IEP (Islamic Emirate of Pakistan), something no government in the region wants, except for the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) a Pakistani Taliban group that is about a third the size of the Afghan Taliban and opposed to the drug cartels that finance the Afghan Taliban. TTP is perpetually poor and gets by anyway it can. TTP also contains a lot of al Qaeda groups that joined because that appears to be the best way to overthrow the Pakistan government.

The Afghan Taliban, despite their dependence on Pakistani support, are, like the TTP, composed of Pushtun tribesmen who have a long history of avoiding war with each other. Moreover, many Afghan Taliban believe Pakistan should have a religious dictatorship like Afghanistan now does. Pakistanis and Afghans understand how and why this absurd situation exists but many foreign nations do not. One issue that divides IEA and TTP factions is support for and dependence on the wealthy Afghan heroin cartels. The IEA tolerates the cartels because Pakistan forced the heroin trade out of Pakistan and into Afghanistan during the 1980s Russian occupation. Pakistan provided bases for the exiled Afghans who regularly returned to Afghanistan to attack Russian forces. The refugee camps were in areas of the northwest that were largely Pushtun and often exiles were now living near kin. Many Pushtun tribes were divided by the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which was established by 19th century British colonial officials in British India. Back then the Kingdom of Afghanistan tolerated this border because it did not hinder peaceful movement across the border and Afghan monarchy was pledged to act against ant Pushtun raiders who did venture into British India. That border remained after the British left a newly independent India and Pakistan in 1948. The old border agreements eventually fell apart and now Pakistan has built a fence along the Afghan border. The Pushtun tribes divided by that border are angry and have been attacking the fence construction crews and their armed security teams during the years it took to complete the fence.

The establishment of the IEA has made more visible the complicity of Pakistan in the drug trade and Taliban violence in Afghanistan before the IEA appeared. Currently many key Taliban leaders are recognized by the UN as sponsors of international terrorism and many of these men are now senior officials in the IEA. Pakistan is also widely recognized as a terrorism supporter. Those operating the Pakistani, Russian and Chinese embassies in Afghanistan appear to appreciate this problem and are seeking ways to make it less visible to the rest of the world. China, Russia and Pakistan are haunted by what happened in the 1980s and 90s. Russia got burned in the 1980s when they tried to support a communist government in Afghanistan that triggered a massive backlash from most Afghans. Now they fear Pakistan will suffer the same fate.

The IEA, like it’s late 1990s predecessor, desperately needs cash and access to the outside world. Afghanistan is landlocked and traditionally used two main border crossing (the Khyber Pass and a similar major crossing near Quetta.) The IEA has access to Pakistan and their two Indian Ocean ports because everyone gets paid to collaborate with the heroin cartels. Afghanistan grows poppy plants that produce opium, the raw material for heroin. This plant has long been present throughout Eurasia. To turn the opium into heroin, specific chemicals and hardware are required that must be imported. Once the heroin is produced it must be smuggled (because it is illegal in nearly all nations) to the outside world for sale. The resulting income gets back to the cartels mainly via corrupt Pakistani banks with the Pakistani military getting a cut for allowing the cartels to operate in Pakistan.

One thing everyone in the region can agree on is the corrosive effect of heroin and its unrefined predecessor opium has on society. Over ten million families in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran have one or more members addicted to these drugs and that is bad news that travels far and fast.

The Taliban/IEA have depended on heroin money for over two decades and refuse to even acknowledge the dependence. The heroin production can be disrupted and forced to find another home base. That has happened twice since the 1970s when China forced the “Golden Triangle” on its southern border to leave the area for a more hospitable base somewhere else, where opium and heroin was a minor industry. Southwest Pakistan was an acceptable destination initially but that soon became unpopular with the government and military. With the Russian invasion of Afghanistan there was an opportunity to push the drug trade across the border into Afghanistan, where heroin was made and sold to Russian soldiers and exported to neighboring countries, including Russia, when it was the Soviet Union, and Iran. Since then, much has changed, except for the heroin problem, which survives by funding the Taliban/IEA. The Pakistani military commanders and government officials also profited from this drug money. Pakistani denials have little credibility left.

The drug money is a major reason why neither IEA or Pakistan can do anything about their two countries being used as sanctuaries for Islamic terrorists and the associated criminal gangs.

The Resistance

There are two resistance groups to the IEA inside Afghanistan. The larger one is the NRF (National Resistance Front), the current version of the 1990s Northern Alliance that was still fighting the Taliban when the September 11, 2001 attacks occurred. Tjis brought massive American military and economic aid which enabled the non-Pushtun majority in Afghanistan to thrive for two decades while Pakistan supported the exiled Taliban and the Afghan heroin cartels while persecuting Pakistani Pushtun who, in response created their own Taliban (known as the TTP) to establish an Islamic government (like IEA) in Pakistan.

These anti-Pakistan Pushtuns now represent the second largest resistance group in Afghanistan and are known as ISK ( Islamic State Khorasan), which is also the local ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) affiliate and has been very active in Afghanistan since the Taliban gained control in mid-August and formed the IEA government. The IEA told Pakistan it would go after ISK while telling the United States they would not cooperate with the Americans or Russians in suppressing ISK activity in Afghanistan. Now ISK is once more operating in Pakistan. ISK is growing rapidly because many Taliban factions oppose the Pakistani domination of the IEA and continued discrimination against Pushtuns in general. Opposition to Pakistan is one thing that most Pushtuns can agree on. While ISIL doctrine calls for attacks to concentrate on heretics (mainly Shia Moslems) and infidels (non-Moslems), the growing number of Afghan and Pakistani Pushtuns joining ISK led to more attacks in general with a larger proportion against the IEA and Pakistani military and its ISI intelligence branch. This Pushtun war against Pakistan has been around for over a decade.

This Pushtun unity owes a lot to the Pakistani reaction to the founding of the non-violent PTM (Pashtun Tahafuz Movement or Pashtun Protection Movement) in 2014. By 2018 the Pakistani military declared the peaceful PTM a threat and used increasingly violent methods to make PTM disappear. What the military feared most was that PTM is more than just a Pushtun nationalist movement in Pakistan and is an increasingly popular idea in Afghanistan as well. Most Pushtuns live in southern Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan. Pushtuns are a small minority in Pakistan while in Afghanistan half as many Pushtuns are the largest minority in the country and a force to be reckoned with. Pushtuns in Pakistan have long been a despised and mistreated minority. The PTM is mostly about addressing the persecution and discrimination Pushtuns face in Pakistan. To the Pakistani military that is a form of treason, at least when it comes from Pushtuns. One reason for that is most Afghan Pushtun agree that Pakistan is no friend of Pushtuns on either side of the border and is the main reason why the heroin business operates in Pushtun-majority Helmand (southern Afghanistan) province rather than across the border in Pakistan Baluchistan, where the heroin production used to be.

Since August the number of ISK attacks has increased about ten-fold and most of the additional attacks are against IEA and Pakistani targets. Not all anti-Pakistan Pushtuns have joined ISK and are instead fighting IEA as Taliban factions that opposed the growing control of Pakistan over the Afghan Taliban and now the IEA. Several senior members of the IEA government are known Pakistani agents. Pakistan insisted on these men, particularly Sirajuddin Haqqani, who had been the acting head of the Haqqani Network since 2009 and became the head of the Afghan Taliban in 2016. Sirajuddin Haqqani could not be the official head of the Taliban, so a respected Taliban cleric became the official head of the Taliban with Sirajuddin Haqqani as his deputy and the actual head of the Taliban. This Pakistani tinkering with the Taliban split the Taliban and created a civil war that was going on for five years before the Taliban gained control of the Afghan government again.

IEA created more recruits for ISK and anti-Pakistan Taliban factions by failing to deliver on its promises of rich rewards for loyal Taliban once the IEA was established. Sirajuddin Haqqani, former deputy head of the Afghan Taliban and now the IEA Interior Minister promised the families of suicide bombers who had died in the service of the Taliban, would be rewarded with cash and property. Most of those suicide bombers were recruited and trained by the Haqqani Network, acting as a terrorism contractor for the Pakistani ISI. Pakistan denies this but Afghans, most Pushtuns and most Western nations recognize Sirajuddin Haqqani as a major Islamic terrorist who works for Pakistan. The U.S. offers a $10 million reward for anyone who can kill or capture Sirajuddin Haqqani. For that reason, official IEA photos of the senior leadership blur Interior Minister Haqqani’s facial features.

Haqqani promises of rewards to suicide bomber families as well as lesser rewards for all Taliban gunmen have not happened and because of that the resistance got more recruits. ISK, unlike most ISIL affiliates, avoids using suicide bombers and instead favors remotely detonated roadside bombs or explosives hidden in buildings. Assassination is another popular method. Suicide bombers are still available to attacks on Shia or other non-Sunni Moslem groups. As a result of growing Afghan and Pakistani Pushtun anger against Pakistan the resistance is larger than it was in the 1990s, Local observers (inside and outside Afghanistan) believe the IEA will probably collapse within a few years unless they can obtain massive foreign aid from someone. No one who understands how the Taliban operates is willing to help with IEA finances.

October 30, 2021: The IEA is trying to impose a ten percent income tax on farmers as well as a 2.5 percent tax on the value of their property. The IEA describes this as the application of Islamic charity principles in which all Moslem must pay a portion of their wealth to charity. In this case it isn’t working because many of the farmer had a bad crop because of drought and Taliban disruption of transport that blocked deliveries of needed fuel and fertilizer as well as the ability to export crops. Islamic law does not recognize debts the farmers may have and neither do the IEA tax collectors. How those who cannot or will not pay will be treated was not made clear, perhaps because most of the farmers are armed and many belong to powerful local tribes. In addition to more crime in Kabul, there is more armed opposition to the IEA, with a few gun battles reported and there are probably more cases of armed resistance that have not become widely known.

October 29, 2021: The U.S. is still sending emergency aid to Afghans who have fled Afghanistan. Recently $144 million was sent and so far in 2021 this form of aid has totaled nearly half a billion dollars.

October 28, 2021: In Iran diplomats and economists from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, China, and Pakistan met with their Iranian host to discuss the risks of total collapse in Afghanistan and a surge of refugees fleeing the new IEA government. Iran is the neighbor with the most to fear from this because Iran has a 921 kilometer border with Afghanistan and feels an obligation to help protect the 20 percent of Afghans who are Shia and long the victim of Taliban violence as well as attacks by Sunni Islamic terror groups like ISIL. Even if the IEA stabilizes the situation there will still be the problem of Islamic terrorist groups able to operate more freely in Afghanistan and able to launch attacks on the neighbors, as some of these terrorists are already doing inside Afghanistan. While many of the neighboring countries revel in the departure of the Americans, they do miss what the Americans were doing to maintain stability in Afghanistan. The Iran conference released a statement supporting the Afghan people and calling on the IEA to form a more inclusive government that would make it easier for foreign aid donors to return to Afghanistan. Most of the neighbors are awry or hostile towards the IEA and bracing for the worst. The meeting in Iran did not include the IEA, which is perhaps just as well because some of those in attendance agreed that the IEA government could collapse in a few years and the neighbors had to prepare on how to deal with that disaster, or opportunity depending on how the neighbors react.

October 27, 2021: In the east (Nangarhar Province), across the border in northwest Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province) four soldiers were killed and four wounded by IEA resistance fighters who had crossed the border to attack Pakistani targets. A lot of the locals in Pushtun-majority Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province support the IEA resistance and anyone who attacks the Pakistani military.

October 26, 2021: The largest IEA resistance group, the NRF registered as a foreign agent in the United States. That enables the NRF to lobby American legislators and government agencies. The NRF, the largest organized resistance force, is based in the north and is seeing the impact of these destructive Taliban policies and expects this to benefit the NRF while weakening the Taliban. This is like what happened in the late 1990s as the original Taliban, imposed similar policies which angered many Afghans and generated popular support for the Northern Alliance that drove the Taliban from the country after September 11, 2001 and the American intervention. Defeating the Taliban may take a little longer this time because the Taliban are financially stronger and better organized than last time and the Americans are not likely to intervene again unless future major terror attacks in the West are traced back to Islamic terrorists based in Afghanistan. The NRF claims to have active armed groups inside Afghanistan and its main base is in Tajikistan.

October 21, 2021: In the east (Nangarhar Province), across the border in northwest Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province) police raided a hideout near the Afghan border and were fired on by three Afghan members of ISK. Normally ISK operates from bases in Afghanistan but as ISK and TTP (Pakistani Taliban) strength grows in Afghanistan there are more people willing to move to northwest Pakistan and establish bases there.

October 19, 2021: The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has caused illegal immigration from Afghanistan to grow dramatically with most Afghans using people smugglers, who keep track of where security is weakest along the 921-kilometer border Iranian border. Iran is not tolerating more Afghans settling down in Iran and few Afghans want to do so anyway. Iran expected to deal with these refugees by not blocking their access to the 534 kilometers border with Turkey. That did not work because the Turks do not want Afghan illegal refugees either and have ordered border guards and police near the border to use force to get Afghan refugees back into Iran. Inside Afghanistan the Taliban have returned to their anti-Shia violence. The Taliban had assured Iran that this would not happen but like so many other Taliban promises this one was also quickly abandoned.

October 15, 2021: In the south (Kandahar) ISK bombed a Shia Mosque, killing 47 people.

 

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