Afghanistan: Legitimacy An Elusive Goal

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February 9, 2022: Nearly two million Afghans have left the country since 2021. In August 2021 the elected IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) collapsed and was replaced by the Pakistan backed IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan). Many Afghans saw this coming and scrambled to get out before the IEA took control. Leaving the country was complicated by the fact that Pakistan was not hospitable to Afghan refugees, especially those fleeing because of Pakistani actions.

It was the Pakistan military that sustained the Taliban/IEA and the Afghan heroin cartels. Over the last few years, the Pakistan military had found a way to run the Pakistan government without a coup and despite all the resulting criticism and sanctions. The defeat of the IRA was accomplished via corruption, intimidation, disruption of the economy and a bungled U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The original American withdrawal plan was for a thousand or more U.S. and NATO troops to remain to advise and train the IRA security forces and monitor the corruption. The IRA wanted to survive but to do that they had to keep receiving billions a year from foreign donors, mainly the United States. Refusal to cooperate meant termination of aid and nearly all the foreigners would leave. The Americans got a new government in early 2021 and that led to fatal changes to the withdrawal plan. Everyone was ordered out, but was given three additional months to do it. That gave Pakistan and the Taliban time to increase their pressure on the IRA, which now believed the Americans were going to abandon them.

The new IEA declared a great victory but found that few people, not even most Afghans, saw this as a win. Foreign aid ceased. Nearly $10 billion of IRA cash held in foreign banks (to reduce corruption) was frozen and no one would recognize the IEA as the successor to the IRA.

Knowledgeable observers in the region expect the IEA to collapse in a few years, which will leave Afghanistan a narco-state without any central government. Drug production in Afghanistan depends on the Pakistan military to work. The drugs are winning as they usually do wherever they get established. There are not many “narco-states” because they all follow the same self-destruction script. Eventually locals get fed up with the drug related chaos and the growing number of addicts. That leads to more violence and the drug gangs are crushed although usually not completely eliminated. “Eventually” can take a long time and such is the case with Afghanistan. Compare that to how it worked in Colombia from 2000 on, and Burma after World War II and Iran in the 1950s. The only thing that nearly everyone in Afghanistan can agree on is that opium and heroin are bad. Nearly ten percent of Afghans are addicted to drugs (mostly opiates) and another ten percent (there is some overlap) make a better living or get rich from the drug trade. Most Afghans consider drug gangs the biggest threat and these are largely run and staffed (like the Taliban) by Pushtun tribesmen from four southern provinces. The Pakistan-backed Afghan Taliban want to create a heroin-producing Islamic terrorist and gangster sanctuary in Afghanistan. If you want to know how that works, look at Chechnya in the late 1990s and Somalia or Yemen in the early 21st century. No one has come up with any cheap, fast or easy solution for that. Meanwhile, Afghanistan's core problem is that there is no Afghanistan, merely a collection of tribes more concerned with tribal issues than anything else.

The IEA government is facing more violence from ISIL and disagreements, some of them fatal, with non-Pushtun Afghans, who are the majority of the population and the Shia minority (which includes a lot of Pushtun). Getting along with the TTP (Pakistani Taliban) is possible, even if it annoys Pakistan. The IEA is not responding to Pakistani demands that they suppress the TTP based in eastern Afghanistan.

Side Effects

So far 2022 has been a bad year for Pakistan because of Afghanistan and a better one for India. Pakistan’s role in the Taliban gaining control of Afghanistan was portrayed by the international community as a criminal act in support of Islamic terrorism and the world’s main source of heroin. No one will recognize the new Afghan government, not even Pakistan because being first to recognize the new government would be a further admission of guilt for the role Pakistan has played in making it happen. Pakistan now finds itself under attacks by Afghan government forces, because of an unresolved border dispute, as well as the TTP, which wants to impose religious rule on Pakistan. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan now have more violence on their Iranian borders because of drug smuggling and separatist rebels in Pakistan. Iran is also angry at the new Afghan government because of increased attacks on Afghan Shia.

In contrast India continues to have fewer problems with control of its military and internal unrest, most of them coming from leftist rebels who survive in eastern India. Border disputes with China have been less active because China has economic problems at home as well more damage from covid19 than they ever wanted to admit. The Pakistani economy is also doing poorly and that is related to their military and its activities in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is suffering from growing economic problems with higher inflation (13 percent), unemployment (five percent) and more poverty, currently 40 percent of the population. A major weakness of the Pakistan economy is the disproportionate amount spent on the military. Officially it is four percent of GDP for Pakistan and 2.9 percent for India. The global average is 2.6 percent. Pakistani GDP is $282 billion. Neighboring India, with six times more people and a much larger economy spends $61 billion a year on defense while Pakistan spends $11.4 billion. The Pakistan situation is worse because for decades the military has used its power to obtain more legal and illegal financial benefits for retired officers. Technically, this is defense spending. If it is the result of corrupt behavior, you do not want to publicize the increased benefits. This situation became public in the last decade and made the military more desperate to maintain their political power. In contrast, India was decisive in keeping their officers out of politics from the beginning and that tradition continues.

Corruption

Afghanistan and Pakistan suffered a major increase in measurable corruption during 2021. For Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, a major predictor of political and economic success is the amount of corruption the country suffers from. Afghanistan now ranks 174th out of 18o nations surveyed while Pakistan now ranks 140th. Pakistan was 124th in 2020 and 120th in 2019. India ranks 85th, unchanged from 2020 and 86 the year before and 80 before that. These ratings and ranking are updated each year for the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. Corruption is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually Yemen/15, Syria/14, South Sudan/12 and Somalia/12) have a rating of under 15 while of the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are both 88.

The current Afghan score is 16, down from 19 in 2020 and putting Afghanistan closer to the bottom, at 174th place. Until 2020 the corruption situation was improving in Afghanistan. With the return of the Taliban Afghanistan is headed for the bottom of the list.

The current Pakistani score is 28, down from 31 in 2020, 32 in 2019 and 33 in 2018, the year current president Imran Khan was elected on the promise to reduce corruption. In neighboring India, the score is 40, which is what it was five years ago.

India’s corruption score has changed for the better since 2012 when it was 36. Back then Pakistan had a score 0f 27, which improved to 33 by 2016 and gotten a lot worse since then.

Much of Pakistan’s political problems are due to Pakistani support of Islamic terrorism and the involvement of so many government officials. That included Masood Khan, the man Pakistan appointed as their next ambassador to the United States. The Americans review the backgrounds of proposed ambassadors to seek out any criminal or terrorist activity. Masood had a history of that in Pakistan, where such support is considered patriotic. This is another reason why few countries want to recognize the IEA as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. The IEA candidates for ambassador to foreign countries will have far worse records than Masood Khan.

The UN Dilemma

The UN is seeking $4.4 billion in donations from major providers so that the money can be spent in Afghanistan to avoid a famine and public health catastrophe. Most major donors are reluctant to provide money for Afghanistan because the IEA will not allow foreign donors to monitor how the aid is distributed. The IEA will also not reveal how it is paying its “soldiers”, who appear to be doing better now than before the takeover when the payroll was largely supplied by the heroin cartels. Since 2021 heroin production has increased, as have exports to foreign markets. Officially there is no connection between the IEA and the heron cartels but no one, especially aid donors, believe that. Nevertheless, UN aid officials insist that an attempt be made to get aid to millions of Afghans who need it.

February 8, 2022: The IEA, with help from Pakistan, has set up a screening and training program for Taliban gunmen joining the IEA security forces. The training does not last long but it does impart the basics for behaving like a soldier. Over 600 of the new IEA soldiers have completed the training and nearly all of them have been sent to the northern border where they will guard the official border crossings.

February 7, 2022: In the northeast ( Panjshir province) an IEA vehicle was damaged by a landmine and when IEA gunmen tried to arrest some locals, fighting broke out and is still underway. This province, especially the Panjshir Valley, has always been hostile to foreigners and the IEA is considered a Pakistani creation, as was the original Taliban.

In the east (Nangarhar Province) about ISIL fifty members surrendered to provincial officials in some sort of amnesty deal. ISIL in Afghanistan experienced substantial growth after the IEA takeover in August 2001. Many of those new members belonged to the IRA security forces who were unable to get out of the country or were just angry at the return of Taliban control. The IEA is trying to lure those new ISIL members back to civilian life.

February 6, 2022: In the east (Paktia province) some TTP gunmen fired at Pakistani troops and killed at least five of them.

February 5, 2022: The IEA refuses to cooperate with UN inquiries on the disappearance of prominent Afghan women who have been outspoken about the restrictions and abuses the IEA has been imposing on Afghan girls and women. Despite pledges, to foreign officials, that education for women and girls would remain available and women would still be able to hold jobs outside the home, the IEA has ignored their own assurances and allowed local Taliban to “spontaneously” restrict the education and occupational activities of girls and women. Prominent and persuasive women inside Afghanistan who have spoken out are disappearing and the IEA insists they know nothing about it, despite videos of some of the women being taken away by what appears to be IEA security forces. Many of the well-educated and prominent Afghan women fled the country after the IEA takeover and remained in touch with others who stayed behind. Afghans who can afford it still have access to cell phones and the Internet, something the IEA wants to stop and is seeking help from China in that area. China does not give it away and is wary about any economic deals with the IEA. China openly supports recognition of the IEA as the government but will not do so itself. Instead, China allows interested and intrepid Chinese firms to send delegations to Afghanistan to explore the possibilities of trade with Afghanistan, especially access to the trillion dollars’ worth of mineral deposits known to exist in Afghanistan. Those Chinese delegations have been in Afghanistan since late 2021 and so far, no announced deals.

February 4, 2022: In the east (Nangarhar province) TTP gunmen fired across the border into Pakistan, killing five soldiers. This is another incident in the escalating border war with Pakistan over where the border actually is and the recently completed Pakistani border fence that follows the Pakistan version of the border. While the IEA officially supports the Pakistani version of the border, most IEA members do not and this is causing problems between the Pakistani military (which created the Taliban in the mid-1990s) and the Pakistani agents occupying key positions in the IEA.

February 3, 2022: India has allowed the 80 remaining (out of 180) Afghan military cadets to remain the India for another six months. The IRA embassy is still operating, because no country has yet recognized the IEA as the legitimate government. India was always very enthusiastic about supporting the IRA government and regards the IEA government as an extension of the Pakistani military. The remaining 80 Afghan cadets can stay but cannot legally work. Those who already left had money or kin in other countries. The 80 remaining will receive an English fluency course from India and some financial support from the IRA embassy staff. The embassy is seeking nations that will provide sanctuary. Returning to Afghanistan was not an option because Afghans like the cadets are not trusted by the IEA and usually disappear or are killed.

February 2, 2022: When the IEA government took control in August a few large local media outlets based in Kabul made deals with the IEA to keep operating while accepting IEA censorship and staffing rules. This meant following media guidelines supplied by the IEA. For smaller outlets in the rest of the country there was less negotiation and more shutdowns. Unless one of these news operations was a known “friend of the Taliban” before the IEA took over, they were welcome to remain in business. Otherwise, you were likely to be shut down. Since August 2021 about 46 percent of pre-IEA journalists have lost their jobs. Most (72 percent) were women. Many of the former journalists have fled the country. Even foreign journalists can run into problems if they are suspected of investigating something that will embarrass the IEA. These journalists will not be “disappeared” but will be warned to stay away from certain subjects or parts of the country where the safety of foreigners cannot be guaranteed.

February 1, 2022: The IEA collected about $400 million in customs taxes and other fees during the last few months of 2021. That’s about a third of what the IRA government collected. The IEA allowed the UN to audit this income and now wants the UN to authorize foreign aid to pay salaries for tens of thousands of government workers. For many donor nations, any money given to the IEA will be funding the oppressive behavior of the IEA towards women, religious minorities and anyone who disagrees with them.

Worse, heroin production has increased and the IEA revenue from the drug cartels is not acknowledged, even though foreign donors have seen the evidence that such payments financed the IEA overthrow of the IRA government.

January 27, 2022: Russia believes that about 6,000 Islamic terrorists are based in northern Afghanistan and often used for attacks across the borders of nations that Russia is on good terms and sometimes (as with Tajikistan) provides troops to help with border security.

January 15, 2022: The IEA has resumed operations at 27 civilian and military airports. Service at all these airports is limited because of a shortage of people with skills in areas like aircraft maintenance, refueling and air control. The IEA cannot afford to hire many, if any, foreign workers and is trying to train replacements, but that takes time. Maintaining safety is important because Afghanistan depends on foreign airlines to operate aircraft. The IEA has been trying to entice former Afghan Air Force personnel to return home and is offering attractive concessions to make it happen. A few have agreed and others are watching to see how that works out.

January 13, 2022: There are some non-Pushtun Taliban units and one of them, composed of local Uzbeks in the northwest (Faryab province) rebelled and took control of the provincial government. The cause of this was the Taliban arresting of the Uzbek Taliban leaders. The Uzbek takeover did not last long as the IEA immediately sent Pushtun reinforcements and forced the Uzbeks to back off.

January 12, 2022: The TTP announced that one of their founding members and former spokesman, Khalid Balti, had been killed over the weekend in eastern Afghanistan (Nangarhar Province). No more details were given

January 9, 2022: In southeastern Afghanistan (Paktika province) an unofficial Pakistani delegation of Pakistani Pushtun elders arrived to discuss peace, or at least a ceasefire with the TTP. There had been a ceasefire that expired on December 9, 2021 because of TTP dissatisfaction at Pakistani efforts to maintain their obligation to release more TTP members from prison. The January negotiations did not succeed, even though the Pakistani delegation later traveled to Kabul and talked to government officials, who are all either Afghan or Pakistani Pushtuns. One thing Pushtuns on both sides of the border agree on is that the Pakistanis are not good for the 40 million Pushtuns living in both countries, many of them from tribes divided by the Pakistani border fence, a fence marking the Pakistani version of the border, not the somewhat different Pushtun version. Pakistan created and supported the Afghan Taliban for nearly three decades, with the goal of the Afghan Taliban once more operating as the rulers of Afghanistan. Unlike the 1990s, there are now two Taliban’s, with the Pakistani TTP seeking to impose Taliban rule on Pakistan. The problem with that is the Pushtuns are a small minority in Pakistan with the government and military dominated by Sind and Punjab Moslems who have a low opinion of Pushtuns in general. The non-tribal majority in Pakistan have their own political and economic problems. The Pakistani military has long been a problem because it believes it must occasionally take control of the government when those elected governments become too corrupt and ineffectual to rule. The Pakistani use of Islamic terrorism, to support Pakistani goals has left Pakistan under a growing number of economic sanctions and escalating internal problems like rising inflation, unemployment and poverty rates.

 

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