Afghanistan: Expensive Bad Habits


March 23, 2022: Growing violence inside Afghanistan has become a major problem for eastern/southern neighbor Pakistan but much less a problem for Iran and the northern neighbors. This escalating chaos is directly related to the 30 percent increase in Islamic terrorism related deaths in Pakistan compared to 2020. So far, 2022 appears headed for twice as many Islamic terrorism deaths in Pakistan. This is not just about what is going on in Afghanistan, but some closely related activities in Pakistan. During the last few years, the Pakistani military has managed to terrorize or influence enough politicians and political parties to give the military control of the government without a coup. That control is running into trouble because misbehavior by the military is responsible for the mess in Afghanistan, where the Afghan Taliban is now in charge as the IRA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan). That was made possible by the Pakistani military, which created the Taliban in the mid-1990s. Despite losing power in late 2001, the Taliban once more took over in August 2021. Despite the presence of known Pakistani agents in key government positions of the new Taliban IEA government, there is more anti-Pakistan violence coming from Afghanistan than when the U.S. backed IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) government was in charge. IEA Afghanistan is more tolerant of Islamic terrorism than the IRA and tolerates the presence of the TTP (Pakistani Taliban) that seeks to impose a religious dictatorship on Pakistan. The IEA appears to have made a similar deal with ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), or some of the ISIL factions in Afghanistan, because the number of ISIL attacks in Pakistan have increased this year and these attacks are often coming from ISIL factions based across the border in Afghanistan. The Pakistani military apparently underestimated the degree of anti-Pakistan attitudes among IEA leaders and the Afghan population.

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 as well as protecting the world’s main source of heroin. Foreign nations are slow to recognize the new IEA government. Initially, not even Pakistan did so 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 also finds itself under attacks by IEA security forces because of an unresolved border dispute, as well as the TTP. 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. The Taliban victory that Pakistan made possible is seen more and more as a mistake because Afghanistan has become a major problem for Pakistan and a growing problem for other nations.

Internal Insecurity

The number of Islamic terror groups establishing or expanding operations inside Afghanistan is growing. The IEA assured the world that this would not happen. In response to this the IEA is forming an army. This force won’t be as large as the former IRA force, which had a paper strength of 300,000 and was subsidized by the Americans. The Taliban defeated the IRA force via bribes or threats to key commanders and government officials in charge of supplying the troops with food, fuel and other supplies. American aid supplied over a billion dollars a year for the IRA security forces and over the years more and more of it was stolen.

The IEA has less cash available for their new army and more security concerns than the IRA. Recruiting will be easier because there are a lot fewer paying jobs in IEA Afghanistan. There is also a shortage of technical experts and men with experience in running an army. To deal with this IEA established the RCC (Ranks Clearance Commission) to determine which members of the IRA force would be useful and willing to serve in the new, smaller, IEA force. Most of the senior IRA military officers and technical specialists got out of the country before the Taliban gained complete control in late 2021. The IEA declared amnesty for all members of the IRA military and police but few formally accepted, with most just walking away and going back to civilian life. Over a hundred of these former troops and police were killed by vengeful Taliban gunmen and it took the IEA months to bring that under control. The RCC did find some reliable IRA officers and tech specialists that were still in Afghanistan and willing to take a job with the new, much smaller IEA force.

The IEA has an urgent need for an organized, disciplined force to deal with the escalating internal security problems. This includes Islamic terrorist groups who see the IEA as an enemy rather than an ally and provider of sanctuary. There are also problems with some ISIL factions. A larger threat is posed by the non-Pushtun (Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara) resistance groups, and a growing number of Afghan Taliban factions that oppose Pakistani control of the IEA. In many ways the IEA faces more internal resistance than the original Taliban government that lasted from the mid-1990s to late 2001. The American intervention after September 11, 2001 allowed the non-Pushtun Northern Alliance to go on the offensive and drive the Taliban out of the country by the end of 2001.

The 2022 IEA has more income from the heroin cartels but the prosperous economy of the IRA era is fading fast and even many Pushtun are angry about that. An uncomfortable reality for the IEA is the collapse of the national economy. From 2002 until 2020 the GDP grew continuously, with average family income increasing noticeably each year. With the IEA in charge GDP is shrinking and that means less money to tax to support the IEA and its new “Grand Army”. Most Afghans expect the situation to get worse than just the GDP decline because donor nations have halted most support because of the of the continued drug smuggling and growing Islamic terrorist violence inside Afghanistan and inside some neighboring nations.

Neighboring countries, with the exception of Pakistan, believe the IEA will collapse after a few years because of internal unrest and growing poverty which most Afghans will note is in sharp contrast to the previous two decades when per-capita GDP nearly tripled. Under the IRA massive foreign aid took care of most government expenses and that led to a lot of foreign investment. This foreign aid and investment averaged over a hundred billion dollars a year since 2002 and even though most of it was not spent in Afghanistan there was enough being spent in Afghanistan to keep the IRA government in power and the GDP expanding.

Foreign aid and investment began to decline after most foreign troops were withdrawn in 2014. The Taliban expected to quickly take over but that did not happen because most Afghans now had something to fight for and they kept the Taliban out of power until 2021. At the end the IRA government had an annual budget of $6 billion with about four billion dollars going to pay government workers. Most of the government employees were in the security services and the corruption was greatest there.

The IEA army won’t be large enough to deal with all the local unrest and no one is willing or able to help. The IEA took power but appears unlikely to maintain control for long. The IEA already has an organized (into battalions and brigades) force consisting of former Taliban fighters. These units are underpaid, understrength and led by former Taliban leaders with experience fighting soldiers, not being soldiers. This is something the IEA hopes to remedy, or perish.

Anger against the IEA grows as more lifestyle restrictions are imposed. Media censorship is blatant and often violent. This is meant to limit knowledge of the growing incidence of local popular resistance to some of these lifestyle restrictions, which include bans on music and videos as well as popular celebrations of holidays the Taliban considered pagan. There is also a lot more criminal activity, often committed by enterprising or greedy Taliban gunmen continuing extortion and kidnapping for ransom activities that were encouraged before the IEA takeover. Dealing with criminal activity is now more difficult because IEA fired the experienced and professional judges and magistrates to provided more justice than Afghanistan had ever experienced before, even if many of the judges were subject to intimidation and often took bribes, if only to avoid assassination.

Renewed attacks on Afghan Shia caused Iran to threaten support for an armed Afghan Shia resistance manned by the thousands of Afghan Shia who served as mercenaries in Syria. Some still do, because the Afghan mercs were the best fighters and demanded higher pay than Arab mercenaries. The Armed Shia fighters would work with their 1990s Northern Alliance allies, which has reassembled as the NRF (National Resistance Front) and is planning new operations. That alone may be more than the IEA can handle. Some of the NRF leaders are sons of successful Northern Alliance commanders. Iran threatens to provide more support to the NRF than they did the Northern Alliance.

Diplomatic Recognition

The IEA is making slow progress in attaining diplomatic recognition. The UN and several other nations, like Pakistan, have unofficially recognized the IEA. The UN is establishing an office in Afghanistan that will deal directly with the IEA. Several senior IEA officials are Pakistani agents and exercise considerable control over what the IEA does, or tries to do. China and Russia are also establishing unofficial diplomatic outposts in Afghanistan. Over a dozen foreign countries are negotiating with the IEA to provide some degree of recognition. Many of these nations are wary of opening an embassy in Afghanistan, where even the capital Kabul is suffering from more violence and civil disorder. Despite that Saudi Arabia and the UAE reopened their embassies at the end of 2021 and other nations are monitoring how that is doing.

Emergency Economic Aid

The UN has established an IEA approved office in Kabul to coordinate foreign aid. The need is great and growing, even in Kabul. The Afghan capital now suffers from growing electricity blackouts, shortages of vehicle and heating fuel, medical care and, worst of all, food. The UN is calculating the total need and what it will cost to transport the aid to where it is needed most. The major flaw in this plan is that few foreign aid donors are willing to donate. Disaster areas have earned unofficial “risk level” ratings that measure how much of the aid disappears (is stolen) before it can get to those in need. Afghanistan is considered one of the riskiest aid recipients in the world and has earned and sustained that designation over the last fifty years.

March 21, 2022: The IEA made another unpopular and counterproductive decision and replaced the popular tri-color (black-red-green) national flag with the white Taliban flag that features Arabic text affirming Afghan allegiance to Islam. For most of the past century Afghanistan used the three-bar tri-color flag design which came to be the flag most Afghans and foreigners recognized. Flags that just depict some Arabic text on a plain background are much less recognizable. The IEA is also trying to figure out how to institute “Islamic Banking” (no interests on loans or deposits) without further damaging the economy.

March 20, 2022: In the east (Nangarhar province) the IEA was able to keep the local police academy functioning, with the addition of some ideological training and cadet screening. Today several hundred cadets graduated and are to become paid police officers. The IEA hopes to see more loyalty and performance out of their new police. Previously the Taliban had bribed or intimidated the IRA police force into uselessness. There are still lots of criminal gangs ready to resume efforts to render the new police ineffective and unreliable. This is likely to happen in eastern Afghanistan where smuggling has been a big business for centuries. Currently the number of people belonging to organized smuggling gangs is increasing to meet demand inside Afghanistan. That means more problems for local security forces trying to contain or control the smuggling. For IEA, cash from fees (customs duties) on imports is a major source of income. The IEA has made the situation worse with its recent ban on TV broadcasts of foreign movies and TV shows dubbed into local languages. These foreign programs are easy to smuggle in via cell phones or memory sticks for dubbing and sale to eager customers. Sales are diluted by rampant piracy but the media smugglers find ways to make it profitable.

March 19, 2022: Afghanistan continues to do poorly in the UN sponsored World Happiness Index, coming in last place for the third year in a row at 149th out of 149 nations surveyed. In 2018 Afghanistan was 145 (of 156). The survey studies each nation for GDP per capita, life expectancy, personal freedom, generosity and corruption. The top five nations are all the usual suspects; Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, the Netherlands and Norway. The bottom five have Afghanistan at the bottom, surpassed by Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Botswana, and Lesotho.

Many nations do not provide the needed information and some dictatorships like North Korea and Cuba block access to data needed for the survey and are among those not rated. This may be the last year Afghanistan is rated as the IEA may halt release of needed data or be unable to compile it.

March 18, 2022: Since 2001 the population of Kabul grew from 500,000 to five million. That worked because there was more food, electricity, medical care and security in Kabul. Since the IEA took power seven months ago those advantages have rapidly dissipated and now Kabul is crippled by power and food shortages. There is less medical care and more fear as the IEA forces continue searching for enemies, which is easier in relatively compact Kabul compared to the countryside.

March 17, 2022: Northern neighbor Turkmenistan has become the first Central Asian nation to establish diplomatic relations with the IEA. This was no accident. Russia has cultivated good relationships with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. All three of these nations were part of the Soviet Union until 1991 and now border Afghanistan. Russia maintained close military, economic and diplomatic ties with the “stans”, who have long suffered from the Afghan drug cartels that used the neighboring stans as markets for the drugs as well as a smuggling route to other parts of Eurasia. Now more Islamic terrorists from IEA Afghanistan will be added. Russia and the stans also stand ready to support the armed opposition to the Taliban, just like before. That cooperation has apparently evolved without any official announcements or consultation with China. Tajikistan allowed the IRA “government in exile” to base itself in the Tajik capital. Turkmenistan has more economic potential for Afghanistan. In 2016 the first direct rail link from Afghanistan to northern neighbor Turkmenistan was completed and that connection will eventually become part of an Afghan national rail network

March 16, 2022: Hunger was already a problem before the IEA took over in late 2021 but now is getting worse because sanctions and the inability of Afghan farmers to export cash crops led to a decline in production of wheat and other crops produced mainly for local markets. Then came the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Russia and Ukraine produce about 30 percent of the wheat available for export and exports are endangered by war in Ukraine and sanctions that make it difficult for Russia to export anything. The world price of wheat began rising and is still going up the longer the fighting in Ukraine continues. Russia expected the war to be over in fifteen days but that did not happen and Russian casualties are much higher than expected. Already the Russian deaths in Ukraine are rising to match the 15,000 troops lost in Afghanistan during the 1980s.

March 7, 2022: In the west (Nimroz province) IEA border guards opened fire on Iranian troops who had entered Afghanistan to settle a dispute with Afghan farmers. The Iranians returned fire but soon fled leaving two dead and a vehicle behind. There was a similar incident in Nimroz ten weeks ago when a dispute over where the new Iranian border fence should be turned violent. A meeting between IEA and Iranian officials resolved that dispute but there are many more disagreements along the Iranian border that are unresolved and threaten to turn violent. Iran is also angry with the growing number of incidents where IEA gunmen are attacking Afghan Shia, who comprise 20 percent of the population and Iran has pledged to protect Afghan Shia from Taliban or IEA violence.

February 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.

February 23, 2022: Pakistan continues to have problems with Afghanistan over where the border is. The current Afghan-Pakistani border is called the “Durand Line.” This was an impromptu, 1893 era 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. 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.

February 22, 2022: Pakistan allowed an Indian food aid convoy, carrying 50,000 tons of wheat to pass through Pakistan to the Afghan border crossing in northwest Pakistan (Khyber Pass). The UN will supervise the distribution of the wheat inside Afghanistan. The new Taliban government of Afghanistan has been unable to attract much foreign aid because the Taliban refused to allow foreigners to supervise distribution. The food shortage situation has become desperate and the Taliban are making an exception here. Before the Taliban took over, India was a major donor of aid to the previous elected government. India pledged this food aid in January but Pakistan had banned Indian traffic since 2019 and it took several weeks to negotiate terms (no customs or other charges and security) before this transit was allowed.




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