Afghanistan: Who Do Your Trust

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July 6, 2022: A recent (June 30-July 2) mass meeting (or “loya jirga”) of more than 4,000 Afghan clerics and tribal elders in Kabul ended with the participants endorsing the policies of the IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) or the 2021 Taliban, government and its use of Islamic (Sharia) law to govern life in Afghanistan. Most jirgas are local affairs but this jirga was presented as a national loya jirga (great conference), which is generally considered more representative of what Afghans really want than elections or opinion polls. The IEA is accused of holding a corrupt loya jirga because in the past, when the Taliban were not in charge from 2002-2021, the IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) called for loya jirgas several times to settle political and religious disputes in ways that most Afghans, and foreigners, accepted as legitimate. When the IRA was in charge l0ya jirgas were often called to settle key policy disputes. Loya jirgas dealt with issues like how much longer to host foreign troops. Most left by 2014 despite loya jirga advice that some should stay. Former president Karzai's 2013 plea for a peace deal with the Taliban was thwarted because the subsequent loya jirga was hostile to the idea. The main function of the jirga is for leaders from around the country to get a sense of the attitudes of other tribes and form a consensus.

Loya Jirga is a Pushtun word, but it is a common practice among the Indo-European tribes that have occupied the region for over 5,000 years. The purpose of the loya jirga has changed because of technology. Those now attending have cell phones and access to international radio and TV news. A loya jirga is no longer a meeting of strangers. Local Jirgas are meetings of people who are often distantly related to each other and are more frequently used to settle local or family disputes. Loya jirgas used to be rare events, but since 2002 are much more frequent, (almost annual affairs, and an opportunity to achieve some kind of national consensus. Back in 2019 the Taliban declared any loya jirga called by the IRA as illegitimate. That created another reason for most Afghans to despise and oppose the Taliban. After the recent loya jirga there were plenty of Afghan groups inside and outside Afghanistan criticizing the endorsement of Sharia law interpreted to mean Afghan females cannot obtain more than six years of education, and only in all girl schools. Education for teenage and adult Afghan women is now banned, as is working outside the home. Afghan women must wear clothing that covers everything except their eyes. Even Moslem countries that support Sharia law, like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan, criticize the IEA implementation of Sharia as overly strict and harmful to the welfare of women, especially widows with children, who often live in extreme poverty if they have no kin to help out. The IEA insisted that Afghan women were represented at the clerics conference, even though there were no women attending. The IEA insisted that women were represented via clerics because all these men had mothers, wives and other female kin who they consulted. The women’s groups criticizing the conference included some of women who relations of attendees and were open about their criticism of the conference and IEA policies towards women. Some of the clerics attending probably agreed with the women but such criticism of the IEA by clerics is considered a crime and punishment is often death. The IEA hoped this jirga would persuade foreign governments to grant diplomatic recognition and restore aid and trade links. Apparently, it had the opposite effect, especially with nations that have long used Sharia law. Non-Moslem nations are equally unimpressed, especially since the IEA received no support from other Sharia observant nations.

Despite the IEA jirga, some countries continue to send some aid. The best example of this is a rare Pakistan agreement with India that enables Indian food aid convoys, each carrying several thousand tons of wheat to Afghanistan via Pakistan to the Afghan border crossing in northwest Pakistan (Khyber Pass). The UN supervises the distribution of the wheat inside Afghanistan. So far the Indian grain convoys have delivered 36,000 of the 50,000 tons promised. The IEA has been unable to attract much foreign aid because they refused to allow foreigners to supervise distribution. The food shortage situation has become desperate and the IEA made a rare exception here. Before the IEA took over in 2021, India was a major donor of aid to the previous IRA 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 regular transit was allowed for the wheat. The UAE also sends medical aid and China sent tents and other disaster relief after a recent earthquake.

Natural disasters like earthquakes and droughts kill more Afghans each year than rebels or Islamic terrorist violence. The two largest Islamic terror groups in Afghanistan are the TTP (Pakistan Taliban) who fight to establish an Islamic government (like IEA) in Pakistan. The second largest Islamic terror group in Afghanistan is 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 IEA took power in late 2021. 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 Pakistan’s 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. Most of the Islamic terrorist violence in Afghanistan is the work of ISK while the TTP maintain bases in Afghanistan from which they launch attacks inside Pakistan.

July 5, 2022: In the north (Balkh province) someone fired five unguided rockets into Uzbekistan. The rockets landed in Uzbek territory near the border. None of the rockets exploded but four of them landed in a residential area and damaged five buildings. Uzbek security forces removed the rockets safely. ISK was believed responsible for the rocket attack because ISK has made several attacks near the 144 kilometers long Uzbek border with Afghanistan.

July 4, 2022: In the west (Herat province) an IEF convoy was attacked in the provincial capital by three unidentified gunmen, leaving two IEA soldiers dead as well as one of the attackers. Twenty civilians were wounded, 18 of them civilians working for the IEA, the other two wounded civilians were bystanders.

July 1, 2022: The IEA Minister of Commerce and Industry led a trade delegation of fifty Afghan merchants to Uzbekistan to meet with Uzbek officials about lowering tariffs on Afghan exports in order to increase trade. The Afghan merchants in the delegation already trade with Uzbekistan and import goods from other Central Asian states like Kazakhstan through Uzbekistan. Trade with Western nations or even other neighbors like Iran, Pakistan and Tajikistan has been disrupted by IEA policies towards the drug smuggling and Islamic terrorism. The Afghan merchants in the trade delegation are largely involved with traditional trade in locally produced goods, including livestock perishable items like fruit.

In the east (Nangarhar Province) eight people were wounded when someone threw a grenade into a religious school. No one claimed responsibility but ISK frequently makes such attacks. Elsewhere in the province IEA forces carried out raids on ISK groups, killing five Islamic terrorists and arresting two more. ISK has been the source of a growing number of attacks in the province.

June 30, 2022: In the northeast (Panjshir province) IEA forces have been fighting with resistance groups for six months and not making a lot of progress in eliminating armed NRF (National Resistance Front) members and their unarmed local supporters. The NRF is a direct descendent of the 1990s Northern Alliance which dominated the Panjshir Valley (a 90-minute drive from Kabul) right up to the defeat of the Taliban government. Northern Front leaders became members of the IRA government and now their sons have reassembled as the NRF (National Resistance Front) and once more control much of the Panjshir Valley and has resisted IEA forces sent to gain control over the valley. The NRA uses mines, roadside bombs and ambushes to attack IEA forces as well has their supply convoys. The NRA men (and women) know the valley, most IRA troops don’t. IEA soldiers and police who have spent some time in the valley learn to be wary just to survive. That means exercising caution when attempting to arrest locals suspected of supporting the NRA.

In Kabul, two gunmen on a rooftop fired on some of the clerics attending a government-sponsored conference. IEA security guards returned fire and killed the two attackers before they could injure anyone. The attackers were apparently not affiliated with any known anti-government group.

Elsewhere in Kabul, NRF carried out their first attack against IEA forces in Kabul since the IEA took control of Afghanistan a year earlier. This Kabul attack caused casualties and triggered a major IEA retaliation operation in the Panjshir Valley, which is north of Kabul and long a base for anti-Taliban forces. The IEA has insisted that the NRA resistance is minor and under control.

June 29, 2022: Pakistan is complaining that the IEA has added weapons smuggling to the drug smuggling tolerated by the Pakistan military as long as the heroin was for export and the generals were paid for their services, which included allowing chemicals needed for turning opium into heroin to get into Afghanistan. The weapons are being smuggled into Pakistan hidden in truckloads of fresh fruits and vegetables. Trucks carrying these perishable items are often delayed at the border until large bribes are paid. Sometimes the bribes demanded are higher than the transportation company can afford but it is paid anyway to avoid losing the cargo to spoilage. The trucks carrying weapons under the fresh produce don’t appear to have any problems because the border guards have been paid well in advance to let certain trucks go through without inspection. This sort of thing doesn’t happen without Pakistani military cooperation. These weapons are something the Pakistani military would not tolerate if they were for local markets. This is where criminals and Islamic terrorists get their arms and ammunition that are often used against Pakistani security forces. It is unclear if this is another dispute between elected Pakistanis officials and the military or a case of Afghan officials managing to pay off Pakistani border guards who also work for the Pakistani military. Border guards at the three main crossings have a lucrative job because if the bribe is right the border security personnel cooperation can be rented. This sort of freelancing is dangerous because the border guards have long-term deals with the Pakistani military. Violating this contract can be fatal but if you are careful and alert you can flee across the border if your scam is detected by the wrong people. This sort of thing is common along the border where smuggling, bribery and power struggles have been the norm for a long time.

June 26, 2022: In the east (Khost province) a Pakistani army patrol across the border in North Waziristan) clashed with TTP Islamic terrorists from Afghanistan. Two soldiers and seven TTP gunmen were killed.

June 25, 2022: Afghanistan’s northern neighbor, Tajikistan has largely been free of Islamic terrorist violence since 2001. But in 2022 there was another outbreak in Gorno-Badakhshan Province, or GBAO. This province contains 45 percent of Tajikistan territory but only three percent of the population, including most of its Shia minority. Nearly all Tajiks are Sunni Moslems. The Tajiks are Indo-European and the tail end of the Persian tribes that got as far as the Persian Gulf three thousand years ago and founded the Persian Empire, which eventually became modern Iran. About half the Persian migrants ended up in modern Iran while the rest settled in what is now northern Afghanistan and Tajikistan and adopted Sunni Islam 1,500 years ago. The Persian Empire Iranians had switched to Shia Islam 400 years ago and this further divided the Persians from the Tajiks in Afghanistan and modern Tajikistan. The Russians began moving into Central Asia 500 years ago but were only able to gain control of half the Tajiks, with the other half uniting with the more numerous Pushtun tribes to form modern Afghanistan and block further Russian advances to the south. After the Russian monarchy was overthrown in 1918 the communists regained control of Tajikistan by 1924. The communists were anti-religion but tolerated and regulated the Tajik form of Sunni Islam. The Tajiks never became Islamic traditionalists. This meant that, like Iranians before 1979, there were few beards and women did not wear veils or observe the restrictive lifestyle rules imposed on Iranians after the 1979 revolution and the Taliban in Afghanistan from the mid-1990s to 2001. The same trends developed among the Turkic tribes that dominated the rest of Central Asia. This meant it was difficult for Islamic conservatism and terrorism to develop. There were some incidents, especially after the five Central Asia states became independent states in 1991. The current outbreak in GBAO was partly about an Islamic revolution but mostly about the small population of that province feeling exploited by the Sunni majority when it came to profiting from the development of the huge mineral wealth in the Pamir Mountains of GBAO. The small population of GBAO is not only largely Shia but some are not even Tajik. The GBAO rebels blocked some roads to protest Tajik police killing a charismatic young local leader who backed better treatment of the GBAO population. The Tajik government has maintained peace via negotiation and compromise and is now making a serious effort to address local complaints in GBAO. Relations with the new Taliban government of Afghanistan have been tense, but not because of religious issues. The Tajiks and other northern neighbors of Afghanistan are angry about the increased heroin coming out of Afghanistan. The heroin production is “taxed” by the new Taliban government just as it was with the old one. The two decades of democratic government in the IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) saw less heroin and more prosperity for Afghans in general. The Tajiks accept assistance from Russia and some NATO nations to help guard the border but drugs still get through. The Taliban has not made much of an effort to export Islamic terrorism to Tajikistan because there’s too much resistance to that up there as well as among the Afghan Tajiks, who make up about a quarter of the Afghan population and are again supporting armed resistance to the new Taliban government, just as they did with the old one.

Afghanistan is also having problems with its eastern neighbor Pakistan. These have to do with longstanding border disputes, support for Islamic terrorists in Pakistan and heroin. IEA security forces are confronting Pakistani special operations forces entering eastern and southern Afghan provinces to capture or kill TTP (Pakistani Taliban) leaders. The Pakistani troops are supported by artillery and air strikes that often kill Afghan civilians. The IEA/TTP peace talks are expected to fail, along with similar negotiations between TTP and Pakistan. To further complicate matters Pakistan is depending on continuing Chinese support to deal with the new IEA government, which is having the same problems the 2001 version had, but worse. For two decades after the 2001 Taliban were out of power, Afghanistan prospered in many ways. The economy, lifespans, infrastructure and education levels reached new highs. The IEA has reinstated many of the pre-2001 rules that turned most Afghans against the Taliban. Most potential aid donors and the UN are withholding aid until the IEA lifts restrictions on women. So far, the IEA refuses, even though neighbors Iran and Pakistan recognize those restrictions as unpopular and bad for the economy. In Pakistan the government is not willing to engage in illegal trade with the IEA. The Pakistan military is another story and initially openly took credit for putting the Taliban back in charge of Afghanistan. Now that the IEA has failed so spectacularly the Pakistani generals are more discreet. The military still works with the Afghan drug cartels to produce and export what is most of the world’s heroin supply from Afghanistan. Cooperation in this area keeps the drug cartels and their Pakistani partners in business while millions of Afghans face starvation because of Western economic sanctions against Afghanistan.

The IEA government has not worked out as Pakistan expected, with growing violence inside Afghanistan becoming a major problem for Pakistan and Iran. Iran is angry at the new Afghan government because of increased attacks on Afghan Shia. Iran threatens to support an armed Afghan Shia resistance manned by the thousands of Afghan Shia who served as mercenaries in Syria. Some still do, because the Shia Afghan mercs were the best fighters and demanded higher pay than Arab mercenaries. These armed Shia fighters sometimes cooperated with their 1990s Northern Alliance allies, which has reassembled as the NRF (National Resistance Front) and is increasingly active.

The IEA is having some serious problems with its eastern neighbor Iran, which is angry about the increased attacks on Afghan Shia. Iran threatens to support an armed Afghan Shia resistance manned by the thousands of Afghan Shia who served as mercenaries in Syria. Some still do, because the Shia Afghan mercs were the best fighters and demanded higher pay than Arab mercenaries. These armed Shia fighters sometimes cooperated with their 1990s Northern Alliance allies, which has reassembled as the NRF and is planning new operations. That alone may be more than the new IEA government 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 gave the Northern Alliance. The Afghan Pushtuns are about 40 percent of the Afghan population and have always run the drug production and exporting. Most of the heroin goes out via Pakistan but there is still demand in Central Asia and Russia as well as Middle East nations that can be reached via Iran. The opium (the raw material for heroin) production in southern Afghanistan provides cheap drugs, especially opium, to Afghans as well as Iranians, and Tajiks and that has created millions of addicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Iran. The most determined resistance to the drug smuggling came from the Iranians who deployed more heavily armed border guards than any other Afghan neighbor. That slowed down the heroin coming out via Iran but never completely stopped it. The IRA government cooperated with Iran to halt the heroin exports but the IEA government has other priorities.

June 22, 2022: In the southeast (Paktika and Khost province) several earthquakes in a mountainous area near the Pakistan border left over a thousand dead and many more injured or homeless. The first quake was 5.9 magnitude followed by several less powerful ones. The area is often hit with such quakes.

June 18, 2022: In Kabul ISK attacked a Sikh temple guarded by IEA police. The attacked involved gunmen and a truck bomb. The truck was intercepted by police and the three ISK gunmen shot dead by the police. One policeman was killed along with one Afghan Sikh.

June 17, 2022: In the north (Kunduz province) a bomb left in a mosque, exploded during Friday prayer services, killing one and wounding seven. The mosque leadership openly opposes ISK.

June 12, 2022: In the north (Balkh province) someone fired on a bus carrying airport workers to Mazar-i-Sharif airport. Two passengers were killed and six wounded. ISK was suspected.

In the northeast (Badakhshan and Kunduz provinces) bomb attacks left four civilians wounded.

In the east (Khost province) a Pakistani army patrol across the border in North Waziristan) came under fire from a group that appeared to come from Afghanistan. One soldier was killed while the hostile gunmen fled towards Afghanistan. Incidents like this are often caused by TTP Islamic terrorists based in Afghanistan. That is less likely now because the government and TTP agreed to a ceasefire. That leaves the growing number of al Qaeda and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) affiliated groups that have found sanctuary in Afghanistan and frequently carry out attacks in Pakistan and are doing it more often as relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to deteriorate.

June 11, 2022: In Kabul a bomb was used against a minibus full of civilians, leaving four dead and several wounded. This believed the work of ISK.

In the north (Takhar province) IEA security forces, acting on a tip, attacked an ISK safe house and killed eight ISK men and arrested three others. Two nearby civilians were also killed.

June 6, 2022: An Indian diplomat visited Afghanistan to discuss trade opportunities. The IEA is eager to expand economic and diplomatic relations with India. This is in sharp contrast to the first Taliban government (1996-2001) which Indians had no economic or diplomatic links with. India is moving towards diplomatic recognition of the IEA and maintains a small staff of diplomats in their embassy compound, which is now considered a headquarters for Indian trade and diplomatic personnel. In the last year India has supplied a lot of food aid via Pakistan and trade items go via air or a land link on the Iranian border that takes exports to an Iranian port built in cooperation with India to support trade with Afghanistan without having to go through Pakistan. Current sanctions on the IEA complicate the IEA and India paying for their trade items. This is handled, for a fee, by a firm in the UAE.

 

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