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I See Dead People
by James Dunnigan
March 9, 2014

Afghanistan's President Karzai and many Pushtuns want all the foreign troops gone so the Pushtuns have a better chance of reestablishing their dominance of the government and all of Afghanistan. The non-Pushtun majority opposes that and wants some of the Americans and other foreign troops to remain. Afghanistan is headed for another civil war.

The Pushtun lost control in 2001 when the Northern Alliance triumphed. The northern Afghan tribes remember that in September 11, 2001 they were still fighting the Taliban government that had not yet gained control over all of Afghanistan.  T he "Northern Alliance" of non-Pushtun tribes was still holding out. The United States sent in a few hundred Special Forces and CIA operators, a hundred million dollars in cash and a few thousand smart bombs to help the Northern Alliance out, and the Taliban were broken and fleeing the country within two months. The Pushtun still resent this and the non-Pushtuns tried to accommodate the Pushtuns when a new government was formed. The northern tribes didn't mind Pushtuns getting some of the top jobs in the new government (including the presidency), but were no longer willing to meekly follow the Pushtun lead blindly. The Pushtun see it differently, claiming (with some truth) that they did most of the fighting against the Russians in the 1980s, and that many of the northern tribes cut deals with the Russians (as did some Pushtun tribes, something the Pushtuns don't like to talk about). That had more to do with Afghan politics, (the northern and southern tribes disagreed on how to deal with Russia and modernization) than with anything else. Then came the Taliban (a cynical invention of the Pakistanis, created from Pushtun refugees convinced that a Holy War would bring peace to Afghanistan). Meanwhile, the heroin trade (growing poppies and using a chemical process to turn the sap from these plants into opium and heroin) moved from Pakistan (where the government saw it as a curse) to Afghanistan. Many of the same tribes that produced the refugees who became the Taliban, also produced the most successful drug lords. The Pushtun are many things, including well organized and ambitious and Russia has always been a willing ally of the northern tribes. The Taliban today are basically a faction of the Pushtun tribes and the drug trade is basically run by Pushtuns. For most Afghans, the Pushtuns (40 percent of the population) are the enemy and Russia is a neighbor that has more often than not been a useful friend. The Russians are also interested in stopping the Pushtun drug trade and this gives the northern tribes and Russia a common goal to work towards. Expect to see more of Russia in Afghanistan after NATO forces depart next year.

Afghan army leaders and most of the troops want the Americans to stay, at least to provide air support and help with logistics, training and intelligence collecting. The military, which is largely non-Pustun, fears that without the American assistance they will be more vulnerable to the Taliban and drug gangs, both of whom are dominated by Pushtuns from the south (mainly Kandahar and Helmand provinces.) President Karzai and his clan are from Kandahar, but the army is largely non-Pushtun. While 40 percent of Afghans are Pushtuns (the majority in the south, and within the Taliban), far fewer Pushtuns are in the army. Most troops are from anti-Taliban northern groups (Tajiks, Hazara, Uzbek).

For the last decade it has been fashionable to play down ethnic animosities. But occasionally a Pushtun leader will appear in the media casually reminding everyone that Pushtuns were “born to rule” or “are the true owners of Afghanistan.” Sometimes these attitudes get into print. In 2012 t he government fired four Pushtun academics for publishing a book on the ethnic groups of Afghanistan that described the Hazara as "liars, stubborn, violent and anti-Islamic."  Hazara politicians and non - Pushtuns in general, were enraged. That's because to the Pushtuns, anyone who is not Pushtun is "them" and nothing but trouble. Same deal with the northern tribes, who are weakened by their lack of ethnic and tribal unity (the Uzbeks are Turks, the Hazara are Mongols and the Tajiks are, like the Pushtuns, cousins to the Iranians and Indians). Thus no matter how successful the Taliban might be in the south, among their fellow Pushtun (many of them anti-Taliban), they still have to face " them"; the northern tribes, who now have powerful foreign allies , a combination that proved invincible in 2001, and can do so again if called on. But that is more likely if some American troops remain in the country. This the Taliban, drug gangs and Pushtuns in general are opposed to. Without their American allies, the Pushtun believe they can, as they usually do, intimidate the more numerous and divided non-Pushtuns into compliance with Pushtun domination.

The current Afghan government survives by maintaining some form of good relations between the haughty Pushtuns, and the real majority of Afghanistan (the non-Pushtuns). The Hazara have long been a particular target of Pushtun anger. In part, it's because the Hazara are Shia, while most Afghans are Sunni. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are Sunni radicals, and Sunni radicals consider Shia heretics and in need of killing. The other reason for Hazara hatred is that the Hazara are the descendants of the Mongol conquerors of Afghanistan. The Pushtun do not like to be reminded of what the Mongol invaders did to them. The Pushtuns have specific reasons for disdaining the Turks and Tajiks.

Then there is the fact that the Taliban are a minority within a minority (Pushtuns are 40 percent of the population.) There are some Islamic radicals among the other ethnic minorities, but the Pushtuns dominate the Taliban (in terms of leadership and numbers overall). The biggest asset the Taliban have is their alliance with the drug gangs. This is because the Taliban tolerated and taxed the drug gangs in the 1990s, and continue with that policy. This gives the Taliban the cash they need to keep their terror campaign going, but this also associates the Islamic radicals with the hated drug gangs. Most Afghans will hold their nose and take a drug gang or Taliban bribe. Yet in the overall scheme of things, the majority (over 70 percent) of Afghans would prefer to see the Taliban and drug gangs dead and gone. With the foreign troops gone, that kind of civil war situation is likely to develop.

The Pushtun are worried about the upcoming (April 5th) presidential elections. Karzai cannot run again (constitutional term limits) and the leading candidate is a non-Pushtun (and former Northern Alliance member). The Pushtun are not ready to accept a non-Pushtun as the ruler of all Afghanistan. Non-Pushtuns were not surprised with recent revelations that Karzai had been holding secret meetings with the Taliban. While foreigners may not believe a lot of the stories about corruption in the Karzai clan and connections with the drug gangs and Taliban, most Afghans accept this as perfectly normal. Afghans, most of whom want the Status of Forces agreement with the United States signed, see these links as the main reason Karzai will not sign the agreement. Non-Pushtun politicians are hoping to solve this problem by electing a non-Pushtun as president. The Pushtuns will attempt to prevent this using traditional methods (lots of terror and dead people). Karzai really believes that he can negotiate a peace deal with the divided Taliban. He knows that many Taliban leaders have become very corrupt. A lot of the cash from drug gangs (for security and other services) goes to buying SUVs, trucks and nice houses for the Taliban leaders. These same Taliban seek out equally corrupt army and police commanders to share the wealth (in return for occasional inaction). In many cases this works, but there’s still a problem with the fact that most people in the security forces are not Pushtun and oppose the Pushtun dominating the non-Pushtun majority. There has always been some of this, but now the non-Pushtuns want to share power, not just take whatever the Pushtuns give them (from the foreign aid and other national income there is to share). The non-Pushtuns see an end to Pushtun domination while the Pushtun see any attempt to impose that producing a lot of dead people. Karzai also knows that the Taliban are running out of cash, because many foreign donors have stopped giving because of the growing number of women and children killed by Taliban violence. These donors also know of the corruption among the Taliban leadership and at the moment are more attracted to Islamic terrorists in Syria,

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