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Counter-Terrorism: Why The Tribes Are Turning On The Taliban
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October 30, 2008: Pakistan and Afghanistan have gathered many of the most powerful and influential tribal leaders from along Pushtun tribes that live on both sides of the border, to discuss Islamic terrorism (the Taliban and al Qaeda) and the current Pakistani offensive against the Islamic radicals. Apparently the two governments are trying to convince the tribes that, while the tribes may support the religious agenda the Islamic radicals are pushing, if they want to continue to run their own internal affairs, they'd best support the government, because the "foreigners" will surely undermine tribal authority in all matters, not just religious orthodoxy. 

The Pushtun tribes have been defending their independence and primitive lifestyle for centuries. But throughout the 20th century, and especially the last few decades, the modern world has been making serious inroads. Portable generators, satellite links, iPods, laptop computers and television have made changes. There's a culture war going on, between the traditionalists (who tend to be religious) and the modernists (who tend to be less religious, and more ready to party). But everyone likes to use the new technology, and the money that the heroin trade has brought in over the last quarter century. The Taliban and al Qaeda are popular because these Islamic fundamentalists want to turn back the clock. Automatic weapons computers and cell phones are useful, but the iPods and televisions have to go. What has made the Islamic radicals everyone's enemy is their desire to roll back the political clock. While the region was never part of a worldwide Islamic caliphate, that sort of religious dictatorship, run by stern and learned clerics, is seen as the solution to so many problems by the Taliban and al Qaeda.

A lot of tribal leaders, apparently the majority, don't believe that trying to make the modern world disappear is going to work. The governments of both Pakistan (where the tribals are only 15 percent of the population) and Afghanistan (where some 90 percent of the population pays attention to tribal politics, and 40 percent of all Afghans are Pushtun) want to reassure the tribal leaders that the central governments are willing to abide by long held customs that leave the tribes with a lot of local autonomy. But the governments will not tolerate the Islamic radicals causing problems, especially outside the tribal areas. The tribal leaders can agree on this, and many tribes have actively gone after the Taliban, even pro-Taliban members of their own tribe. This has been complicated, in Afghanistan, by the growing wealth of the drug gangs (which are usually tribe based). The government of Afghanistan has to be anti-drug, because that is what its Western benefactors demand. That means the drug gangs and Taliban have become allies against the government. In Pakistan, it's a bit more straightforward. Pakistan drove the drug gangs out over a decade ago (which is how the heroin trade ended up in Afghanistan.) Now Pakistan is hammering the pro-Taliban tribes, and most of the Pushtun tribes on the Pakistani side of the border are either against the Taliban, or willing to join with the government in crushing the Islamic radicals.

Pakistan appears willing to push the Taliban into Afghanistan, just like they pushed the heroin gangs across the border. The Afghans don't like this, but then they have long believed that Pakistan exists mainly to make life miserable for Afghanistan. But both countries have a mutual interest in eliminating, or at least greatly diminishing, both the Islamic radicals and the heroin trade (which still leaks back into Pakistan, to feed a growing number of Pakistani addicts.)

All this does not look good for the Taliban or al Qaeda. As Islamic radicals have so often done over the centuries, their violence and abrasive attitudes eventually turn most Moslems against them, and that's exactly what is happening here.


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