June 10, 2012: Earlier this month police in the north arrested 16 people and charged them with participating in several mass attacks (via poisoned water) against school girls. Police accused the Pakistani intelligence agency (ISI) and other terror groups in Pakistan of providing cash (for bribes) and technical advice on how to carry out the attacks. A major Taliban goal has always been to limit, or prohibit, education for girls. The Taliban usually attack the schools and teachers but occasionally students are wounded or killed as well. The mass poisonings are believed to be the result of mass hysteria (common in situations like this) as no toxins have been found in the two major poisoning incidents. But since so many children have been involved, this has become a big media item inside Afghanistan. So the government has been forced to do something, anything.
The Taliban have been generally unsuccessful in getting a terror campaign going in the north, where Pushtuns are a minority. Local opposition to the Taliban is often violent and fatal. As a result, many who have joined the Taliban (and taken drug gang money) have openly accepted amnesty and left the Taliban. This is dangerous in the south, where Taliban and drug gang gunmen are more numerous and retaliation more certain. But in the north you can go home and your heavily armed tribe will protect you from Taliban retaliation.
Pakistan, which created the Taliban two decades, is now worried that the departure of NATO forces in two years will mean more terrorist violence on the Pakistani side of the border. That's because the Pakistani Taliban will be able to establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan, something NATO has largely prevented. With NATO gone the Pakistani Taliban will be able to use bribes and intimidation (of the security forces and local tribes) to establish these sanctuaries and use them for more attacks inside Pakistan. This is an issue that Pakistani officials will only discuss privately with American and other Western diplomats. The U.S. is sympathetic but points out that Pakistan created the Taliban and continues to maintain sanctuaries for terrorist groups.
To most American military and political officials, this is all the fault of Pakistan, and now many Pakistanis are openly complaining about the situation. After the U.S. drove the Taliban out of Afghanistan in 2001, a Pakistani Taliban developed (with the help of Afghan Taliban taking refuge in Pakistan). In the last decade the Pakistani Taliban has grown to become a major source of terrorism inside Pakistan. For the past three years Pakistan has had over 100,000 troops in the tribal territories along the Afghan border fighting Pakistani Taliban attempts to take control of the area. This effort has been largely (but not completely) successful. The North Waziristan district, right on the Afghan border, has been left alone and serves as a refuge for Islamic terrorists (including some Pakistani Taliban factions) who will refrain from attacking the Pakistani government. Pakistan created a lot of this terrorism or sustains it and is at a loss of how to deal with the growing threat.
Most Afghans expect more violence when the NATO troops leave. This is in recognition of the fact that the large number of NATO troops has reduced tribal feuds and a lot of banditry. Afghanistan is a very violent place, and always has been. For example, when U.S. forces arrived after September 11, 2001, the Taliban were still fighting tribes that opposed them. In addition, the Taliban were using a brigade of al Qaeda gunmen to punish unruly tribes that had already made peace with the Taliban (and had then changed their minds). With the Taliban and al Qaeda gone, Afghanistan went through several years of relative (and uncharacteristic) peace. But the drug gangs prospered and the Taliban eventually returned from their Pakistan sanctuaries and sought to regain control of their "homeland" (Kandahar and Helmand provinces).
NATO has spent billions to build Afghan security forces and a useful Afghan government. Both efforts have been crippled by the corruption and tribalism that have long defined Afghanistan. The central government, even with all its Western gear, ideas and advisors is still just presiding over a coalition of warlords and tribal leaders in a region they all agree to call "Afghanistan". Beyond that, it's every man for himself.
June 8, 2012: Afghanistan has been granted observer status in the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization).
This is a regional security forum founded in Shanghai in 2001, by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, and China. The main purpose of the SCO was originally fighting Islamic terrorism. Russia, however, hopes to build the SCO into a counterbalance against NATO. SCO members conduct joint military exercises, mostly for show. They also share intel on terrorists, which is often useful. Iran, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mongolia, and Turkey also want to join the SCO. These nations are allowed to send observers to meetings and will eventually become official observers and be allowed limited participation in SCO activities. China sponsored Afghanistan to become more active in SCO and has promised more economic and security aid for Afghanistan in return for cooperation in sharing intelligence about Chinese Islamic terrorists hiding out in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
June 7, 2012: In the north (Sar e Pul province) a bomb was detonated at the main gate of a police compound prison and 14 prisoners escaped. In addition, guards killed three prisoners and caught others quickly. Some of the escapees were Taliban, who were believed responsible for the operation. But such attacks are sometimes carried out by criminal gangs or tribal militias.
June 6, 2012: In the east (Logar province) two NATO air strikes killed 18 civilians. The NATO commander apologized for this after Afghan and international media expressed outrage. There is less outrage over the larger number (five times more) civilian deaths caused by the Islamic terrorists (usually Taliban). This is largely because the Taliban will kill local journalists who report Islamic radical violence against civilians or Taliban use of civilians as human shields. Civilian deaths caused by NATO forces have declined over the last few years while Taliban inflicted deaths have increased.
Some attacks are so outrageous (like mass poisonings of girls attending school) that they do get some media attention. But in general the local and international media tend to ignore the culture of violence that has always existed in Afghanistan. The level of violence against children, women, and everyone is higher. There are a lot of guns and short tempers. The Pushtun in the south are the worst offenders and are known, and feared, for their anger management issues and fondness for prompt and fatal retaliation for any real or imagined slight. So journalists in Afghanistan survive by playing up real or imagined insults by foreigners. In the south this includes any non-Pushtuns (who make up 40 percent of Afghans, although twice as many live in Pakistan, where they are about 16 percent of the population). Many Pushtun insist they are the majority in Afghanistan, and it's not safe to contradict this while in Afghanistan.
In Kandahar, three Taliban suicide bombers attacked a market place, killing 22 and wounding over fifty. About a third of the casualties were Afghans involved in supplying goods to NATO bases. These were apparently the primary target as the Taliban are trying to terrorize Afghans into not working with NATO forces in any way. This works with some Afghans, but most are unwilling to give up a good business opportunity and take more precautions, including using unofficial violence against the Taliban. Most Afghans oppose the Taliban, who are seen as a Pushtun terror group. But even in the Pushtun south there are many who join together to violently oppose Taliban terror tactics.
June 3, 2012: NATO has struck deals with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan to allow NATO to ship thousands of vehicles and cargo containers out of Afghanistan, as NATO forces prepare to leave in the next two years. Similar arrangements were already made with Russia, whose railroads comprise most of the route. All four nations will see their railroads get over a hundred million dollars in additional business because of the NATO movement of weapons and equipment.
June 1, 2012: In the northeast (Badakhshan province) British commandoes freed a British citizen (and her three Afghan companions) in a night operation that left seven armed kidnappers dead. The British aid worker and four companions had been seized by bandits on May 22nd. One of the Afghan aid workers managed to escape. Local Islamic terrorists then got involved, offering the bandits protection and help with the ransom negotiations. The kidnappers demanded $4 million and the release (from prison) of a gang member. American, Afghan, and British special operations forces were quickly put on the case and found where the captives were being held. It was also discovered that one of the Afghan aid workers was going to be murdered to speed the ransom negotiations, and this caused the rescue operation to take place when it did. None of the commandos or captives was injured in the operation.