Afghanistan: The Attitude Problem


December 24, 2012: President Karzai admitted that corruption was a big problem in Afghanistan but said it was all the fault of foreign aid donors and business investors. Ignoring Afghanistan’s long tradition of corruption, Karzai insisted that it was up to the foreigners to stop offering bribes. The reality is that refusing to pay a bribe can escalate to death threats and even kidnapping or murder. While some foreign officials consider Karzai delusional for these attitudes, those who have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan know that these beliefs are common here. Afghanistan is different from the West, but Afghan attitudes are found in other nations in the region and outsiders have to learn to cope with alien (to them) views of the world.

At the same time, much of the new prosperity in Afghanistan comes from the efforts and cash investments of the foreigners. Even the foreign troops, who hire Afghans to help maintain camps and carry out operations (as interpreters) will be missed for that. The foreign troops not only backed up the less capable Afghan police and army battalions but provided a lot of jobs. By 2014, most of the foreign troops, and their benefits, will be gone. The great fear is that the Afghan army and police will fall apart after the foreign troops depart. That is unlikely, mainly because Western governments will be paying for this force of over 300,000 personnel, which is about ten times larger than what Afghanistan could afford on its own. The foreigners, especially the Americans, are wise enough to the ways of Afghanistan to know how to use the power of the purse to stop the Afghan police and military from collapsing completely. Despite these problems, the security forces have succeeded in reducing violence in the last few years. The Taliban, bandits, and drug gangs are using traditional Afghan tactics and recruiting methods, and their gunmen are outmatched by the Western trained police and soldiers. Many of those security forces advantages will go away with the foreign troops, and no one is sure just how much that will shift the battlefield balance of power.

Another thing Afghans lack, which drives Westerners crazy, is civil spirit and discipline. Police, soldiers, and other government employees tend to put their tribe or clan above everything. While the attitude that “family is most important” exists in the West, it does so alongside beliefs in civic responsibility (to the nation, state, town) and loyalty to employer (especially if it’s military or police). Afghans just assume that tribe and family come first, above everything else, and are perplexed when foreigners don’t appreciate that.

Afghan and NATO officials also acknowledge that what Pakistan does will determine the fate of Afghan internal security. The Taliban, and terrorist operations (not all are Taliban) in general, have been sustained by Pakistan making terrorist and Taliban sanctuaries available in North Waziristan (just across the border in eastern Afghanistan) and Quetta (the capital of Baluchistan, just across the southern border from Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where 90 percent of the world’s heroin is produced). Pakistan refuses to admit that it is still using terrorists to try and control events inside Afghanistan. The Afghan attempts to call the Pakistanis out on this are largely ignored.

Another problem the two countries have are 1.6 million Afghan refugees (and their descendants) who fled to Pakistan in the 1980s (to avoid the Russian invasion) and 1990s (to escape the post-Russia civil war) and refuse to return. Most of the refugees went back after the Taliban were ousted in late 2001, but many had put down roots in Pakistan and refuse to leave.

December 23, 2012: In the east (Nangarhar province) Afghan and foreign troops killed a senior Taliban leader (Obaidullah). Another leader was arrested in the south (Kandahar). The Taliban has been changing during the last few years as more of their field commanders get killed or captured. The replacement leaders are less skillful and more violent.

December 20, 2012: Peace talks with the Taliban began in France. Not much is expected from this because the Taliban are suffering from factionalism and many Taliban leaders want to use the talks as a tool to weaken the current Afghan government and pave the way for the Taliban once again running the country. Despite the Taliban alliance with the wealthy drug gangs, that won’t happen. Most Afghans oppose the Taliban and know, from suffering Taliban rule before (1995-2001) that going through that again is not possible. Some of the pro-Taliban Pushtun tribes and warlords realize this and may be persuaded to expose themselves to Taliban retaliation and switch sides.

December 15, 2012: France withdrew its last combat troops from Afghanistan, completing the removal of 2,500 troops in the last year. There are still 1,500 French troops there, mainly to pack up equipment and ship it home as well as help train Afghan troops.

December 13, 2012: A suicide bomber failed in his attempt to get into the NATO base at the Kandahar airfield. One American soldier was killed along with two civilians. This occurred several hours after the American secretary of defense left after a brief visit.




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