2008: While the Taliban get all the
headlines, the main source of the violence in Afghanistan is the money from the
heroin trade. This is what pays to arm and encourage (with payments to the
gunmen, or to their families after their sons die in action) young men to get
involved. The Taliban also take advantage of the ancient Pushtun tradition of
fighting outsiders. The result of all this has been a few thousand Taliban and
al Qaeda fighting wandering around southern Afghanistan, terrorizing locals
into supporting them (with food, and no cell phone calls to the police).
Because most of the Pushtuns want nothing to do with more violence, more and
more of the gunmen are foreigners. Most are from Pakistan, but hundreds are
from outside the region, mostly Arabs.
majority of Afghans have nothing to do with all this. Partly this is because
about 60 percent of the population are not Pushtuns, and consider the Taliban
another example of Pushtun madness they want no part of. The rest of the
country still has the usual problems of corruption, banditry and tribal
politics, but nothing as nasty as the Taliban and their murderous religious
NATO commanders know they cannot be beaten. The combination of more capable
troops, air reconnaissance (especially hundreds of UAVs) and smart bombs,
enables Taliban fighters to be killed quickly, whenever the enemy stays in one
place too long. But there are more
groups of Taliban running around southern Afghanistan than there are Western
troops available to go kill them. NATO commanders know their history, that the
Pushtun tribes can be beaten, but that it will require,they calculate, another
three brigades. This will enable a large enough number of Taliban fighters to
be killed, in a short enough period, to break the morale of the Pushtuns still
willing to go out and carry a gun for the Taliban. Getting those additional
troops will be difficult, largely because of domestic politics in the West. Europeans,
in particular, are eager to find a way to not get involved. The Europeans have
allowed their armed forces to waste away since the end of the Cold War in 1991,
and the general attitude is more receptive to making some kind of deal with the
Islamic radicals, rather than hunting down and killing them. The Islamic
radicals know this, and are willing to say whatever the Europeans want to hear
in order to get Western troops out of Afghanistan. To help that process, al
Qaeda is concentrating suicide and roadside bombing attacks on European troops,
because of the potential political payoff back in Europe.
Taliban have been unable to come up with any tactic to neutralize this Western
advantage. However, the Taliban believe that if they keep up the violence long
enough, many of the nations, especially the Europeans, supplying troops will
tire of the effort and pull their forces out. If a leftist president is elected
in the United States this Fall, the Taliban see an opportunity for reducing U.S.
efforts in Afghanistan. Even without that, the Taliban leaders believe they can
simply outlast any foreign efforts to "pacify" the Pushtun tribes.
government, which is dominated by Pushtuns, see the Taliban as an uprising by
some tribal factions seeking power in the traditional way. As the Taliban did
in the 1990s, the Taliban want to restore their religious dictatorship, which
would be dominated by Pushtun tribal leaders who are religious enough, and
ruthless enough, to enforce Taliban rules (no schools for girls, harsh rules
for women, no fun for men and no tolerance for anything but conservative Sunni
Islam). This outcome scares the crap out of most Afghans, who will resist
violently. They have no doubts what Taliban rule would be like, having suffered
it in the 1990s.
government, and the majority (over 80 percent, including most Pushtuns) of
Afghans see the Taliban as not just a bunch of Pushtun religious zealots trying
to take control of the government, but another effort by evil neighbor Pakistan
to take control of Afghanistan via the Taliban. It's true that Pakistan armed
and organized the first Taliban combat units, recruiting Pushtun refugees (from
the 1980s war with the Russians) living in Pakistani camps, and attending Saudi
funded religious schools. This was the faction in the Pakistani government
which agreed with the concept of an Islamic religious dictatorship as the
solution for the world's ills. This attitude is a minority one in Pakistan, but
is tolerated because these fanatics are found at all levels of society, and are
organized for self-protection. But the majority of Pakistanis are actively
opposed to the Islamic conservatives, again thanks to al Qaeda and their
tactics of bombings that kill lots of innocent civilians. This is the usual terrorist
self-destructive death spiral. The terrorists kill civilians, turning the
people against them and are eventually wiped out by an enraged population. It's
happened before, it just happened in Iraq and it's happening now in Afghanistan.
2008: Increased Taliban attacks on
trucks that move most imports to land-locked Afghanistan, has caused Pakistan
to go after Taliban fighters who have set up shop along the highways into Afghanistan.
It's Pakistani trucking and trading companies that are losing money, trucks and
drivers from the Taliban attacks. Religion
is one thing, losing your livelihood is an even greater motivator.
2008: In the southern city of Kandahar,
the police chief, and two other senior police commanders, were fired for poor
performance (and the June 13 jail break).
2008: The Taliban on both sides of the
border are going after tribal and religious leaders who will not cooperate with
them. The anti-Taliban men are kidnapped, or just murdered outright. Sometimes
this works, but it always creates more anti-Taliban sentiment. Terror is only a
short term solution, and a long-term problem.
2008: Rockets and shells are being fired
from Pakistan into Afghanistan. NATO and
Afghan artillery is firing back. The Pakistani military insists this is not
their doing, but admits the someone, probably the Taliban, is doing it. The
Pakistanis are tolerating the return fire, and but not happy about it.