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Afghanistan: The Power In Pushtunstan
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December 11, 2012: Turkey will host talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The two countries never got along, as Pakistan always thought the less wealthy, less developed, and less populated Afghanistan should be subordinate to Pakistan. The Afghans disagreed, even though the more powerful Pakistanis have often had their way in Afghanistan. Talking may calm things down but won’t change the fact that the Pakistanis are much more powerful. In one area, however, Pakistani power has declined in the last decade. Afghanistan has long been the poorest nation in Eurasia and wealthier Pakistan could always get a lot done by spreading a little cash around. But since 2001, Afghanistan has been awash in foreign aid and drug gang money. These are the two largest sources of wealth in Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot realty compete in that area as long as there’s so much aid and drug money in play. Instead Pakistan uses its Pushtun card, manipulating Pushtun politics to irritate and foil Afghan politicians. While Pushtuns are 40 percent of all Afghans, most Pushtuns are in Pakistan, where they are a small minority. "Pushtunstan" is a disorganized “nation” of 30 million Pushtuns caught between Pakistan (still over 150 million people) and northern Afghanistan (with about 18 million non-Pushtuns) Without Pushtuns Afghanistan would become yet another Central Asian country with a small population (neighboring Tajikistan has 7.7 million). But Pushtunstan is never going to happen because the Pushtuns have long been divided by tribal politics and cultural differences. When the Pushtun aren't fighting outsiders they fight each other. The violent and fractious Pushtuns are a core problem in the region and have been for centuries. There is no easy solution to this and Pakistan likes it that way.  

Afghan security forces continue to take over from foreign troops and most of the foreign soldiers will be gone by end of 2014. Currently about 76 percent of Afghans are protected by Afghan security forces.  This year Taliban/drug gang violence was up one percent during the warm weather (the April-September “campaigning season”) but is down three percent for the year (all compared to last year). One noticeable difference with last year is how much less active the Taliban are in the cities. The more active Afghan police and military have driven the Taliban to use bribes and infiltration of the security forces and more attacks on senior officials. These assassination attacks hide what is not reported. The Taliban and drug gangs are constantly using bribes or threats (whichever works best) to get cooperation from government officials, especially those commanding police or army units. NATO intelligence is constantly picking up evidence of this and trying to thwart it. But according to the latest international survey, Afghanistan is the most corrupt country on the planet (actually, it’s a tie with North Korea and Somalia). The corruption is the cause of most of the cultural, economic, and political problems in Afghanistan and the corruption is not going away anytime soon. Most Afghans accept that the corruption is part of the culture and either accepts it or try to emigrate.

Turning over more of the country to Afghan security forces works pretty well in the non-Pushtun north, where the main antagonists are bandits and other criminal riffraff. But in the south, especially Helmand and Kandahar provinces (where most of the world heroin supply comes from) the drug gangs will pay off the cops and even the soldiers. These bribes can be very lucrative, although it’s easier to buy the police (who are recruited locally) than the soldiers (who tend to be from the non-Pushtun north and are more hostile to the opium and heroin produced in the south and to Pushtuns in general). The drug gangs, and all the cash they generate, are a greater threat to the government than the Taliban, who are actually a small religious movement that has been magnified by drug money. The Taliban have always used drug money, even though they officially condemn the drugs. Back in the early 1990s, when the Taliban first appeared, they were willing to let the drug gangs keep operating, for a large fee. After September 11, 2001, and the fall of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, the Taliban became employees of the drug gangs.

December 10, 2012: For the second time in six months the acting as head of women's affairs in Laghman Province in eastern Afghanistan was assassinated. This was hit was carried out by two men on a motorcycle who shot the woman as she was on her way to her office in the morning. Her predecessor was killed by a bomb under her car. The Taliban took credit for this killing and warned women to stay out of school and jobs outside the home. In the west (Nimroz province) the provincial police chief was killed by a roadside bomb. Most of the terrorist violence is in the south, giving that place a murder rate similar to that found in many urban parts of Africa, or American cities like New Orleans or Detroit.

December 9, 2012: American and Afghan commandos freed a U.S. aid worker (an MD) who had been kidnapped on December 3rd. Negotiations were not going well and there were fears that the American captive would be killed by his kidnappers. One American commando (a member of the SEAL team that had killed Osama bin Laden) was killed during the operation. The captive had been working in the area around Kabul for the last three years, setting up and operating medical clinics. This was a popular program with most Afghans but foreigners have long been seen in Afghanistan as a source of loot or ransom.

December 8, 2012: Afghanistan accused Pakistani based terrorists of organizing the recent assassination attempt against Asadullah Khalid (Afghanistan’s head of intelligence).  This was the fifth attempt on Khalid’s life in the last five years.

December 7, 2012: The government is trying to get rid of a UN run independent election tribunal and replace it with one that would be easier for Afghan politicians to control.

December 6, 2012: A suicide bomber, using explosives hidden in his underpants, attacked and wounded Asadullah Khalid, Afghanistan’s head of intelligence. The Taliban took credit for the attack.

December 2, 2012: In the east (Jalalabad) the Taliban made a major assault on an American base (FOB Fenty) and failed. The attackers used three suicide car bombers and six other armed attackers. All nine Taliban were killed along with three Afghan security personnel outside the FOB and two civilian bystanders.

December 1, 2012: In the east (Kapisa province) a young (an orphan in her early 20s) medical volunteer was murdered by a Taliban death squad. The young woman was administering polio vaccinations. Most Taliban believe women should not work outside the home and many Taliban believe the polio vaccination program is really a Western plot to poison Moslems.

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