March 25, 2013: The U.S. and the Afghan government have finally settled their dispute over Afghans taking control of Afghan terrorists held by Americans in Afghanistan. The U.S. turned over most of Bagram Prison outside Kabul to Afghan control last year. The Afghans gained responsibility for 3,000 prisoners there. The Americans retained custody of several hundred "high value" Taliban (and other terrorist group) prisoners at the nearby Parwan Detention Facility because of fear that Afghan control of these men would lead to bribes or coercion being used to obtain their freedom. In the past the Afghans proved unable to hold on to senior terrorists, who are able to bribe their way out of Afghan controlled prisons. The U.S. has now accepted Afghan promises that the most dangerous terrorists in Parwan would stay there. This is no guarantee but the Americans are fed up with the endless Parwan dispute.
Afghanistan now has another way to reach the ocean. Iran has made a deal with India whereby India will spend $100 million to upgrade the Iranian port of Chabahar and allow Indian ships to move cargo in and out of Afghanistan via Iranian roads, railroads, and the port of Chabahar. The Pakistani port of Gwadar is 72 kilometers east of Chabahar but Indian relations with Pakistan are too unreliable to allow use of Gwadar (which is now controlled by Chinese firms). During 2004-9 India spent over $70 million to build a 218 kilometer highway from Kandahar (the major city in southwest Afghanistan) to the Iranian border. That connects to Iranian roads and railroads that go the thousand kilometers to Chabahar. This gives Afghanistan easy access to the ocean without going through Pakistan (and its bandits, corrupt officials, and unreliable politics). Afghanistan likes having close relations with Pakistan because both India and Afghanistan have had problems with Pakistani hostility and support of Islamic terrorists.
In Kandahar province (the original Taliban homeland and, with neighboring Helmand province, the source of most of the world’s heroin) a tribal rebellion against the Taliban is spreading. Over a hundred village and tribal leaders have openly declared war on the Taliban and are using force to prevent the Taliban from operating near their villages. The cause of all this is the bad behavior by many of the Taliban gunmen. The majority of Taliban are in it for the money and power (to do what they want). In short, the Taliban often act like thugs and abuse the villagers. The victims have turned against their tormenters. This sort of thing is rare and it doesn’t always end well, but this time the villagers are hoping to get enough support from foreign troops to force the Taliban out of their area and keep them out. That Taliban, in typical Afghan fashion, are practical about such things and will just avoid an area where the locals are too feisty. Afghans respect that kind of spunk, although if enough is at stake the strong will simply massacre their foes. There’s lots of that in Afghan legends and the villagers are hoping to avoid that sort of thing.
The Afghan police are being pressured to be more aggressive against Taliban and drug gangs. A large number of police are intimidated by the armed opposition (warlords, bandit gangs, drug gangs, and the Taliban) when they try to establish law and order in an area. Local politics can get pretty complicated out in the Afghan countryside. Here tribal leaders still insist that they, and their tribal traditions, are the law. Afghan police recognize, or at least fear, that and local police commanders will often find it more convenient (and a whole lot safer) to go into business with the local strongmen. This is often described as corruption, but for the police boss it’s more a matter of self-preservation.
Despite all the pressure from the gangs and the Taliban, many Afghan police are still fighting back. In the last year 1,800 police were killed in action and 4,600 of their attackers were killed and another 6,700 were arrested. If a police commander can gain control of his area from gangs and strongmen he will. That control can earn him a lot of money, or just satisfaction for bringing peace and order. The foreign police advisors would prefer the latter but often have to settle for the former.
The Taliban continue to have success with their media campaign. Using the many senior officials on the drug gang payroll, the senior government figures are making more anti U.S. and anti-NATO comments. Afghan media can be bought cheap (as the offers are backed up with threats of force) and there are plenty of local news operations that will run anti-American and anti-foreign stories. These senior Afghan officials feel they are having it both ways. They share in the drug profits and can also plunder the billions in foreign aid that still pours into the country. While the majority of Afghans are hostile to the drugs and the Taliban, that is not a problem for the drug gangs, as most of their operations are down south in Pushtun territory. As long as the Pushtun drug lords don’t try to force themselves on the non-Pushtun majority there will be a kind of peace. That’s how Afghans normally handle these regional tribal disagreements. Only about ten percent of Afghans benefit economically from the drug business, but those in charge are making huge profits and they wisely spend much of it to buy friends in government (be they Pushtun or otherwise).
Afghan officials are accusing Pakistan of treating Afghanistan as if it were a dependency of Pakistan. In particular, the Afghans accuse the Pakistanis of putting a price (in cash) on Pakistani efforts to attack Afghan Taliban inside Pakistan. The Afghans also believe that these same Pakistani officials will release captured Afghan Taliban from prison for a price and are forcing Afghanistan to offer more money if they want to keep these Taliban leaders locked up. Pakistan denies all this but they always do. The Pakistanis have a long history of doing exactly what they are now being accused of.
March 23, 2013: In the south (Kandahar province) a Taliban roadside bomb intended for the security forces went off against civilians and killed four children.
March 22, 2013: In the northeast (Badakhshan province) police killed 43 of several hundred Taliban who had tried to take control of several roads with checkpoints. This may have been part of protecting a large drug smuggling operation, as most Taliban activity in the north is in support of drug smuggling.
March 20, 2013: The Afghan government backed off on its demand that the U.S. pull its Special Forces out of Wardak province.
March 17, 2013: The Afghan MEC (Monitoring and Evaluation Committee), a foreign funded anti-corruption organization, openly protested the light sentences and superficial prosecution of those responsible for stealing nearly a billion dollars (most of it aid money) from the Kabul Bank. This sort of public criticism will be tolerated because it means little and keeps the foreigners happy.
March 15, 2013: In Kabul police raided a terrorist hideout, killed five terrorists, arrested two, and seized a large truck carrying eight tons of explosives. This was going to be the largest suicide truck bombing in Afghan history but the bomb was dismantled and other members of the terrorist groups (believed to be the Pakistan based Haqqani Network) were being pursued.