May 14, 2013:
The government and the Taliban continue to make unsubstantiated accusations of civilian deaths because of NATO air attacks. The U.S. has become more aggressive in refuting and debunking these claims, and the official Afghan statistics still show over 80 percent of civilian deaths are caused by the Taliban and other outlaw groups. The false accusations have been around for years. It is all part of an ongoing Taliban Information War effort, in collusion with senior Afghan officials (including president Karzai himself) to use false accusations of atrocities to generate media and diplomatic pressure to force American troops out of areas where the Taliban and drug gangs are taking a beating. This use of media manipulation and corrupt Afghan officials is one of the Taliban’s most successful tactics. The Taliban gets away with this despite the fact that it’s widely known and accepted in Afghanistan that 80 percent of civilian casualties and nearly all the acts that could be described as atrocities are carried out by the Taliban. Yet the accusations keep coming. In response the Americans are collecting a lot of evidence of who did what to whom and are using it. Karzai either ignores this or declares all of the American evidence lies.
While public pressure has forced the Taliban to back off of attacking medical polio vaccination teams, the Taliban are still shutting down schools. Parents are upset about both the vaccination and school bans but they can make other arrangements for education while there is no alternative to the polio vaccination. Too many polio victims, paralyzed or dead children, are around for all too see. The Taliban tell parents that it is God’s Will but many parents believe the vaccine is God’s Will and that the evil Taliban are trying to thwart God’s Will. Rural opposition to the Taliban is on the increase. In a growing number of areas the Taliban can only operate (free from constant gunfire from hostile villagers) if they cut back on the bullying (to dress and act in ways the Taliban clerics approve of). Since the Taliban are being supported (with cash, guns, and drugs) by the drug gangs to protect drug operations, more and more Taliban are concentrating on that and leaving the civilians alone.
Another major civilian complaint against the Taliban is the continuing use of roadside bombs. Although directed mainly against soldiers and police, most of the victims are civilians. Last year the Taliban deployed nearly 15,000 of these bombs, which killed 312 foreign soldiers and 868 Afghan civilians (and nearly as many Afghan soldiers and police). The Taliban refuse to give up their use of roadside bombs, and this is another reason for civilians to pressure their clan and family leadership to organize armed militias and drive the Taliban out of their area (or at least persuade the Taliban to be less lethal to civilians).
The much touted (by the Taliban) “Summer Offensive” is often to an anemic start, with NATO deaths so far this month less than half what they were last year. Meanwhile, Afghanistan is having more and more problems with its borders (with Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan ,and China). On all of them (except China) there are problems with drug smugglers who are armed and will fight if you try to stop them. About 45 percent of the drug smuggling is via Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, 35 percent through Pakistan, and 30 percent through Iran. Border guards will often, but not always, take a bribe and look the other way. This works most of the time, except on the Iranian border, where special units (from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard) are based and will shoot on sight both drug smugglers and civilians coming across looking for work. The dead civilians are a growing source of friction between Iran and Afghanistan. The Iranians took in millions of Afghan refugees during the 1980s, and are still trying to force the last few hundred thousand to go home. Eastern Iran has always had a better economy than Western Afghanistan and economic refugees from Afghanistan have always been a minor problem. But with the development of opium and heroin production in Afghanistan during the 1990s, the drugs got into Iran and there developed a large number of drug addicts in Iran. This led to increasingly violent Iranian efforts to halt the drug smuggling. But the Iranian demand for drugs is too lucrative and the Afghan smugglers keep coming.
Another problem is unarmed civilians looking for work. These are shot at as well because the many Afghans in eastern Iran frequently provide local supporters for the drug smugglers. Several recent incidents of unarmed illegal migrants being killed by Iranian border police has become a major issue in Afghanistan.
On the Pakistani border there is growing tension over Islamic terrorists moving both ways (from bases in one country to carry out attacks in the other) and disputes over exactly where the border is. Afghanistan is happy where the border is currently drawn, Pakistan is not and this had led to a growing number of clashes between border guards from both countries.
The war against the drug gangs is showing progress. Two years ago the drug trade was 15 percent of GDP, but now that has fallen to ten percent. Part of the change was continued growth of the non-drug economy and the drug gangs are hurting. In response to these attacks the drug gangs continue trying to establish poppy production closer to the borders, which makes it easier to smuggle the heroin out and makes it more difficult for the government to go after drug production. Nearly all drug production is still concentrated in a few districts of Kandahar and Helmand provinces down south. These areas have become battlegrounds and it gets harder and harder to keep production going. But the rest of Afghanistan is still quite hostile to drug production (and any more of their young men becoming addicts). Efforts to get poppy production going elsewhere tend to fail because local police and warlords respond violently to that sort of thing.
May 13, 2013: The finance minister, while giving a speech in parliament, named several members of parliament as corrupt. This drew applause from other members because, while some corrupt practices (like nepotism) are widely accepted, those who steal outright, especially those who do it on a large and destructive (by crippling government economic efforts) scale are looked down on. Government anti-corruption efforts are now concentrating on these greedy officials who, even by Afghan standards (which tolerates a lot of what Westerners would consider corruption), are going too far.