Afghanistan: Live Free or Die


August 14, 2007: With increasing amounts of drug cash pouring into southern Afghanistan, comes more government, NATO and American troops. And more Taliban as well. This has sharply increased the level of violence in the area, partly because over the last two years, there have been more government officials around to record it all. It's all about tribal politics. The Pushtun tribes on both sides of the border form a population of some twenty million of the poorest, and most heavily armed, people in the region. Leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan are trying to convince the tribal chiefs that it's time to pay more attention to education and economic development. Many of the chiefs are willing to listen, but many others are siding with the Taliban, and a return to a mythical past. Pakistan has admitted it has been the source of most Taliban activity, because Pakistan has been less successful taking on the Taliban in Pushtun tribal areas, than has the Afghan government.

Taking into account the way Afghan politics works, the U.S. is offering a new anti-drug strategy that would involve financial incentives to provincial governors who reduce drug activity. That would mean the drug lords would have to pay higher bribes as well.

The Taliban continues to lose its war with the government and foreign troops. A shift in Taliban tactics has been detected, with local Taliban leaders now cutting deals with local drug gangs or warlords, and jointly trying to control the population (largely through terror) and making life uncomfortable for government troops and officials. Meanwhile, Taliban are advising each other to stay away from the foreign troops, who are now seen as extremely deadly. Slow thinking Taliban leaders keep providing examples of how this works, as in the recent case where about a hundred Taliban tried to rush a camp manned by foreign troops. The Taliban were quickly repulsed, with half of them dead or wounded. Two of the defenders were wounded. The Afghan government is using this battlefield superiority as a bargaining ploy with Pushtun tribal leaders. Carrot and stick, so to speak. It's worked in some areas. But the basic problem of Afghan politics, independent minded tribes, remains.




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