Afghanistan: Cultural Insensitivity


October 9, 2009: British, and other NATO commanders, agree that an increase in forces would enable them to break the military power of the Taliban and their drug gang allies. One big problem is that they cannot predict how quickly this would be done. Thus they are having a hard time explaining how this works to the media, voters and politicians back home. Many of those groups simply believe that all the troops can be withdrawn and things will somehow work out.

Many foreign politicians are trying to justify leaving the Taliban alone and just getting out of Afghanistan (where it is very expensive to maintain troops, and very difficult to justify to opposition politicians and angry voters). What has not yet become an important topic, is the impact of the growing flood of Afghan heroin. Because of the steady, and massive, supply of heroin going out of Afghanistan, there is a sharp increase and spreading use, of heroin in the West. The much cheaper opium is the cause of a growing number of addicts in Afghanistan and surrounding nations. This is why the heroin and opium production is restricted to a small portion of Afghanistan (centered around Helmand province in the southwest). This is going to be the next big story, and political crises regarding Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, there is a push, in Afghanistan, to "make deals with the moderate Taliban." This is code word for allowing autonomous areas, run by drug gangs and their religious conservative allies. There are no moderate Taliban. The Islamic conservatism the Taliban embraces is pretty absolute about social rules and attitudes towards non-Moslems.

What is going on here is Pushtun politics. The Taliban have tried to make their war one of "Pushtun Liberation" rather than "establishing a religious dictatorship." The Taliban have got some traction with this. While the Pushtun tribes are only 40 percent of the population, many Pushtuns insist that they are actually the majority (51-60 percent of the population), and should run the nation. In the past century or so, it has been customary for Pushtun tribal leaders to dominate the central government (the king was almost always a Pushtun). But the Pushtuns were often greedy, leaving the majority tribes with hardly any power in the central government. Since the Taliban defeat in 2001, this has been reversed, with the non-Pushtun tribes now having a majority of government posts (although the president, and many key officials, are still Pushtun). Many Pushtuns resent the additional clout the majority tribes have, and want a return to the days of Pushtun domination. The majority does not agree. In the past, the Pushtun tribes got their way because of the implicit threat of support from the Pushtuns in Pakistan. Some two-thirds of the Pushtuns in the region live in Pakistan, but those Pushtuns are, for the first time in their history, being invaded by the Pakistani army, and are asking for help from the Afghan Pushtuns. Put another way, Afghanistan is just part of a tribal civil war in the Pushtun community. The Taliban are a small part of all that, supported by a few million of the 40 million Pushtuns in the region. There are bigger problems with the Pushtuns (their support of the heroin trade, and ignoring the Afghan/Pakistan border), but these are not on the media/political radar yet. But they will eventually be, as these two items are the reality.

There is general agreement that al Qaeda has faded from the scene in Afghanistan, mainly because they are foreigners and frequently abused their Afghan hosts. There has been growing hostility, and actual violence, between the Taliban and al Qaeda. Hundreds of the foreign Islamic terrorists have died, along with al Qaeda influence in the current war.

NATO has begun to fly weapons and munitions in via Russian air space. An increasing tonnage of all supplies are now coming in via Russian railroads (and Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors).

October 8, 2009: A suicide car bomb exploded outside the Indian embassy in Kabul, killing 18 and wounding nearly a hundred people. Last year, a similar attacks killed 58, and security was increased (which is why the death toll from this attack is so much lower.) India believes Pakistan intelligence (ISI) is behind these two attacks, as ISI created the Taliban in the early 1990s, and has never severed its links with them. India is not an enemy of Afghans (Taliban or otherwise), but many Pakistanis see Indian aid to Afghanistan (which has been substantial) as an effort to surround Pakistan with enemies. However, most Afghans (especially the non-Pushtun ones) hate Pakistan already, and don't need any help from India.

October 7, 2009: In Helmand province, U.S. and Afghan forces raided a major drug processing lab and seized 50 tons of opium, and 1.8 tons of heroin. At least 17 Taliban died trying to defend the lab, and the fortune in drugs (heroin is worth $3.5 million a ton, while the opium it is made from is worth only about $100,000 a ton, and both are worth much more once reaching the West). Such raids have been increasingly common over the past six months. The NATO offensive this year has been very expensive for the drug gangs. A lot of these warlords have lost fortunes, and they are not happy about it. Desperate to halt the losses, they have stepped up their attacks outside Helmand, to try and draw the foreign troops away from the place where most of the opium comes from. The drug lords are eager to see the Taliban make a political deal to make "peace" and get the Afghan police, and foreign troops, away from the drug production. That is unlikely to happen, as the growing number of addicts (particularly to the locally very cheap opium) in Afghanistan, and neighboring countries, has made the drug gangs very unpopular. But the drug gangs have several billion dollars a year in revenue to play with, and that kind of money buys lots of guns, officials and other useful stuff.

October 3, 2009: In Nuristan province, hundreds of Taliban attacked two platoon sized American outposts, killing eight U.S. (and two Afghan) troops. Over a hundred of the Taliban were killed as the attacks were defeated. But because an uncharacteristically large number of American troops were killed, the media declared this a U.S. defeat. The casualty rate of American troops in Afghanistan is less than a third what it was in Vietnam, and most journalists are either unaware of this, or unable to comprehend what it means. Most journalists covering Afghanistan are unable to do even a basic analysis of military events. Besides, bad news is the most marketable kind, so bad news is conjured up as needed. The death rate in Afghanistan is higher than in the past few years (when it was usually less than 300 per 100,000 troops per year) and will probably be 400-500 per 100,000 this year. At the peak in Iraq, the rate for U.S. troops was close to 600 per 100,000. That was still less than half the rate in Vietnam and earlier wars, because American troops have become much more effective. Again, that good news, so it's no news.

October 2, 2009: For the third time in two years, an Afghan soldier or policeman fired on U.S. troops he was working with. This time, the cop shot and killed two sleeping two American soldiers in Wardak province, then fled. Afghan police arrested family members who had vouched for the murderous cop and are seeking to find out if the suspect had Taliban or drug gang connections. But a lot of this hostility is simply cultural. There was a recent shooting incident in Kabul (where no one was killed) when Afghan police became enraged that U.S. troops drank water in from of Afghans (during Ramadan, when devout Moslems cannot drink in daytime.)




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