Foreign and local economists agree that one of the key reasons for past and current misery in Afghanistan is the epic levels of corruption. Thus Afghans saw it as a sign of progress that during 2016 they had moved up to the seventh most corrupt nation on the global corruption index. For a long time Afghanistan had been one of the three most corrupt nations. Afghanistan is still one of the worst because although the country is now 169th out of 176 countries its corruption score is still a miserable 15. By way of comparison in the Americas one the most corrupt nation is Venezuela (166th out of 176 countries) with a score of 15. But in Eurasia it is still Afghanistan. That explains why, for centuries Afghanistan was the poorest and least developed country in Eurasia. Despite considerable economic and educational progress since 2001 Afghanistan is still a mess. The corruption ratings reflect that. Corruption in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually North Korea, Somalia or, since 2011, South Sudan) have a rating of under fifteen while the least corrupt (usually Denmark) it is often 90 or higher. The current score for Afghanistan is 15 compared to 32 for Pakistan, 40 for India, 29 for Iran, 29 for Russia, 25 for Tajikistan, 21 for Uzbekistan, 29 for Kazakhstan, 40 for China, 11 for South Sudan, 12 for North Korea, 30 for Mexico, 66 for the UAE (United Arab Emirates) 64 for Israel, 74 for the United States, and 72 for Japan. A lower corruption score is common with nations in economic trouble. African nations are the most corrupt, followed by Middle Eastern ones.
The corruption is one reason the government has lost control of about a third of the population since 2014. The foreign troops left in 2014 and the Taliban have been on the offensive ever since. That, like most else in Afghanistan, has not worked out as expected. At the end of 2016 the Taliban only controlled about ten percent of the country and were very active (“contesting control of”) another 20 percent. This is nearly ten times as much control as they had at the end of 2014. Most of the Taliban gains have been in Helmand because, as the old saying goes, “follow the money”. Over half of Taliban income comes from the drug gangs and much of the rest comes from associated activities (smuggling, extortion, looting). If the drug related activity were counted it would add about five percent to national GDP. But the drug business financially benefits only about ten percent of the population while inflicting mayhem and misery on four or five times as many Afghans. So most Afghans fight back. This has been done at great cost to Afghan civilians, especially those living in the countryside and fighting the Taliban and drug gangs as part of tribal militias. Since 2009 over 24,000 Afghan civilians have died from war related violence but the armed tribesmen fighting to protect their families are not counted separately. Civilian deaths were up four percent in 2016; with 3,500 killed. As in the past some 80 percent of the deaths were attributed to the Taliban, drug gangs and sundry other organized outlaws. While ISIL accounts for less than ten percent of the deaths, the ISIL activity was up in 2016.
The government has assisted tribes fighting the gangs and Islamic fanatics and have managed to halt or reverse Taliban gains in 2016, at least as far as population controlled goes. That has come at a heavy cost; more civilian and security forces casualties and another 640,000 people driven from their homes. Despite that during 2016 700,000 Afghans returned from exile in Pakistan and Iran. Another two million are expected to return by 2019. This population is partly because economic conditions have improved in Afghanistan, but also because the host countries want their Afghan refugees gone. Yet many of the six million Afghans living outside the country are legal, or at least tolerated. The expatriate Afghans, mainly those in the Gulf States and the West, send home about $7 billion a year.
The national budget is currently $6.6 billion and two-thirds of that comes from foreign aid. Because of the Taliban and drug gangs, 36 percent of the budget goes to security. Another 21 percent goes to infrastructure and natural resources. Despite how important both these items are a lot of this money is stolen and that is a very visible bit of damage caused by corruption. Yet there is still a growing sense of national identity and willingness to make sacrifices for a better future. This is aided by the fact that in most of the country the Taliban and drug gangs are hated and often encounter organized and heavily armed resistance from locals, even before the security forces show up. This is partly because the Taliban and the local drug trade were started by members of the Pushtun minority. While a minority the Pushtun have always been the largest minority and thus used that to usually dominate the other minorities (who resented it). This is a major reason why Pakistan is such an unhelpful neighbor.
Pakistan considers Afghanistan a client state and many Pakistanis support that attitude because of the Pushtun threat. That threat is getting worse inside Pakistan. The Afghans are considered a collection of fractious tribes pretending to be a nation. With no access to the sea, most Afghan road connections to ports are with Pakistan. The Afghans resent this, especially since for thousands of years invasions of northern India (which, historically, lowland Pakistan was a part of) came out of Afghanistan where many Pushtun tribesmen would join the invaders. Pakistan and India are well aware of this, and still consider the Pushtuns a bunch of bloodthirsty savages from the mountains. Afghanistan has only been around for a few centuries and Pakistan was carved out of British India in 1947. Before that it was a collection of feudal states and tribal territories. When you get right down to it, Pakistan's big problem is that it contains two-thirds of the Pushtun people (who are 15 percent of Pakistan's population) while Afghanistan contains the other third (who are 40 percent of Afghanistan's population.) "Pushtunstan" is a nation of 30-40 million Pushtuns caught between Pakistan (still over 150 million people without the Pushtuns) 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 and Uzbekistan has 30 million). But Pushtunstan is never going to happen because the Pushtuns have long been divided by tribal politics and cultural differences. That is apparently the main reason why proposals (by Afghans) in the 1950s to merge with Pakistan never went anywhere. 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 now more Pushtuns are openly calling for the establishment of a Pushtunstan and are making common cause with the Baluchis to the south (in Baluchistan) who have long fought to establish an independent Baluchistan. Both tribal separatist groups want to be rid of the Pakistani military and the Islamic terrorist organizations the military supports.
The Taliban has undergone a major purge in their leadership with most of the key leaders in Afghanistan replaced in the last few months. This was the result of Haqqani Network leaders taking control of the Afghan Taliban in mid-2016 and bringing in experienced Haqqani operatives from Pakistan to help with that. By late 2016 Afghan police confirmed that a growing number of known Haqqani personnel were showing up in eastern Afghanistan, often involved with planning terror attacks. However some this increased presence was apparently to deal with rebellious Haqqani factions and there have been reports of gun battles between some Haqqani groups as a result. This was connected with the Afghan Taliban internal problems. Many Taliban want to concentrate on getting rich (by working with the drug gangs) while other point out that the strict form of Islam the Taliban (in theory) adhere to forbids the use of opium and heroin or profiting from the production and distribution of this stuff. The Taliban has long tolerated the drug gangs because they were a source of needed cash. But now many Taliban factions are seeing that relationship as a permanent one and that has contributed to the current disagreements over who should run the Taliban. Many of these conservative dissidents are joining ISIL, which is uncompromisingly anti-drug. In addition many Afghan Taliban factions were willing to fight other Taliban over the decision to allow the organization to be run by the head of the Haqqani Network. This is because since 2014 the Afghan Taliban has been unable to agree on who should run the organization and that has led to more of the factions going into business for themselves. The several dozen factions have territories and different Pushtun tribes and clans they depend on for recruits. To maintain those tribal connections the Taliban need cash to pay full time staff and attract new recruits each year. The tribal leaders and local officials also have to be bribed. The faction leaders have been sending less (increasingly no) cash to the senior leadership in Quetta. More of the faction leaders are responding to family needs and many of those kin want to get out of Afghanistan. That costs money and there is but one major source; crime.
How did smaller rival take control of the Taliban? They did it by being patient and helpful to previous Taliban leaders. By early 2016 hat Sirajuddin Haqqani, the experienced, successful and proven leader of the Haqqani terrorist network founded by his father, Jalaladin Haqqani had, in effect, became a senior commander in the Taliban and a potential successor to leader Mullah Mansour. Then in late May 2016 Mullah Mansour was killed by an American airstrike and two days later a little known Islamic cleric Haibatullah Akhundzadas was installed as the new leader of the Afghan Taliban. Akhundzadahas had little leadership experience but was an old and trusted Taliban religious scholar and advisor. His consul had long been sought and followed by senior Taliban leadership. At first it was believed Akhundzadahas was to be a figurehead leader and Sirajuddin Haqqani would step in and get things organized. The reality was a bit different. Akhundzadahas proved more of a leader than expected and Haqqani demonstrated its usual willingness to cooperate. Together the two new leaders negotiated and agreed to a number of major changes. This new arrangement was OK with the drug gangs and even Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahri hailed the new arrangement. Al Qaeda is trying to reestablish itself in Afghanistan and needs Taliban support to do that. Akhundzada and Haqqani have continued most policies Mansour followed, including doing dirty work for Pakistan and working with Iran to prevent the expansion of ISIL in Afghanistan. It was that last item Mansour was believed to have discussed with Iranian officials during his recent (May 20) visit to Iran. But the new Taliban leadership was implementing a lot of changes, and the Pakistani generals are not yet sure all these will benefit Pakistan.
February 7, 2017: In Kabul a bomb went off near the entrance to the Supreme Court compound leaving 21 dead and 53 wounded. No one has taken credit for the attack yet.
In the east (Nangarhar province) American UAV and manned warplanes attacked an ISIL camp and killed at least two of the Islamic terrorists and wounded three others. More importantly the attacks destroyed a large quantity of weapons, ammo and equipment ISIL had stockpiled there. ISIL is apparently a priority target for American airstrikes in Afghanistan and any target that is confirmed as ISIL connected goes to the top of the list. The ISIL situation in Afghanistan is getting worse. This is a side effect of ISIL suffering major defeats everywhere else. ISIL will no longer control any of Iraq by the end of 2017 and the situation isn’t much better for ISIL across the border in Syria. The growing unpopularity of ISIL throughout the region and over a year of heavy losses is turning the Afghanistan branch of ISIL into the main one. The growing unpopularity of the Taliban and other Islamic terror groups in Afghanistan has been a major boost for ISIL. As has happened elsewhere, the hard-core members of other Islamic terror groups see ISIL as a step up. Despite that ISIL is dying, largely because everyone (including nearly all other Islamic terror groups) oppose it. This means that since 2013 (when ISIL first appeared) the group has lost over 60,000 personnel to combat, disease, accidents and desertion. Most of the losses have been suffered in Syria, Iraq and Libya. It’s believed that ISIL currently has only about 15,000 fighters available, mostly in Syria and Iraq. There are a few thousand more in northern Libya, eastern Afghanistan and Egypt. In all five countries ISIL is under heavy attack and ISIL recently lost its only major Libyan base. Defending it cost them the loss of some 3,000 dead, captured and deserters. ISIL is expected to suffer major losses in 2017, mainly in Syria and Iraq. That could mean in a year Afghanistan would be the largest ISIL force anywhere but not very large and under constant attack by just about everyone. Despite that ISIL will remain a minor factor because that’s how ISIL operates.
February 5, 2017: The government is being accused of deception as it was revealed that the peace deal worked out with Islamic terror group Hezb I Islami (also known as the Hekmatyar organization) last September (after three months of negotiations) allows the members of the group to keep their weapons. What the group is doing is disbanding its “military wing” while allowing the members to keep their weapons. This is justified by the fact that Hezb I Islami made a lot of enemies since the 1990s and members require their weapons for self-defense. The group has not yet disclosed how many armed men it has and where they are. It is feared that the Taliban or even the drug gangs, will cite the Hezb I Islami deal in any future negotiations as justifications to keep their weapons. The government insists that these are only “personal weapons” and not artillery and rocket launchers but no one is sure and many Afghans see the “demilitatized” Hezb I Islami members becoming part of another warlord army.
Hezb I Islami has survived since the 1990s civil war and has not been a major military presence in Afghanistan since the late 1990s because of factionalism, hostility towards any foreigners (Moslem or otherwise) and losses suffered fighting rival Islamic terror groups (including al Qaeda). A representative of leader (and founder) Gulbuddin Hekmatyar signed the agreement in Kabul. Terms include amnesty for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the release of some imprisoned Hezb I Islami members as well as a ceasefire. The UN recently took Hekmatyar off its list of international terrorists. Hekmatyar created and led an Islamic radical group that lost out to the Taliban in the late 1990s and has been trying to make a comeback ever since. As a result Hezb I Islami spent most of its time fighting other Islamic terrorists, mainly Pakistan sponsored groups like the Taliban and Haqqani network. The Hekmatyar organization has been surviving as bandits in various areas of eastern and central Afghanistan. This peace deal was mostly symbolic for the government and recognizing the fact that Hekmatyar and the government had some common enemies; drug gangs and Pakistan-backed Islamic terrorists.
February 2, 2017: In the east (Khost province, near the Pakistan border) an American UAV used missile to kill six Taliban men belonging to one of breakaway Taliban factions. Two of the dead were kin (a nephew and son-in-law) of dissident Taliban faction leader Mullah Muhammad Rasool. During the late 1990s Mullah Rasool was the Taliban strongman in the southwest as governor of Nimroz province until 2001. The Rasool clam made a fortune by controlling the drug smuggling down there. Rasool had lots of contacts in Iran and saw himself as a potential supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban. The Taliban civil war is the result of disagreement over who should take over as Taliban leader after founder Mullah Omar was revealed in 2015 to have died in 2013 (in a Pakistani hospital). The information was kept to a few key Omar associates who were accused of doing this as part of a plot to install an Omar successor (Mullah Mansour ) who was second-rate but backed by the Pakistan military (which provided sanctuary for Taliban leaders in southwest Pakistan since 2002). From late 2015 to mid-2016 Rasool fought other Taliban factions for control of the organization. Heavy fighting began in late November 2015 when Mullah Mansour ordered attacks against the forces loyal to rival Mullah Rasool. This marked a major defeat for the Taliban as they lost a major asset; unity. Most of the fighting took place in Herat, Zabul and Farah provinces. There were apparently several thousand casualties and the heavy fighting did not cease until July 2016. Meanwhile Pakistan sided with Mansour. who was then killed in May 2016 by an American air strike. Pakistan then used its considerable control over the Afghan Taliban to get the head of the Pakistan backed Haqqani Network appointed as one of the three senior Taliban leaders. Rasool apparently backed down in the face of all this and has apparently left the country.
February 1, 2017: In the east (Nangarhar province) tips from local Afghans made possible an airstrike that killed Shahid Omar, a much hated leader of a local group of 40 to 50 ISIL Islamic terrorists.
Elsewhere in the east (Khost province) an American UAV used missile to kill four members of the Haqqani Network.
January 26, 2017: In the south (Helmand province) Islamic terrorists tried to enter Afghanistan from Baluchistan using an escort of Pakistani border guards. The Afghan border guards confronted the group and that kicked off a two hour gun battle before the intruders retreated back into Pakistan. That was followed by a mortar attack on the Afghan border guards involved, leaving one Afghan dead and two wounded. Afghanistan complained to Pakistan but was told no Pakistani security forces were involved.
January 22, 2017: T
he governor of Helmand province (where the Taliban are most active and where most of the world supply of opium and heroin are produced) said provincial security forces had collected lots of evidence that Iran and Pakistan were supporting and supplying the Taliban in Helmand.
January 17, 2017:
Iranian military commanders appeared on a video posted to a government news site to describe the number of Afghan and Pakistani Shia mercenaries fighting for Iran in Syria against rebels (most of them Sunni) trying to overthrow the Shia government there. The video commentary described there being 18,000 Afghan Shia currently fighting in Syria and far fewer (less than a thousand) Pakistani Shia. Some 20 percent of Pakistanis are Shia and that comes to ten times as many Shia as Afghanistan has. Most of the Pakistani Shia Iran recruited are Baluchis who are 3.5 percent of the population. The disparity here can be explained by the fact that Iran pays well for those who sign on to fight in Syria and most of these “volunteers” are from Afghan refugees living in Iran. Many of these Afghans are apparently not Shia but need a job. In Pakistan a major source of Islamic terrorist violence has long been Sunni Pakistani zealots killing Pakistani Shia. Sunni religious conservatives believe that Shia are heretics and must die for that.
January 16, 2017:
In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan) the first 2,000 locals who fled to Afghanistan 2014, returned home from Afghanistan. These Pushtuns fled after the army offensive against Islamic terrorists in North Waziristan began in mid-2014. About 20,000 of these refugees will return by the end of the month.
Turkey announced the capture of the Islamic terrorist responsible for the New Year’s Eve attack on a Turkish nightclub that left 39 dead and over 60 wounded. There turned out to be an Afghan connection. Many of those killed by the lone gunman were foreign tourists. ISIL took credit for the attack. Today the Turks showed photos of the Central Asian man they arrested today in a raid on a neighborhood where a lot of Central Asians live. There were some security photos of the shooter that were circulated and indicated that the attacker might be Central Asian. The police raid took the suspect alive even though he resisted. The next day police announced that the suspect, Abdulkadir Masharipov, was an Uzbek native who received his terrorist training in Afghanistan and came to Turkey a year ago. Masharipov confessed to carrying out the attack.