Afghanistan: Smoldering In Plain Sight


August 27, 2020: Pakistan sees itself as the main beneficiary of the ongoing Afghan peace talks between the Pakistan-controlled Taliban, the United States and the elected Afghan government. The Taliban and the Afghan government have agreed to begin peace negotiations but working out mutually acceptable terms seems an impossible task. After all, the stated objective of the Taliban is to replace the current government with a Taliban controlled religious dictatorship. That means there will be no peace and any Pakistanis with knowledge of what has gone on in Afghanistan since the 1970s can see how this will end. Worst case is all foreign troops leaving and foreign aid is withdrawn (because of the corruption). In that situation Afghanistan returns to its traditional (over the last few thousand years) condition. That means the country/region we call Afghanistan gets picked apart by more powerful neighboring states. Traditionally this has meant Persians and Indians. Now it is Iranians and Pakistanis, who are basically Indian Moslems who demanded their own Moslem state when India was created in 1947. Pakistan is broke and economically dependent on China. The Chinese don’t want their numerous investments in Pakistan attacked by Islamic terrorists, tribal separatists or anyone else. Pakistan justifies (to China) the expense of meddling in Afghanistan because it is necessary to control the Pushtun minority in Pakistan. There are twice as many Pushtun in Pakistan as in Afghanistan but Pakistan has a much larger non-Tribal (Punjabi and Sindi) population so the Pushtuns are only 15 percent of all Pakistanis. The Baluchi tribes account for another four percent. That makes about 19 percent of Pakistanis tribal and not particularly happy with the Chinese presence or the brutal treatment of tribal people in Pakistan. Extending that brutal control to Afghanistan won’t improve anything in Pakistan.

Iran, which historically controlled, when it was profitable to do so, much of western Afghanistan did so just as the northern Indians controlled eastern Afghanistan and Kabul. This foreign occupation was expensive because the tribes were constantly fighting the foreigners. When the once lucrative Silk Road trade route between China and the Middle East/Europe fell out of use because of cheaper travel via faster, safer and heavily armed European ships the Chinese, Iranians or Indians lacked, Afghanistan went back to being a region without a unifying government. That changed in the 18th century when the various tribes agreed to declare a kingdom of Afghanistan mainly to keep the foreigners out. A Pushtun king in Kabul justified his job by negotiating with foreigners and providing a neutral space for quarreling tribes to send leaders to try and negotiate an end to a mutually destructive tribal feud. Taliban leaders say they want to unite Afghanistan as a caliphate (Islamic religious dictatorship). That fact that caliphates have never worked well or maintained any unity for long is seen as irrelevant. It is God’s Will that Afghanistan become a caliphate. It’s one of those non-negotiable things that kaffirs (non-Moslems) simply cannot comprehend.

Neither Pakistan nor Iran see any profit in annexing adjacent portions of Afghanistan. While Pakistan, or at least the Pakistani military, is content to “tax” Afghan drug operations that need access to Pakistan, the Iranians, like most civilians in the region, see the opium and heroin coming out of Afghanistan as something evil that much be fought. That means the Afghan/Iran border has long been a combat zone between Iranian security forces and armed Afghan drug smugglers.

Americans want to be done with the military and economic costs of having troops in Afghanistan. The problem with that attitude is that Americans can leave Afghanistan but Afghanistan won’t leave America. The heroin production will continue and major Islamic terrorist groups will have a sanctuary from which to plan attacks on the Wests, especially the United States.

August 26, 2020: The U.S. offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the location and freeing of two kidnapped American civilians. One was taken in 2014 while researching a book on the Taliban and the other was taken in 2017 while supervising a construction project. Whiles the United States won’t negotiate with terrorists or kidnappers it will pay rewards for any assistance in freeing captive Americans.

August 25, 2020: In the north (Balkh Province) a Taliban suicide truck bomber attacked an army commando base, killing two soldiers and a civilian and wounding many more. To the southwest (Ghor province) Taliban gunmen attacked a checkpoint, killing eight soldiers and wounding five. These two attacks resulted in more popular anger at the Taliban, who say they want peace but continue to fight to protect drug smuggling operations and intimidate any who oppose Taliban rule. In the last two weeks Taliban violence nationwide has killed 88 civilians and wounded 133. There is some Taliban presence in 27 of 34 provinces. The Taliban aspires to be a nationwide organization and to use that network of hired guns to rule the country. Army and police operations plus armed resistance by civilians continue to cause heavy casualties for the Taliban. Without the drug gang income, the Taliban would not be able to sustain the cost of all these casualties. In addition to monthly pay for gunmen and the veteran leaders, there are also the death benefits to the families of those killed. Even with the financial attractions many Taliban gunmen are Pushtun tribesmen from Pakistan.

August 22, 2020: Pakistan announced that it had ordered that the 2015 sanctions against the Afghan Taliban be enforced. A similar order was issued a year ago. Pakistan has never enforced these sanctions and makes these announcements as part of an effort avoid financial sanction for supporting Islamic terrorism. For decades Pakistan has been lying about its support for Islamic terrorism and those lies are catching up with them. In February the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) told Pakistan that it made enough progress in reducing support for Islamic terrorism since October 2019 to avoid being blacklisted. But Pakistan was not safe because the FATF monitoring continued.

Back in October 2019 Pakistan had achieved only four of the 27 tasks the FATF set to get Pakistan out of trouble. Pakistan should have gone onto the blacklist for that but pressure from China got Pakistan another “last chance”. Since 2019 Pakistan has raised the number of goals achieved to 14. All 27 reform goals must be met by the next FATF review in July 2020. Since 2016 it appeared that Pakistan was not making enough effort to block Pakistan-based terrorist groups from using the international banking system to finance their violence. Pakistan keeps making just enough progress to keep themselves off the FATF black list.

Pakistan was put back on the grey list in June 2019. Pakistan had been warned in early 2018 that unless they reduced the illegal financing activity coming out of Pakistan the FATF would put Pakistan back on the gray list and eventually the black list. That would mean Pakistan would have some serious financial problems because of international banking restrictions for anyone blacklisted. Pakistan had been on the gray list from 2012 to 2015 and that was bad for businesses that import or export or need to get foreign loans or sell bonds. After 2015 Pakistan was still on the FATF list but not designated as dangerous. Being on the gray portion of the list makes it more expensive to do business and is very bad for the reputation of Pakistan and Pakistanis. The situation is worse this time because decades of corruption and government mismanagement have left Pakistan unable to raise enough money for its government budget. This threatens the Pakistani military, which has always taken a disproportionate portion of the budget and does not want to reduce its spending. Being on the FATF blacklist would be a financial and economic crisis for Pakistan. Since China is the major foreign investor in Pakistan, and Pakistan is the largest customer for Chinese weapons, China has much at stake here. There is only so much China can do to keep Pakistan off the black list.

China played a major role in keeping Pakistan off the gray list in early 2018 but the odds were against Pakistan staying off the list because it has long been an open secret that Pakistani support for its own pet Islamic terrorists included making it easier for Islamic terrorists in general to do business in Pakistan. The United States has been gathering evidence to justify putting Pakistan back on the FATF gray list (along with Ethiopia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, Vanuatu and Tunisia). FATF meets every three months to consider new evidence to get nations on, or off, the list. The U.S. now considers Pakistan a problem in the war against terrorism and not a reliable partner. India and Afghanistan share that view as do a growing number of UN members.

August 15, 2020: In the eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) an airstrike, apparently by armed Israeli UAVs, attacked an Iranian base, killing 23 Afghan and Iraqi mercenaries and destroying large quantities of ammo and weapons. This could be seen by the number of secondary explosions (caused by the UAV missiles). These Afghans are Shia recruited from Afghan refugees in Iranian camps or Afghan Shia living in western and central Afghanistan.

August 10, 2020: In southwest Pakistan ( Baluchistan) a bomb went off in the border town of Chaman. The explosives, hidden in a motorcycle, were apparently intended for a vehicle belonging to the anti-drug taskforce. The bomb went off at the wrong time and killed six and wounded ten civilians. No one took responsibility for the attack. Chaman is a major transit hub as is the second busiest border crossing into Afghanistan. The Chaman crossing is on the main road between Quetta (capital of Baluchistan) and the capital of Kandahar province in Afghanistan. This road carries vital supplies for the Afghan drug gangs, including chemicals necessary for converting opium into heroin. These are smuggled in by truck, often with the cooperation of bribes for border guards in both countries. Also smuggled in is ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can also be used as an explosive. Ammonium nitrate is banned in Afghanistan because of its widespread use for Islamic terrorist bombs. Ammonium nitrate is still legal in Pakistan.

August 6, 2020: In northwest Pakistan, Pakistani Taliban gunmen based just across the border in the Binshahi region, which borders the Afghan province of Kunar fired mortars and machine-guns at six border posts, killing one Pakistani border guard and wounding three others. It is far more common to have Pakistani troops firing mortar and artillery shells into Kunar province.

This border violence has been going on since 2014, when a Pakistani army offensive into North Waziristan forced the Pakistani Taliban to move their headquarters across the border into Afghanistan. At the same time there was a civil war within the Pakistani Taliban over the selection of a new leader, a new strategy and how much Pakistani interference in the operations of the Afghan Taliban should be tolerated. One thing the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban agree on is that Pakistani influence in Afghanistan is bad for the Pushtun tribes on both sides of the border.

Pakistan is building a border fence along portions of its 2,600 Afghan border that are most often used by Pakistan Taliban and smugglers. These fence sections are supposed to be completed in late 2021. The new fence will slow down the illegal crossers but won’t stop them. The fence will disrupt the movement of people from Pushtun tribes that straddle the border and that alone will keep the Pushtin shooting at the Pakistani fence builders and border guards.

August 2, 2020: In the east (Nangarhar province) several dozen ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) gunmen used a suicide car bomber to attack a prison in the city of Jalalabad (120 kilometers southeast of Kabul) and freed many of the 1,800 prisoners. Most of the escapees were quickly recaptured and the search continued for the others. The ISIL attackers were seeking dozens of ISIL prisoners and it is unclear if they accomplished that task. The attack killed about 30 people, including eight of the attackers. The rest of the dead were guards, prisoners and nearby civilians.

July 31, 2020: Afghanistan accused Pakistani troops in northwest Pakistan of firing nine rockets into Afghanistan and killing nine civilians and wounding fifty others near the town of Spin Boldak in Kandahar province. Nearby Kandahar City is the original "home town" of the Taliban. Pakistan claims the Afghans fired first.

A lot of this border violence is caused by the Afghan-Pakistani border also being called the “Durand Line.” This was an impromptu, 1893 era invention of British colonial authorities and was always considered temporary, or at least negotiable, by locals. The need for renegotiation was mainly about how the line often went right through Pushtun tribal territories. However, the Afghans are more inclined to demand adjustments to the Durand Line, and fight to obtain what they want. Recent Pakistani efforts to build more fences and other structures on their side of the border was an attempt to make the Durand line permanent and no longer negotiable.

July 30, 2020: In the south (Kandahar province) Pakistan reopened the Chaman border crossing in Baluchistan. The crossing had been shut for most of this year because of covid19 and violence on both sides of the border against Pakistani soldiers and police. Recently the crossing was being opened for a few hours each day so that Pakistanis and Afghans could cross to be with their families for a major Moslem religious celebration. This time the violence began on the Pakistani side as civilians, angry at Pakistani soldiers, began attacking some of them. The Pakistani troops opened fire on the civilians and Afghan troops opened fire on the Pakistani troops, who then fired in both directions. Before the shooting could be halted there were about a hundred casualties, with fifteen of them fatal.

July 28, 2020: Afghans continue to die in Syria. Since May Israel has carried out at least ten airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria. In addition to large quantities of weapons and munitions destroyed, at least sixty Iranian or local mercenary personnel have died. Iran is building a new mercenary force by hiring Syrians rather than bringing in Shia Afghans or Shia from other nations. The Afghans were good fighters but there was a limited supply of Afghan Shia willing to serve as Iranian mercs in faraway Syria. A growing number would not renew their contracts and returned to Afghanistan or Iran, where mercenary service also earned a residency permit.

July 27, 2020: In southern Afghanistan an Afghan Air Force UH-60 medevac helicopter was shot down by the Taliban using the Iranian clone of the American TOW ATGM (anti-tank guided missiles). The Iranian TOWs have been used frequently in Syria.

July 21, 2020: The U.S. has reduced its Afghanistan forces to 8,600 troops. The withdrawal began in March, when there were 13,000 American troops in Afghanistan. Britain still has a thousand troops in Afghanistan. These are for training, not combat.


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