Afghanistan: Tentative Times


July 25, 2023: Despite continued IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) government denials, they appear to be tolerating the presence of al Qaeda personnel as well as TTP (the Pakistani Taliban). TTP support was expected but IEA insists it will not tolerate any Islamic terror groups. They are either lying or simply don’t have much control in many parts of the country. UN officials supervising aid deliveries noticed al Qaeda training camps in five provinces in addition to many more safehouses. Suicide bombers are being trained and indoctrinated for use outside Afghanistan. Some are being sent to Western countries where they can hide among the many Afghan refugees fleeing IEA rule. The IEA is also continuing to impose more lifestyle restrictions similar to those they enforced in the 1990s. This includes a ban on listening to live or recorded music. The IEA also censored what could be shown by Afghan TV stations. This meant no shows that had women with uncovered faces as well as no music. The IEA wants women appearing in public to wear the burqa (covers everything except the hands and eyes.) Many rural Afghans support some of these urban ideas, especially education for girls and more education in general. Beyond that these rural Afghans tend to be more conservative than those living in urban areas. The IEA is having a hard time coping with the current Afghanistan, which is quite different from the one they ruled before September 11, 2001.

When the IEA took power, the national population was at least 33 million, which is 57 percent more than two decades ago when the Taliban were driven from power. Kabul is the largest city, with about half the urban population. The last time the Taliban were in charge (2001) Kabul had a population of half a million but twenty years later that has increased ten times to five million. Despite the population growth, over two-thirds of the population still lives in the countryside but rural Afghans are not as conservative as they were in the 1990s.

Afghanistan has growing problems with Pakistan but increasingly friendly relations with India and China. The oldest Afghan-Pakistan issue is the Pakistani military’s lucrative participation in Afghanistan’s drug trade, which the current Taliban government claims it is trying to shut down. This effort has had some success. Over 90 percent of Afghan poppies are produced in one Afghan province; Helmand. Then as now, neighboring Pakistan cooperates to make this work because essential chemicals must be imported to refine the opium into heroin. Pakistan is also the most effective route to worldwide drug markets via Pakistani airports and its seaport in Karachi. Afghanistan’s other neighbors (Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) are very hostile to the drug smugglers. Afghanistan’s northern neighbors, all former Soviet “republics”, have long received armed assistance from Russia to combat the drug smugglers.

Unlike the 1990s, the Pakistani military, which created the Taliban in the 1990s and has sought to control them ever since, has encountered unexpected problems. Back in 2021, shortly after the IEA took control of Afghanistan, then Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan repeated his belief that foreign nations, including the United States, would eventually have to recognize the Taliban IEA government and resume diplomatic and economic relations with Afghanistan. That was a minority opinion in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kahn was taking a lot of heat from Pakistanis who have seen their incomes fall or disappear because money from Afghanistan stopped coming into Pakistan due to the end of nearly all Western aid after the IEA took over Afghanistan in 2022.

Some Pakistani officials considered the Taliban and various Islamic terrorist groups another failed investment. Pakistan long supported the Taliban and believed this would enable it to take control of Afghanistan and shut down Islamic terrorists and separatist groups in Afghanistan that attacked Pakistan. That did not happen. The Taliban were also supposed to provide stability for Pakistani investments and trade. China was willing to make major investments in Afghanistan if conditions were stable. That has not happened and Pakistan gets most of the blame.

There is some international cooperation with the IEA in areas of mutual interest. The most obvious one is Islamic terrorism, which is also a problem for the IEA. The primary Islamic terror threat in Afghanistan is from ISK (Islamic State Khorasan), which was formed in Afghanistan during 2015, with the help of ISIL leadership in Syria, to handle ISIL activity throughout the region (Central Asia, Iran, Pakistan and India). ISK found they were most effective if they confined their operations to Afghanistan and Pakistan, which they have been doing since 2019.

The United States does not believe the IEA controls all of Afghanistan and, until it does, the IEA is deemed not the legitimate government of Afghanistan and is not entitled to access to $7 billion in Afghan central bank funds on deposit in foreign banks. This money originally belonged to the IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) government that the IEA deposed in 2021. This money was held in foreign banks to reduce corruption and was frozen because no one would recognize the IEA as the successor to the IRA. Countries in the region expect the IEA to collapse in a few years, which will leave the country a narco-state without any central government. The Americans will not reopen its embassy in Afghanistan until the IEA can demonstrate that it actually governs Afghanistan.

Over two billion dollars’ worth of American aid has been sent to Afghanistan since the IEA took power. The United States halted normal aid because of the uncertain status of the IEA but continued aid programs for Afghanistan on a case-by-case basis. The U.S. still does not have diplomatic relations with the IEA and the aid is monitored via the foreign aid groups that manage disbursement of aid throughout Afghanistan. The IEA is desperate for foreign aid to replace the much larger amounts the previous IRA government had received. IEA assured foreign aid donors that it would not interfere with the distribution of aid but did so anyway. The most obvious example of interference is the IEA ban on Afghan women working for foreign aid agencies, and putting additional restrictions on who could receive aid. It was increasingly common for the IEA to back off on agreements with foreign aid groups over how aid was to be distributed and used. The main problem was that IEA decisions were subject to modification by prominent imams (religious authorities) who have the authority to order the IEA to modify or cancel decisions on religious grounds.

Other foreign donors remain active, moving over $10 billion in aid, mainly food, to areas of Afghanistan where there is little food and not much IEA presence. Not all of this aid gets through, even though it is desperately needed and even the families of men in various armed groups are going hungry. There have been droughts in the past few years and many Afghan farmers are losing all or most of their crops. Despite that the IEA does not care how local officials use the food aid. That means some of the food aid is sold. The IEA needs cash more than it needs food air so a lor of the food aid is sold on markets, with most of the proceeds going to the IEA.

China has still not established much presence in Afghanistan and is seeking to establish security in areas where it wants to open mines and export copper and lithium. China is offering multi-billion dollar deals to the IEA if there is security for the mines and export and supply routes. These deals remain works in progress.

July 21, 2023: Inside Afghanistan, the only organized opposition to IEA rule was a successor to the 1990s Northern Alliance. This anti-Taliban group reassembled in 2022 as the NRF (National Resistance Front) and appeared to be a major threat to IEA rule and possibly something that was more than the IEA could handle. NRF leaders blame the United States and the former IRA government. Both misjudged and mishandled efforts to deal with the ISIL and TTP (Pakistani Taliban) presence inside Afghanistan. Now the resistance to the revived Taliban rule in Afghanistan is opposed by an updated version of the pre September 11, 2001 Afghan resistance. This time the United States is not interested in trying to remove a pro-Islamic terrorist government in Afghanistan.

Some of the NRF leaders are sons of successful Northern Alliance commanders. Iran threatened to provide more support to the NRF than they gave the Northern Alliance. By late 20221 the NRF dominated Panjshir province (northeast of Kabul) and believed they could resist any IEA attack. That was optimistic because IEA forces suffered some losses initially but soon turned that around and inflicted heavy losses on NRF in terms of gunmen, territory and local support. Now the NRF is based in northern neighbor Tajikistan and conducts raids into Afghanistan. This was not a repeat of the 1990s when the Northern Alliance dominated the Panjshir Valley (a 90-minute drive from Kabul) right up to the defeat of the Taliban government after September 2001. Northern Front leaders became members of the IRA government and now their sons reassembled as the NRF, which had some initial success but no staying power. Not enough Panjshir Valley residents willing to die opposing the ruthless IEA government.

July 20, 2023: The three nations (China, Russia and Pakistan) that have the most economic activity with Afghanistan are urging the IEA to help Afghanistan as well as the IEA by allowing women to work and not continuing to impose more restrictions on women. The latest restriction is the IEA order to close all beauty parlors in Afghan cities. This was not received well by Afghan women, and there were several public protests by women which the IEA suppressed without killing anyone. Afghans consider it more important to crack down on the drug cartels and Islamic terror groups that currently operate freely. So far the IEA has ignored these suggestions. In response, the world largely ignored the IEA and Afghanistan and blocked IEA access to billions of frozen funds in foreign banks. There is a similar reluctance to deliver food aid, because IEA might divert some of it to markets, where it can be sold at high prices.

July 8, 2023: Iran executed two Afghan men by hanging. The two were convicted of participating in the 2022 attack on a Shia shrine in the city of Shiraz in southern Iran. The attack killed 13 pilgrims and wounded over 40 more. Police quickly captured the two Afghan attackers alive.

July 6, 2023: In the east (Kunar province) IEA security forces carried out several operations near the Pakistan border that killed Sanaullah Ghafari, the head of ISK (Islamic State Khorasan) and six of his armed followers. ISK was formed in Afghanistan during 2015, with the help of ISIL leadership in Syria, to handle ISIL activity throughout the region (Central Asia, Iran, Pakistan and India). ISK found they were most effective if they confined their operations to Afghanistan and Pakistan, which they have been doing since 2019.

July 1, 2023: In the southwest (Nimroz province), across the border in Pakistan (Baluchistan) there is frequent separatist violence caused by Baluchi gunmen who maintain bases across the border in Afghanistan and carry out most of their attacks against Pakistani targets. There is a similar situation in the southeast (Khost province) where TTP (Pakistani Taliban) gunmen cross into Pakistan (North Waziristan) and attack Pakistani soldiers. This is not supposed to happen because the IEA assured Pakistan that there would be no sanctuaries for the TTP groups in Afghanistan. The TTP bases still exist in Afghanistan and those TTP men regularly cross into Pakistan to carry out attacks.

June 27, 2023: The UN claims it has documented 1,095 violent deaths in Afghanistan since the IEA took control in late 2021. The UN had earlier reported 3,035 deaths in 2020 when the IRA was in charge and under attack by what would become the IEA. In 2020 there were still foreign troops in Afghanistan and foreign aid paid to support Afghan several hundred thousand men in the security forces. Their main task was to fight the Taliban and other armed outlaws that were active. Some of these armed men worked for the drug cartels and some still do. The primary source of violent deaths now are Islamic terrorists and some local self-defense groups. The IEA is trying to create a security force but that process is proceeding slowly.

June 16, 2023: During the first six months of 2022, the invasion of Ukrainians killed more Russian troops than Afghans did during ten years of fighting in Afghanistan during the 1980s. The Afghan war cost the Russians 15,000 dead while the fighting in Ukraine has so far killed more than three times that number (about 47,000). The Ukrainians were better armed than the Afghans and there were more Ukrainians fighting more Russians in Ukraine than there were well-equipped Russians fighting poorly armed Afghan irregulars in Afghanistan. Russia has been actively involved in only two wars since World War II (1945) and the death toll in Ukraine has angered many Russian civilians back in Russia. Russians saw no justification for the invasion of Afghanistan that began at the end of 1979 and even less justification for going into Ukraine in early 2022. In both wars, Russian leaders had convinced themselves that victory would come quickly and with little loss. Losing the Afghan war played a role in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. The current losses in Ukraine has many Russians talking of another government collapse.




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