Afghanistan: Save the Sorcerers

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October 4, 2023: During the 20 years the IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) ran the country, its literacy rate grew. When the IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) took control in 2021, the literacy rate began to fall. At that point the adult (all those over 15) literacy rate was 46 percent compared to 31 percent in 2001 and 18 percent in 1979, when the four decades of war began. For school-age Afghans the current literacy is nearly 50 percent because since 2002 over a third of Afghans have received at least a basic education and nearly half of those have been female, despite vigorous Taliban efforts to block that. Since 2014 the Taliban have put a priority on destroying schools, especially those that educate girls. The number of girls getting an education has been declining. The current Afghan literacy rate is 46 percent compared to 72 percent for India, 96 percent in China and 87 percent in Iran. Countries with higher literacy rates tend to have stronger economies and more prosperity in general. The U.S. has a literacy rate of 99 percent, as does Britain and most other Western nations. The more prosperous Arab states, like the UAE (United Arab Emirates) have a 93 percent literacy rate. The higher literacy rate usually leads to a better educated and more productive workforce.

The two decades of IRA rule were made possible by $2.3 trillion dollars of American aid to the Afghan government. Some of this money also went t0 Pakistan, which turned out to be a mistake. In 2019 Pakistan admitted that for the last fifteen years it had lied about the presence of over 30,000 armed men in Pakistan and Kashmir working for 40 Islamic terror groups. That deception was one of the reasons the U.S. cut off all aid to Pakistan. In addition to halting cash assistance of Afghanistan, the United States pulled the last of its troops in late 2021 and the U.S. backed IRA government collapsed, replaced by the IEA. If the IEA does allow groups based in Afghanistan to make attacks on the United States or American in other countries, the response will be sanctions and air strikes on Afghanistan. Untrustworthy Afghan governments are nothing new, it is a tradition that is several centuries old. Outsiders are considered fair game for all manner of deceptions and costly mistakes while trying to do business in Afghanistan. The Americans proved to be the most lucrative victim and, after 20 years of persistent corruption, decided the situation was not going to change and left. The U.S. still supplies support for Afghanistan through its donations of UN food programs for Afghanistan.

The IEA recently persuaded some of the exiled finance and banking officials who had served the IRA to return and get the Afghan currency stabilized while also enabling the Central Bank to handle more transactions and larger ones as well. The national currency, the Afghani, has also increased in value over the last year to the point where only 78 Afghanis were needed to buy a dollar. Since the Afghani was getting stronger it was easier to efficiently handle the $5.8 billion in aid received since mid-2021. The Central Bank can now ease limits on businesses or individuals withdrawing dollars. The Central Bank is considered stable and efficient by foreign investors and that accelerates plans by foreign companies to invest billions of dollars to create mining operations in Afghanistan.

China is negotiating with the Taliban government to provide food and other aid in exchange for allowing China to safely establish surveillance cameras throughout the country and use Afghanistan as a transit zone for Chinese operations in surrounding countries.

Inside Afghanistan, the only organized opposition to IEA rule is a successor to the 1990s Northern Alliance. This new 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 was 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 2022 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 are willing to die opposing the ruthless IEA government. The remaining resistance fighters have moved north to Tajikistan. September 30, 2023: One reason Afghan families flee IEA ruled Afghanistan is to live in a country that allows girls and women to attend schools and universities. IEA ruled Afghanistan is the only Moslem country in the world that bans the education of women and energetically enforces that ban. Afghan women can get a basic education but not high school or university level instruction. The IEA has created a hostile environment for any schools to educate women and many of these schools take the hint and downgrade or eliminate programs for women. Moslem nations that support the IEA point out that educated women are a major asset, especially if you are seeking economic growth and a well trained workforce.

October 3, 2023: Pakistan ordered 1.7 million unregistered Afghan refugees to leave Pakistan by the end October or be arrested and forced back into Afghanistan. There are over two million registered Afghan refugees, but wants to get these out of Pakistan as well. The legal refugees can seek refuge elsewhere while the unregistered are not screened for known criminals or terrorists. Recent terror attacks in Pakistan have been traced back to Afghan refugees. Most of the refugees left Afghanistan because they wanted to escape the harsh rule of the new IEA government. The registered refugees have some protection from the UN refugee agency. That is not enough to halt a determined expulsion effort by a host country. The Afghan refugees have long been a presence in Pakistan and this is not popular with many Pakistanis because the refugees are a burden on the local population and economy. The UN seeks to deal with this problem by providing aid for the refugees. Getting donor nations to provide that aid has become more difficult, especially when the aid is needed for Afghan refugees.

September 29, 2023: IEA Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani visited the Panjshir Valley and tried to convince local leaders to stop tolerating anti-IEA activities in the valley. Many Panjshir residents have joined the resistance, which includes a growing number of armed men who fight what was described as a pro-Pakistan IEA government.

There is some truth to this, especially when it involves members of the Haqqani clan. Pakistan believed that once the IEA took over, the pro-Pakistan members of the IEA government would give Pakistan their long-desired control over the Afghan government. That might have happened except for the fact that the official leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Hebatullah Akhundzada, had a lot more supporters in Afghanistan than Pakistan realized. Before the IEA took over Pakistan was convinced that Akhundzada was unpopular with many Taliban faction leaders, in part because Akhundzada was seen as a figurehead and his chief deputy, the head of the Haqqani Network, was actually in charge. That was true but the secret was that Akhundzada only acted as a figurehead because he had to operate from the Pakistan sanctuary in Quetta, a city just across the border from the Afghan province of Kandahar, where many of the original Taliban came from. Kandahar was where Akhundzada went after the IEA replaced the IRA (American backed-Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) in mid-2021. Once back in Afghanistan, Akhundzada could exercise his power as the official head of the Taliban and do so without potentially lethal pressure from Pakistan. The Taliban factions Pakistan believed were hostile to Akhundzada, and openly supported him once he was back in Kandahar.

Pakistan underestimated how widespread the hatred of Pakistan was in Afghanistan, even among the many Afghan Taliban who seemed to maintain a pro-Pakistan attitude. Pakistan believed this would neutralize the many Afghan Taliban factions who had openly expressed their opposition to Pakistan interference in Afghanistan. Mullah Akhundzada was a highly respected Islamic scholar who rarely commented on his political beliefs. The Pakistani ISI (military intelligence service) that created the Taliban in the mid-1990s and “managed” them ever since. Pakistan misjudged Akhundzada’s silence on his attitude towards Pakistan. This was seen as agreement with or neutrality towards the ISI and Pakistan in general. Akhundzada had widespread support in Afghanistan while the pro-Pakistan IEA officials who were appointed while the Taliban were still in Quetta had little such support.

When Akhundzada overruled Pakistan-backed IEA officials, it was clear he was no longer a figurehead. Akhundzada was not a rigid religious fanatic either. When he imposed a ban on women’s higher education in December 2022, he paid attention to the reaction of most Afghans and agreed to lift most of the restrictions. Akhundzada understands he is responsible to what Afghans, not the ISI, want.

This revelation created a lot of problems for the ISI and the Pakistan military, who are in trouble with Pakistan voters and elected officials who want to curb the independence of the Pakistan military. The military’s policy towards Afghanistan played a minor role in this, but the revelation that the Afghans hate the Pakistani military as much as most Pakistanis do make it clear that the Pakistani generals overestimated their power. Inside Afghanistan, the pro-Pakistan Haqqani government officials would not criticize IEA leader Akhundzada openly because that might lead to more anti-Pakistan violence inside Afghanistan.

September 28, 2023: In the east (Paktika Province) a group of TTP (Pakistani Taliban) gunmen crossed into Pakistan (Baluchistan) and encountered some Pakistani soldiers. There was a gun battle and the TTP retreated back into Afghanistan after losing three dead and several wounded. Four Pakistani soldiers were killed.

September 27, 2023: Responding to complaints from Pakistan, the IEA government has cracked down the presence of TTP (the Pakistani Taliban) and their bases near the Pakistan border. The IEA has arrested 200 suspected TTP members and will continue these operations until TTP attacks in Pakistan cease. The IEA needs good relations with Pakistan because landlocked Afghanistan depends on land routes to Pakistan for its exports and imports. While many IEA members support the TTP efforts to overthrow the secular Pakistani democratic government, the IEA leaders realize that Pakistan is strong enough to withstand TTP attacks and hurt the IEA government economically for supporting the TTP. Pakistan is also the only Moslem country with nuclear weapons and some of the more paranoid IEA leaders believe Pakistan would nuke Kabul if sufficiently provoked by IEA sponsored violence.

September 26, 2023: A Pakistani raid on a TTP camp near the Afghan border left three TTP men dead.

September 25, 2023: Some foreign governments are now seeking to resume diplomatic relations with Afghanistan and open embassies in Kabul. This came after many embassies were closed because of the IEA government. Meanwhile IRA officials continued to control Afghan embassies overseas but those embassies were operating on limited funds and no new money was coming in the IRA embassies were closing. This makes it easier for the IEA to convince foreign nations to recognize the IEA government and exchange ambassadors. Improved security in Kabul makes the reopening of embassies possible. The Czech Republic permanently closed its Kabul embassy in January 2023. The Czechs opened an embassy in 2007 and closed it “temporarily” after the IEA suddenly replaced the IRA government in 2021. The IEA was able to improve security for the embassy so many embassies were not reopened. The Czechs see the East Asia region as the place where increased diplomatic efforts are most useful. Central Asia, on the other hand, is not very promising at the moment and dangerous for foreign diplomats. With the permanent closure of the Czech embassy there were fifteen left in Kabul. This includes embassies for China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the UAE (United Arab Emirates). The EU (European Union) has a delegation in Kabul and Qatar hosts a few American diplomats who look after U.S. interests in Afghanistan. There are several other international organizations that maintain offices in Kabul to explore economic opportunities. IEA extends embassy-level protection to these delegations. Until recently no one recognized the IEA as the legitimate government of Afghanistan but the IEA does control Kabul and has varying amounts of control throughout Afghanistan. That control has grown stronger and spread, making it possible for foreign countries to justify reopening their embassies in IEA controlled Kabul.

September 19, 2023: The IEA has arrested nearly 200 Jadogar (magicians or sorcerers) and charged them with practices forbidden for Moslems. Technically this is true, but in most Moslem countries Jadogar are considered a harmless local tradition and is not a threat to Islam or devout Moslems. The IEA takes an extreme view of what is permissible to good Moslems and decided that Jadogar did not qualify. Most Afghans take a more tolerant view towards Jadogar and see this crackdown as another example of counterproductive IEA extremism.

September 13, 2023: The UN efforts to bring needed food into Afghanistan have failed because of few donations and difficulties in getting the food to Afghans who need it most. This could lead to mass starvation in parts of Afghanistan that lack sufficient locally grown food to feed the population. Russia has promised food aid but has been unable to deliver it.

September 12, 2023: In the east (Paktika Province) Islamic terrorist commander Badshah Khan and associate Mufti Noor Wali were killed by a landmine. Both were considered enemies of Pakistan for their support of attacks inside Pakistan.

September 11, 2023: The United States believes that most of the al Qaeda in Afghanistan are dead, killed by the Afghan government to fears al Qaeda plans to make more attacks elsewhere and let Afghanistan take the blame for providing a sanctuary.

September 10, 2023: The IEA did keep one promise as they shut down poppy production. Poppies are used to produce opium which, in turn, can be converted to heroin. 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 like 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. Some of those Russian troops were recently ordered back to Russia to help out in Ukraine. The IEA continues to guard its border with Pakistan to prevent any Pakistanis form continuing support or benefit from Afghan drug production. The loss of opium supplies was soon replaced by Methamphetamine, which is easier to produce than opium and heroin. The meth is distributed in tablet form. Meth has long been the most popular illegal drug in most of Asia. The raw materials are easy to obtain because few governments have been able to control manufacture of the raw materials needed to produce in a few improvised workshops. The Afghan poppy farmers had to return to less profitable food crops.

Meth is now being replaced by fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid that is cheaper and more potent than heroin, opium or meth. Fentanyl first appeared in the 1960s as a legal pain relief treatment. Like previous pain relief drugs, like morphine, fentanyl soon became an illegal substance for those seeking to get high. Currently most of the fentanyl is produced in China and smuggled to dealers worldwide. Fentanyl is so potent that it's easier for a user to take too much and die. There is one antidote for a fatal fentanyl overdose and is Narcan, which is available as a nasal spray or in a more powerful injectable form. If administered promptly Narcan will negate the fatal effects of a fentanyl overdose. While Narcan is widely available in the West it is difficult to obtain in rural Afghanistan. The heroin produced in Helmand province was largely for export but some of it found its way to the Afghan population as well as Pakistan and Iran. The disappearance of Afghan heroin is being replaced by the cheaper and more potent fentanyl. Popular opposition to heroin and opium in Afghanistan and neighboring countries is the result of addicts who were unable to take care of themselves or anyone else. This was the cause of many family members blaming the government for not doing something about fentanyl. In retrospect , opium and heroin addiction was much easier to deal w

September 9, 2023: Speaking from Turkey, Abdul Rashid Dostum, the leader of NIMA (National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan) called on his allies in Afghanistan to continue the resistance to IEA rule. Dostum is in Turkey for medical care and still has a large following in northern Afghanistan. Dostum was an official of the IRA government, which was replaced by the Taliban IEA in late 2021. Now most of the resistance forces are based across the northern border in Tajikistan. From there they carry out raids against IEA forces in Afghanistan.

September 6, 2023: In the east (Nangarhar Province) Pakistani forces defeated an attempt by hundreds of Taliban gunmen attempting to cross the border. Four soldiers and twelve Taliban were killed before the Taliban force retreated back into Afghanistan.

September 1, 2023: In Northwest Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province) several soldiers and three Taliban were killed in two attacks by the Taliban on Pakistan border posts.

August 31, 2023: In Northwest Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province) a Taliban suicide bomber on a motorcycle attacked a Pakistani military convoy, killing nine soldiers. So far this year, Taliban attacks into Pakistan have left over 500 people dead, including 216 Pakistani soldiers. The UN estimates that the TTP (Pakistani Taliban) Taliban have up to 6,000 armed men in Afghanistan for future efforts to attack Pakistan and establish a TTP government there. The Taliban government denies this.

 

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