Afghanistan: How Do You Fight That?

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September 15, 2006: The Taliban are turning into al Qaeda. The old Taliban, for example, prohibited suicide attacks as un-Islamic. The new Taliban has killed 173 people so far this year with suicide attacks. There's only one problem with that, 87 percent of the victims were Afghan civilians. But the new Taliban, like al Qaeda, doesn't consider this a problem. While the old Taliban believed attacks on civilians to be un-Islamic, the new Taliban accepts the idea that any Moslem that does not accept the Taliban version of Islam, is not a real Moslem and can be killed with impunity. OK, so what if the Taliban have turned into a nastier and deadlier movement? Aside from the higher body count, the new Taliban is experiencing the same decline in popularity as al Qaeda has. All those dead civilians are noticed. Without popular support, your long term prospects disappear. While that's the natural way of things with outfits like al Qaeda (for centuries, Islamic radical movements have appeared and disappeared every few generations), in Afghanistan, the tribes have their own customs. The Taliban, which originally represented the customs of several Pushtun tribes in southern Afghanistan, has now drifted away from those ancient practices. The Taliban are no longer in tune with the tribes that have long been their base of support. A large influx of cash (from drug gangs and al Qaeda supporters) has made it possible to hire lots of unemployed young men on both sides of the border. That's another ancient custom, idle young men following an "amir" (combat commander) off on an adventure that would result in some loot, or at least a glorious death in combat. The Taliban amirs pay in advance. It's a very attractive proposition in one of poorest regions of Asia. Chronic unemployment, and a tribal culture that condones banditry and terrorism (as long as you direct at people outside the tribe), has been a part of the landscape for thousands of years. It's a curse many Afghans are trying to overcome with education and economic development. The Taliban attack both, because the Taliban wants to keep the old ways. Poverty, religious conservatism and a warrior ethos is the Taliban culture, and for many Afghans, that's something to die for.
September 14, 2006: Poland has offered to send a battalion of infantry to join the NATO force in southern Afghanistan.
September 13, 2006: Police captured a senior Taliban commander, and a foreign aid, in central Afghanistan.
September 12, 2006: Afghanistan cannot rise above it's traditions. Put bluntly, that means that Afghanistan is not a nation in the traditional sense, but a region where the independent minded tribes appoint one of their number to be the "king" (or "president"), mainly to deal with foreigners, and help settle disputes between the tribes. An attempt by the central government to exercise control in the 1970s, led to a tribal rebellion, the 1979 invasion of Russia (in support of the pro-communist central government) and over two decades of fighting. That pattern has been seen many times before in Afghanistan. In the 1990s, the Taliban were just a new tribal coalition that was able to exercise control over most of the other tribes, and take over as the central government. This was not popular, and after less than ten years in power, the Taliban were overthrown by a faction of northern tribes (with some help from the U.S.). Although democratic elections put another Pushtun (the Pushtun tribes in the south comprise some 40 percent of the population) at the head of the government, that did not make Afghanistan a country in the Western sense. Many of the southern tribes had been making good money through the 1990s by growing poppies, and producing heroin. The Pakistanis had pushed the heroin trade out of their country in the 1980s. While the Pakistani Pushtun tribes opposed this, the Pakistani was alarmed at the growing number of its citizens who were getting addicted to drugs, and all the ills that accompany that. But in Afghanistan, there was no government to battle the drug gangs. The Taliban took a cut of the profits and looked the other way. Tribesmen throughout southern Afghanistan were now seeing more prosperity than they had ever believed possible. So what do you think happens when some fools from Kabul come around talking about dropping all this drug business and going back to the poverty of the past. So along come the new Taliban, telling tribesmen that they can keep their drug riches if they back the Taliban. How do you fight that?

 

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