Afghanistan: The Three Curses

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August 21, 2007: Over the past six years, the United States, and the Afghan government, have built up an informer and intelligence network along (and across) the Pakistan border. This is providing more information on Taliban and al Qaeda activities. This makes it easier to go find and destroy enemy camps (or villages where the bad guys are hanging out.) The large number of UAVs available also make it much harder for the enemy to pass unnoticed, or sneak up and attack or ambush you. All this led to the recent operation around the old Taliban base area at Tora Bora.

The Taliban tactic of using civilians for protection (or propaganda, if the human shield thing fails and civilians get killed), has caused over 50,000 civilians to flee their homes. No one is sure, but there may be up to 100,000 civilians hiding in the hills, fearful that the Taliban will come by and bring smart bombs with them. The Taliban also threaten to take some villagers hostage, to get cooperation from the others. Many villages have armed and organized themselves to resist the Taliban. Some of these are financed by drug money. In fact, the drug trade had complicated things for the Taliban. Not all the drug gangs are allied with the Taliban, and some tribes are more in tune with Taliban beliefs than other. Thus the Taliban has to be careful where they operate. Some parts of the border are lethal for the Taliban, with every town and village bristling with guns aimed at them. The tribes that back the Taliban, for ideological or financial (drug money) reasons are under pressure from tribal politics to deal with the government. Even the slow learners among Afghans realize that the ancient ways are obsolete in the 21st century. Actually, those traditions were becoming a burden in the 19th century, but that situation has only gotten worse over the last two centuries.

Despite success against organized terrorists, the main problems remain elsewhere. Corruption, the drug trade and a tribal mentality are the big problems, along with ignorance (over half the population is illiterate, and the Taliban are fighting, in part, to prevent the education of women). Corruption is a cancer that prevents a central government from operating efficiently, and building any loyalty among the people. The drug trade finances warlords and independent minded tribes, while also fostering a lack of respect for any law. The tribal mentality is one that hinders cooperation, not to mention political or economic progress. Many Afghans are fighting these three curses, but many are not, or are just ducking for cover and hoping for the best.

A good example of the curses that afflict Afghanistan is the growing use of kidnapping, both by criminal gangs and the Taliban. Kidnapping and hostages are old Afghan traditions. With economic progress comes more people worth kidnapping for money. While kidnapped foreigners make the news, far more Afghans are kidnapped, mostly for ransom, but some for other reasons (usually to get a kinsman freed by the government, or another tribe or gang.) Last week, a pregnant German aid worker was kidnapped off the streets of Kabul. This was considered bad form by Afghan standards (women, particularly pregnant women who are here doing good works, are considered off limits), and informants soon gave up the kidnappers, who were arrested and their captive freed unharmed. But Afghans will also play hardball with captives, and slaughter them if unsuccessful in their negotiations.

 

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