Afghanistan: Taliban Believe They Are Winning

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August 28, 2007: It's mostly about money, mainly the money coming from growing poppy plants, turning it into opium and heroin, and smuggling most of the drugs out of the country, for sale in the Persian Gulf, India, Europe and North America. The Taliban get all the publicity, but the drug gangs have all the power. It's the drug gangs that pose the most serious threat to the government. The Taliban are largely ineffective in their attacks on the security forces and government officials. The drug gangs don't want to kill these people, but to make them rich. The drug gangs would rather have soldiers and policemen on the payroll, than be fighting them. The drug gangs are wary of the Taliban, and don't believe these religious zealots have much chance of returning to power. But the drug lords know that, if the Taliban do gain control of the country, the heroin trade will, as it was in the 1990s, be the main source of cash for the Taliban government. It's a myth that the Taliban cracked down on the drug trade back then. For one year, the Taliban went through the motions of shutting down the drug business. They did this in order to qualify for foreign aid, which was money they desperately needed. But the drug taxes continued to roll in. That year, the drug gangs had a surplus of stuff to move, and the Taliban shut down many poppy growing operations, with foreign reporters looking on, to keep the surplus from getting any larger.

The Taliban taxed the drug gangs, while the current government wants to put the drug gangs out of business. So who do you think the drug gangs want to work with? Meanwhile, most Afghans get no benefit from all that drug money. Most of the drug business in concentrated in a few areas, most particularly Helmand province in the south. Most Afghans see the drug gangs as a threat. Partly because there is so much opium and heroin that it's cheap enough to create a growing number of Afghan addicts. The drug gangs are also feared because of the bribes paid to many senior government officials. Afghans elect their leaders, and don't like to see them then bought by drug gangs. But at this point, destroying the drug business risks triggering a major tribal war. Several Pushtun tribes in the south are very invested in the drug business, and will fight to hang on to this newfound source of wealth. In Afghanistan, the welfare of the tribe is still of paramount importance for most people. While there may be a country known as Afghanistan, there are not a lot of "Afghans" in it. No, the people are members of a tribe first. And it's the tribe they will fight and die for, rather than a national government.

The drug gangs believe the foreigners will eventually tire of the fighting and leave. The tribal leaders down south (where two-thirds of the drugs are produced) believe that, if the Taliban were back in power, the wealthy (from drug profits) tribes could control the religious fanatics. Otherwise the foreigners will come back, and ruin everything. Having killed about 150 foreign troops so far this year, and able to see the impact of that (via the Internet) on public opinion in the foreign homelands, the Taliban and drug gangs believe they are winning. Are they?

 

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