Afghanistan: The Franchise

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September 25, 2007: The fighting has killed nearly 5,000 people so far this year. About two thirds have been Taliban, fifteen percent civilians, and most of the rest Afghan security forces. Taliban casualties have grown as the year went on, often reaching a hundred or more dead a week. There have been more cases of Taliban rounding up young children to use as human shields, to aid in escaping pursuing Afghan or foreign troops. The Taliban have two things going for them, to keep this violence going; tradition and cash. For thousands of years, the Afghan tribes have automatically fought any foreign troops, and that includes anyone claiming to be the government of Afghanistan. Alexander the Great complained of this 2,500 years ago, as he was conquering the Persian empire. The Afghan tribes were hostile to Greeks and Persians. But the tribes will not usually fight someone bearing gifts, unless someone pays them. The millions of dollars in cash raised by the Taliban, much of it from drug gangs, has made possible the thousands of armed Taliban wandering around, terrorizing the population, and getting killed in large numbers. This has turned more of the population against the Taliban, resulting in more tips from civilians. That, in turn, has resulted in more arms caches found, and Taliban leaders identified (and eventually captured or killed.) In years past, the Taliban could enter the territory of most Pushtun tribes and act as if they were among friends. No more. Most of the tribes have withdrawn their support because of the terror tactics, and the violence the Taliban always seem to bring with them.

One side-effect of the anti-Taliban trend, is more success in catching the perpetrators of specific crimes. For example, many members of the gang that kidnapped 23 South Koreans (and collected $20 million in ransom) have been killed or captured so far. That much cash tends to leave a trail. In the past week, some Taliban captured two Italian military intelligence agents, but were quickly hunted down by NATO commandoes. The two Italians were released and nine of their captors killed.

But the damage done to the Taliban won't destroy it. As long as the drug trade flourishes, there is money to pay unemployed tribesmen to wander about, terrorizing government supporters. Moreover, the NATO and government success in finding and killing or capturing senior Taliban leaders, has left local Taliban chiefs in charge, and that has led to a free-for-all. Taliban is more a franchise, than a centralized organization these days. The local Taliban become partners with the local drug lord, and the Afghan tradition of endless violence continues.

But despite all the violence, refugees from Pakistan continue to return. Some 342,000 have come, so far, this year. Iran is forcing Afghans to return home, and over 100,000 have returned from there this year. There are still about two million refugees still in Pakistan, and about half that number in Iran.

September 19, 2007: British troops led another offensive in pro-Taliban Helmand province.

 

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