The Taliban has been defeated on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan
border, but survive by living on one side of the border, while fighting on the
other side. Money is still a problem. On the Afghan side, the drug trade
provides a lot of cash, while wealthy religious conservatives (both local and
foreign) sustain the effort on the Pakistani side. The cash quickly disappears
because of the high pay that tribal gunmen demand. Fighting NATO and U.S. troops
is near suicidal. It can be nearly that when going after Afghan security
forces, if the foreign warplanes can be called into action. Unlike the Russians
in the 1980s, the NATO and U.S. aircraft have much better sensors, and smart
bombs. Death from above is more certain and accurate.
The war in
Afghanistan is yet another tribal conflict. For thousands of the years, the
tribes have fought to resist control by any central government. Determined
occupiers have always managed to subdue the tribes. But NATO and the U.S. are
not considered determined. They can be out-waited. Canada recently announced
that they would be gone in three years, and several other national contingents
are believed to have similar schedules. This is driven partly by the
unwillingness of most NATO countries to get involved in combat. Most NATO
troops are in Afghanistan for peacekeeping, not combat duty. This represents a split in NATO, an argument over strategy
that will probably speed up the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Taliban
and al Qaeda know this, and it heartens them.
the Islamic conservatives (Taliban, al Qaeda) will lose. Trying to bring back
thousand year old social and religious customs, while selectively adopting
modern ideas and technology, is a losing proposition (check world history for
the last few centuries). But in the medium term, the Islamic conservatives are
in a strong position. The Afghan and Pakistani governments both prefer to
negotiate peace with the tribes. Time has been eroding tribal independence.
That's why the urban population has been growing, and becoming more educated.
These are tribal people who have rejected the traditional poverty, isolation
and ignorance. But not all tribesmen who come to the cities are looking for
jobs and education. Many come as tribal raiders, to live off raiding and loot.
Being a bandit is a big deal in Afghan lore. As long as the victims are not
from your tribe, the more loot you can bring back, the greater your stature.
Cities like Kabul are a splendid opportunity for the loot minded country boy.
Kidnapping, robbery, carjacking, extortion. There's so much to do in the big
town. At the same time, there is no Afghan police tradition. What passed for "law
and order" was achieved by a social code that stressed revenge and blood feuds.
But this only worked in the tribal culture. In the cities, the wealthy either
hire enough bodyguards, or get out. As kidnapping becomes more popular (because
it is so lucrative), the government faces as crises. Many businessmen and
professionals are fleeing, not willing to live and die by tribal rules. The
government is under a lot of pressure from urban Afghans, and foreign
governments, to improve policing. Government bureaucrats can hide behind their
bodyguards and ignore all this. The foreigners won't leave as long as Islamic
radicals are still out there. There is an incentive to do nothing about the
combat superiority of foreign troops is forcing the Taliban and al Qaeda to
cooperate more. It's generally forgotten that both the Taliban and al Qaeda are
comprised of many factions. These groups sometimes even fight each other. There's
something about religious conservatism that breeds such fanatic factionalism. But the
superior foreign troops, and their devastating, and all-seeing, air power, have
forced the fanatics to forgo their usual factionalism. The cooperation is often
clumsy, and requires more communication, which makes the terrorists more
vulnerable to U.S. electronic reconnaissance.
Taliban border-jumping tactics are only a stopgap defensive maneuver. The only
offensive punch the Taliban have left are suicide bombers. Until the last year,
most Afghans disdained suicide bombing as cowardly, and the sort of thing only
a loser would employ. But after another year of getting chewed up by the foreign
troops, suicide doesn't look like such a lame tactic anymore. Then there's the
Western media, which can be manipulated to make the Taliban look like victims,
and put pressure on foreign governments to get their troops out. Then, the
tribes can lose their war on modernity, on more even terms.