Afghanistan: The Trouble With Pakistan

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July 14, 2008: The Taliban and their al Qaeda allies are making a major effort to expand their influence beyond the Pakistan border and Helmand province (also along the border, but stretches inland to the city of Kandahar.) In the last month this has resulted in over a dozen suicide bomb attacks, which have mostly killed civilians.

The Afghan government blames most of this violence on Pakistan, and the ISI (Pakistan's intelligence agency, which often operates independently of the Pakistan government). Both India and Afghanistan blame the ISI for last weeks suicide car bomb attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul. The large number of Pakistani tribesmen involved in recent attacks (based on ID found on the dead and interrogations of those captured) are blamed on the efforts of the Pakistani government to negotiate a ceasefire with its pro-Taliban Pushtun tribes. This is also unpopular on the Pakistani side of the border, where the ceasefire is opposed by anti-Taliban tribal leaders. What the Pakistani government does not want to get in the middle of is a tribal civil war between hard liners (the pro-Taliban crowd) and the traditionalists (yearning for the good old days of relative peace).

Pakistan has always believed it had a right to interfere in Afghan affairs, because the Pakistanis saw the Afghan government as unwilling or unable to control the Afghan tribes along the border. The Afghans resent this Pakistani interference (which Pakistan denies, these days, in response to international criticism of past interference). Naturally, the Afghans seek India as an ally, as India has long been at odds with Pakistan over border disputes. While Pakistan has a central government, and most of the population (except the tribes along the Afghan border) accept that, Afghanistan is basically a coalition of tribes that tolerates a central government that stays out of the way. But in Afghanistan, it's the pro-Taliban tribes that want to establish a central government that really runs the entire country (as a religious dictatorship, something that most Afghans want no part of).

July 13, 2008: A newly established American-Afghan base near the Pakistani border in northeastern Kunar province, was attacked by the Taliban, and the battle left over a hundred dead, and many more wounded, in several hours of fighting. About a third of the dead were U.S. and Afghan troops. A large Taliban force attacked from nearby buildings, including a mosque. U.S. and NATO warplanes responded quickly with smart bombs and missiles. Spectacular, but futile, attacks like this are mainly playing to the Western media. On the ground, the Taliban have suffered another defeat and killed a lot of civilians and destroyed much property. The Taliban are doing much worse than last year, taking heavier casualties and controlling less territory. So attacks are made that can be pitched to the Western press as victories. After a few days the "victories" fade away, but there are no Western reporters around to record that. If the Taliban can create an illusion of victory, they believe they can create a sense of hopelessness in NATO countries, and increased calls for withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. As plans go, it's a long shot.

July 11, 2008: The only woman on the Afghan Olympic team, has left the training camp in Italy, and sought political asylum in the Norwegian embassy. Female athletes get death threats from the Taliban, and even non-Taliban Islamic conservatives in the government.

July 10, 2008: Taliban attempts to expand beyond the border area, north of Kandahar and Kabul, have been unsuccessful. Up north, the Taliban are hated big time, and the people there react violently when the Taliban show up. In northwest Afghanistan, a Taliban attempt to kidnap aid workers (a favorite target) was interrupted by armed tribesmen who freed the aid workers, killed the Taliban leaders and drove the rest away. Such incidents are more common, even in border areas.

 

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