Afghanistan: Welcome To The Future

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September 24, 2008:  The government is negotiating with the Pakistani government to form joint Afghan/NATO/Pakistani teams to guard the border, and able to freely operate on both sides of the border. What the Afghans want to do is eliminate the Pakistani border guards that side with the Taliban. Over the last few years, there have been dozens of  incidents  where the Pakistani border guards actively assisted the Taliban. This consisted of things like firing machine-guns at Afghan troops and border guards, to distract the Afghans while Taliban gunmen crossed into Afghanistan. A few times, the Pakistani troops even crossed into Afghanistan to help the Taliban. In one case, Pakistani helicopters were seen landing in a Taliban  base within Afghanistan, and delivered ammo and other supplies. What complicates this is the way Pakistani border guards are recruited (mainly from border tribes), the many opportunities to augment their income (aiding smugglers, bandits and drug gangs) and the dangers they have to deal with (threats against their families if they do not cooperate.) The frontier has always been more of a business than a border. By getting more Pakistani soldiers on the border, working closely with NATO and Afghan troops, the Pakistani border guards can be induced to behave. Maybe.

Journalists often confuse the Taliban with the drug gangs. The Taliban are as intent on gaining political control as they ever were, and are still determined to make everyone conform to a strict Islamic way of life. The drug gangs just want to keep the government out so they can grow poppies, turn that crop into opium and heroin (this requires an improvised chemistry lab), and get the drugs out to foreign markets (via Pakistan, Central Asia or Iran). The drug gangs have the most money, and many have teamed up with local Taliban groups for their mutual benefit (keeping the government out). The rule of thumb is, if the "Taliban" are not into burning down girls schools and forcing men to toss their CDs (full of music and videos) and grow a beard, then they are on some drug lords payroll. If the gun men do burn down schools and demand lifestyle changes, they are Taliban. If a group of gunmen seem to fit into neither category, they are probably bandits (or tribal militia, depending on how far they are from home). Banditry is admired, as long as you are not stealing from your own tribe. At the national level, many senior officials have been bought off by the drug gangs. This makes it difficult to get government cooperation in fighting the drug lords, and the Taliban. Afghans are too often more concerned with their personal and tribal interests, rather than national ones.

The Taliban power in Pakistan is falling apart. A new government (not willing to tolerate the Taliban), and increased terrorist bombings (that make it popular to go after the Taliban), have increased the army operations against the Pakistani Taliban. Over the Summer, the Pakistani Taliban have lost several thousand fighters (dead, wounded and captured.) This military pressure is increasing, and more of the Pakistani Pushtun tribes are turning against the Taliban. Part of this is tribal politics. The Taliban tend to represent the younger generation of leaders, who are trying to overthrow the older generation of chiefs, and older traditions. The new guys are into Islamic radicalism. The older generation, not so much.  The younger generation are quicker to kill, and don't care if some of the dead are women and children. Thus the use of suicide and roadside bombs. Outside the tribal area (where 20 percent of the population lives), the terrorism, and the Taliban, are much more unpopular.

The tribalism is responsible for much of the mayhem and bloodshed. Someone from another tribe is a "foreigner", and liable to be robbed, killed or worse. Thus the Taliban will even attack food relief trucks, if they were headed for another tribe. Thus a third of the population is in danger of starving this Winter. Drought is the big problem. In the past, the missing (from lack of water) crops resulted in many starvation deaths. This may happen again, but this time there is an international media and video cameras to record it. The dying is anonymous no more.

The future of Afghanistan is seen in its past. In other words, more violence, theft, corruption, religious intolerance, tribal rivalries and deception. Welcome to the future.

 

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