Afghanistan: Angry Young Men With Guns

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January 20, 2010:  A new UN survey (of 7,600 people across the country) found that the biggest problem was corruption (dishonest officials and lack of business ethnics), not unemployment or security. Most Afghans understand that the corruption makes the Taliban and drug gangs possible. A major goal of the Taliban is the elimination of corruption, by the imposition of Sharia (Islamic law). Few Afghans believe that will work, because when the Taliban controlled most of the country in the 1990s, the Islamic Republic quickly became corrupt and tyrannical. The drug gangs exist because they can bribe and intimidate enough people to allow drugs to be produced and exported. The corruption is part of the cultural fabric. The taking of "loot" is generally seen as an admirable act, and a bribe is seen as the equivalent of an ancient warrior trashing a neighboring valley, and carrying away chickens, horses and women. Changing this attitude has proved difficult, particularly because most Afghans are illiterate and don't know much about the rest of the world. Those Afghans who do know about how things work in the West (or the booming East, for that matter), realize and accept that clean and efficient government is the key to economic prosperity. Knowing this, and making it happen, are two very different things. Meanwhile, the illiteracy, corruption crippled economy, and resulting poverty, provides a steady supply of angry young men with guns. Breaking this cycle is very difficult, which is why no one has done it yet. The cycle can be broken, because it has been done, many times, all over the world. A thousand years ago, Europe was a lot like Afghanistan, but the none of the current donor (of troops and money) nations are going to wait that long for Afghanistan to clean up its act. Results are sought in years, not centuries.

Meanwhile, the "war" that gets so much attention in the media, is mainly a noisy and tragic distraction. Behind the war is the real battle for Afghanistan, and the future of the country. Most of the country sees little of the war that the foreign media reports. But all of the country daily endures the poverty, illiteracy, ignorance and corruption. That's the real war.

There are instances where the media war, and the real war, intersect. For example, a major problem with training new, and efficient, security forces, is convincing officers that honesty (or at least a lot less corruption), is the key to having Western quality troops. Afghans admire how much more efficient and lethal the foreign troops are. But Afghans are dismayed at all the alien concepts they have to adopt in order to achieve Western levels of military effectiveness. Officers who don't steal? Troops who are literate, and informed about what their missions are accomplishing? Training all the time, and learning combat drills based on trust and precision? This is all strange stuff, but more and more Afghans are adopting the strange new concepts. The old school Taliban fighters find themselves losing more battles as a result.

Afghan politicians, whether honest or corrupt, know their local history. And that tells them that, historically, the greatest threat to government officials has been internal feuds, not popular rebellion. The way the drill works, you use a government position to steal as much as you can, as quickly as you can, while making as few enemies as possible. While doing this, you must be ready to flee the country, and live somewhere safer, if your enemies get the upper hand and come after you. When you are in exile, you keep in touch with kin back home, alert for an opportunity to return. The Taliban and other Islamic radicals are players here. Religion has long been a weapon, and a tool (for destroying enemies and ruling long enough to loot the place.) In Afghanistan, it's all about the old versus the new, more so than at any time in Afghan history.

The foreigners, who are mainly concerned with keeping Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven for Islamic terrorists, have a hard time understanding that the Afghan leadership, and most Afghans, are not playing by the same rules. The foreigners are seen, by most Afghans, as an opportunity to make some money. Beyond that, many educated and innovative Afghans want to move the country forward, and out of the medieval morass of corruption, violence and ignorance. But in the meantime, you have to make a living, and most Afghans do that the traditional way.

President Karzai is having a particularly hard time getting parliament to accept his new ministerial selections. The heads of ministries are typically in the best positions to steal government funds, particularly the billions in foreign aid arriving each year. Some ministries have exceptional extortion (extracting bribes) potential. In short, government ministries are excellent business opportunities, and Karzai has to deal with different ethnic, political and tribal coalitions demanding a fair share of the loot.

January 18, 2010: About twenty Taliban attacked targets in central Kabul, using suicide bombs and rifles. So far, seven of the attackers were killed, along with five civilians and police. Over fifty people were wounded. Attacks like this are carried out to get media attention. Across the country, the Taliban are losing militarily and politically. The Taliban cannot fight and defeat the foreign troops, or most Afghan security forces trained by the foreigners. The harsh treatment of civilians, and use of roadside and suicide bombs (which kill mostly civilians) has brought about a steady decline in Taliban popularity. So if you are hated and impotent, what do you do? You try and grab some headlines and hope for the best. This particular attack was meant to grab headlines from the government, which was, as the attack was underway, swearing in 14 new government ministers.

January 17, 2010: Two Chinese engineers, working on a rod building project, were kidnapped. Their captors later asked for ransom.

January 15, 2010: Someone fired a 107mm rocket into an upscale district of Kabul, that contained some embassies. These rocket attacks, that take place every few weeks, are usually the work of one guy, hired by the Taliban to set up the rockets and fire them via a timer. Some of these rocket men have been tracked down and arrested, but the Taliban can always find someone else who needs the money, and will do the job.

January 14, 2010: About 250 kilometers southwest of the capital, a bomb went off in a market, killing at least twenty. It's not known if this was Taliban terror, or some dispute between gangs seeking to control the market (and who could extract payments from all who sold there.)

 

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