Afghanistan: The Evil Eight Percenters

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July 20, 2010:  The main problem in Afghanistan is a lack of cooperation. The various tribes all want to go their own way in terms of laws (especially about drugs and lifestyle issues, like education of women and use of music and video) and even foreign policy (cooperation with the Taliban in Pakistan and terrorists in general). It's not just the tribes, but many of the foreign NGOs, who control a lot of the aid money, who do not want to cooperate with the security forces, and prefer to made side deals (pay bribes)  with drug gangs, bandits and Taliban.

The NGOs are a particular problem for the Afghan government. First, the NGOs control most of the aid money, which is a way to prevent the money being stolen by corrupt officials. The Afghan government wants more control of the aid money, officially so that it can be spent on things Afghans are more in need of, but mainly so that greedy officials can steal more of the cash. But another problem is the desire of NGOs to change the way Afghans live. Many Afghans resent being told they should stop beating their wives and letting their daughters  get more than a primary school education. Some Afghans feel very strongly about banning some aspects of foreign culture (television and Indian or Pakistani movies). Afghans have handled these disputes in the past mainly by not trying to impose their customs on others. The Taliban broke this rule, and are hated by most Afghans as a result.

India is resuming its medical aid operations in Afghanistan. The five Indian clinics have treated over 300,000 Afghans, mainly women and children, since late 2001. This effort was halted earlier this year, after a terror attack killed nine Indian medical personnel. Pakistanis are very hostile to Indian aid operations in Afghanistan, because of the decades of Pakistani paranoia about its larger neighbor to the east.

Pakistan also believes that Afghanistan is in the Pakistani "sphere of control" and that other nations should stay out. That has not worked very well, especially after Afghanistan turned into a terrorist sanctuary in the 1990s. Pakistan also tolerated the rebuilding of the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan (where the organization was first formed in the early 1990s) 5-8 years ago. This Pakistani connection also reveals the Pushtun aspect of the unrest in Afghanistan. Pushtun live on both sides of the Pakistani border, most of them in Pakistan. But in Afghanistan, the Pushtun are the largest minority (40 percent of the population), dominate the south, and have traditionally dominated the other minorities in the north. But this came to a halt in late 2001. Over the next few years, as democracy was introduced, the Pushtun lost their domination forever. Many Pushtuns resent this, and want to get their control back. The Afghan majority disagree. The Taliban are seen as champions of Pushtun domination, and the Afghan majority (Turks, Tajiks and Hazara) are glad to have foreign troops help them beat down the Pushtun Taliban. The Afghan security forces have a disproportionate number of non-Pushtuns, because the war in Afghanistan is mainly everyone against the Pushtuns, and Pushtuns would prefer not to fight Pushtuns, and non-Pushtuns would prefer not to have too many Pushtuns in the army and police.

It's been leaked that most foreign troops are planning to leave in four years, turning security duties over to the Afghan government. This could result in another civil war, with the Pushtuns being in a much weaker position than they were in the 1990s (when the non-Pushtun factions did not have access to as much foreign aid.) That future civil war might involve Pakistani intervention, and perhaps even Pakistani annexation of southern Afghanistan (where Pushtuns dominate.) Much to the distress of the Afghan government, many foreign governments do not seem to distressed at the prospect of Afghanistan being dismembered as part of a peace process.

This year, there are more operations planned and carried out by Afghan army units. Foreign military advisors are still there to help out, and watch out for drug gang attempts to bribe the Afghan officers to go elsewhere. The bribes don't always work, as the non-Pushtun commanders realize that it's more important to kill Pushtuns and destroy the drug trade.

A recent opinion survey in Kandahar and Helmand provinces show the area is still hostile to foreigners, as it has always been. These two provinces contain about eight percent of the national population, and have always been the source of most Taliban support and leadership. This hostile and paranoid attitude is not shared by most other Afghans, who are particularly hostile to the Pushtuns from Kandahar and Helmand because of all the pain these Taliban inflicted in the 1990s. Kandahar and Helmand are also the source of most of the world's heroin and opium, which is causing a growing number of Afghan addicts. If the Pushtuns from Kandahar and Helmand hate outsiders, the outsiders hate them right back, especially fellow Afghans.

The leaders of the Pushtun tribes in Kandahar and Helmand are aware of their precarious position and are seeking to work out some kind of deal with the national government, and the majority tribes (Pushtuns and non-Pushtuns alike.) But the Kandahar and Helmand Pushtuns have gotten rich from the drug trade, and are reluctant to give up their wealth.

Meanwhile, many anti-Taliban Pushtun tribes in the south are demanding help from the government against Taliban violence. So the government is going to help equip and organize village defense forces. This is a technique that has worked elsewhere in similar situations. But in Afghanistan, providing training, and more guns, to rural clans is likely to backfire later, as these guns, and the training, are used to settle some local feud. These little wars are endemic in Afghanistan.

July 16, 2010:  In Helmand province, NATO and Afghan troops seized an enemy base containing 1.8 tons of heroin, .8 ton of opium and 90 kg (200 pounds) of ammonium nitrate (a banned fertilizer used to make roadside bombs). It takes 3-4 kg of ammonium nitrate for a roadside bomb. These days, the same smugglers to bring in chemicals needed to refine opium into heroin, also bring in ammonium nitrate. The drug gangs and Taliban operate so closely together that they share bases, and often the same personnel.

 

 

 

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