Afghanistan: Conflict Of Interest

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October 13, 2010: The NATO effort to reduce civilian deaths from air strikes has succeeded. Fewer than a hundred civilians have died from bombs or missiles so far this year. This is about half the number it was two years ago. The Taliban have increased their use of civilians as human shields, for protection from bombs, as well as from gunfire. NATO troops frequently encounter Taliban escaping by using human shields, often children, to hide behind. This has angered the civilian population, and the Taliban have responded by increasing their use of terror. Thus while civilian deaths caused by NATO troops declines, deaths from Taliban actions has increased. While Taliban commanders have issued several directives about keeping down the civilian deaths and easing up on the use of terror, there is often no other way the Taliban can maintain control of civilians. The big problem is the Taliban alliance with the drug gangs, and the general unpopularity of the drug gangs. Less than ten percent of the Afghan population benefits from the production and distribution of opium and heroin, but nearly all Afghans suffer from the banditry, disorder  and addiction caused by all those drugs. This growing hostility is a major reason why the pro-Taliban tribes and warlords are seeking to negotiate a peace deal with the government. This peace deal is important to the government because so many officials take money from the drug gangs. For the government, and some Taliban, the ideal situation would be a peace deal that would expel the foreign terrorists (to appease NATO and get the foreign troops out of the country) and keep the drug business going. But the government doesn't want to lose all that foreign aid (which is making thousands of government officials wealthy), and also has to deal with the fact that NATO does not trust the Taliban to really get rid of all the Islamic terrorists in their ranks. NATO, as well as most Afghans, also want the drug production stopped. You can see that there is a conflict of interest here.

But it gets worse. Pakistan, while technically an ally, still supports the Taliban. Or at least powerful factions in the Pakistani government (the military and intelligence agencies) support the Taliban. This has provided Taliban leaders with sanctuary in southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) and an unwillingness by the Pakistani Army to shut down terrorist training camps (Taliban, al Qaeda and so on) in the tribal territories on the Afghan and Indian border. This despite the fact that many of those terrorists are also at war with the government of Pakistan. The problem here is that the Pakistani military and intel bureaucracies can only justify their large chunk of the national wealth by maintaining the fiction that India threatens to take over Pakistan. This despite the fact that no media or political groups in India want to do that, and make no secret of their disdain for the mess that is Pakistan. The last thing India wants is to be responsible for Pakistan. But Pakistani generals and spymasters continue to support the myth that the Indians, and their American allies, are constantly plotting against Pakistan. One of those mythical plots has India forging an alliance with Afghanistan, against Pakistan. Actually, this one is popular in Afghanistan, which resents decades of Pakistani interference in Afghan affairs.

Out in the hills, the Taliban continue to lose. NATO forces have brought in better systems and equipment for finding the Taliban and the roadside bombs that are being planted. Worse, the increased intelligence effort is finding more drug production facilities. All this pressure has forced the Taliban to seek safer areas to operate. The most promising of these new lands are in the north, where Pushtun tribes can also be found (although the Pushtun are a minority in the north.) Because of their minority status, the Pushtun there are more reluctant to cooperate with the Taliban (and risk long term feuds with their non-Pushtun neighbors.) Thus the Taliban in the north are seen, by the Afghans there, mainly as terrorists.

After several years of surveying the population for health problems, the Afghan government has discovered that one of the major health problems is stress, and the resulting physical and mental side effects. The more recent work confirmed what a UN sponsored survey had concluded six years ago. It seems that over two decades of war and terrorism have taken their toll, and sixty percent of the population is having health problems related to all the stress.

October 10, 2010: Pakistan ended its 11 day halt of NATO supply shipments via the Khyber Pass and the Torkham border crossing. This was to protest an incident where U.S. helicopters killed Pakistani two border police who had fired on the choppers. The helicopters were pursuing a group of Taliban that had just staged an attack in Afghanistan. Such "hot pursuit" is allowed by Pakistan, and Pakistani troops often fire into Afghanistan, or at NATO aircraft. However, Pakistani media ran with the story that Pakistani sovereignty was under attack and the government had to do something. The government closed one of the two truck routes used by NATO to get supplies from the port of Karachi into Afghanistan. This halt stalled thousands of trucks trying to get through the Khyber Pass. Normally, about 250 NATO supply trucks pass through the Khyber Pass each day. Taliban and bandits attacked the stalled trucks, destroying or looting over a hundred of them. This caused great loss to the Pakistani trucking companies that haul goods into landlocked Afghanistan. Many supply trucks were diverted to the other highway into Afghanistan, and the NATO forces were forced to draw on their reserve stocks to make up for the late supply trucks. That's what reserve stocks are for. Meanwhile, there will be economic consequences for Pakistan. NATO will now move faster to shift their supply lines to railroads moving through Central Asia and the Caucasus. This is actually cheaper, but arrangements have to be made to revive train traffic that has not been this high on those routes for decades (since Russian forces left Afghanistan in 1989.) Pakistan can also expect less enthusiasm from U.S. politicians when requests are made for modern military technology, or even economic aid. For Afghanistan, the developing of other land supply routes makes Afghanistan less dependent on Pakistan for access to the outside world.

October 8, 2010: A team of American Special Forces assaulted a remote compound where a British aid worker (Linda Norgrove) was being held captive. But while her captives were killed as they fought the Special Forces troops, Norgrove died as well, apparently from a grenade thrown into a room by one of the Special Forces soldiers. This promptly led media pundits and politicians to call for an investigation. This despite the fact that these commando rescue missions are inherently dangerous, and decision makers are warned of that before the rescues are carried out. What the Special Forces commanders fear is that their troops will be castigated for doing their jobs, at great risk to their own lives. This will make recruiting and retaining these specialists even more difficult. Norgrove had apparently angered the local Taliban because of her efforts to reduce the influence of drug gangs in the area.

In northern Takhar province, the governor and 19 other worshippers were killed when the Taliban bombed a mosque. The governor of neighboring Kunduz province was also killed. The attack was carried out by a suicide bomber. Through attacks like this, the Taliban hopes to terrorize government officials into doing whatever the Taliban wants. Sometimes this works, but so far, most attacks have resulted in more people sworn to take on the Taliban and get revenge. This is especially true when you blow up a mosque to carry out an assassination. Revenge is an old Afghan custom.

 

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