Afghanistan: Please Let Us Steal In Peace


October 28, 2010: The latest corruption scandal has largely gone unreported. This one is all about keeping foreign monitors away from foreign aid sent to Afghanistan. This is being done by a presidential ban on private security firms (except those guarding diplomats and  military installations). The ban is to take effect by the end of the year, and donor nations, especially the United States, are stalemated with Afghan president Karzai over the issue. For the Afghan officials, preventing foreigners from supervising foreign aid is essential if officials are to be able to steal most of the aid. This sort of corruption is seen as a major opportunity, and it has been crippled by the insistence of the donor nations that even more foreign auditors and supervisors be sent in. But Afghanistan is an unruly and dangerous place, especially for foreigners. There are far more deaths to this "usual violence" than to "the war" (against the Taliban and drug gangs). Foreign aid workers will not go outside their heavily guarded compounds without a security team. But they won't even have a guarded compound if the presidential decree is carried out. With nearly all the aid workers gone, the government would get what they always wanted, complete control over the billions in foreign aid that arrive in Afghanistan each year. It has long annoyed the Afghan government that most of this aid is delivered to the Afghan people by their foreigners, denying officials an opportunity to steal much of it. While the donor governments can try to watch over the aid disbursement using diplomatic personnel, the Afghans can counter that by limiting how many diplomatic personnel can enter the country. Karzai is being obstinate about this issue, as the inability to plunder the foreign aid has made it difficult to get more warlords and senior politicians under his control. U.S. aid alone, since 2001, has been $55 billion, and too much if it escaped the grasp of corrupt Afghan officials. Iran has recently demonstrated how this is supposed to be done. It got out, as Afghan officials flew back from a recent diplomatic visit to Iran, that some of the Afghans boarded the aircraft carrying bags of cash. The Afghans admit that this came from Iran, as part of the aid Iran has been providing. But the bags of cash were obviously for the Afghan officials, and the Afghans could not understand what all the media fuss was about. The Iranians understood that, if you want to provide aid for Afghanistan, you have to start at the top. Some of it will trickle down to those who need it most (according to those pesky Westerners). But the Western aid donors are threatening to halt their aid, rather than see most of it stolen by Afghan politicians. This has caused a stalemate, as Karzai has to judge how serious his donors are with this threat.

Some 23 percent of the votes in last month's election have been disallowed as fraudulent. This is good news (the fraud was caught and dealt with) and bad news (there was this much fraud in the first place). Not surprisingly, most of the suspect votes were for corrupt and unpopular incumbents. A major reason Afghans like to vote is that is one of the safest opportunities they have to get rid of corrupt politicians.

The growing enthusiasm for "peace talks with the Taliban" is based on the fact that the Taliban (a diverse group with no real overall leader) have lost. Their attempt to recover from losing control of southern Afghanistan in late 2001 (they never controlled the entire nation) has led to one failure after another, and the tribes that supported the Taliban are tired of it. These tribes have been at war since the late 1970s, and have nothing to show for it. The growth of the drug business (opium/heroin) under the Taliban has made matters worse. While some warlords and Taliban leaders have gotten rich from the drug trade, millions more have suffered, mainly by becoming addicts. But the problem with negotiating with "the Taliban" is that there is no one Taliban leader you can make a deal with. There are dozens of clans and tribes that are "pro-Taliban," and these are the ones being talked to. That is nothing new either. Pro-Taliban groups have been making peace with the government for years. The one difference this time around is that some core Taliban tribes are ready to give it up.

The NATO led offensive in Kandahar, and a few other areas in the south, continues. The action consists largely of raids against Taliban locations (safe houses, weapons storage, bomb workshops). The intelligence system developed in Iraq has been applied in Afghanistan over the last two years, and the Taliban are unable to cope. The Taliban leadership and infrastructure is being badly hurt, and morale among the rank-and-file, who suddenly are not getting paid, is falling. Despite all this combat, casualties for foreign troops are less than they were in October, 2009. This is because of better protection against roadside bombs and greater use of Afghan troops (who are taking more casualties.)

Afghan government and military officials are complaining that they are not always consulted before military operations are planned and carried out, and have little information during these attacks and intelligence operations. This is because the Afghan military and government officials cannot be trusted to keep secrets. Too many of these officials can be bribed to tell the Taliban and drug gangs who is going to be attacked and when. Afghan officials are indignant whenever this is brought up, but the evidence that it happens is rather massive. So the indignation and public protests do not last long.

October 27, 2010:  In Kandahar, troops cornered and killed a major Taliban leader, Mullah Jamaludin. More of these senior leaders are leaving their Pakistan sanctuaries and returning to Afghanistan, either to bolster faltering fighters, or to escape the growing threat of Pakistani security forces coming after them. The U.S. has been applying more pressure to Pakistan to shut down the sanctuary they have a long tolerated for senior Taliban leaders along the border (especially in Baluchistan/southwestern Pakistan). The Afghans are also angry over how Pakistan has always allowed Afghan Taliban to retreat into Pakistan and recuperate before coming back into Afghanistan to murder and intimidate people. The Pakistanis see this as necessary to maintain some control over the Afghans. Naturally, the Afghans resent this, and have kept the pressure on the Americans to recognize how big a problem this is, and how necessary it is to force the Pakistanis to clean up their act.

October 23, 2010: In the western city of Herat, four male suicide bombers, disguised in burqas, tried to get into a UN compound. Afghan police and private security guards prevented this, and the four attackers were killed. No UN personnel were hurt.  





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