Afghanistan: Willing To Kill To Keep The Cash Flowing

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June 10, 2011: Eleven members of the security forces, including two officers working at the Defense Ministry, were arrested for assisting in a suicide bombing in the Defense Ministry headquarters two months ago. This highlights several new realities in Afghanistan. First, the drug gangs have enough money to buy access to just about anywhere, especially if all the security is run by Afghans. Also, Afghan police are getting better, and are able to track down and identify those who take bribes. Increased policing capabilities are a major incentive for the gangs and Taliban making more assassination attacks on senior Afghan intelligence and police officials, in an attempt to get these effective commanders to back off. The Taliban has had a supply of suicide bombers for years, mainly from Pakistan based religious schools that brainwash teenage boys into being suicide bombers.  But the fact that these arrests take place indicates that there a growing number of Afghans who want to live in a culture that does not operate by the "rule of the jungle." With the drug gangs and Taliban in charge, that's what you get, and Afghans remember the 1990s, the last time the Taliban were in charge. Few Afghans want to go back, but those that do are better financed and armed.

Members of Parliament are accusing the government of using the years of negotiations with the Taliban as a method for getting jailed Taliban leaders out of jail, without getting any Taliban to quit their terrorist ways. In effect, these peace talks are seen as another result of the corruption that pervades the government. The suspicion is that the drug gangs are supplying the cash to bribe officials to get Taliban leaders released as part of these bogus "peace talks." Thus the resistance in Afghanistan to the Afghan government request to have 50 of 140 Taliban leaders removed from the UN sanctions list (which makes it difficult to move money, or yourself, overseas.)

Most NATO officials in Afghanistan now understand that the foreign troops are all that prevents the drug gangs from taking control of southern Afghanistan, and possibly the capital (Kabul). While civil war is a possibility, it's more likely that the drug gangs, who are mainly interested in money, would be content to control the south (where 80 percent of the world's heroin is produced). But that much wealth enables the Taliban to get ambitious, and the drug money could finance another civil war. Currently, only about ten percent of the population benefits directly from the drug business, but the drug gangs might, at some point conclude that they would benefit by purchasing the allegiance of tribal leaders throughout the country, and take control of all of Afghanistan. The problem is that most Afghans are very hostile to drugs, and the Taliban and Pushtun domination (most of the drug gang and Taliban leaders are Pushtun). This is what motivates many NATO commanders to remain involved in Afghanistan. The alternatives are all ugly.

It's no secret that many Afghans have been bought by the drug gangs. The evidence is visible in the new compounds (large homes surrounded by walls) and SUVs on the roads. There are expensive schools, shops and medical facilities that cater to the new rich. While a lot of this new money comes from stolen foreign aid, in the south, especially in areas long controlled by drug gangs (who tend to keep foreign aid out), the goodies are paid for by heroin sales. Without the foreign aid and foreign troops, the only way to get rich would be the drug trade.

Getting rich is a new phenomena for Afghanistan, long the poorest nation in Eurasia. When the Russians invaded in the 1980s, they brought lots of money with them. There were now more jobs in the army and government, and bribes for tribes willing to remain neutral, or fight for the Russians. Across the border in Pakistan, billions in Arab oil wealth arrived, to fund armed resistance in Afghanistan. When the Russians left in 1989, the heroin trade, recently driven out of Pakistan, kept the cash flowing. After September 11, 2001, Western military operations and foreign aid flooded in, a flood of money much greater than what the Russians brought two decades earlier. While there are believed to be a trillion dollars of minerals underground, you need a stable government before foreign firms will invest tens of billions to set up the mines and build roads and railroads to get the goodies out, and equipment in. That won't happen as long as the drug gangs dominate the south. A generation of Afghans have experienced the opportunity to get rich, something that was rare before the 1980s. Many Afghans are willing to kill to keep the cash flowing.

One problem is that the lack of education and skills in Afghanistan means that most of the foreign aid gets wasted or stolen. It will take years (over a decade) of additional effort to take care of these problems. Changing Afghanistan for the better is not something that will be done fast or cheap.

The Taliban Spring and Summer Offensive this year is aimed mainly at the Afghan security forces leadership. This recognizes the fact that Afghan troops have become too difficult (because of better training, equipment and leadership) to take on. There are now over 250,000 Afghan soldiers and police.  Encouraged by NATO politicians pledging to get foreign troops out over the next few years, the Taliban are going after the Afghan leaders who could not be bought (or are content to get rich from foreign aid). In general, the loss of territory to foreign and Afghan troops in the last few years, has left the Taliban with no alternative but surrender, or become terrorists. Since the drug gangs will pay for terrorism (to keep their drug business free of interference), any Pushtun tribesmen up for that, has the option of becoming a paid killer. Afghan culture does not consider this a uniformly bad thing.

Islamic militants in Pakistan, mainly the Pakistani branch of the Taliban, depend on the Afghan branch, and the Afghan drug gangs, to survive. Despite decades of support from the Pakistani military, the Islamic radicals in Pakistan are being hammered by enraged (by many terror attacks) Pakistanis. The Pakistani security forces have driven the Taliban and al Qaeda out of most of the tribal territories, and the Afghan Taliban have been sending in hundreds of armed men to help maintain the few remaining sanctuaries and border crossings.

June 4, 2011: Police arrested 11 men and charged them with responsibility for an attack on an Italian base (and the reconstruction personnel there) last month. Two attacks killed four people near Herat.

 

 

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