Afghanistan: Will Kill For Cash

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December 13, 2011: The government is blaming Pakistani Islamic terror groups for the recent increase in terror bombings in Afghanistan. In particular, the recent bombings that killed 80 Shia Moslem worshippers were traced to a Pakistani Sunni extremist group. Terrorism between Sunni and Shia groups has long been common in Pakistan but was only active in Afghanistan when the Taliban (a group with Pakistani origins) was in power during the 1990s. Afghans have long complained about Pakistani interference. This became acute after the 1980s Russian invasion. When the Russians departed in 1988 they left behind a communist government that survived until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Russian financial and military aid disappeared. Civil war broke out among the Afghan rebels and Pakistan created (and strongly supported) the Taliban, which won the civil war. Westerners rarely appreciate the degree to which most Afghans hate the Taliban and see it mainly as another attempt by Pakistan to interfere in Afghan internal affairs.

One thing that particularly irritates Afghans is Pakistani support for terror attacks in Mosques and against civilians. Leaders of all factions are at risk because the acceptance of corruption means that if you are willing to spend enough money you can bribe your way past the strongest security unless, of course, foreign security personnel are involved. These guys are much more difficult, and often impossible, to bribe. But only the most senior government officials can afford this kind of security. For other officials hiring kin is often the next best thing. But this sometimes runs into trouble when there is a personal dispute within the family. In short, it's difficult to be safe in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan the most powerful weapon is not foreign troops but foreign money. Afghanistan is the poorest country in Eurasia with one of the highest birth rates, and lots of poor young men with little work but a fondness for violence. Historically, a wealthy man with a little charisma could hire and arm a lot of these young guys and make a reputation for himself. These days the ambitious men with the cash are from drug gangs, the Taliban, or the government. All the money comes from foreign sources. The drug gangs get billions from smugglers who transport the opium and heroin all over the world. The Taliban get a cut of that for providing security, plus a smaller amount from Pakistan intelligence agencies. The government gets its cash as foreign aid because Afghanistan is too poor to tax and pay for much of a government. Some 90 percent of the 300,000 security personnel (soldiers and police) would not exist without foreign cash. All those guys with guns are not interested in killing each other but with sticking around so they can spend their money. But the foreigners insist on action against the drug trade and the Taliban. Without the foreign pressure the government officials would steal most of the money. Corruption is considered perfectly acceptable in Afghanistan and one thing that unites Afghans are efforts to block foreigner anti-corruption efforts. Only a minority of Afghans are willing to fight the corruption as those with the money will defend what they have with violence. That's another old Afghan custom that has proved difficult to change.

NATO has learned to use cash to reduce violence. For example, hiring and arming villagers to simply keep bandits, terrorists, and Taliban out of their area has proved successful in keeping the countryside peaceful. With weapons, organization, and a little cash Afghans are very capable of defending themselves. Without these items a large armed group can dominate most rural areas. The exception is where there is a strong tribal militia organization. This is relatively rare as it depends on tribal leaders of exceptional skill. There are never enough of these leaders around and many of them have gone on to form drug gangs. NATO plans to expand this village defense program from 10,000 armed men to 30,000.  

Afghan officials are asking for $10 billion a year in foreign aid after 2014 (when most foreign troops will be gone). With this money Afghan officials say they will be able to maintain the security forces and keep the government going. But foreign aid donor nations are demanding that strict controls be placed on how the money is spent. Afghan officials oppose the controls, which offend their dignity and make the money more difficult to steal. What's the point of taking a senior government job and risking assassination if you can't get rich? But the donor countries want to avoid a media disaster when Afghan officials are found getting rich while Afghans starve. That is happening right now, with nearly three million Afghans suffering severe food shortages (because of drought) and foreign donors having a hard time preventing the food, and other aid, from being stolen by the government employees responsible for distributing it.

Foreign troops continue to go after the bad guys who are at a disadvantage now that the cold weather has arrived. The foreign troops have better transportation, intelligence, and communications and use this to find and raid drug gang and Taliban facilities (drug manufacturing or bomb workshops, plus where these guys hang out). Enemy casualties have been up this year while foreign troop losses are down 20 percent. Afghan security force losses are also down but not by as much. That's because more Afghan troops and police are being sent into the fight.

Pakistan is still blocking NATO supplies because of a November 26 air attack on Pakistani security forces who had been firing at Afghan forces. NATO is bringing in the supplies by air or via Central Asian routes. Because of this stoppage NATO is accelerating its switch to the Central Asian supply line.

December 7, 2011:  A roadside bomb in southern Helmand province killed 19 civilians.

December 6, 2011: Bombs were set off at Shia religious celebrations in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Kandahar leaving 80 dead and many more wounded.

 

 

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