Afghanistan: You Can Hustle The East If You Keep At It

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May 2, 2012: While NATO reports incidents of Afghan security forces killing NATO troops (on purpose or by accident) there were not similar reports for incidents where the Afghans wounded NATO troops or fired and missed. It was earlier noted by the media that nearly 20 percent of NATO troop deaths of late were the result of Afghan troops or police. So it makes sense that 20 percent of NATO wounded would be the same percentage. What the media has yet to pick up on (although it's been in plain sight for years) is the fact that Afghans are very violent to begin with and quick to anger when frustrated. This is the case when foreigners are not around and is worse when foreigners are present because of Afghan frustration at cultural differences. NATO trainers insist that Afghans be disciplined and organized (cleaning their weapons, firing only when ordered to, not taking bribes, and no abusing of civilians). The Afghans resent this alien advice. Most of the time that results in poor combat performance, which often includes firing weapons at the wrong time and accidentally hitting Afghan or NATO troops. This sort of thing is common in any poorly trained force and has been noted by foreign trainers for over a century (since modern firearms became available and made friendly fire easier to happen). Thus friendly fire incidents were often the result of poor discipline and sloppiness. More often the victims are fellow Afghans and it's not always clear if the shooting was deliberate or not. A lot of Afghans are tossed out of the security forces because of their inability to handle their weapons properly. It's been more difficult to get rid of Afghan officers who cannot do the job, particularly higher ranking ones with political connections. Moreover, many Afghan commanders have become addicted to having foreign officers along to advise them, even though the Afghans have enough experience now to operate on their own. But the foreign advisors are useful when it comes to getting rid of incompetent Afghan troops. The better Afghan commanders know that the best way to create a competent Afghan army or police unit is to keep firing the losers until most of your troops are winners.

These cultural differences also create the culture of corruption and constant feuding (often quite violent) between Afghans. The implications of the cultural differences tend to be played down by Western government and media, but these differences play a major role in determining what happens in Afghanistan. Bringing peace to Afghanistan means changing the local culture and recognizing that peace is not a common state for Afghans. Life is a struggle, which often includes fighting your neighbors over land, water, or personal differences. Sorting out all those causes of violence is time-consuming, even with Westerners offering advice on how to do it.

One thing nearly all Afghans are particularly angry about is the growth of opium and heroin addiction among Afghans (especially young men). Opium and cannabis have been common in Afghanistan for centuries but heroin is new, and so is all the wealth from the foreign aid and drug smuggling profits. A lot of that new cash has gone into creating widespread addiction. This brings much unhappiness to the basic unit of Afghan life, the extended (multi-generational) family. Commercial grade opium and cannabis have become so common that Afghan soldiers are selling it to NATO troops. That sort of thing was kept at bay for a long time and it will probably require the use of more drug screening among foreign troops to stop it. American military personnel have long had regular drug screening but this effort is greatly reduced in combat zones. Or at least it has been, until now.

NATO combat deaths for the first four months of the year continue to be lower (by 14 percent) than the same period last year. April was down 20 percent. The Taliban are still desperately trying to protect the vital (to their finances) opium and heroin production in Helmand and Kandahar. This provides cash to finance Taliban operations in the rest of the country. That is not working so well and Taliban everywhere have turned more often to purely criminal activities (extortion, theft, kidnapping) to hire gunmen and buy supplies. While there is a hard core of true believers (in making Afghanistan a religious dictatorship once more) in the Taliban, most members are in it because of the money and the opportunity to do what most Afghan young men aspire to: to be a traditional warrior who can go out and terrorize people and take what he wants. This, and the association with the drug business, has made the Taliban very unpopular with most Afghans, especially in the north. But bandits, criminal gangs and warlords have always been part of Afghan life and the Taliban and drug gangs help perpetuate it. These vile habits have been largely eliminated in most other nations, but ridding Afghanistan of these curses cannot be done immediately. It takes some time. As one British colonial wit observed; "you can't hustle the East."

It goes largely unnoticed in the West how many individual Afghans are changing. Most Afghans want a better life, that's why so many want to leave Afghanistan for the West (or just Pakistan or Iran). Most Afghans want to stay in Afghanistan, but want less violence, drug addiction, corruption and bad behavior in general. Every day, more Afghans renounce the old ways that the Taliban are trying to sustain. While the Taliban claim to be in favor of less violence and corruption, this was not what they achieved when they were in charge during the 1990s. There was constant fighting, and captured (in 2001) Taliban documents were full of complaints about corruption and violent resistance to Taliban rule. Because of that, more Afghans now embrace a more peaceful and prosperous future, rather than the violent and corrupt past. This trend has forced the Taliban to depend more on foreigners (usually Pakistanis or Arabs) to hold the terrorist organization together. More and more of these foreigners are showing up among the Taliban dead and those taken alive.

May 1, 2012: The presidents of Afghanistan and the U.S. met in Kabul and signed a new ten year cooperation and aid agreement. The new deal is pretty much the same as the old deal and everyone promises to keep working on making Afghanistan a better place, at least as long as the United States continues to send lots of money.

April 30, 2012: Afghanistan and India have agreed to closer cooperation in the area of intelligence on terrorist operations. Both countries recognize that much of planning for terror attacks against them comes from government sponsored Islamic terror groups in Pakistan. Both countries found that each was spending quite a lot of effort seeking information about Pakistan based terrorist organizations. By pooling that knowledge both countries get a more complete picture of attacks planned on each of them.

April 27, 2012:  Pakistan continues to block NATO supplies from using Pakistan roads. This is because the U.S. refuses to apologize for a friendly fire incident last November, which the Americans consider partly the fault of the Pakistanis. As a result, NATO and the U.S. have negotiated agreements with Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia to move all sorts of supplies and equipment over the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). Three years ago nearly all land movement of supplies came in via Pakistan. But that changed after Pakistan closed its border to NATO supplies last November 26, because of a friendly fire incident on the Afghan border that left 24 Pakistani troops dead. The plan was always to completely replace Pakistan but that has happened sooner, rather than later. Now Pakistan has to worry about losing some of the transport business for Afghan civilian goods. That's a major industry in Pakistan because nearly all (save air freight) cargo enters and leaves Afghanistan by truck. But now Afghanistan is building its first railroad system, connecting it with the Central Asian rail network terminal on the Uzbek border. Even with the longer distances, moving cargo would eventually be competitive coming and going via rail through Central Asia, compared to going via truck through Pakistan. The NDN makes for a fundamental change in Afghan-Pakistan relations. Now Afghanistan can look north for economic, cultural, and political alliances, rather than just with Pakistan and Iran, two countries that have not always been kind to Afghanistan.

In Pakistan the American apology is very important to anti-American politicians who have bet their reputations on casting the Americans as unrepentant villains. The Americans are mad about Pakistanis constantly denying that some factions of the Pakistani government and military openly support Islamic terrorists and provide very public terrorist sanctuaries for them in North Waziristan (for al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban) and Quetta (Afghan Taliban). The Pakistani corruption is also epic. The Americans thought they had a deal about the border crossings, by agreeing to a higher fee (bribe) per truck (over $1,000 per vehicle, mostly going into the pockets of Pakistani officials) but the generals and politicians want the Americans to admit that the November incident was all their fault and the Americans refuse to do that. The Pakistani officials will go back to squabbling among themselves for a bit and eventually take the larger bribes and the (by now much reduced) NATO truck traffic will resume. With the new bribes it's not much cheaper to bring in supplies via Pakistan versus the NDN (which is getting cheaper over time).

April 21, 2012: Afghan intelligence officials took credit for police catching a Taliban owned truck moving ten tons (10,000 kg) of ammonium nitrate, a banned fertilizer used to make roadside bombs, from Pakistan to Kabul. It takes 3-4 kg (6.6-8.8 pounds) of ammonium nitrate for an average roadside bomb. The Taliban are building larger bombs these days in order to carry out high-profile attacks that will attract a lot of media attention in the West. The same smugglers who bring in chemicals needed to refine opium into heroin (mainly acetic anhydride) also bring in ammonium nitrate. Pakistani officials have resisted pleas to crack down on the movement of excessive (for Pakistan’s needs) quantities of ammonium nitrate and acetic anhydride into Pakistan and then, via lots of bribes, into Afghanistan. A lot of the bribes are paid on the Afghan side of the border.

 

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